Open standards for data: adoption, approaches and impact

Open standards are important to our data infrastructure. To mark the launch of new research, researchers Edafe Onerhime and Rose Rees-Jones share their findings on how people approach developing standards and what they need, and the impact of open data standards

In late 2017 the ODI launched a project, funded by Innovate UK, to make it quicker and easier for organisations to create open standards for data, and ensure that the standards they create achieve better adoption and wider impact.

Open standards are an important element of our local, national and global data infrastructure. Standards help us to publish and use data in ways that are consistent and easy to access. But standards can also help to change markets, create open ecosystems and implement policy objectives.

In this project, we have been working with organisations experienced in standards development to understand more about their approach and document their processes.

We’ve also been doing some desk research to help us explore other approaches to standards development, and user research to understand more about the needs of data users with respect to standards. The desk research has been led by Edafe Onerhime and the user research by Rose Rees-Jones.

The insight we’ve gained is being used to shape our plans to develop a guidebook that will support data publishers in finding, adopting and creating open standards for data.

Since we’re keen to share what we have found so far, Rose and Edafe introduce themselves, their work and findings.

Exploring the development and impact of open standards for data

I’m Edafe Onerhime. I’m a consultant data scientist: I help businesses, governments and nonprofits use data to solve real-world problems and make the complex simple.

Having direct experience of open standards development, I realised there are few, if any, guides to developing open standards as they are developed today.

As part of the desk research, I found that while there are many different processes used to develop standards, there are also some common approaches and issues. I’ve also found that standards can have an impact beyond their immediate technical benefits. They can be used to create economic, social and policy impacts. There is also a gap when it comes to measuring the success of a standard and its impact.

The outputs of our desk research are:

User experiences of open standards for data

I’m Rose Rees-Jones. I research how people use things in order to make those things easier to use. I’ve worked mostly on essential services across the public and charity sectors.

This piece of user research was a little out of the ordinary – it isn’t focused on a product or service but on a way of working: the ways in which experts create open standards for data.

Data standards power the front-end services that users interact with, but often remain invisible to the end user. This meant that some of the classic user research techniques had to be adapted.

Through conversations, workshops and activities, we saw three common problems come up time and again:

  • Talking to each other, and working in the open is hard

  • The tools (the levers and dials of standards) need improving

  • It’s often hard to show the value of standards work and become sustainable

This work led me to conclude that successful standards are designed in a way that follows many of the inclusive design principles. Making standards development more inclusive may help to make the standard and its benefits more visible, and the value they create more observable and measurable.

The output of our user research is a report describing user experiences of open standards for data.

If you want to share feedback by email or would like to get in touch about our work on standards, contact the open standards project lead Leigh Dodds at [email protected].