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OCPA WWW Resource Centre

1. Background

2. Strategy
2.1 Aims
2.2 Objectives

3. Development and Status
3.1 Development
3.2 Organizational Considerations
3.3 Technical Considerations
3.4 Services
3.5 Navigation
3.6 Searchability
3.7 Linguistic Scope
3.8 Promotion

4. Planned Activities

5. Conclusion

 

Status and Development

Author: Aleksandra Imogen Ivir,
Web Editor and Administrator, Culturelink

1. Background

The establishment of the Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa (OCPA) was proposed in May 2001, following a series of regional consultations and experts meetings organized jointly by the Organization of African Unity, the Ford Foundation and UNESCO, as a result of the recommendation of the Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development (Stockholm, 1998), which proposed to "encourage the establishment of networks for research and information on cultural policies for development, including study of the establishment of an observatory of cultural policies".

The Observatory will be set up in 2002 with a view to monitor cultural trends and national cultural policies in the region and enhance their integration in human development strategies through advocacy, information, research, capacity building, networking, coordination and cooperation at the regional and international levels.

2. Strategy

As the Observatory is planned as a service-oriented resource centre and a regional coordinating and monitoring body for a network of experts and institutions involved in policy and decision making, cultural administration and management, research, training and information, the starting point, according to the work plan defined at the Cape Town meeting in May 2001, was to establish the Observatory's regional information gateway function through setting up an experimental OCPA website, as the most practical and effective instrument for compiling and disseminating information.

In accordance with an Activity-Financing Contract, the task of developing, setting-up, maintaining and hosting the experimental OCPA website has been entrusted to the Culturelink Network.

2.1 Aims

The interim OCPA website represents a first step in establishing, developing and promoting the planned Observatory as a key regional resource centre for cultural policies in Africa, serving as a basis for the development of its permanent information resources and services, which are to include research activities, an inventory of existing information sources, a newsletter, an information and discussion forum (listserv), press reviews, data bases, etc.

2.2 Objectives

The interim OCPA website is designed to serve as an information clearing house, an operational tool of wide support to the Observatory objectives of

  • collecting, maintaining, analyzing, updating and disseminating information on cultural development and cultural life in Africa within a global context,
  • serving as a knowledge-based policy analysis mechanism and resource centre, developing integrated policy relevant information services, and
  • stimulating the establishment of a network for information, research, training and cooperation among regional and national institutions, professional associations, individual experts and scientists interested in issues related to cultural policy in Africa.

3. Development and Status

The Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa website is set-up as a key resource centre for collecting, processing and analyzing data, as well as disseminating coherent and up-to-date information on the realities, trends, new concepts, challenges, experiences and practice of cultural life and cultural development policies in Africa. First established in July 2001, the site is hosted at the Culturelink Network server, located at the Institute for International Relations (IMO), Zagreb, Croatia, where it is regularly maintained, updated and further developed by the Culturelink Web Editor and Administrator.

The information services available to the visitors at http://www.culturelink.org/ocpa/ are grouped into several major collections, facilitating the navigation and targeted content retrieval throughout the site.

Figure 1: OCPA homepage

3.1 Development

As foreseen by the Activity-Financing Contract, specific activities with a view to developing and consolidating the experimental OCPA web site were planned and carried out.

The development of the OCPA WWW information services was based on an analysis of the expected user profile, undertaken to gain insight into the predominant technological infrastructure and technical resources available to the average user. The site has been graphically designed, developed and implemented with these considerations in mind.

The information services and site content structure were defined taking into account user needs and interests, focusing on information and monitoring, research, cooperation, networking and advocacy.

In this framework, data is continually collected and processed, the content developed and designed, and the HTML-coded pages published on the Web server. The site is enriched on a daily basis.

3.2 Organizational Considerations

The content layout and graphical design of the OCPA website were defined with a view to ensuring clarity and usability of its information resources. Advanced navigation and content retrieval mechanisms have been set up, based on menu bars and a search engine.

