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Standards and specifications – what exactly are they?

A standard and a specification are two different concepts, although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

A standard is documentation established by consensus of subject matter experts and approved by a standards authority that provides rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results (ISO/IEC Guide 2:2004).  

Some examples of standards authorities include: the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC).

A specification is documentation of a precise requirement or list of requirements, which has not necessarily received certification by an official standards authority.

Specifications may refer to standards. For example, National Geospatial Program product specifications may refer to industry standards, such as the Federal Geospatial Data Committee's Content Standard for Geospatial Metadata or the International Organization for Standardization's 191** suite of geospatial metadata standards.