Authoritative Data in an European context

EuroSDR, EuroGeographics and KU Leuven initiated this a small project on the meaning of authoritative data last year. The result of this initiative is the report ‘Authoritative Data in European context’ written by Joep Crompvoets, Stijn Wouters, Maxim Chantillon, Dominik Kopczewski, Mick Cory, Carol Agius, and Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen.

Data are the bedrock of public and private service provision. Digitalization exposes the need for a common approach towards data, through a higher demand for data within and across both the public and private sector (and the so-called third sector including academia and not-for-profit organizations), but also through the development of innovative services. A common approach within countries, but also across borders, is necessary to ensure high data quality, to invigorate trust between stakeholders, to reduce inefficiencies, to stimulate innovation and to allow for a user-centric service provision. Authoritative data are a means to define and organize data, but also to coordinate the roles of all the involved stakeholders. However, the term itself is defined and operationalized in various ways, depending on institutional, legal and cultural characteristics of countries and public administrations.

To understand the phenomenon, this study applied a two-step methodology, making use  of (1) an online survey, and (2) focus group meetings based on roundtable discussions, both with the members of EuroGeographics. Both steps were followed by a triangulation with the academic literature surrounding the subject.

The results of the report underline the need for a systematic and harmonized approach towards authoritative data. The survey revealed three main conclusions:

1. There are a variety of definitions and approaches applied by the different member organizations of EuroGeographics, as well as different opinions on which data should be considered as authoritative.

2. Most of the EuroGeographics Member organizations underlined that their country has a formalised approach towards authoritative data, as well as an obligation to use  authoritative data.

3. The survey results indicated that there is  consensus concerning the central role of public organizations in the organization and use of authoritative data.

Through the focus groups, the results of the survey were corroborated and several additional elements could be added on the topic of authoritative data. The main conclusions of the focus groups are the following.

1. From a methodological point of view it is important to underline that the key conclusions of the survey, as described above, were indeed confirmed.

2. Related to the first conclusion, it is necessary to underline that several additional conditions and characteristics of authoritative data were added to the (existing) organizational conditions for authoritative data mentioned in the survey: Legally binding, accountability, uniqueness, having a mandate, mandatory use (within the public sector), liability, official, (public) authority provision, reference data, trust, harmonization and standardization, continuity, high quality, the need for adequate quality management system, certification, traceability, maintenance, use and understanding.

3. The NMCAs underlined that data that is validated as authoritative data is considered to be of very high quality. This does, in turn necessitates adequate resources for ensuring data quality and up-to-dateness

4. It was also underlined that the obligation to use authoritative data depends on the situation at hand. More effort should be put in making authoritative data available and recognizable by other public organizations as well as private actors.

5. The participating NMCAs underlined that there is a need for organizations within the public sector to take up a central role in the governance of authoritative data.

Based on these results, from both the survey and the focus groups, the research team has taken the liberty to formulate the following four recommendations in relation to authoritative data in a European context:

1. Inter-organizational, cross-sector and cross-border exchange of authoritative data necessitates the need for transparency about the characteristics of the authoritative data that is shared and accepted as authoritative by other stakeholders. A commonly agreed meta-level description methodology, to be developed by the European NMCAs grouped under EuroGeographics could be a step in this direction.

2. A harmonization of definitions and criteria is necessary at both country and European level. At the latter level, this could take the form of a broad framework concerning the dimensions, definitions and barriers to exchange and use of authoritative data, mirroring the network-approach of the European Interoperability Framework or the more hierarchical approach of the INSPIRE directive. Additionally, a governance approach of authoritative data between all stakeholders and their representatives should be organized at the European level. Given the broad membership of EuroGeographics and the diversity in legal, organizational, semantic and technical approaches, we advise for the development of such a governance approach which makes use of a combination of network and hierarchical instruments. However, given that it was underlined by several NMCAs that also private sector organisations can play a role in the further development of authoritative data, we strongly encourage reflections on the potential use of market instruments as well.

3. Within this context, it is necessary that the role of public organizations is re-evaluated. Datasets have to be classified according to their importance (either authoritative or not) and governance schemes have to be developed accordingly. First, for core authoritative datasets, authoritative public organizations will be in charge of the governance, whilst other public sector organizations and the private sector will only play a supporting role (for example in a decentralized data gathering setting), depending on the country. Second, other data could be governed by other public organizations or the private sector. Here, authoritative public organizations could take up a role of control, certification and a leading role concerning the governance of data, including harmonization, standardization and interoperability in general. Third, for other data, authoritative public organizations have a role to work towards harmonization and standardization, but based on network instruments (i.e. ‘(more or less) stable patterns of cooperative interaction between mutually dependent actors around specific issues of policy’ –  examples are the development of an advisory body or information exchange through voluntary negotiation and norms), whereas the former two categories also include hierarchical instruments (i.e. instruments which are based on authority and power ‘as fundamental processes and resources’ – examples are regulations and laws achieved via a process of authority and/or power).

4. As a final, and more general recommendation, we think that further research on the specific use of authoritative data(sets) in a policy context would be helpful to deepen the understanding of the topic. This would not only be useful from an academic point of view, but even more so from a practical point of view. Indeed, by researching specific cases that make use of authoritative data(sets), the added value of the ‘authoritative’ element can be demonstrated in practice thereby stimulating other administrations to work on this topic.


Related publications

Official Publication No. 72 (2019)
Authoritative Data in a European Context