The Web presentation remains largely text-based to secure the accessibility of the information for less technically equipped users with slower connection speeds.

3.3 Technical Considerations

As stated above, the creation of a key resource centre for collecting, processing, analysing data and disseminating coherent and up-to-date information on cultural life and policies in Africa should benefit all categories of stakeholders of cultural development, with a special emphasis on African users.

Taking into account the prevailing technological infrastructure limitations and the less advanced technical resources predominantly at the disposal of users throughout the continent, the website implementation has been optimized for generation 3.0 browsers and above, and is adapted for a screen resolution of 640x480 pixels, using a 256 color palette.

3.4 Services

The OCPA WWW information services are structured into the following major sections:

observatory

general information about the Observatory and its work:

  • establishment, organization, aims, objectives, expected results, framework, partners and contact information

news

regular announcements and archive of relevant events and other news from the field

activities

mailing list; further activities to be developed after the establishment of OCPA (databases, publications, etc.)

resources

listings of relevant information available over the Internet, including:

  • cultural policies;
  • documents: working papers, reports, conclusions and recommendations;
  • references: projects, events, publications, listings;
  • institutions: international, regional and sub-regional organizations, ministries and national cultural institutions, foundations, networks and research centres, NGOs, museums.

support

user support information, including:

  • website usage help: helpdesk, free browser/viewers download;
  • navigation tool: site map;
  • content retrieval tool: simple and advanced search mechanism;
  • service information: site credits, copyright, disclaimer, privacy statement.

Table 1: OCPA WWW information services

Special attention is paid to the relevance of the content, concentrating on the focus and scope, as well as the accuracy and quality of the information provided. Updated on a daily basis, the site currently consists of over 35 Web pages (HTML format) and 25 documents (MS Word and Adobe PDF format). Beyond this, it provides easy access to numerous other relevant information sources and web sites.

Mapping the existing information sources on culture and development problems in Africa and giving an overview of the main reference documents concerning cultural development policies and initiatives in the region, as well as helping those seeking partnership and financial support for their cultural development projects, the 'resources' section presently links to 145 reference items (events, projects, documents, publications, information sources) and 120 institutions of interest, while the 'news' section presently lists some 80 current announcements and newsworthy items. The index and full listing of year 2001 announcements have been archived for reference purposes.

The required technical facilities for a mailing list were set up and configured on the Web server, enabling the establishment of a discussion forum which permits all OCPA partners to communicate regularly and efficiently any announcements, news and information about events and research, or raise any questions and/or issues with the Observatory members. The list currently has some 70 subscribers.

The 'activities' section of the website is to be expanded and further developed as the Observatory itself is formally established and becomes operational. This section so far features the OCPA mailing list, including detailed information on and instructions for its usage.

3.5 Navigation

An intuitive usability of OCPA's WWW information services has been achieved through a clear content layout and the use of easily accessible navigation bars and menus, through hierarchical access to parent information units, as well as through a collection of service help pages.

To give insight into the site structure and speed up navigation to a specific topic, a site map gives a linked overview of the content structure of the entire site.

The site's support pages offer user help to its visitors, providing free browser and reader tools to facilitate the display of all OCPA Web contents, basic and advanced navigation and content retrieval mechanisms, and service information which include Web development credits and legal information such as copyright notice, disclaimer and privacy statement.

3.6 Searchability

To facilitate targeted content retrieval by searching for specific words or expressions through the pages of the entire site, free simple and advanced search mechanisms have been set up.

The search mechanism is available throughout the site from the top of each page, providing access to a simple search form, as well as to an advanced search form which allows the specification of certain search criteria, such as word or phrase matching and document dating.

In addition, search tips give detailed instructions on how to formulate the search queries to receive the most relevant results.

Figure 2: Simple and advanced search form

3.7 Linguistic Scope

As foreseen by the OCPA Draft Project Document, the working languages should be English and French. However, as soon as possible and to the extent possible, the Observatory hopes to develop its information services also in Arabic, Portuguese and Kiswahili.

