Government Digital Services

Government API Standards

Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives

APIs allow different applications to talk to each other. In government, we have had difficulty sharing information because APIs were not standardised. Also due to interoperability problems, departments and local councils were often limited to which applications from the public sector they can reuse. The API Standards project has involved cross-government, both central and local, collaboration (as well as with the wider public sector like Network Rail) to create a common set of API standards. This will allow more reuse of information and technology in the public sector, ultimately saving the taxpayer cost.

What are the key achievements?

We have held 4 large cross-government events in partnership with iStandUK, bringing departments and local councils together to brainstorm API Standards. We have held additional workshops with experts in each specific area of API Standards to get consensus on particular standards and objectives. We now have a cross-government set of API Standards that are iterated and are now of interest to the US and European governments. We have been talking to the US Digital Service about how we have put together these standards, and will be presenting our work to European governments in Italy on the 18 October. Due to information and application reuse, our API Standards will save the public sector money and shows the UK has a lead in technical standards internationally.

What are the key learning points?

1) When forming standards, understand who the lead practitioners are in each specific area and take your lead from them (to avoid being led down the completely wrong path – there are lots of very diverse contrasting views in tech!)
2) Keep standards about practical implementation, not therotical what may be ideas
3) To gain agreement and buy-in, create a core community of people interested in setting standards and keep them updated regularly with events. Make the events engaging. Find your lead practitioners at these events.
4) Share work on standards openly and be open to feedback but give contributors strict deadlines for leaving their ideas and responses
5) Work on the principles of iteration – everything doesn’t have to be in the first draft. With future iterations, you can go into more detail and add more qualifications if necessary
6) Keep standards minimal and link off to guidance, policy and case study documents where helpful

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