Table of Contents
Thank you for becoming a volunteer in one or more of XBRL International's ("XII" for short) working groups ("WG" for short), task forces ("TF" for short) or advisory boards. This document is intended to provide an introduction to the way that standards are developed within XII, some of the reasons why they work that way, and some of the issues that you need to consider as a volunteer in this capacity.
Your role is important! The XBRL standard is now relied on for high quality structured data design, collection and analysis by the majority of the world's leading bank, insurance and securities regulators, an increasing number of business registrars, tax authorities and a small but growing number of enterprises.
This means that these standards are a vital part of the infrastructure used to make decisions about individual companies as well as entire national and regional financial systems. It means that the standards are used by hundreds of software vendors and tens of millions of companies right around the world.
To contribute effectively as a volunteer it is important that you know how standards are developed within XBRL International and how IP rights impact everyone involved.
This document provides an overview of the process and policies, as well as links to other materials that should help you find additional details.
Bear in mind that our policies and procedures are enhanced over time so keep an eye out for changes that impact your role and might replace content from this version in this document which was published in April 2020.
The Fine Print
Please note that this Welcome Pack is an introduction to XBRL International and references a range of processes, policies and rules. It is not intended to be authoritative (or in standards-making jargon - "normative"). Please see the specific policies, process documents, charters and rules that are linked throughout this document to understand them in full.
The "XBRL consortium" is comprised of XBRL International, our Jurisdictions
and regional affiliations (such as XBRL Europe) and our members
. All of our worldwide member organisations have joined because they support the ongoing development and management of the XBRL standard. They are both from the public and private sectors, with a wealth of backgrounds and huge collective expertise.
One of the key ways our members support the XBRL standard is by putting forward their staff as volunteers (and sometimes dedicated contractors) to collaborate on the ongoing technical and guidance work associated with the XBRL standard. Membership is vital, but volunteer work is essential.
That's you - a new, or existing volunteer - that has stepped forward to assist with the standard in different ways, bringing a diverse and extensive set of experiences and expertise to bear. That diversity is one of the strengths of the standard and one of the reasons that understanding the process for creating and improving the standard is so important.
XBRL specifications, other technical products and best practices publications are all developed in accordance with a set of predefined processes that help ensure that they are created in a manner that maximises consensus, fairness, public accountability and quality.
Different work products have different processes, usually for good reasons. Our processes have been designed over many years, based on what works, based on a range of criteria that help ensure the best outcome that we can manage, and based on best-of-breed processes drawn from leading standards setting organisations from around the world.
One of the key issues that impacts standards development of all kinds is the contribution and management of a range of innovations from different volunteers, and any relevant intellectual property rights associated with those contributions.
Thank you, for being a volunteer, for contributing to the way that business reporting works in a digital world and for collaborating with your peers from around the globe.
Please use this guide in ways that work best for you. Keep it handy - and bear in mind that on occasion our processes themselves are improved and updated.
Tips on getting the most out of being a volunteer
Working as a volunteer is an opportunity to influence XBRL standards and guidance. The contributions of volunteers, combined with ideas developed within the group become our specifications and recommended best practice. Volunteers in almost any capacity will have the chance to both develop and showcase their expertise, learnings and experience and to contribute towards the international standards and guidance development efforts.
Volunteers are recognised in the published work product, which includes a list of people who contributed to its development, along with their organisational affiliations. This enhances professional credentials. It is also an opportunity for employer organisations to promote their staff contributions to global standards. Being a volunteer helps you to stay up to date with developments before the work is in the public domain, and you will also be part of the global community which may - and likely will - provide you with valuable networking opportunities.
Tips on Collaboration Etiquette
XBRL International working groups have volunteers from across the globe collaborating virtually. Here are a few handy tips on collaboration etiquette:
- You are encouraged to be punctual on calls and proactively notify about any absence in advance.
- You should also be respectful of the fact that participants join from different time zones and not all of them are native English speakers.
- Try to complete any task volunteered within the agreed time frame, or report back to the group otherwise.
- You don't have to agree with other participants every time, but be appreciative of different perspectives.
- Be mindful of the fact that participants are devoting their time and effort as volunteers. Courtesy and strong listening skills (together with practical drafting work) tend to be what garners respect.
- The mailing lists are to be used for communicating with the WG and TF instead of individual participant mail addresses.
- While calls are vital, significant work is done asynchronously within mailing lists, gitlab and other collaboration tools. Drafting and review of drafting away from calls is often the very best type of contribution.
