SC22/WG20 N941



Title:  Area codes and groupings: the need for a standard approach

Source:  John Clews, United Kingdom.

Status:  Personal Contribution

Date:    1 May 2002

Action:  For discussion by ISO/IEC JTC1/SC22/WG20






1. Areas, countries, subdivisions and locations

2. Scope and application area

3. The shape of an area standard

4. Placement of the work in ISO

4.1  Meeting the need

4.2  Previous relevant experience

4.3  Earlier use in applications

5. Draft text

6. References

7. Draft tables (partial example for Europe)



Given the need to plan on a global basis, by governments, companies,

intergovernmental bodies and NGOs, a means of area analysis is

increasingly important.


It is important to deal with a wide variety of geographic entities,

which we all interact with, from towns through districts, and upwards

to countries, and also geographic or political areas or regions,

covering several countries.


The proposal below covers areas, and a need for groupings and codes

for these to be available for use in ICT systems. It also draws on

United Nations practices: the United Nations and its Specialized

Agencies have been important in the development of several ISO

standards, notably UN/CEFACT in Geneva in developing the Locodes

system [1], which is used in several ISO standards for EDI, and also

the official ICAO recommendations [2] which are used in the ISO

standard for machine readable passports.



1. Areas, countries, subdivisions and locations


The use of ICT systems by governments, companies,

intergovernmental bodies and NGOs for a variety of applications has

increased dramatically, and ICT system providers have built in

various components which incorporate cultural elements, such as for

countries (ISO 3166), subdivisions of countries (ISO 3166-1),

languages (ISO 639), currencies, date and time conventions, etc.


There are also smaller subdivisions of countries (ISO 3166-1), and

also in an EDI context LOCODES, or Location Codes, which were

developed by UN/CEFACT in conjunction with some ISO/IEC JTC1

committees, and used as base data in some ISO/IEC JTC1 e-commerce

standards, and which are widely used in electronic data tracking of

transactions by couriers and other suppliers.


However, there is little which defines larger areas of the world,

which can be important in developing systems for global use, as

indicated below. Nor are the codes for such areas which could be of

use in ICT systems.


The only realistic candidate model is that used by the United Nations

Statistical Office [3] which is internationally available, but this

has certain limitations:


(a) the areas defined are very large (many countries in an area);

(b) the codes are limited to these large areas;

(c) there is no possibility of changing these areas for specific



The draft standard proposed below would overcome these constraints,

but it would still be possible for the United Nations Statistical

Office schema (and indeed potentially any other schemas) to be a

profile of this, much as ISO/IEC 14651 has various profiles, such as

the European Ordering Rules (ENV 13710) and the Unicode Collation




2. Scope and application area


In devising locales, there is sometimes a need to define an area of

the world which is not limited to a specific country. Obvious

examples are Latin America, or Arabic speaking countries. Some such

are used in proprietary locale mechanisms used by individual

manufacturers (e.g. having a Latin America "locale") though they are

not available in any ISO standard which would enable wider use.


Nevertheless, some information on defining areas of the world is

important in a variety of contexts.


 - For locales, it can enable more detailed specifications to be

   drawn up for specific users or user groups (e.g. language X, time

   zone X for these areas, except time zone Y applies in the

   Easternmost countries of this area group).


 - In various EDI systems, it would play a useful role alongside the

   use of ISO 3166, ISO 3166-2 and LOCODEs.


 - In statistical analysis it allows concatenation or separation of

   data in order to get a wider picture or a more specific picture.


 - In intergovernmental and in NGO planning, it would enable

   consistent planning on an area basis across the globe, for

   scientific, social and economic development data, and sharing of

   data with other agencies.


 - It would be easy to build this into image maps (in cases where

   globes or cartographic maps were used), to allow navigation round

   the world in a simple and consistent manner, and to relate this to

   any other set of data.


The need for such a standard is therefore demonstrable, and it would

be particularly useful for standards bodies involved in the Cultural

and Linguistic Adaptability and User Interface Technical Direction

(CLAUI TD) which was set up ISO/IEC JTC1, as it could be a way of

describing specific uses which might apply in several countries,

rather than having to specify information on a country by country




3. The shape of an area standard


One obvious objection to any such standard is that, while for some

purposes grouping certain countries together is useful, in other

cases it can appear controversial to some of the countries concerned,

particularly if political difficulties exist between countries at any

specific time.


The proposal below would provide a standard which would overcome

these difficulties by enabling a very large number of variations on

any default specification, with any number of exceptions being

possible. This would allow ICT systems to be developed, and would

allow data to be processed, covering a wide variety of different area



Such a standard would provide:


(a) a mechanism to define an area, and countries within it;

(b) default data which can be usable as it stands; and

(c) also sample tailorings of this data.


The default areas will be useful when having to deal with areas

outside the experience of the user.


Item (a) might or might not also include an alphanumeric or

alphabetic coding mechanism for areas, just as ISO 3166 has an

alphabetic coding system for countries.


There would not be any registration issues for this propose new

standard (unless it was decided to set up a registration agency for

listing tailorings, for example).


Users of the new standard would however, need to be aware of any new

registrations by the Maintenance Agency for ISO 3166. Codes for

representation of names of countries, however. Stating something

about the registration mechanism for ISO 3166 might need to be built

into this standard.



