New data standards for government

GDS-led body publishes first set of guidelines

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Government’s newly created Data Standards Authority has published its first set of guidelines to inform the use and sharing of data across Whitehall.

The DSA is a cross-government entity that sits within the Government Digital Service, which will work in close collaboration with the Office for National Statistics and representatives of major departments. The data unit’s creation was supported by a £16.4m tranche of funding provided by the spring budget to improve government’s use of data and thereby deliver more “personalised” services to citizens.

The publication on Friday of three open standards marks the “first deliverable of the DSA”, the government said.

The standards, respectively, set out how government entities should “use metadata to describe data shared within government; use metadata to describe tabular data for publishing; [and] use metadata to describe CSV data”.

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Published alongside them are two sets of guidance, covering best practice for the publication of tabular data, and the recording of metadata information concerning data sets shared externally.

In the latter case, departments are advised that, by including appropriate metadata, they will “make… data searchable, find it easier to catalogue and validate… data, and make sure… data is accessible and reusable”.

The standards and the guidance are designed for “data shared privately between departments, as well as open data published on GOV.UK and other public sector websites”.

The government said that the guidelines should be implemented in accordance with other relevant considerations, such as data-protection regulation and data-ethics policies. 

GDS director general Alison Pritchard said: “I’m delighted by today’s launch of the metadata standards; they’re the first step in assuring how data is shared across government. Standards are critical in allowing us to make sure our information is better managed. They will improve the quality of government data and help us deliver the best possible services to citizens.”

The ultimate aim of the DSA is to increase the extent to which government data is standardised, thereby making it easier to share, interrogate, and interpret. 

Its work will be guided by a steering board, which will meet monthly and will include representatives of the Home Office, and the Departments for Work and Pensions and Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – as well as the Cabinet Office and the ONS.

Deputy national statistician Frankie Kay said: “The DSA’s work allows the government to further capitalise on the benefits of data to improve our services. Through participation on the Steering Board, ONS is able to ensure alignment with wider data initiatives and implement data standards in line with our priorities.”


Sam Trendall

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