What do we need to make open data standards work?



They need to write a list.  Of the data they want to be sent.  It would be very simple, a list of items with definitions.

name                        Legal name of organisation
Charity number              Registered charity number
Beneficiaries               How many different individuals have                                you worked with in the reporting period

And then, importantly, they put that list online, in such a way that each item on the list has it’s own web address. So if anyone wants to talk about the name of a charity, they’d say ‘www.vcsdatastandards.org/organisation/name’. Of course people wouldn’t say that, but computers would.

Then they would agree to accept a json file of the form

  'www.vcsdatastandards.org/organisation/name': {
     value: "A lovely VCS Organisation",
     meta: {}
  'www.vcsdatastandards.org/organisation/charity_number': {
     value: 123456,
     meta: {}
  'www.vcsdatastandards.org/impact/beneficiaries/unique': {
     value: 789,
     meta: {
         date_from: "2012-01-01",
         date_to: "2013-12-31"

Computers are very good at producing files like that. Computer programs (like Lamplight, but because everything’s open anyone could implement it) could very easily produce files like this to send to funders. And it should be possible to produce in the click of a button (or two, but really not much).

Important points:

  • Anyone could add to the list of things to be measured.  So if a second funder wants to use this system, they can look through what’s there, use it if they want to, and add their own if it’s not on there. (There might want to be some curation of this, though).
  • To specify their reporting requirements funders would send a list of urls.
  • All this could happen machine-to-machine – I’m not suggesting individuals would take a list of urls.  But items could be narrative, numerical, whatever, and you’d obviously need people to sign things off.  VCS orgs could even publish these things on an /open page and funders scrape them, if they wanted to.
  • Like can be compared to like: by using these urls as our definitions of what things mean, different VCS, funders, whoever.
  • The definitions and everything needs to be open and free to use.

This is just a sketch.  If something like this were produced and endorsed by people like the Big Lottery, NCVO, some bits of government, we’d implement it in Lamplight in a flash, and I suspect other suppliers would too.