7 Best Practices for Metadata Use

November 23, 2020 by Melissa Crowe

7 Best Practices for Metadata Use

With the holidays upon us, most folks are starting to think about online shopping for gifts. What they won’t think about, though, is the metadata behind those retailers. Amazon, for example, sells more than 12 million products all neatly organized in a catalog shopping experience. You can easily find what you’re looking for with a simple keyword search.

We can apply this same idea to data. Metadata, while often relegated to the backburner of ongoing data program maintenance, is essential to making data as discoverable and interconnected as possible. It’s less about data entry and more about making links between existing information. When preparing to publish data, whether for internal or public use, including metadata alongside your assets will increase the use and value of your data.

Since open data programs first emerged a decade ago, these programs — and their needs — have changed and expanded. For example, some states, such as Connecticut, which launched its open data program in 2014, are using metadata to revise the public user experience in finding COVID-related data. Managing the mundane, but meaningful, metadata maturation is a cornerstone of sustainable data program growth.

Proper management of metadata increases the value and trust of your data inventory with the public and internal leaders. But, when it is mismanaged, it can create PR nightmares and undermine the value of your data program. Well-described data is all about adding value.

If you’re looking to improve metadata use in your organization, consider seven key fields that will have a positive impact:

  • Category: Describe the category of information provided, such as licenses, permits, or records.
  • Licensing and Access: Specify whether the data is available for release to the public or agencies or organizations outside your government, whether it can be obtained from your organization and how it can be obtained.
  • Description: Provide a short descriptive narrative about the dataset.
  • Keywords/Tags: Use keywords used in a search for data such as parks, streets, transportation, etc.
  • Point of Contact: Include contact information for the person and department which maintains the data. Ideally, you’ll include a regularly monitored email address and a phone number.
  • Date Created: Specify when the data was created.
  • Date Updated: Specify how frequently it will be updated — and, most importantly, commit to maintaining those updates.

Think back to the Amazon example. Many of these same fields are crucial to locating items for your ideal home office set-up or whatever it is you’re after. It’s also true when searching for data for a given project or initiative.

You want to make sure it’s well-described, timely, and relevant. Good metadata can help you get there.

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