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The World Data System (WDS) is an Interdisciplinary Body of the International Science Council (ISC; formerly ICSU) created by its 29th General Assembly in Maputo, Mozambique in 2008.

Vision and Mission

In its Strategic Plan 2012–2017, ICSU has articulated its long-term vision of 'a world where excellence in science is effectively translated into policy making and socio-economic development. In such a world, universal and equitable access to scientific data and information is a reality and all countries have the scientific capacity to use these and to contribute to generating the new knowledge that is necessary to establish their own development pathways in a sustainable manner'

As an ISC Interdisciplinary Body, the mission of the World Data System is to support the ISC’s vision by promoting long-term stewardship of, and universal and equitable access to, quality-assured scientific data and data services, products, and information across all disciplines in the Natural and Social Sciences, and the Humanities. WDS aims to facilitate scientific research under the ISC umbrella by coordinating and supporting trusted scientific data services for the provision, use, and preservation of relevant datasets, while strengthening their links with the research community.

Trusted Scientific Data Services and Data Communities

To fulfil its remit, WDS is building worldwide ‘communities of excellence’ for scientific data services by certifying Member Organizations—holders and providers of data or data products—from wide-ranging fields by using internationally recognized standards. WDS Members are the building blocks of a searchable common infrastructure, from which a data system that is both interoperable and distributed can be formed.

Communities of Excellence for Scientific Data Services

WDS brings its Member Organizations together to coordinate their activities and through that process, to achieve an overall capability that transcends individual ones. Membership in WDS provides the imprimatur of ISC—the leading international and multidisciplinary nongovernmental scientific organization—and increases local and international scientific recognition. Membership also increases exposure to potential users and collaborators internationally. It demonstrates that the Member Organizations have a strong and tangible commitment to open data sharing, data and service quality, and data preservation—all of which are increasingly considered prime requirements by science funders and are high on policymakers’ agendas since they benefit the scientific community, economy, and society in general.

WDS Strategic Targets

The overall objectives of WDS are defined in its Constitution as follows:

  • Enable universal and equitable access to quality-assured scientific data, data services, products and information
  • Ensure long term data stewardship
  • Foster compliance to agreed-upon data standards and conventions
  • Provide mechanisms to facilitate and improve access to data and data products

The strategy for achieving these objectives is outlined in the current five-year Strategic Plan 2019–2023, structured around three major targets:

  1. Improve the sustainability, trust in, and quality of open scientific data services
  2. Nurture active disciplinary and multidisciplinary scientific data services communities
  3. Make trustworthy data services an integral part of international collaborative scientific research


WDS builds on the 50+ year legacy of the World Data Centres and Federation of Astronomical and Geophysical data analysis Services established by the International Council for Science (ICSU) to manage data generated by the International Geophysical Year (1957–1958). It became clear after the International Polar Year (2007–2008) that these bodies were not able to respond fully to modern data needs, and they were thus disbanded by the ICSU General assembly in 2008 and replaced by the World Data System in 2009.