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We blogged recently about creating an authoritative dataset of government organisations, which is work happening under the Open Government Partnership’s (OGP) National Action Plan (PDF 1.48MB).

It sounds small, but it’s really exciting (and actually pretty complex!) as it has the potential to be a foundation piece for government transparency and accountability.

Currently it’s scoped to include a basic core set of data listing government agencies, the leadership roles associated, their structure and of course general contact information.

It has so much potential for future expansion too once the initial version is available. For example, information on agencies accountabilities and the legislation they administer.

In keeping with being a signatory of the Digital 9 Charter, and in the spirit of upholding the Digital Design Service Standard, we’ve been investigating which open standards should be considered to describe government organisations in this new dataset.

Open standards are critical for interoperability of the data between systems and to ensure anyone can freely open and reuse the data.

Investigating the data standards landscape

I’ve been investigating similar datasets (government organisation registers) from Canada, Australia and the UK. I’ve also been looking at some examples closer to home including the existing A-Z and the NZ Business Number registry.

When all these datasets are compared they uncover a core set of common fields. This hints at a minimum useful set of data properties to include in the proposed dataset. For example, all the datasets I looked at captured fields like organisation name and general contact details (website, email, postal address) for the organisation. However each also held a set of much more specialised fields, depending on who the data publisher was.

Australia’s government organisation register, for example, is published by their Treasury, so has a focus on data like budgets, appropriations and public spend. It includes additional financial and ministerial portfolio related fields.

While this is all very useful data, for our first version of the NZ government organisations register, our suggested approach is having an agreed core set of fields we can then build on.

What was also clear from this work is that there did not seem to be an open standard in practice for holding this type of data (at least not in the dataset we reviewed). To address this gap I’ve also been looking into existing open standards for describing ‘organisations’ in data.

While, there appear to be several proprietary standards after scanning the environment it appears a suitable candidate for the proposed dataset is the Organization data schema from

What’s and why is it useful? is a community driven, structured data vocabulary for modelling data on the web.

It helps both people and machines understand how to describe things (like web pages, pieces of music, recipes and in our case, organisations) in a consistent way. Data described using these standards make them interoperable and easier to reuse in other applications.

The ‘Organization’ standard maps well to the set of common fields I mentioned above. However, it’s not entirely like for like. In our context we’re going to need some extra fields in order to make it useful.

For example:

  • Te Reo Māori name of the organisation — the closest useful field in would be ‘alternativeName’.
  • New Zealand Business Number (NZBN) — we can map this to the ‘identifier’ field in However not all the government organisations we've tested have a NZBN (the current most unique identifier for an organisation is its ‘legal title’).
  • Superseding organisation — in cases where the organisation has merged/split/dissolved. 
  • You can view others in our reference model dataset.

Given we want to make this dataset as widely usable as possible I’m suggesting that we don’t adopt the standard directly. Instead we would look to map a set of plain English field names to those found in the We have an example data dictionary to show you how this mapping might work.

This allows us to include the additional fields mentioned above to make it as useful as possible, while keeping aligned with a known open standard. This way, it can be easily used and understood by people as well as machines — the best of both worlds.


We think that using a widely known, open standard for modelling organisations on the web, and mapping a researched set of core fields to this, is a pragmatic and workable approach. However, do tell us if we’ve missed something as we are open to exploring all suitable open standards for this dataset.

The best way to test the usefulness of the proposed data model is to try it out. I’ve produced a draft reference model and data dictionary of the proposed dataset which you can access over on It includes some model data for a few existing (and past) New Zealand government organisations to help give you a feel for how the data would look.

It would be great to get feedback from everyone who’s interested in open standards, data modelling the machinery of government, or has a need to use this information. Leave us a comment below or get in touch info@digital.govt.

Post your comment


  1. John Machin 08/05/2019 10:28am (2 months ago)

    Hi Cam!

    Very interesting project. I am working on some related work for activities/records ( and there is Finance/Archives/CSIRO joint effort to make a persistent entity/function linkset right now.

    I will take the opportunity to also note that AGOR is the product of some of my colleagues at the Department of Finance!

    I probably don't need to tell you that maintenance is the hard part of this in the end.

    Happy to talk further!

    • Cam Findlay 16/05/2019 4:44pm (2 months ago)

      Great to hear from you John, yes keeping the data alive is going to be the tricky bit. Interested in any open standards you may have considered when putting your data together? Will get in touch to talk further :)

  2. Dave Lane 20/06/2019 10:56am (28 days ago)

    This is good to see Cam - it's important that we're a) working out a process of identifying existing open we can apply rather than creating new ones unnecessarily, b) integrating our work with global frameworks, like (an amazing reference & initiatve).

    I like the definition of open standard that you cite. It's very compatible with the one we've chosen for ...

    The big question now, is how do we convince all of NZ gov't to apply the process your spearheading here for *all IT procurement* and make it a requirement for all software created or used by our gov't to be compliant with relevant open standards? Because, for the moment, our efforts towards our D9 Charter obligations have been a bit farcical... (and the word "open" is almost never mentioned in conjunction with our country's efforts, despite "open" being core to the first 3 of the 9 goals)...

    Keep up the good work!

    • Cam Findlay 01/07/2019 3:42pm (17 days ago)

      Thanks Dave. Yes lots of mahi still to be done.

      On another note, did you have a chance to look over the reference dataset we put up on Interested in if you have any views on the proposed data structure and properties.

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