Tips on Gaining Recognition as a Volunteer
To make your presence count as a volunteer, here are a few useful tips:
- Draft and/or review the technical work product/guidance documents.
- Test the draft technical specification and guidance through implementation in software products, proofs of concept (POCs) and/or XBRL taxonomies and reports. This is critical for identifying deployment issues and fine tuning work product.
- Participate actively in the discussions, bring your perspective and insights to the table. It's absolutely fine to participate in the mailing list rather than speaking up on the call. Your WG colleagues appreciate the time and the rigour that you put into that process. Some of our most productive volunteers over the years have been non-native English speakers that take the time to analyse new proposals and ideas away from the calls.
- Share information (as long as it isn't confidential) on how programmes or taxonomies have implemented aspects of the XBRL standard, this helps the group to understand real world examples and improve them.
- Attend the calls regularly to understand the context of discussions.
- Contribute to discussions on the mailing list.
- Socialise the published work products to help them reach a wider audience and garner feedback.
"Leaving Your Hat at the Door"- Independence in Standards Setting
The XII work products have world-wide applicability and impact numerous regulatory reporting systems, software products and preparers. This makes it imperative to have a fair process and exercise independence while contributing to the standards.
Volunteers, while contributing to XII product development, are expected to act in the best interest of the standards and not act in a manner detrimental or contrary to the interests of the standards. The goal during standards development is to build consensus and arrive at the right solution without the influence of personal or employer agendas. The XII process allows the termination of members engaging in any conduct contrary to the interests of the organisation.
XBRL International Governance
The overall governance of XBRL International is shown in Figure 3
Figure 3: Governance Structures
XBRL International is ultimately governed by its Member Assembly, a group of voting Members. The Board develops long-term growth & sustainable strategies and oversees the activities of XBRL International.
The XBRL Standards Board (XSB) is responsible for managing the production of the consortium’s technical materials. The Best Practices Board (BPB) is responsible for managing the production of the consortium’s guidance materials and other best practice work products.
The XBRL International staff work with the Board, XSB, BPB and their respective working groups, task forces and committees to support the day to day operations of XII.
Refer to the governance details
page for a detailed explanation on the governance structure and XSB & BPB working groups.
The Standards Development Process
Technical specifications hugely impact software products, implementations and reporting entities around the world, so it is imperative to have a transparent and robust specification development process. Each specification goes through a maturity cycle; a simplified process of the specification development is shown in Figure 4. The specification advancing to the next stage in the maturity cycle is not a linear progression, there are multiple checkpoints to ensure the specification meets quality requirements at every stage.
Figure 4: Specification Development Process
Each stage of specification publication is approved by the XSB and, at the Recommendation stage, additionally approved by the BoD.
Apart from the technical specifications the working groups also develop supporting documents such as conformance suites, overview documents and primers. These are often released concurrently with the specs.
You can browse the XBRL standards on the specification subsite
. Refer to the specification development page
for a detailed explanation.
Why Standards Making Takes Time
A common question from a range of stakeholders is "Why does the creation of standards take so long"? Creating technical specifications that work across the globe, for millions of different organisations, is a complex exercise. If XBRL International changes an existing specification it doesn't impact a single piece of software and the people that rely on that software, it impacts hundreds of pieces of software and subsequently all of the users of those tools.
Like other leading standards setters, XBRL International relies on Test Driven Development techniques and formally provable specifications. Depending on the work at hand, it will be accompanied by a conformance suite made up of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of small tests that provide an objective way to ensure interoperability and that the specifications work as advertised. This can be a long and involved effort and can take some time.
Of course, the more experts that work in this field (within reason) the more that can be done. So your contributions, wherever they come from and whatever your background, are truly welcome.
The Guidance Development Process
Guidance refers to best practices, explanatory guides, case studies and white papers to aid the implementation of the XBRL Standard in a reporting programme/framework. Guidance generally is targeted at XBRL data collectors, taxonomy architects, authors and XBRL report preparers, unlike the technical specification which is mainly for the software developers.
The guidance publication goes through multiple checkpoints as shown in Figure 5, to ensure the guidance is technically correct and fit for implementation. Each stage of specification publication is approved by the BPB.
Figure 5: Guidance Development Process
You can access all published guidance on the guidance section of the website
. Refer to the guidance development page
for a detailed explanation.
