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The World Data System (WDS) is an Interdisciplinary Body of the International Council for Science (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 ICSU Interdisciplinary body, the mission of the World Data System is to support ICSU’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 a range of disciplines in the natural and social sciences, and the humanities. ICSU-WDS aims to facilitate scientific research under the ICSU 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, ICSU-WDS is striving to build 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

ICSU-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 ICSU—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 ICSU-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 2014–2018, structured round five major targets:

  1. Make trusted data services an integral part of international collaborative scientific research
  2. Nurture active disciplinary and multidisciplinary scientific data services communities
  3. Improve the funding environment for trusted data services
  4. Improve the trust in and quality of open Scientific Data Services
  5. Position WDS as the premium global multidisciplinary network for quality-assessed scientific research data


ICSU-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 of 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 ICSU World Data System in 2009.