The NEII Environmental vocabulary service provides a mechanism to create, curate and publish environmental vocabularies making them accessible to computers, systems and people.

The NEII vocabulary service uses the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) Research Vocabularies Australia (RVA) platform as the backbone. An NEII hosted instance of the CSIRO SISSVoc Linked Data Application Programming Interface (API) complements the ARDC capability to support additional customisation and system redundancy.

All vocabularies will be discoverable through www.neii.gov.au and RVA.

What is a vocabulary?

A vocabulary may be defined as a list of words or phrases and corresponding definitions that are defined, governed and maintained by knowledge domains. For example, the following represents a simple flat term list with accompanying definitions.

  • Troposphere – the lowest portion of the earth's atmosphere
  • Stratosphere – the second major layer of the earth's atmosphere
  • Mesosphere – the layer of the earth's atmosphere above the stratosphere

Alternatively, a vocabulary may consist of a hierarchical term list with groupings, for example:

  • Troposphere
  • Stratosphere
  • Mesosphere

More complex variants of vocabularies also exist including, for example, thesauri and synonyms. Vocabularies, their terms, and the respective relationships across vocabularies and terms may be described using standard methods, for example, through the use of the Simple Knowledge Organisation System (SKOS).

Environmental vocabularies underpin environmental management, environmental research and, for the NEII, environmental information systems. For example, maintaining a publicly accessible central point of truth for a national vegetation species classification ensures systems such as databases or smartphone applications and people, including field teams and scientists, have access to the most current terms and definitions for that species. This, in turn, ensures a consistency in data description that enables more effective data discovery, access and re-use by users.

What is a vocabulary service?

In the NEII context, an environmental vocabulary service provides the ability to create new vocabularies, to manage and curate these and to publish content through open data principles such as through APIs. A vocabulary service may also provide different views into terms, for example, through ordered lists like a dictionary or glossary.

It is also possible to separately define the relationships between that term and other terms. Once defined these terms and relationships may be exploited to expose different views (or queries) on the information, for example, a hierarchical view, or a domain view, or a thesaurus-like view, or a taxonomy. A vocabulary service may potentially be used to provide any of dictionary, thesaurus, taxonomy etc.

For governance and convenience reasons terms are usually defined in a vocabulary service as groups or lists of terms (also known as ‘Controlled Lists’). Similar terms may appear in lists governed by different governing authorities. In which case mappings may be made between these terms to indicate the relationship between them (for example, Are they equivalent? Is one more general than the other?).

So, in a vocabulary service there are terms, relationships between terms, lists or collections of terms, and governance considerations. It is not really a dictionary, or a thesaurus, or a glossary, or a taxonomy, but it may be used as a system to present dictionary-like views or taxonomy-like views, etc.

Although information in a vocabulary service will often start at a convenient navigation point (for example, the set of lists), navigation of the service may start at any point in this graph of information (for example, starting with a term and then finding related terms).

A vocabulary service is likely to be concerned with:

  • The management of individual terms and the corresponding identifiers and definitions for those terms.
  • The organisation of terms into lists.
  • The capturing of known semantic relationships between individual terms, for example, hierarchies, synonyms.
  • Exposing views of terms based on query and/or navigation.