As a first step towards this multilingual objective, users are instructed about the possibility of using the free AltaVista Babel Fish translation service (http://babel.altavista.com/tr?), enabling them to access the information not available in their usual working languages.

So far, the OCPA website is set up in English language, including news items in French.

3.8 Promotion

The OCPA WWW project is promoted through the publication of its activities in the Culturelink review, and is advertized through a link from the Culturelink Network WWW Resource Centre.

Recently, the site has also been submitted to major search engines and directories (AltaVista, HotBot, Yahoo!, Open Directory, etc.), in order to make its resources widely known and used. To be recognized and included in search result listings, keyword meta tags are used in the pages' HTML code.

This has resulted in an obvious growth of the number of users of the site as well as the number of searches conducted through it, reflecting the interest and true need for these services.

Figure 3: Web visitors trendline

Figure 4: Number of search queries

4. Planned Activities

In line with the Observatory's task of serving as a regional information gateway and resource centre for issues related to cultural policies in Africa, the OCPA website is to be updated and expanded regularly, collecting, processing, analysing data and disseminating coherent and up-to-date information, and guiding the user to the most significant web resources concerning culture and development problems, initiatives and policies in Africa.

After the formal establishment of the Observatory, planned for later this year, and the start of its active work phase, all undertaken activities will be reflected at the website in a separate section, already foreseen in the overall contents structure. These will include the establishment of research and publishing activities, information services, networking, and database development. OCPA is designed to represent a unique information source offering online interactive access to databases on cultural policies and legislation, national authorities and institutions, international organizations and networks, research and cooperation projects, conferences and training opportunities, books and documents, possible partnerships and potential donors, etc.

Further priority action for the development and improvement of the website includes several tasks:

  • A separate OCPA domain name shall be registered (http://www.ocpa.org) and the site hosting is to be transferred to the institution housing the Observatory's Executive Secretariat, once all technical prerequisites are met, taking into account the site's worldwide accessibility.
  • To facilitate the navigation and browsing through long lists of useful links and resources, the references section needs to be thoroughly reorganized, refining it and braking it down into more specific, focused categories, including separate lists for ministries of culture, development cooperation agencies, African studies, bibliographies, publications and periodicals, press and media services, events, portals and search engines. Introductory remarks explaining the content structure and providing navigation support should be included. Eventually, developing a structured portal to African cultural information might be considered.
  • Further relevant full-text documents are to be made available in digital format, requiring their scanning, editing, formatting and inclusion in the website.
  • In line with its multilingual orientation, further existing texts and documents should be made available at the website upon being translated into French. It is also planned to set up the basic website structure in French, possibly starting with the information about the Observatory itself.

At a later stage, aiming to further communication between them, the Observatory might open its web space to its partner institutions and those interested in the exchange of ideas and non-commercial information relevant to the field of culture and their work. A web-based discussion forum could be created, aiming to facilitate active participation in reflection, the exchange of experiences and the development of joint projects, designed to promote cultural policies integrated in sustainable human development strategies.

5. Conclusion

The long-term objective of the OCPA WWW Resource Centre project is the development of a worldwide information system for the study of African cultural policy and life, cultural management and development strategies, taking advantage of today's available information and communication technology to facilitate cooperation and promote new partnerships.

Complemented and updated on a daily basis, OCPA's resource centre represents a unique source of hand-picked quality information freely available over the World Wide Web. As the Observatory is established and further developed, more on-line information services, including interactive databases, will be set up.

Through its Internet activities, OCPA will strengthen research capacities by sharing the available data more equitably worldwide, forging new tools, innovative approaches and alternative alliances at local, national, regional and international levels.

With its background and practical skill and experience in the field, making use of its established data processing techniques and Internet presentation technology, the Culturelink Network is well-equipped to continue to cooperate with the Observatory in the process of researching, monitoring, collecting and disseminating up-to-date policy-relevant knowledge and information via the Internet.