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LocalGov Digital
Local Government Digital Service Standard

7. Use open standards

Use open standards, existing authoritative data and registers, and where possible make source code and service data open and reusable under appropriate licenses.

Notes for applying this point

The purpose of this point is to ensure that open standards are used and where possible make source code and service data open and reusable.

Open standards and open source are not the same thing.

What are open standards?

The definition of an open standard in Wikipedia is as follows:

An open standard is a standard that is publicly available and has various rights to use associated with it, and may also have various properties of how it was designed (e.g. open process). There is no single definition and interpretations vary with usage.

The process of maintaining an open standard is described in the Government Service Manual as follows:

By working together in a decision-making process that is consensus-based and independent of any individual supplier. Involvement in the development and maintenance of the standard is accessible to all interested parties.

Why should we have open standards?

At World Standards Day, 14 October 2003, EU Commissioner Erkki Liikanen said

Open standards are important to help create interoperable and affordable solutions for everybody. They also promote competition by setting up a technical playing field that is level to all market players. This means lower costs for enterprises and, ultimately, the consumer.

W3C Director Sir Tim Berners-Lee has said

The decision to make the Web an open system was necessary for it to be universal. You can’t propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it.

Where can I find open standards?

GOV.UK provides a list of standards related to government, whilst contains more general schema for structured data on the Internet.

W3C standards define an Open Web Platform for application development which can be used as a foundation for the architecture and design choices of the digital service. W3C also defines accessibility standards which are hugely important to ensure that the service you create is usable for all.

The Local Government Digital Content Standard is a guide for local government on how to write digital content.

What is open source?

Open source can be defined as

Software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified.

If you’re looking to create and deliver a new digital service, the best place to start is finding someone who has already made it and is willing to share the code. The Government Service Design Manual details the government’s intentions to use more open source software rather than proprietary bought-in solutions.

All datasets should be registered at unless there are exceptional circumstances (such as heavily redacted personal data which would be unusable). This will provide a national picture on this data and enable comparison between local authorities.

By using and making software open source you’re enabling the efficient reuse of code and can benefit from other professionals suggesting code changes to improve the service.

Open source software is often free, and for widely used products such as UmbracoDrupal or WordPress there are many suppliers who offer a support service. Another advantage over proprietary software is that you are not tied into one vendor to support the service. It’s also easier to recruit and train in-house staff with widely used open source software.