Defining Civic Data Standards and Bringing Clarity to Them

Pavel Ignatov /


Connecting state and local government leaders

Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Government Excellence wants help from cities to refine their definitions and identify more standards.

The city of Madison, Wisconsin, launched its open data initiative in 2013, but the movement fizzled because City Hall spent more time trying to control its hackers than it did using its portal.

“I don’t think Madison has a clear workflow with how to engage with a tech volunteer,” civic hacker Correll Lashbrook recently told The Cap Times. “It would be really great to have better collaboration.”

Madison's open data communities are now "almost dead," according to The Cap Times.

For a data push to be truly “open,” the information must be freely accessible to anyone—increasingly important as more civic data standards emerge. But some of those standards are still a bit blurry and data advocates are working to bring clarity. 

Last year, a consortium of civic and real estate tech companies released the Building & Land Development Specification (BLDS) open data standard. That one and others are being compiled into a Johns Hopkins University Center for Government Excellence library.

In a Dec. 14 post on Medium, the center’s open data director, Andrew Nicklin, defines standards like this:

“A Civic Data Standard is an open, collaboratively developed set of schematics or semantics that facilitates interoperability between multiple providers and consumers for the public good.”

The problem is standards like BLDS are heavy on schematics but light on semantics, or the jargon used, making interoperability tough.

Johns Hopkins aims to change that with its library, which has the potential to broaden the reach of the data by getting providers and consumers discussing and coordinating semantics.

Read Nicklin’s Medium post here, which talks more about the project and enlisting help to refine its definition of a standard and identifying missing ones.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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