National Open Court Data Standards (NODS)

Purpose of the Project:

The Conference of State Court Administrators and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) through the National Open Court Data Standards (NODS) will develop business and technical court data standards to support the creation, sharing, and integration of court data by ensuring a clear understanding of what court data represent and how court data can be shared in a user-friendly format.

Data standards are “the rules by which data are described and recorded.”[1] Data standards facilitate the sharing of data, increase transparency, provide for consistency in data interpretation, allow for meaningful comparisons across data sets, and reduce the cost of producing or extracting individual data sets. The NODS project will include two types of standards: (1) logical business standards that define the variables to be included; and (2) technical standards that will define the data structure, variable formats, and values. 

Demands for court data are growing dramatically, particularly as courts implement electronic record systems.  Both public and private organizations are aggressively putting pressure on courts to make court data and legal documents publicly accessible. 

Therefore, the purposes of the National Open Data Standards (NODS) project are:

  • To make case-level state court data available to researchers, policymakers, the media, and the public to provide for transparency in court operations and to improve public policy;
  • To make data available for public and court system use in a consistent manner that reduces the possibility of error and misinterpretation; and
  • To reduce the burden on court system staff in responding to data requests.

[1] United States Geological Service, Data Standards, https://www.usgs.gov/products/data-and-tools/data-management/data-standards (last visited Jan. 17. 2019).

Scroll down the page to review public comment requires, learn how to provide feedback, and read our FAQs.

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) welcomes the public's commentary to aid in the development of a national set of voluntary state court data standards.  Our project, the National Open Court Data Standards (NODS) will strengthen state courts’ ability to solve internal business problems, reduce the burden that external data requests have placed on courts, and provide open, transparent, and reliable data to the state courts and to consumers of state court data.  At the project’s core is developing uniform data definitions for seven case types. The NCSC expects the implementation of these standards will improve state court data integrity and usability.

The NCSC has convened numerous groups of partners and stakeholders to negotiate a set of logical court business standards that define the data elements for seven case types (criminal, juvenile delinquency, dependency, family, civil, probate, and traffic).

As you conduct your review, please keep in mind that these standards are intended to cover data collected and maintained by state court systems for business purposes. The standards will not cover data collected by other entities such as jails, departments of correction, probation departments, or criminal history repositories, except to the extent that the court system already obtains and stores data from these sources for internal business purposes.

The NCSC is working with technology experts to map all logical data definitions to technical standards and identify logical messages for accessing court data. The final set of standards will be available on this website (also posted at: National Standards, the Joint Technology Committee, and the Court Statistics Project) by spring of 2020.

Review any or all of the data standards: NODS Public Comment Folder.

If you have feedback, please send your comments to NODS@ncsc.org by October 15, 2019.  All comments will be reviewed by the NODS project team who will make recommendations to the workgroup members. Decisions on whether to incorporate feedback provided during the call for public comment will be available through the NODS Public Comment Folder. 

The project is overseen by the Conference of State Court Administrator's Court Statistics Committee, the Joint Technology Committee, and an Advisory Council. These oversight bodies will review and consider endorsement of the standards (see Advisors/Contributors).

Acknowledgements

  • Advisory Council Members 
  • Workgroup Members
  • Contributors/Reviewers
  • NCSC Research Staff
  • NCSC Court Consulting/Technology Staff

Court Statistics Committee of the Conference of State Court Administrators

Joint Technology Committee

The Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) is trying to solve two problems with this project.  First, the courts are facing steady increases in requests for data. Dealing with these requests is becoming untenable.  Providing standardized data sets at intervals could satisfy a lot of requests if the scope for the standards is set appropriately. Second, non-court organizations are aggregating court data without their consent and interpreting it in invalid ways. If those organizations use the standardized court data, courts will know the data sets are valid and the probability of misinterpretation is lowered, but not eliminated.

COSCA prioritized the solution of these problems at its Winter 2017 meeting and agreed to have NCSC pursue a solution based on creating national data standards. In May 2018 the COSCA Board passed a motion formally supporting the National Court Open Data Standards project as proposed by NCSC establishing this as a COSCA project.

