Joined-up Data Standards


Joining up data standards is a vital part of turning more data into better information to drive sustainable development. Development Initiatives and Publish What You Fund have teamed up to explore the challenges of joining up standards, work with partners to find common solutions and build international consensus that all data should be joined up.

Data has immense potential to help drive poverty eradication and sustainable development. Turned into information, data enables a better understanding of development challenges and how to design, implement and monitor more effective policies to address them.
The problem: loads of data; too little useable information

While more and more valuable data is becoming available, much of it can’t be turned into useful information because it is being published in different formats and to different standards. At the moment it is incredibly difficult to create information that can be used for decision-making and accountability, as this requires the ability to join up data across areas such as money, people and results. This lack of joined-up data can even have life-threatening consequences where, for instance, aid workers are unable to match financial and material resources against needs and conditions during an emergency. More often than not, people can see snapshots of what is going on, but not the whole picture.
The solution: joining up data standards

To solve this, this growing wealth of data needs to be compiled and published to standards that make it more easily comparable and interoperable. This is not about creating new standards, but enabling existing and future standards to join up. To get there, we need technical solutions and political will. This is why Development Initiatives and Publish What You Fund are working to identify priorities and technical approaches for joined-up data. At the same time, we are building support and raising awareness of the need for standard setters to work together. All of this is being done in close collaboration with standard setters, data producers and data users.

Enabling data standards to align better will unlock the potential of data to create better information. It will give decision-makers and those holding them to account a more holistic picture of needs and resources to drive sustainable development.

To facilitate this work, we are using Simple Knowledge Organisation System (SKOS) and custom ontologies. SKOS not only provides a universal ‘language’ for defining relationships between concepts (terms) in a single taxonomy (vocabulary, thesaurus or classification scheme) but also a means of systematically comparing concepts in different taxonomies. In other words, allows us to make meaningful connections between data standards behind crucial data on the state of development.

To manage this work, we use PoolParty Semantic Suite as our online Thesaurus server ( This provides a simple interface for users to build or store taxonomies and use ‘drag and drop’ functionality to manage relationships between concepts. It also makes all the data publicly available in the standard linked data format (RDF) that allows machines to read and navigate through the thesauri. We chose to use this tool as we are keen to collaborate with international data standard setters and data users alike in building this important knowledge network and we want to make joining-up data standards using semantic approach as easy as possible for a non-technical user.

As our work progresses we have been developing a series of discussion papers and blogs to highlight how particular data standards overlap, differ and contradict each another. The discussion papers are based on research undertaken in collaboration with data standard setters, data producers and users and feed into a consultation paper that will set out recommendations on the joining up of data standards. To date we have published four discussion papers that deal with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Ending Hunger (SDG2), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and International Household Surveys. Recently we have published a consultation paper that aims to start a discussion on what technical and political solutions could look like at a global level to the lack of data standards interoperability. All our publications are available at

This project was launched in April 2015.

Development Initatives

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