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.
ICSU's long-term vision is 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.”
ICSU World Data System supports this vision by promoting universal and equitable access to, and long-term stewardship of, quality-assured scientific data and data services, products, and information covering a broad range of disciplines from the natural and social sciences, and humanities. WDS aims at facilitating the scientific research endeavours under the ICSU umbrella by coordinating trusted scientific data services for the provision, use, and preservation of relevant datasets.
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 using internationally recognized standards. WDS Members are then the building blocks of a searchable common infrastructure with which to form a data system that is both interoperable and distributed.
Membership has grown steadily, after starting with an initial group of certified Members. New applications are evaluated regularly by the WDS Scientific Committee on criteria such as access to high quality data, data stewardship, and participation in broad harmonization and interoperability efforts.
In bringing together Member Organizations to coordinate their activities and form communities of excellence, ICSU-WDS aims also at improving their individual capacities. 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 international users and collaborators, and demonstrates a strong and tangible commitment to open data sharing, data and service quality, and preservation—all of which are increasingly considered prime requirements by science funders and are high on policymakers’ agendas for they benefit to the scientific community, economy, and society in general.
The Strategic Committee on Information and Data of ICSU (SCID Report 2008) highlighted the importance of working closely with ICSU’s Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA), and developing strategic collaboration on issues of common interest.