Working Group and Task Force Meetings
The WG and TF meetings are scheduled in advance. The chairs or staff liaison for the group circulates the meeting agenda on the group's mailing list. The minutes record all decisions of the group and are distributed to the mailing list. The meeting members are required to review the minutes and propose edits if needed.
Decision Making and Voting inside XII Groups
Group discussions seek to reach consensus amongst the members. Building consensus is to ensure opinions, ideas and concerns of members are taken into consideration and that decisions reached are supported by members. Voting is used to formalise decisions.
The voting requirements vary depending on the nature of the business, for example voting on XII work product requires a proper majority (more than 50% of voting members), whereas revision of a WG or TF charter requires a supermajority (at least 2/3 (two thirds) of the Voting Members)
Voting rights and attendance
The category of working group membership determines voting rights and attendance requirements.
- Voting members: Voting members can vote on decisions regarding the work products. There are attendance requirements for voting members which can be found in the process documents for the XSB and BPB.
- Non Voting members: Non-Voting Members can participate and contribute without being concerned about attendance, however, cannot vote on the work products.
- Observer: A rare participant category, who can attend calls but cannot speak or post to the group's mailing list without the Chair's permission. There are no attendance or participation requirements observers.
Working group membership rights and attendance requirements are summarised in the Table 1:
Table 1: WG members voting rights and attendance
|Can attend WG calls
|Can contribute to discussions and post to the mailing list
|Vote on XII work product
|Attendance requirements applicable
When Can E-Votes be used and when shouldn't they?
Voting on business discussed in the WG can happen at the meeting or can be conducted electronically. Electronic voting (e-votes) is used when all voting members cannot be present at the WG meeting.
Electronic vote (e-votes) can be initiated if the WG resolves that the item can be decided using e-votes. Generally e-votes, once initiated, are conducted over seven days.
As a WG member, you get access to the relevant file repository and other content of the group. Table 2 lists the credentials required for accessing XII content:
Table 2: Account Credentials
||XII Website Account
|xbrl.org member-only content
|Specification file repository and bug tracking (GitLab)
|Working Groups Mailing List
|Collaborative Workspace (BOX)
|Member Communication (if opted in)
Intellectual Property and Standards Making
The process of developing and distributing standards of any kind is an exercise in pooling the talents and knowledge of a range of people from different organisations and different backgrounds, generally to innovate, but certainly to expand the understanding of all those utilising the eventual standard. Like any aspect of the knowledge economy, standard setting involves Intellectual Property Rights (or "IPR").
There are a range of formal IPRs that are relevant, including patents, design rights, trademarks and copyright as well as some informal ones (especially secrecy and lead generation) which tend to be less relevant in standards making, as by their nature, they are confined to the organisations that possess them.
When making standards the goal is to provide a range of capabilities that can normally be freely licensed and utilised. That is, standards should generally be available to all, without licensing costs. Within XBRL International this is a particular focus.
In order to achieve this, care needs to be taken throughout the standards making process, that third party IPRs are not infringed, so that nothing in the specifications is dependent on the use of IP owned by someone other than the standards development organisation.
This requires care in standards making planning, process and in particular, the management of contributions. In a variety of industries there are numerous examples of patent holders seeking to restrict, or tax, the ability of others to use standards that have been developed by relevant experts. Very few have succeeded, but that doesn't mean that anyone (including volunteers) can be complacent about IPRs as they work to create standards and specifications.
IPR and XBRL Specifications Generally
XBRL International has put significant time, effort and money into the development of policies and procedures associated with the development of its specifications. Some of the more visible aspects of this are the requirements associated with becoming a volunteer through the Working Group Enrolment process.
Volunteers and their employers must agree to the XBRL International IP Rights Policy. The policy sets out the obligations of the volunteer and her/his employer in relation to the contribution of IP, the (limited) situation in which those contributions can be withdrawn, and the situations in which "Necessary" IP that might form part of a specification, but that have been contributed by a volunteer/member organisation, must be licensed.
In practice, to date, in the event that either there has been IP contributed that is subject to a patent, or a non-member, non-contributor owned patent or other IPR has been discovered, XBRL International has chosen to seek a different technical approach that does not require the incorporation of that IPR.
Note that there is not an obligation to either:
- Search for or discover the existence of third-party patents or other IPRs
- Contribute IP that might solve a specific technical issue, while being a volunteer.
