• Discussion paper
  • 18 April 2016

Small island developing states: a case study of standards in defining supranational regions and groupings


Beata Lisowska

Countries classified as ‘small island developing states’ (SIDS) vary greatly in their populations and size of economies, but have in common a vast number of vulnerabilities. These can be divided into three key areas: economic, social and environmental. They stem from small size, remoteness, climate change, biodiversity loss, narrow resource base, and heavy dependence on volatile export markets.

These vulnerabilities have a direct effect on SIDS’ progress in developing and achieving economic sustainability and explain why they rely on official development assistance (ODA) and remittances more than other countries do. These vulnerabilities hinder the ability of the SIDS to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), yet support for their needs cannot be neglected within the commitment to ‘leave no one behind’.

As part of the Joined-up Data Standards (JUDS) project’s aim to build a publicly accessible online thesaurus – a taxonomy manager for documenting and cross-mapping standards – the relationships between a range of supranational classifications have already been documented. The case of SIDS is a striking, but not atypical, example of disparities grounded in a lack of transparency and common definitions between the data standards that define supranational regions and groupings. This paper explores the disparities between various classifications of SIDS and argues that differences in how international organisations classify SIDS is an example of a wider problem facing the interoperability of geopolitical data standards.

This discussion paper was written as a part of the Joined-up Data Standards project, a joint initiative between Development Initiatives and Publish What You Fund.