Taxonomy

Article modified: June 2015, Author:


Introduction

Metadata, categorisation, taxonomy, ontology, classification, filing labels…. A boring but necessary basis to being able to manage data and bring it together to create meaningful information. There appears to be a lack of any sector-wide effort to agree (electronic) standards. VolResource is concerned that this could put voluntary groups at a disadvantage in the future when coming up against public sector data standards which are getting increasingly sophisticated, or other funder monitoring requirements.

See Wikipedia for a definition and discussion of Taxonomy.

The data we have in mind is anything to do with keeping tabs on sector activity, whether that is case work, service delivery or member processes. Its use will go well beyond IT, so this subject should not be seen as just a technical issue.

Viewing the Sector

The most obvious need for some degree of standardisation is in voluntary sector research.

  • Johns Hopkins University Centre for Civil Society Studies Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project has developed, starting out from the existing International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC), an International Classification of Nonprofit Organizations (ICNPO) – check the Publications page. Evolved into the Global Civil Society Index. It has been pointed out that “for all its faults, this system does have the virtue of simplicity. Other more complex (including multi dimensional) systems, [include] those developed and used in the UK have other advantages of course”.
  • The Canadian sector study, Canadian Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector in Comparative Perspective (pdf format 348kb published March 2005, may still be available via Sector Source), has a modified version of ICNPO at pages 38 to 43.

Online directories and electronic databases of voluntary organisations is perhaps the usage that comes to mind from the term ‘metadata’.

Various local, regional and national sector umbrella bodies have of necessity worked on classification for their web based directories. Here’s some efforts we know about:

  • Northern Ireland’s Community NI site has asked the sector to feed into the development of the themes (activity/topics) navigation facility (there is also a geographical one). See bottom section of the left hand navigation area.

Scotland’s CVS network established a Data Management Consortium – but only known web link has gone. There was also a ShareIT Community Metadata Schema, in Manchester, but we believe funding cuts have hit what little activity there was.

Wales Council for Voluntary Action has/had a classification system with “46 categories which are a mixture of beneficiary types, activities and functions, and any one organisation can be coded in as many categories as seems appropriate”. (Unlike ICNPO which insists on just one box being ticked). The categories are grouped into 23 forums, the basis of the representative seats at the Voluntary Sector Partnership Council with the Welsh Assembly.

Frontline operations also have a need for relevant classification systems, for monitoring activity (reporting to funders, benchmarking against others), making information available online categorised for different service user needs etc.

  • 211 Taxonomy focuses on the telephone information line for human services operating in 31 states in the US, Puerto Rico and Canada. This includes nonprofit and capacity-building categories. Subscription to gain full access to the site appears to cost but there is a Volunteer Opportunities example, in pdf format, 217kb.

Questions

The following have been raised in various discussions on taxonomy issues.

  • Can, or should, library resources be classified in the same way as a web site?
  • Is it possible to create compatibility across local, regional or national approaches? And also work with public sector classifications?

Public sector

The public sector has been working on its electronic classification standards for some time. The Integrated Public Sector Vocabulary brings together three existing labelling mechanisms for electronic information: the Government Category List (GCL), Local Government Category List (LGCL) and the seamlessUK taxonomy. At 2013, see ESD Standards section. Also see other taxonomies (controlled lists or standards) maintained by ESD.

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