The project will include two types of standards, technical standards and logical standards (defined below). The project will include seven major case types:  criminal, civil, family/domestic relations, juvenile delinquency, dependency, probate and traffic. It will include only data that courts collect for internal business purposes.  Even if non-court participants request that new data be defined and collected as part of this project, it will be considered out of scope.  The project will not standardize all court data that is collected, but only a subset that is useful to both the courts themselves for internal business reasons and to non-court data requestors.

The project participants will be a balance of court experts and non-court experts and/or potential data requestors.  The chairs of the COSCA Statistics and Joint Technology Committees will lead the project, but other COSCA and NACM members and staff will also be involved. Non-court participants will include academic experts, open government data experts, non-profit data requestors, for-profit data requestors, and media representatives.  See list of advisors/contributors on website.

Logical data definitions are basically business definitions in non-technical English. The data definitions contained in the NCSC’s Court Statistics Project’s Guide to Statistical Reporting are examples of logical data definitions. Technical data definitions are programming descriptions that computers can understand and manipulate. The National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) is one example of technical data definitions that the courts already use. The OASIS Electronic Court Filing (ECF) Standards are also technical standards.

MFJ is a partial funder of the project, with NCSC providing the remaining funding. MFJ provided all of their funding up front like a federal grant, to limit their influence on the decisions made during the project or its deliverables. MFJ participates in the Advisory Committee as one of the non-court data requestors. MFJ will also serve on the workgroup for the criminal case type.

This project only standardizes the data definitions. It does not create data sets or require any court to create a data set. It will not provide data to any court data requestor. All of those decisions must still be made by the individual courts.

This project only standardizes data elements.  It does not create or standardize any court performance measures of any kind.  It does not include or endorse any MFJ performance measures.  What non-court organizations may do with data that courts may provide using these standards is out of scope for this project.

There is no expectation that courts will comply with the standards. That decision is entirely up to each court and/or state. They can and should make those decisions based on business and policy criteria set internally. These standards are a tool to solve a business problem that court leaders can use if they so choose. A separate effort through the Court Statistics Project is developing a national court data governance policy to be used as a starting point for states developing their own policies on how to share data with requestors.

This project only creates the data definition standards.  It does not collect any data or house data anywhere. If courts choose to publish data sets using these data standards, they would publish such data sets themselves and host the data sets themselves.  NCSC will not do so.

Because the Bureau of Justice Statistics has indicated a strong interest in collecting case-level data from state and local courts in the future, it is possible that NCSC might facilitate access to such data as an agent of the courts if the courts published standards compliant data. However, the purpose of standardized data is that it can be acquired by non-court organizations without intervention and directly understood using the standardized definitions. Thus, it is likely that NCSC would switch from a role mostly about data collection and cleaning to a role mostly about data analysis and interpretation.

The Court Statistics Project pioneered this approach by creating a limited set of logical or business data definition standards known as the State Court Guide to Statistical Reporting (Guide). This project would expand on that data set, using the contents of the Statistical Guide as its starting point. This project is defining data standards for case-level data.  The CSP produced aggregate statistics, not case-level data elements, for examining trends in state courts. Going forward, CSP would administer the logical data definition standards and JTC would administer the technical data definition standards.

If the courts themselves produced valid and clean data sets rolled up to the state level using the national standards, then CSP could focus more of its limited resources on analyzing the data sets to provide input on important policy issues. Having a greatly expanded data set to access would enable NCSC to provide evidence-based analyses on many more issues for the courts without the expense of collecting special data sets every time.

First, courts must voluntarily comply with the standards, so they may decide not to comply for many different reasons. One of those reasons might be because it would disrupt or replace an existing build data process that may or may not also generate significant revenue. Nothing about this project would prevent a court from charging for access to the standardized data sets. That is a business decision that must be made by each court.

If the project defines the scope properly, standards-compliant data sets should significantly reduce the cost, time, and resources required for courts to respond to data dump requests. Courts are free to provide only part of the data sets standardized by this project.  Presumably they would never provide standardized data that is excluded from public access in their jurisdiction by court rule or statute.

Public Comments
NODS@ncsc.org

Project Directors
Nicole Waters 
Paul Embley