About metadata and data standards

Metadata is information about how data are defined, structured and represented. It makes data files meaningful by describing the information captured in data, and how it is measured and represented.

Metadata endorsed for use across Australia are referred to as data standards. These standards improve the quality, relevance, consistency and availability of national information about the health and welfare of Australians. High quality, nationally consistent health and welfare information is essential to inform the development and implementation of policies for improving health and welfare outcomes for all Australians.

Data dictionaries (hardcopy or PDF) are no longer produced. All endorsed data standards are available in METEOR.

Metadata Online Registry (METEOR)

The metadata online registry (METeOR) is Australia’s repository for national data standards in the following sectors:

  • health
  • community services
  • housing assistance
  • homelessness
  • early childhood.

METEOR operates under the remit of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and is available to the public online.

METEOR is based on the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission 11179 Metadata Registries (ISO/IEC 11179). This standard specifies the semantics used for data descriptions and how they are represented and registered. This helps standardise, harmonise and manage metadata (independent of originating organisations). This, in turn, ensures quality and improves accuracy and comparability of data.

AIHW commits to developing a replacement METeOR system

The AIHW is in the process of developing a new METEOR Metadata online register to replace the existing METeOR system.

The replacement Metadata online register will be developed in-house, building and improving on the existing system features and functionality. Using Microsoft Azure cloud-based technologies, the system will be built upon modern technology providing an improved user experience including a modern user interface and enhanced features such as:

  • Search capability
  • Spellcheck functionality
  • Compare/Contrast functionality.

Development status (at 1 May 2021)

Development of the new METEOR Metadata online register is scheduled to be completed in late 2021. The new METEOR system is being developed using Microsoft Azure technologies, incorporating the existing indicator and data framework, which is robust, suitable and allows for further refinement.

The new METEOR Metadata Online Registry will continue to offer the benefit of a disciplined approach to the development, storage and management of metadata. It will provide a stable, reliable and well-supported technology platform that is compliant with information modelling (e.g. ISO/IEC 11179) and data exchange standards.

Currently, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is developing the capability for users to log-in, search, display and edit metadata items. The chosen system design provides flexibility allowing future interoperability enhancements, maintaining the system as the leading metadata repository into the future.

In addition to the new system, a new Operating Model and a support framework is being explored to ensure that the technology, its metadata, people and processes are properly supported going forward. This will ensure that business processes for the whole metadata lifecycle for the health and welfare sectors are enabled and supported.

As the project progresses, further information will be available to stakeholders through the AIHW website and your key AIHW contacts.

Quality assurance of METEOR data standards is supported through strong governance arrangements. Metadata items pass through rigorous approval processes (including expert data committees and technical reviews) before they can be endorsed by registration authorities.

Registration authorities

Registration authorities are responsible for endorsing data standards applicable to each sector, which are made publicly available for use in a broad range of settings. There are national and non-national registration authorities. National registration authorities have the ability to endorse national data standards. Non-national registration authorities support state and territory metadata development work.

Registration statuses

As a metadata item progresses through review, it is assigned ‘lifecycle’ registration statuses. These indicate its stage of development and the degree of quality assurance.

Common registration statuses include:

Candidate—the metadata item has been proposed for progression through the registration levels, but may be subject to further development.

Standardisation pending—the metadata item has been reviewed and is recommended to a registration authority for adoption as a national data standard.

Standard—a registration authority has endorsed the metadata item as a national data standard.

Superseded—the metadata item has been replaced with a new version covering the same data.

Retired—a registration authority has nominated that the metadata item is no longer fit-for-purpose or no longer required for use in the relevant area.

The registration status for a metadata item includes information on the:

  • level of registration (for example, candidate, standard, retired)
  • responsible registration authority (for example, Department of Health)
  • date of application.

Non-national registration authorities apply different statuses to metadata items, including: Endorsed (current standards) and Archived (superseded and retired items).

Note: metadata governance and approval processes may change as registration guidelines and practices are reviewed.

Metadata item types in METEOR

METEOR has multiple metadata item types. The metadata building blocks, and the relationships between them, are in Figure 1.

Figure 1: METEOR metadata model

Data elements contain the complete definition and representational information corresponding to variables in data files. Figure 1 shows the metadata structure for each data element, which is based on ISO/IEC 11179.

In METEOR, data element sets form a complete picture of a data collection.

Data element sets

A set of data elements is often collected for national reporting. They describe the conditions for data collection, the information collected and the reporting arrangements.

METEOR distinguishes various types of data element sets based on the level of national agreement to supply and report data for that collection. The main types are national minimum data sets and data set specifications.

National minimum data set

This is a minimum set of data elements agreed for mandatory collection and reporting at national level. Agencies and service providers may collect additional data, but specifying  a minimum set ensures that relevant and consistent data are collected and supplied for meaningful comparison, interpretation and reporting.

Data set specification

This is a set of data elements recommended for collection and reporting as best practice, but not mandated for national collection. For example, some agencies and service providers may not collect the complete set of information described by all data elements in a data set specification, which means consistent data are not available at national level.

In 2016–17, the Health Registration Authority re-categorised health sector data set specifications as best endeavours or best practice.

National best endeavours data set (NBEDS)

A national best endeavours data set describes a non-mandatory group of data elements, where there is agreed commitment to collect and provide data nationally on a best endeavours basis.

National best practice data set

A national best practice data set describes a non-mandatory group of data elements recommended for collection as best practice that are not subject to collection and reporting arrangements.

Indicator sets

Indicators describe information that assists health and welfare policy makers and service managers to translate statistics to policy goals. They are usually grouped as indicator sets. These provide a suite of performance information about the health and welfare of Australians.

METEOR became the formal repository for indicators in 2009–10, to house the Council of Australian Governments performance indicators included in national Intergovernmental and Partnership Agreements.

Leveraging METEOR to disseminate indicator information has improved public accessibility and interpretation of policy relevant data. Over time, METEOR has included indicators, output and progress measures related to other agreements and frameworks. An example is the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, clinical care standard indicators.

Indicator specifications in a standardised format support performance benchmarking and drive service improvement initiatives. In METEOR, indicators link to other metadata items that are used to calculate indicator statistics and outcome areas, which define strategic targets and set thresholds for service performance.

Accessing data standards in METEOR

METeOR is accessible online.

These METEOR features assist in finding metadata.

Data element sets

Endorsed data standards are listed by collection for:

  • health
  • community services
  • homelessness and housing assistance
  • early childhood sectors.

Indicator sets

A selection of standard indicator sets is listed by overarching agreement or framework.

Quick search

The search bar is a quick way to search metadata by key words. It is limited to finding standard data elements and data set specifications.

Advanced search

The advanced search has filters that can be customised. These can expand or restrict metadata search results to registration authorities, metadata items and registration statuses.

Browse registry

The browse registry has a drop-down list of metadata items. It can also generate a list of current data standards for the selected type.

Home page metadata model

The metadata model on the METEOR home page navigates to a list of current data standards for the selected metadata item.

National data dictionaries

Archived versions of previously published national data dictionaries are below:

Unique identifiers

Each metadata item has a unique identifier. Insert this number at the end of the URL web address to navigate to a known item.


The help page has additional information on navigating METEOR, understanding metadata development, and requests for training.

General information, such as meanings of terms used in METEOR (for example, registration authorities) rather than actual metadata items, is accessible through the search help box in the left hand navigation pane of METEOR. Contextual help icons () provide more details for associated fields.

More information

AIHW Metadata and METEOR Unit

Email [email protected] (include ‘METEOR’ in the subject line)

Phone +61 2 6244 1222