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Forum Guide to Metadata
NFES 2009-805
July 2009

Chapter 3. Using Metadata - Business Rules

Business rules have been defined as both "directive(s) intended to influence or guide business behavior" and "constraints on a business."1 In other words, they describe what an organization must do or, alternatively, what it cannot do.2 Business rules are a form of metadata and, in this capacity, express the guidelines an organization has established for using or modifying a particular data element or data set (see appendix B).

Virtually all organizations have rules, whether they are a fortune 500 company, a public elementary school, a local fast food restaurant, or a family of four. These rules, frequently referred to as an organization's "policies," can range from the informal "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" or "No dessert unless you finish your vegetables," to much more formal and specific guidelines such as, "All records of students in grades 3-11 must have a valid score on the annual state math assessment." Some organizations express their business rules in natural, informal language, while others choose to use more formal styles. Regardless of their tone, good business rules should meet certain criteria (see exhibit 3.5). They should

  • be explicitly expressed, either in formal language or graphic representation;
  • follow an adopted standard for expressing all business rules; and
  • be declarative, describing a required or prohibited state.3

These declarations should be stand-alone and absolute statements of truth about how the organization operates. In other words, one should not be able to break them down into simpler statements and they should be interpretable under any circumstance as either completely true or completely false. For example, the business rule "student age cannot exceed 24 years as of September 1 of the current year" means that the age recorded for a student must, under all circumstances, be less than or equal to the value of 24 years old as of September 1; and any value in an age field is either completely consistent or completely inconsistent with this rule.

As with any skill, applying metadata to business operations begins with learning basic steps before progressing to more advanced functions. This introduction to metadata concepts illustrates the types of useful information that metadata can provide education organizations. It is not an exhaustive list or a detailed description of how to use these powerful information management tools.


1 Ross, R.G., Principles of the Business Rules Approach. Addison Wesley Professional, 2003.
2 Hay, D.C., A Repository Model — Business Rules, Part II (action assertions). Available at:
3 Perkins, A., Business Rules = Meta-Data. Technology of Object-Oriented Languages and Systems, TOOLS 34, 2000.