What is a standard?
A standard, usually established by consensus, and approved by a recognised body, provides - for common and repeated use - rules, guidelines, or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context.
The need for Standards and practical uses of Standards
Standards for geographic information support its better exploitation and sharing. Thus they play a major role in AGI's mission to maximise the use of geographic information (GI) for the benefit of the citizen, good governance and commerce. Standards are required for all aspects of systems - hardware, software and data - in order to achieve interoperability. Fundamental standards cover concepts, system interfaces and data structures, while application-level standards are required for particular user areas for specific tasks.
UK Location is a ‘UK pan-government initiative to improve the sharing and re-use of public sector location information’. As part of the implementation of UK Location, the Standards Committee has revised the UK GEMINI Discovery Metadata standard and guidelines on behalf of AGI for conformance with the INSPIRE implementing rules. For more information on the EU INSPIRE initiative please see here.
BSI and IST/36
The British Standards Institution (BSI) is the official standards body for the UK, overseeing standards which meet the needs of different market sectors. Committees in each sector are user driven, and are drawn from participants from within the sectors, with their work financed by their membership. By agreement with BSI, the AGI Standards Committee acts as the responsible committee for the geographic information sector. Within BSI, this committee is known as IST/36, and its secretariat is provided by the AGI. The terms of reference can be found here.
British GI Standards
IST/36 is responsible for the development of British standards for GI where:
At present the main British standard of interest to the GI industry is BS7666, which covers geographic referencing of land, property and streets, or addressing. IST/36 have also taken the lead with BS8766: Names and identifiers of individuals and groups, and liaise with the committee for intelligent transport. For further details see here.
International GI Standards
The International Standards Technical Committee for GI, ISO/TC 211, is working to produce a comprehensive suite of standards for GI. These standards are generic, and the UK makes a major contribution to this work through IST/36. This input has included participation in, and the leading of, various working groups, as well as regularly commenting on all GI standards being developed or maintained. The UK is also represented on the ISO TC211 Programme Management Group. For further details, see http://www.isotc211.org/
The European Standards Committee for GI, CEN/TC 287, produces the detailed standards associated with European needs for a spatial data infrastructure. Most of these standards are actually developed through parallel working and close liaison with ISO/TC 211. CEN/TC 287 also has a close working relationship with the European Commission's Joint Research Centre to ensure that INSPIRE Directive Implementing Rules and ISO/CEN standards are compatible. The Secretariat of CEN/TC 287 is provided by BSI. For further details, see http://www.gistandards.eu
The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) is a foundation with commercial, government and academic membership, dedicated to producing standards and technical specifications for interoperability. There is close liaison between OGC and ISO/TC 211, and many OGC documents subsequently become ISO Standards. Generally speaking, OGC concentrates on software and service standards while ISO concentrates on data standards. For further details see http://www.opengeospatial.org/
The Standards-making process
The process for creating standards is essentially the same at all levels; British, European and international. A new work item proposal (NWIP) is produced, defining the scope of the proposed standard, and providing a statement of its purpose and justification. This is submitted to the appropriate standards body for approval. A Working Group is then established from the user community to produce a draft standard for public consultation.
The draft standard is then published for formal public comment - usually for three months. These comments may be general, editorial or technical. They are collated and considered by an Editing Committee, comprising a selected panel of experts who will adjudicate them. Each comment is either accepted (possibly with modification) and the standard amended accordingly, or rejected with reasons. There may be several rounds of this comment and revision process, depending on the number of changes made and the level of the standard. When consensus is reached and the standard is stable, it goes to the relevant Standards Body for formal approval prior to publication.
All standards are formally reviewed after they have been in place for a period of time, usually five years, to determine whether they should be endorsed for a further period, amended, replaced or withdrawn.
Conformance to Standards
In order to demonstrate conformance to a standard, it is necessary to have external verification. Standards now come with a conformance statement which provides an abstract test suite to enable an objective test to be carried out to determine a product's conformance to the standard. Several bodies offer standards conformance accreditation, but this is not a function of the standards committees as such.