Open standards- a cross government technical architecture workshop

My notes from a cross-government Technical Architecture community workshop on 29 July, hosted at Government Digital Service.

Open Standards are publicly-available agreements on how technology will work to solve a particular problem, or meet a particular need.

The Open Data Institute has a useful definition of standards, open standards and open data.

Open Standards are good for laying the foundations for cooperation in technology, as they allow people to work in a consistent way. e.g. HTML is an open standard, which means that everyone can build and access web pages in the same way.

As technology develops, the standards can be updated, allowing innovation in a way that retains the benefits of interoperability.

How GDS works with Open Standards – Dr Ravinder Singh, Head of Open Standards, Government Digital Service

GDS outlines the Open Standards it supports. You can suggest standards that should exist. You’ll be asked 47 assessment questions. If a proposal comes out of that, GDS will take this to the Open Standards Board, which meets twice a year. The new Open Standard will be published on GOV.UK if it’s adopted. It’ll be incorporated into Service Assessments and the Technology Code of Practice.

PDFs are still the most frequently uploaded filetype on GOV.UK. So there’s a long way to go in making HTML and other open standards the default. (Why content should be published in HTML not PDF)

Supporting the adoption of open standards – Leigh Dodds, Open Data Institute (ODI)

CSVW lets you add metadata describing structure and schema

Open Standards for Data – ODI microsite

“Open standards for data are reusable agreements that make it easier for people and organisations to publish, access, share and use better quality data.”

ODI have produced a canvas to help you think about researching and designing a standard. The technical bit is the easy bit – the hard bit is getting people to agree on things.

Some advice if you’re building a new open standard:

  • Don’t just dive in to the technology rather than understanding the problem
  • Invest time in getting people to agree
  • Invest time in adoption. Don’t just do the specification. You need guidance training, tools, libraries.
  • Focus on the value you’re trying to bring – not, just the standard as an end in itself.
  • If you think you want a standard, be clear what type of standard you mean. Types of standard include:
    • Definitions
    • Models
    • Identifiers
    • Taxonomies
    • File formats
    • Schemas
    • Data transfer
    • code of practice
    • Data types
    • Units and measures
    • How we collect data

Opportunities for adopting open standards in government

Some thoughts from my group:

Schemas for consistent transparency publishing on Currently lots of datasets are published in a way that doesn’t allow you to compare between them. e.g. if you are comparing ‘spend above £25k’ data between councils, at the moment this isn’t interoperable because it’s structured in different ways. If all this data was published according to a consistent structure, it would be much easier to compare.

Shared standard for technical architecture documentation. This would make it easier for people to understand new things.

Do voice assistants have an associated standard? Rather than publishing different (meta-)data for each service – e.g. having a specific API for Alexa – it would be better for all of these assistants to consume content/data in a consistent way.

The (draft) future strategy for GOV.UK involves getting a better understanding of how services are performing across the whole journey, not just the part that is on GOV.UK. Could standards help here?