ISA² - Interoperability solutions for public administrations, businesses and citizens

Improving semantic interoperability in European eGovernment systems

2016.07 SEMIC: Promoting Semantic Interoperability amongst the EU Member States                                

When is this action of interest to you? 

- You are involved in the metadata management of a European public administration or service.
- You want to explore, (re-) use or share semantic assets (metadata or reference data).
- You want to learn more about semantic interoperability requirements, approaches or tools.
- You are looking for references for best practices and case studies.

What is this action about?

​The SEMIC action provides solutions to help European public administrations perform seamless and meaningful cross-border and cross-domain data exchanges.

The provision of digital cross-border public services requires the exchange of data between public administrations of different EU countries.

Semantic interoperability is a fundamental enabler of such exchanges. It is crucial to agree on the use of common semantic standards, promote transparent and well-documented metadata policies and increase the visibility and reuse of existing semantic interoperability solutions.

Since its inception, SEMIC has invested in the simplification of the environment in which EU countries exchange data for the delivery of electronic public services, addressing the issues and barriers related to semantic interoperability in the EU.

Besides providing free of charge technical solutions, the action animates a community of practitioners working on semantic interoperability.

What are the objectives?

The SEMIC action aims to enable seamless data exchange between public administrations by:

  • Supporting alignments and agreements on common definitions and specifications at the semantic layer for the Member States and the EU institutions.
  • Increasing the visibility of existing data standards and promoting the use of ISA² specifications, such as Core Vocabularies, ADMS and DCAT-AP at the European, national and local level.
  • Identifying needs for developing new common data models.
  • Supporting projects executed by European Commission services and EU countries to promote semantic interoperability with pilots and expert advice.
  • Promoting best practices, experiences and lessons-learnt in the area of semantic interoperability and raising awareness on the importance of semantic interoperability and appropriate metadata management policies.
  • Engaging with the SEMIC community, in particular by organising community-building events.

What are the benefits?

  • Free access to a European repository of reusable semantic interoperability assets, including technical specifications and knowledge on the domain of semantic interoperability.
  • These semantic interoperability assets enable efficiencies due to reuse of an already existing solution and less interoperability conflicts while integrating systems to provide cross-border and cross-domain services.
  • A central point of reference for collecting, organising, storing and making available semantic interoperability assets which have been created by various EU entities (SEMIC collection on Joinup).
  • A community of practitioners who support the adoption of semantic interoperability standards through collaborative efforts and the sharing of knowledge and good practices.
  • Practical support to the implementation of semantic interoperability solutions through the execution of pilots that implement ISA² specifications.

Which solutions can we already offer to you?

The ISA² Programme has developed a number of semantic specifications and interoperability solutions which are available to public administrations, namely: Core Vocabularies, the DCAT Application Profile for Data Portals in Europe (DCAT-AP) and the Asset Description Metadata Schema (ADMS). The SEMIC action is also funding the development of solutions managed by other services, such as VocBench3 which is managed by the Publications Office of the EU.

1. Core Vocabularies
These are simplified, reusable, and extensible data models that capture the fundamental characteristics of an entity, such as a person or a public organisation, in a context-neutral manner. Public administrations can use and extend the Core Vocabularies in the following contexts:

  • Information exchange between systems: the Core Vocabularies can become the basis of a context-specific data model used to exchange data among existing information systems.
  • Data integration: the Core Vocabularies can be used to integrate data that comes from disparate data sources.
  • Data publishing: the Core Vocabularies can be used as the foundation of a common export format for data in base registries like cadastres, business registers and service portals. 
  • Development of new systems: the Core Vocabularies can be used as a default starting point for designing the conceptual and logical data models in newly developed information systems.

The following Core Vocabularies have been developed under ISA² so far: 

  • Core Person
  • Core Business
  • Core Location
  • Core Criterion and Core Evidence
  • Core Public Organisation

Find out more about the different categories of Core Vocabularies and their use cases.
Visit our e-Government Core Vocabularies community space on Joinup.

Pilots were carried out in collaboration with public administrations in several EU Member States. The pilots were intended as a proof-of-concept to demonstrate the applicability of the Core Vocabularies. Implementations include:

  • e-CODEX: The Core Person Vocabulary is used in the e-Document formats that implement the European Payment Order procedure developed by the e-Justice Communication via the Online Data Exchange (e-CODEX) large-scale pilot.
  • OSLO project: The standards of the Flemish Open Standards for Local Administrations in Flanders (OSLO) project are local extensions of the Core Business, Core Person, Core Location and Core Public Service vocabularies created at European level.

2. DCAT Application Profile for data portals (DCAT-AP)

DCAT-AP provides a common specification for describing public sector datasets in Europe to enable the exchange of descriptions of datasets among data portals. DCAT-AP allows:

  • Data catalogues to describe their dataset collections using a standardised description, while keeping their own system for documenting and storing them.
  • Content aggregators, such as the European Data Portal, to aggregate such descriptions into a single point of access.
  • Data consumers to more easily find datasets from a single point of access.

