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NIEM is best understood as a standards-based framework approach to exchanging information. Data exchange1 designers follow the NIEM approach to create exchange specifications. Developers use those specifications to write software that creates and consumes the exchanged data at runtime.

A NIEM-based exchange specifications are voluntary consensus data standards. NIEM includes a data model, expressed by the data components in the NIEM Core and NIEM domains. However, NIEM also includes governance, training, tools, technical support services, and an active community.2 Any understanding of NIEM as just a data standard or just a data model is therefore incomplete.