Nor is XBRL International obliged to utilise either FRAND (fair reasonable and non-discriminatory) licensing arrangements or "Non-assertion" approaches to the incorporation of contributed IP. Indeed, it has been XII's goal to avoid the incorporation of third-party IP at all.
So why Participate?
In practice, to date, the vast majority of XBRL International specifications development has been highly innovative, and collaborative - in other words, our volunteers have created new technical approaches together, and contributed that work in support of the Standard as a public good.
Our volunteers find that there are significant benefits to their work within XII Working Groups, typically in terms of extending their own expertise, developing a network of contacts within industry, helping to expand market opportunities, provide knowledge infrastructure that supports the delivery of technology and services and, frequently, encourages other proprietary innovation based on deep understanding of the common standards that underpin digital business reporting. The standards (and the standards making process) often act as a catalyst for innovation.
Limitation of Liability
XBRL specification recommendations are offered without warranty, and this clause is extended to all contributors of XII's work product. All information provided by members to WGs and TFs are without warranties and to the maximum extent possible under law members do not have liability toward any implementer or third party for any damages arising from the use of specification recommendation or any work product.
A Word about Trademarks
Volunteers working within XII should generally also understand the XBRL International trademark policy. It protects XBRL International, its Jurisdictions and Regional affiliations, and its members in controlling the manner in which XII's various word marks and registered design marks are used. Generally speaking, be aware that XII does not permit third parties to use its design marks in a commercial context, except specially designated versions of those designs. Use of the word mark "XBRL" in brand names etc, is restricted to members if it has been approved by XII.
See more at the XBRL International trademark
Key Resources You Need to Know About
- is an open-source DevOps platform used to manage the development and maintenance of our technical specifications. GitLab provides mechanisms for individual members of WGs to propose changes to specifications and for those changes to be voted on (a "Merge Request") by others. It provides full versioning, meaning that is is possible to identify individual contributions, and importantly, it is also where a range of automated tests are applied to various work products. Volunteers working on specifications should make themselves familiar with the operation of GitLab.
BOX is the document sharing service currently used by XBRL International working groups. Access to the folders is based on the working group enrolments. Learn more about effectively using BOX in this Box Pro Tips
Most of the working group meetings are currently held on the "GoToMeeting" platform. The agenda for the working group meeting includes a link for joining the meeting and the phone dial-in numbers (if required). GoToMeeting allows audio participation via the internet, which has a number of advantages.
WG and TF Members are strongly urged to avoid using built-in computer speakers and microphones as the call quality for all participants quickly degrades.
Please use a good quality USB connected headset instead. Brands like Plantronics Blackline wired headsets have been used to good effect by many participants and are relatively inexpensive.
- If and when you are sharing your screen, it is often best to just share the application that you are interacting with, rather than your entire desktop.
- Always use the mute button on the GoToMeeting system when not speaking to avoid introducing unnecessary background noise.
For more information refer to the GotoMeeting Attendee Guide
. We are aware that the GoToMeeting system does not always work everywhere, including in some countries with limitations on the use of VOIP technologies, locations with limited bandwidth and behind some corporate firewalls. We try to ensure that there are always dial-in numbers to use as a good alternative.
Some group meetings may be organised using "MeetUpCall" infrastructure. MeetUpCall allows audio participation via phone (local numbers dial-up) and screen share via internet.
The participants receive a meeting invitation mail with personalised dial-up instructions. The invitation mail provides a "One tap smartphone join" option, link to view/initiate screen share and view the call dashboard.
If MeetupCall cannot be accessed in the participant's country
we ensure alternative arrangements are available.
Markdown is a lightweight plain-text-formatting syntax. The markdown conversion helps to produce a consistent publishing HTML format across the documents. Technical specifications are drafted and edited in markdown. Guidance documents are typically drafted and reviewed in a word processor. The approved version of a guidance document is transformed to markdown.
The key elements of markdown variation adopted at XII are described in XBRL Markdown Syntax document
. There is also a cheat sheet
that might be helpful.
Normative and legal documentation
This Welcome Pack gives an overview of XBRL International's policies and procedures and serves as a quick reference guide. This document does not form part of XBRL International's legal documentation.
Learn more about legal and organisational documents that guide XBRL International available at the "Governing Documents" section
of our website.
Where to Get Help
A volunteer new to the WG may initially find the policies and procedures overwhelming. Fret not, help is at hand.
Volunteers can approach the Chair of the group, who should be able to assist with most queries. Volunteers are equally welcome to connect with XII staff, we would be delighted to help.