Find out more about features, use cases and extensions of DCAT-AP.
Visit our DCAT-AP community space on Joinup.

3. Asset Description Metadata Schema (ADMS)

ADMS is a specification used to describe interoperability solutions helping everyone to search and to discover them. ADMS allows:

  • Solution providers, such as standardisation organisations and public administrations, to describe their interoperability solutions using the standardised descriptive metadata terms of ADMS, while keeping their own system for documenting and storing them.
  • Content aggregators, such as Joinup, to aggregate such descriptions into a single point of access.
  • ICT developers to more easily explore, find, identify, select and obtain interoperability solutions from a single point of access.

Find out more about the features and use cases of ADMS.
Visit our ADMS community space on Joinup.

4. VocBench3

The SEMIC action is funding the development of the VocBench3 tool that can help public administrations to maintain and publish their controlled vocabularies in an open and interoperable way. VocBench3, as a free web-based platform, enables collaborative editing and management. Its development is managed by the Publications Office of the European Union.

Find out more about the features of VocBench3 and its use cases.
Visit VocBench3 on Joinup.

What has been achieved?

The Action maintains communication links with relevant initiatives to promote semantic interoperability around the world (e.g. USA, Japan) to exchange views and share experiences.
In 2018/2019, the different ISA² specifications were maintained and a new minor release of DCAT-AP (1.2) was published. As part of our commitment to share knowledge in the SEMIC community, a number of studies were carried out to showcase the use and benefits of semantic specifications and assets and to explain how SEMIC solutions are relevant for public administrations.

Three pilots took place using ISA² specifications, involving various stakeholders in the Member States and the European Commission: the Linked Data Showcase pilot about creating a reference architecture for offering the contents of relational databases as linked data. Work has continued on the National Interoperability Framework (NIFO) pilot to create machine-readable representations of the NIFO e-Government factsheets. Regarding engaging with our community and communicating on semantic interoperability matters, the Action organised the 2018 edition of the SEMIC conference on Linked Digital Public Administrations as one key moment to connect and engage with our diverse community of interoperability experts. We also participated in key events to share information and insights, to present our solutions and to give a semantic point-of-view on interoperability topics, such as the ISA² mid-term conference (Brussels, 29 November) or the CEF eTranslation Conference (Brussels, 29 November). We have organised several webinars during the year, on AI, on GeoDCAT and on CCCEV.

For VocBench3
VocBench3 is in consonance with the following underlying principles of the EIF: Reusability, Multilingualism, Openness, Semantic interoperability, Technical interoperability and Standardisation. Since version 4.0 (published in 09/2018), VocBench3 is able to search for data models in public dataset repositories and registries and to retrieve and reuse them completely or partially for the creation of own data models. Now that the system has reached full maturity, its improvements in the 2019 work-programme mostly address features for covering advanced functionalities and needs, such as evolved graph representation with UML-like interactive (i.e. usable for editing) diagrams, in-line support for SHACL integrity checks, advanced UI widgets and improved editing of logical axioms for ontologies. As of today, VocBench3 is the most mature OSS platform for advanced thesaurus management and the only existing system providing in a single offer combined support for OWL ontologies, SKOS (and SKOS-XL) thesauri and Ontolex lexicons: its full compliance with W3C standards makes it a perfect platform for the evolution of many organizations and authorities towards production and publication of Linked Open Data.

For the ESCO MAPPING Technical infrastructure
ESCO is already published as Linked Open Data. It can be accessed through the ESCO portal, by downloading the ESCO dataset, through a central API and by downloading and installing a local API. The ESCO classification is managed and published through a backend suite with various interlinked components, such as the taxonomy management system, the translation management system, the mapping platform and the ESCO portal.

What are the next steps? 
As from 2020, the Action will continue to maintain, update and promote the above-mentioned specifications. It will also try to identify and develop new e-Government Core Vocabularies, promote the real usage of the existing specifications, make available a robust toolset for metadata management, further elaborate on policies for metadata. More specifically the Action will deliver the following results:

  • e-Government Core Vocabularies
  1. Review the current expressions of the e-Government Core Vocabularies and of all ISA² specifications maintained by SEMIC.
  2. Identification of areas for new e-Government Core Vocabularies and/or common data models.
  3. Checking maturity and opportunities for developing specifications with communities.
  4. New vocabularies development.
  5. Sustainability of the existing specifications.
  • Policy and project support to DGs and Member States for promoting semantic interoperability with pilots and policy advice including the areas of open and linked data.
  • Support for using the ISA data models in operational systems in DGs and Member States.
  • Work for metadata management, including documenting existing policies and tools, drafting guidelines, architectures, providing direct support to Member States and DGs, aligning and coordinating relevant initiatives.
  • Continuation of the promotion and dissemination work including the SEMIC conference, identification of good practices, case studies, recommendations.