Standards Process

The goal of the Earth Science Data and Information Systems (ESDIS) Project's standards process is to facilitate interoperability among components of the NASA Earth Science network of data systems. Establishment of appropriate standards, guidelines and other reference documents enables flexibility as future data and service providers will have well-defined access points to join the NASA Earth Science network of data systems. This flexibility is central to supporting the evolving strategies of NASA's Earth Science activities. In order to accomplish these goals, the standards process needs to focus on recommending standards that are relevant to the NASA Earth Science network of data systems and that have mature implementations and demonstrable operational readiness. The standards process is also designed to encourage community participation in order to leverage community expertise, ideas, and capabilities. The ESDIS Standards Office (ESO) directs the process.

A primary concern is to foster a recommended set of "working edge" standards. That is, in order to recommend a proposal as an ESDS (Earth Science Data Systems) standard, there must be evidence both of successful domain implementation and demonstrable operational readiness. Community input is sought to ensure broad review and garner broad support.

Additionally, the ESDIS project also needs to support developing and emerging standards to fulfill current and future needs of NASA Earth science data systems. The process for supporting developing and emerging standards is under development.

Documents submitted for consideration under the Standards Process are called Request for Comment (RFC) documents, and are assigned to different categories by document type (standard or convention, suggested practice, lessons learned) and general topic (software, specification, process). Documents are also tagged with a status indicating where they are in the review process. Upon completing the review process, documents are considered “Final” and are tagged with a recommendation. Additional tags may be used to indicate technology area (e.g., data formats, metadata) and other relevant information.

The ESDIS standards process can be separated into three major phases: document submission, initial screening, and community review. Each phase is meant to be carried out as a partnership between the document submitters and the ESO.

There are no specific time limits for each phase. However, with a willing, eager team of authors and a motivated set of community reviewers, the entire process could take as little as 2-3 months.

1. How to Submit an RFC

Identify potential requirement for adoption of a standard OR identify currently used standard, convention, or common practice that could be of benefit to NASA Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS). Note that an ESDS standard must be supported by at least two representative implementations and significant operational experience before it can be approved.

2. You can become familiar with the ESDS standards on the Standards and References page, and you can read more about the ESDS Standards Process on the standards process page. Recommended reading includes:

  1. Process for Earth Science Data Systems Standards and References (document number ESDS-RFC-024), and
  2. Instructions to Authors (document number ESDS-RFC-003)

3. Contact the ESO (ESDIS Standards Office) and explain potential submission. The ESO can provide guidance on how relevant the proposed standard may be to ESDS, and on the type and amount of information needed to document it in an RFC.

4. Download the RFC template, which provides a basic outline and proper formatting for the RFC. Note that ESDS-RFC-003 Instructions to Authors provides an explanation of each required RFC section and may be used as an example.

5. Complete the RFC and submit it to the ESO, in both PDF and original forms. This may require several iterations with the ESO.

6. Evidence of at least one representative implementation must be provided as supporting material to the original RFC submission. Any additional supporting materials (e.g., evidence of additional implementation(s) and operational experience) should be supplied as soon as they are available.

7. Work with the ESO to support completion of the Standards Process, as described in ESDS-RFC-024.

2. Path to RFC

The idea for drafting and submitting a document into the standards process can originate with the authors who would like to promote the use of a standard, convention, or process, or who might wish to publish information of value to the Earth science community in the form of lessons learned (typically about the particulars of implementing something, e.g. deploying standards compliant software at a data center). Or the idea can originate from the ESO in the course of observing how a particular community or data center is benefiting from the use of a new standard, process, etc. In the latter case, the ESO will solicit the submission of an RFC covering that topic.

Potential authors should contact the ESO prior to drafting an unsolicited RFC document. This is to ensure the topic is relevant to the needs of ESDIS and is not already being worked on by other authors.

The document should conform to a simple template described in the Instructions to Authors document. A completed draft can be submitted to the ESO for consideration in the standards process.

It is also very important to identify as many implementations of the standard, specification, or process as possible and to list these in a document known as Evidence of Use. The list should include contact information for specific individuals who can later be asked to help review the RFC. Evidence of use is required for Standards and Conventions, highly recommended for Suggested Practice and not required (but welcome) for Lessons Learned RFCs.

3. Path to Approval

RFCs are evaluated in two phases. Successful outcome from both phases results in advancement from "Proposed" to "Approved".

Initial Screening

A completed draft RFC is reviewed by ESO staff to ensure that it conforms to the needs of ESDIS and the requirements set forth in the Instructions to Authors. Necessary revisions are made by the authors.

