1.1 Metadata Strategy
Metadata management has been an issue in the statistical system in Germany for many years. Maybe typical for a federal system, solutions have been found and implemented in isolated areas but they have not been coordinated through a common strategy. The current situation therefore resembles a "bottom-up" approach rather than a unified "top-down" solution.
The experience at Destatis and in the Verbund, however, shows that there is a strong need for a more coherent approach to handling metadata in the future. Several key projects in the Verbund - like standardisation of production or quality management - depend on standardised structures and concepts to understand the content of the different statistical activities in a coherent and uniform way. A metadata strategy would also help to provide a framework for the different projects.
Any future metadata strategy would need to be formulated in accordance with at least the most important stakeholders and it would need to be approved by the responsible committees. Therefore, it is not likely to take shape and become formally adopted in the near future. In the near past there were several projects - independently planned and implemented - that involved a centralised metadata management. The task is to combine the projects in a way that at least the outline of a common metadata strategy starts to emerge.
1.2 Current Situation
There are currently two major projects that involve centralised metadata management.
1. Census metadata
The Census 2011 in Germany is carried out by the Verbund. It is based on a method that combines administrative sources with survey data. To deal with content from so many different sources a strong metadata management is needed. Hence, a working group has been instituted to deal with metadata issues and especially with the development of an IT-system for the management of census metadata. The working group is staffed with methodologists, IT-experts and subject matter statisticians from some Länder offices and Destatis.
The Census 2011 is currently the most important project and certainly the most pressing issue for Destatis in terms of metadata. To deal with the complexity of the project, it has been broken down into several sub-projects for which business cases are being written.
2. SteP - Standardisation of Production
SteP is a joint initiative of the Verbund to standardise production. A major objective of SteP is the design and deployment of generic IT-tools as building blocks of a standardised IT-landscape. Although SteP currently deals predominantly with IT-issues, a stronger involvement of subject matter experts should strengthen its outreach in the future.
SteP is organised around a simple process model that names the basic processes mainly in the collection and processing stages (see fig. 2). There are sub working groups (called "steps") dealing with individual aspects of the statistical value chain (see here). A sub working group for metadata - called "step 12-metadata" has recently been established.
The idea behind this sub working group was to develop a metadata portal. This web portal shall allow users to access the metadata stored in already existing IT-systems. Basically, every system that stores metadata could become part of this project. At first, the portal is only intended for internal users. Since there is no general metadata model that standardises and explains the content of the underlying systems, the results would only be confusing for any outside reader.
In general, SteP has so far been a successful project for Destatis and the Verbund. In several of the most urgent areas, production was streamlined and economies of scale could be exploited. There is now a centralised storage facility for finalised micro data (accessible only to Länder offices) and a data editing tool that can be integrated into existing environments. Apart from the metadata portal, important ongoing projects within SteP include a database for incoming data.
A drawback of SteP is that there is no underlying, generally accepted metadata model guiding the project. While data can be passed on along the production chain, metadata is left behind resulting amongst other things in a redundant storage of metadata. As the standardisation process continues, this could become a problem of greater concern. Internal users might be confused with different IT-systems each using a different structure and a different terminology. The interoperability of the systems might also suffer because a metadata model usually embodies a generalised understanding of the way statistical activities are structured.
The task for step 12-metadata is to find a way to harmonise the different IT-systems in a way that the metadata stored can first be accessed and understood by users and secondly be shared by all IT-systems along the value chain.
Apart from these major projects, there are several other activities that involve centralized metadata management issues at Destatis. There is for example a close cooperation between quality reporting and metadata management since they overlap in many ways.