National Open Court Data Standards (NODS)

nods logoPurpose 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 list of contributors, access standards, and read the FAQs.

Leadership Guide
An overview of the NODS project and its purposes with guidance on why courts may choose to implement the data standards.

Users Guide
Discussion of the data elements listed in the spreadsheet, their use, and mapping guidance.

Data Elements Spreadsheet
A description of all data elements with definitions and value lists.

Technical Notes
Brief technical document explaining the NODS logical data models and contents of the ZIP files with technical artifacts.

Technical Data Models
Illustrations of the relationships between entities and the logical groups of attributes.

Additional Resource: Data Governance Policy Guide

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

This project is overseen by the Conference of State Court Administrators’ Court Statistics Committee, the Joint Technology Committee, and an Advisory Council.

We thank the reviewers and contributors who provided additional review of the standards. In response to the open public comments, the NODS project team considered the following revisions:

  • Incorporated data across all case categories to better capture accommodation and interpreter needs.
  • Incorporated data across all case categories to capture attorney information and legal representation status throughout case events.
  • Standardized definitions and data elements captured for case and party-level identifiers (e.g., party zip code, and date of birth)
  • Note, multiple comments and suggestions were out of scope for the NODS project, including the collection of data that is necessary for local court case management, but not for a national data exchange (e.g., expanding values to a granular level that will not apply across jurisdictions).

Why is this project needed?  What problem are we solving?

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.

What is the scope of the project?

The projects includes both technical standards and logical standards (defined below). It covers seven major case types: criminal, civil, family/domestic relations, delinquency, dependency, probate, and traffic. It includes only data that courts collect for internal business purposes and that are potentially useful for non-court data requesters.

Who participated in the development of the standards?

Both court and non-court experts participated in the project, which was led by the chairs of the COSCA Statistics and Joint Technology Committees. Academic experts, open government data experts, data requestors, and media representatives also participated either in the workgroups developing the standards or in review of the standards

What are “standards”?  Define what is meant by “logical” standards and “technical” standards?

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.

Are courts required to participate in NODS?

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..

Does NCSC house the data states choose to share?

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.

How does the Court Statistics Project (CSP) fit into this project? If my state has spent time and effort making our data adhere to the State Court Guide to Statistical Reporting (the Guide) is that now wasted effort?

This project expands on those definitions, using the Statistical Guide as the starting point. The goals of the projects are different, however, The CSP produces aggregate statistics, not case-level data elements, for examining trends in state courts. Going forward, CSP is administering the logical data definitions standards ad JTC is administering the technical data definition standards.

The CSP may use NODS data standards for specific data requests of states to examine questions of interest. States always have the option of whether to participate in these research projects.

How will this project change my response to bulk  data requests? Will sharing my data make responding to those "data dump" requests from private entities less time consuming?  Can I control the data we share?

First, courts 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.

Project Directors

Nicole Waters
Paul Embley