The ESO then recruits a 3-4 member Technical Working Group (TWG), including an ESO staff person, that will carry out the rest of the process. Members of the TWG should be knowledgeable in the technology area covered by the RFC. Members are recruited from the Earth science data systems community at large. The leader of the TWG is usually assigned the role of RFC Editor and acts as the liaison between the TWG and the authors.

The TWG reviews the RFC for completeness and to ensure the RFC is ready to be reviewed more broadly. This review could lead to more revisions that must be carried out by the authors.

If Evidence of Use is required, it must be submitted before the process continues.

The TWG then tries to identify a pool of potential reviewers, including the people listed in the Evidence of Use.

Once the RFC is considered ready and there is sufficient Evidence of Use the process moves to the next phase.

Community Review

During this phase, the TWG develops a review strategy. This includes making decisions on what the Community Review needs to cover. Reviews can cover one or both of the following areas; technical content and operational readiness. Technical content reviews are required only for specifications that were developed outside of a standards organization. These reviews are meant to address whether the specification is well-documented and is technically implementable. Operational readiness reviews address whether the standard or convention is suitable for operational use and how organizations that have already implemented it have benefited from it.

Based on the review strategy the TWG develops a set of questions meant to discover the strengths, weaknesses, applicability and limitations of the contents of the RFC for each of the areas as needed.

The review questions are sent to the potential reviewers, who are asked to provide timely answers.

Once the reviewers have provided answers to the survey questions, the TWG analyzes the results and makes a recommendation to ESDIS whether to approve the RFC.

During the third phase, comments received are shared with the RFC authors who are then given the opportunity make clarifications and correct any errors found. It can be very useful if the authors help identify more potential reviewers and if they help encourage reviewers to provide responses. Reviewers are not paid to provide reviews so it helps if they understand the nature and value of their contributions to the process.

If the recommendation of the TWG to ESDIS is positive, and if ESDIS concurs, then the RFC is considered “final” and is tagged with one or more recommendation tags.

Categories of Standards

Documents submitted for consideration under the Standards Process are called Request for Comment (RFC) documents. Broadly, these submitted RFCs can fall into one of five categories:

  • Standard - specification approved by a recognized standards body such as OGC, ISO
  • Convention - specification in common use among some members of the Earth science community
  • Suggested Practice - guidance on how to apply a particular standard or convention within the NASA ESDS community
  • Lessons Learned - document describing the use of software, protocols or processes that may be helpful to others
  • Administrative Document – used to describe the operation of the ESDIS Standards Office itself (e.g., this document)

Topics covered in the documents can include:

  • Software - library or toolkit available for use
  • Specification - document describing a format or protocol in sufficient detail that it can be independently implemented in software
  • Process - steps that can be followed to reach a desired result
  • Technical Note - other technical document of interest to the community

Each submitted document is assigned a unique number that is listed in the header to identify each RFC. This is the RFC number and takes the form ESDS-RFC-nnn. In addition, the header contains the RFC category, the RFC status (see below), the author’s name, the submission date, and a title.

Documents are tagged with a status indicating where the document is in the review process. Upon completing the review process, documents are considered “Final” and are tagged with a recommendation.

Status tags:

  • Legacy - formal review has been bypassed for a legacy standard in common usage
  • Monitoring - up and coming technology to watch
  • In development – the document pertains to a developing standard or convention
  • Submitted – the document has been submitted to the standards process
  • In review– the document has been assigned a document number and is currently undergoing review
  • Final – the review process has been completed and the document has been assigned a recommendation (see below)

Note that the first three status tags pertain to documents that have not been reviewed but are considered significant and worth including in the list of recommended Standards and References.

Recommendation tags:

  • Required – Key standards required for all ESDIS systems
  • Approved –Approved for use in ESDIS systems
  • Emerging – Promising technology, not rigorously reviewed or widely adopted yet
  • Limited – Allowed for use in specific circumstances, generally via waiver
  • Deprecated – Don't choose for new projects
  • Obsoleted – Do not use for any projects.
  • Proposed – Documents still in the review process

It is possible for an RFC to receive more than one recommendation tag (e.g. Approved and Emerging, meaning that it is approved for use even though it may not be widely adopted yet).

Additional tags may be used to indicate technology area (e.g., data formats, metadata), parent standards body (e.g., OGC, ISO) for those standards being adopted from other organizations, and other relevant information.

Last Updated: May 2, 2019 at 1:59 PM EDT