Better data for governments

First of its kind international data standards directory launched by Center for Government Excellence and McGill University to better coordinate government data collection and analysis
Published: 15 November 2017

Today, the Center for Government Excellence (GovEx), part of Johns Hopkins University, and GeoThink, a part of McGill University, launched a new open data standards directory that will identify standards for open data regularly shared by governments. The directory will ensure reliability and coordinated information for many city government data sets on services ranging from public safety, to building permits, to public transit, and budgets. The directory is the first of its kind and will allow communities from around the world to contribute standards.

“Open data improves the lives of hundreds of millions of people, many incrementally and some dramatically,” said Andrew Nicklin, GovEx Director of Data Practices. “Our new directory will encourage global standards for how data is organized for more effective production and consumption at scale. This will insure an even greater impact on the local government services level.”

“There’s a serious need for coordination on how governments at all levels classify different types of open data,” said Geothink Head Renee Sieber, an associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment. “A collaboration with McGill University, this directory provides a comprehensive inventory of how data on transit, road construction, public facilities and more has been classified. It also allows evaluation of different standards to help guide governments in choosing the most useful ones."

Data standards are open, collaboratively developed sets of schematics or semantics that are agreed upon and that facilitate interoperability between multiple providers and consumers for the public good. There are two main types of data standards. The first is schematic standards or the structure of the data and how information is related to one another. The second is semantic standards which are terms and definitions throughout the data in which definitions should be consistent. 

“The directory’s inventory helps simplify and demystify choices for governments and citizens by answering the question ‘what's out there?’ but also takes it a step further by assessing the value of these standards to a city's data provision,” said Jean-Noé Landry, Executive Director of OpenNorth. “The directory allows us to align data practices, join up data, and enable emergent data uses. Data interoperability is one key to unlocking open data's innovation potential and we believe this inventory is a very important step towards it.”

Prior to this directory, city governments and other users have been faced with several challenges dealing with open data sets. Among them a lack of agreement and coordination on how data sets should be structured. Without standards, the datasets published online, especially by governments, so that the public can view them, may lack usable information for the user, or bad definitions. Additionally, this directory will allow cities to see which standards ensure the data is provided in a machine readable and human readable format.

Currently there are over 60 standards on the directory from around the world and some in Spanish language. GovEx and McGill hope to expand these efforts to more standards, countries and languages. Users are encouraged to visit and add/update standards to the directory

In partnership with GovEx, McGill University undergraduate students Rachel Bloom, Julia Conzon, and Nicolas Levy worked on the project through research, visualization, and updates to inventory.

To learn more about the data standards directory, listen to our latest Datapoints podcast. GovEx is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and partners with What Works Cities.

About GovEx: The Center for Government Excellence (GovEx) at Johns Hopkins University, successfully helps governments effectively use data to make informed decisions on services that improve people’s lives. Our model provides direct technical assistance to improve data management and performance analytics. GovEx invests in people committed to civil service by providing in-depth training courses to educate government staff, at all levels, on the value of data, as well as facilitating partnership for idea sharing. Follow us on Twitter for our most recent activities.

About Geothink: Geothink is an interdisciplinary research partnership of municipal employees, academics, and members of the private sector and non-profits launched by McGill University Associate Professor Renee Sieber. Now in the final year of a five-year, $6 million Partnership Grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and from grant partners, Geothink has involved 28 partners, 27 researchers, and over 90 students from universities across Canada and the United States.

About McGill University: McGill University is one of Canada's best-known institutions of higher learning and one of the leading universities in the world. With students coming to McGill from some 150 countries, our student body is the most internationally diverse of any research-intensive university in the country.  McGill was founded in 1821 thanks to a generous bequest by James McGill, and since then, we've grown from a small college to a bustling university with two campuses, 10 faculties, some 300 programs of study, and 40,000 students.

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