Professional Guidance Series: Metadata Standards

Metadata are additional sets of information supplied to facilitate the understanding and use of data by describing the origin, content, purpose, format, location and limitations of a given data set.

Ecological data are collected for a variety of reasons and using a wide range of methods. Data may be passed to clients, colleagues, and other interested bodies, or deposited in an open-access archive. The data may or may not be incorporated into a formal report, but common to all situations is the need for a comprehensive set of metadata to enable potential users to assess whether the data are ‘fit for purpose’.

End-users of an ecological data set may not have been involved in the planning, execution or reporting stages of the original survey. Surveyors, authors of reports, and managers of data archives therefore have a responsibility to ensure that metadata are freely and fully available. It cannot be assumed that end-users of a data set will know which data collection methods have been used or understand potential weaknesses in the data.

A metadata standard has two elements defining:

  • Guidance on the set of information to accompany a dataset and necessary for full and appropriate use of the data
  • Principles of good practice to be followed in the management of data and the accompanying metadata.

This issue in the Professional Guidance Series outlines general principles of relevance to members of CIEEM in professional practice. It is recommended that metadata management is incorporated into members’ in-house quality assurance procedures in reporting, sharing and archiving of ecological data.