4. Placement of the work in ISO



4.1 Meeting the need


Work on ISO in various cultural elements has grown up in various TCs,

for instance ISO/TC46 for ISO 3166, ISO/TC37 for ISO 639, and various

ISO/IEC JTC1 TCs for currency, date and time formats, etc.


So the place for development of this work is where there is a

perceived need, and it is also important that the SC concerned also

liaises with other users represented in ISO and in ISO/IEC JTC1.


In developing its standards, JTC1/SC22/WG20, and bodies like

CEN/TC304, has suffered at times from the fact that they have had no

way of influencing the TC to provide requested data elements - for

example, CEN/TC304's request to the ISO 639 Maintenance Agency for

additional codes for several European languages remains unanswered,

even several years later.


If this is developed within ISO/IEC JTC1/SC22/WG20, this long delay

in getting things developed is not likely to arise.



4.2 Previous relevant experience


The division of (a), (b) and (c) above is also analogous to that in

ISO/IEC FCD 14651 - International String Ordering and Comparison -

Method for Comparing Character Strings and Description of the

Common Template Tailorable Ordering, which provides (a) a mechanism,

(b) default data, and (c) also sample tailorings of that data.


Given the experience of JTC1/SC22/WG20 in handling (a), (b) and (c)

on a very large scale in ISO/IEC 14651, JTC1/SC22/WG20 is in a good

position to develop such a New Work Item.



4.3 Earlier use in applications


Some earlier versions of this approach have been found useful in


(a) providing one of several ways to group data for 7,000 languages,

    as part of the work of the ISO/TC37/SC2 Language Codes Task Force

    which is investigating the feasibility of extending ISO 639

    (not yet complete). That uses mnemonic area codes, though those

    are not an essential part of the proposed standard, though they

    could be useful.


(b) providing a user interface in navigating a global database of

    musicians (currently using a textual interface, with an image map

    interface planned). A pilot version of this is at



    That also uses mnemonic area codes, though again, these are not

    an essential part of the proposed standard, though they could be



This experience will shorten the development time for this standard.



5. Draft text


A draft can be prepared fairly quickly, within the UK, based on

earlier work. The draft would describe

(a) a mechanism to define an area, and countries within it;

(b) default data which can be usable as it stands; and

(c) also sample tailorings of this data.


Some very preliminary work has been done on (a), while work on

(b) and (c) would draw on use described in 4.3 above. At the same

time, liaison would also be undertaken with other potential user

groups which are described in section 2 above.



6. References


[1] United Nations, Centre for the Facilitation of Procedures

    Practices for Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/CEFACT). -

    UN/Locode - Code for posts and other locations.

    (Recommendation No. 16, ECE/TRADE/227).



[2] International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) -

    Machine-Readable Passports, Section III, Technical

    Specifications. - (ICAO Document 9303).

    adopted in

    ISO/IEC 7501-l : 1997 (E) - Identification cards -

    Machine-readable travel documents Part 1: Machine readable



[3] United Nations Statistics Department - Composition of macro

    geographical (continental) regions and component geographical

    regions, revised 16 February 2000.




7. Draft tables (partial example for Europe)


This section illustrates potential groupings for (b), based on

4.3.(b) above, and using Europe as an example


These further develop area groups defined by the United Nations

Statistical Office in New York, which are used in dealing with a

large amount of statistics, although the UN groupings are much more

general than that proposed below.


However, of course any of these groupings could be changed by the

tailoring mechanism for this standard, and different default areas

could be agreed by JTC1/SC22/WG20 if appropriate.


The alphanumeric code suggested does not conflict with elements in

any other ISO standards. However, the actual specification (or even

use) of any alphanumeric code would need to be agreed by




1st level of division





2nd level of division




 A22 Northern Europe      A23 Northwest Europe     A24 Southwest Europe

 A25 Southeast Europe     A26 Central Europe       A27 Eastern Europe

 A28 Russian Europe       A29 Turkey/Transcaucasus




3rd level of division


A22 Northern Europe


      DK Denmark,  EE Estonia,  FO Faroe Islands, FI Finland,  IS Iceland,

      IE Ireland,  LV Latvia,   LT Lithuania,     NO Norway,   SE Sweden,

      SJ Svalbard and Jan Mayen,                  GB United Kingdom


A23 Northwest Europe

      AT Austria,    BE Belgium,  FR France,  DE Germany,  LI Liechtenstein,

      LU Luxembourg, MC Monaco,   NL Netherlands,  CH Switzerland


A24 Southwest Europe

      AD Andorra,    GI Gibraltar,   VA Holy See,  IT Italy,

      MT Malta,      SM San Marino,  PT Portugal,  ES Spain


A25 Southeast Europe

      AL Albania,  BA Bosnia and Herzegovina,  HR Croatia,

      CY Cyprus,   GR Greece,     MK Macedonia (FYROM),

      SI Slovenia, YU Yugoslavia


A26 Central Europe

      CZ Czech Republic,  HU Hungary,  PL Poland,  SK Slovakia


A27 Eastern Europe

      BY Belarus,  BG Bulgaria,  MD Moldova,  RO Romania,  UA Ukraine


A28 Russian Europe

      RU Russian Federation (subdivided by region)


A29 Turkey/Transcaucasus (Caucasus/Anatolia)

      AM Armenia, AZ Azerbaijan, GE Georgia, TR Turkey,