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  1. Service manual
  2. Technology
  3. Working with open standards

Open standards are technical specifications developed outside of government.

You must use open standards when designing and building your service unless you’ve been granted an exemption.

Using open standards means you can:

  • share data between services and systems more easily
  • avoid getting ‘locked in’ to a specific piece of technology or supplier
  • reuse software components built by others, including open source components
  • reduce the overall cost of your digital service
  • change your service’s design over time more easily

Meeting the Digital Service Standard

To pass point 9 (use open standards and common platforms), you must:

  • avoid contracts that lock you into proprietary software
  • connect your service to other government platforms and systems to make the user’s experience consistent
  • reuse solutions from other government services that can meet the same user need

You’ll have to discuss how you did this in your service assessments.

Open standards you must use

The Open Standards Board at the Government Digital Service (GDS) has approved a list of open standards that all of government must use.

If no approved open standard meets your needs

If you believe the approved list has no available standard that meets your needs, email the open standards team: openstandards@digital.cabinet-office.gov.uk.

They’ll tell you if another government project has a similar standard you could use.

If there’s no suitable standard in use elsewhere in government, you must find a standard from outside government.

Finding technical standards outside government

When looking for a standard outside government, you must follow these open standard principles.

  1. Start with user needs.

  2. Choose standards that make it possible for suppliers to compete on a level playing field.

  3. Choose standards that support flexibility and change.

  4. Choose standards that support sustainable cost.

  5. Make well-informed decisions about your standards,

  6. Use fair and transparent selection processes when choosing your standards.

  7. Be fair and transparent in how you specify and implement your chosen open standards.

Find out more about following open standards principles.

If you find a standard that you think could be useful for all of government to use, you should submit a suggestion to the GDS open standards team.

Services with multiple technical specifications

If you’re building a service which uses multiple technical specifications, for example an application programming interface (API) used for interfacing between pieces of software, you’re likely to be using multiple technical standards.

In these cases, you should make sure that as many standards as possible meet open standards principles.

Getting an exemption

In exceptional circumstances the GDS Open Standards Board may give you permission to use a standard that:

  • doesn’t meet GDS’s 7 open standards principles and has an open alternative
  • performs the same function as one of the government’s approved open standards

To ask for an exemption, you need to explain why you want to use a different standard when you apply for spend control approval.

In your spend controls application you should include:

You can use the Standards Hub’s core assessment questions for proposed standards to help you decide what information to include.

The Open Standards Board and the government’s Chief Technology Officer will decide whether you can use your proposed standard.

If your service doesn’t need spend controls approval, ask your organisation’s accounting officer for an exemption to use a standard that doesn’t meet normal rules.

If you get an exemption

If you get an exemption, the open standards team will publish this information on the Standards Hub as long as it doesn’t pose a threat to national security.

You can also contact the open standards team in GDS for advice. Email openstandards@digital.cabinet-office.gov.uk.

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Technology community (technical architecture)
Last update:

Guidance first published