Status and Development
Author: Aleksandra Imogen Ivir,
Web Editor and Administrator, Culturelink
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 was 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.
As the Observatory was 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 the 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 and hosting, as well as maintaining and updating the OCPA website has been entrusted to the Culturelink Network.
The OCPA website represents a first step in establishing, developing and promoting the 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 shall include research activities, development of databases, an inventory of existing information sources, a newsletter, an information and discussion forum (listserv), press reviews, etc.
The OCPA website was designed to serve as an information clearing house, an operational tool of wide support to the Observatory's 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.
The Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa website was 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.
Figure 1: OCPA homepage
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 was optimized for generation 3.0 browsers and above, and is adapted for a screen resolution of 640x480 pixels, using a 256 color palette.
Owing to these considerations, the Web presentation is largely kept text-based with a simple navigation and content retrieval mechanism based on menu bars and a free search engine.
An intuitive usability of OCPA's WWW information services has been achieved through a clear content layout and the use of easily accessible, hierarchically structured navigation bars and menus.
To give easy 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.
As foreseen by the latest Activity-Financing Contract expiring on 31 March 2003, specific activities with a view to consolidating, further developing and promoting the OCPA web site have been carried out, focusing on information monitoring, research, cooperation, networking and advocacy. These activities included:
- hosting the web site and administering the technical facilities,
- developing its structure and enriching its contents,
- supplementing and updating existing linkages,
- enlarging the list serve initiated in September 2001,
- conducting consultations with users of the web site and integrating their observations and suggestions in the web site, and
- advertising the site among the members of the Culturelink Network and the numerous users of its web resource centre.
In this framework, data is continually collected and processed, the OCPA Web Resource Centre content is further developed, structured and designed, and the resulting HTML-coded pages are continually made publicly available on the Web server. The site is enriched on a regular basis.
Figure 2: Website content increase for the current contract period
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.
The OCPA WWW information services are continually enlarged and are currently structured into the following major sections:
general information about the Observatory and its work:
- establishment, organization, aims, objectives, expected results, framework, partners and contact information
regular announcements and archive of relevant events and other news from the field
mailing list, regularly published newsletter and reports from OCPA meetings; further activities are to be developed (research, databases, publications, etc.)
listings of relevant information available over the Internet, including:
- cultural policies;
- documents: working papers, reports, conclusions and recommendations;
- references: projects, events, publications, news and listings, as well as relevant OAU, UNESCO and Culturelink links;
- institutions: international, regional and sub-regional organizations, ministries and national cultural institutions, foundations, networks and research centres, NGOs, museums.
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 regular basis, the site currently consists of some 80 Web pages (HTML format) and 40 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 website's 'resources' section presently links to 125 reference items (events, projects, publications, information sources) and 130 institutions of interest, including a selected listing of 70 relevant African and international cultural and artistic non-governmental organizations and 25 African cultural policy documents such as working papers, reports, conclusions and recommendations. The 'news' section presently lists some 80 current announcements and newsworthy items, while the index and full listing of past announcements have been archived for reference purposes.
The required technical facilities for a mailing list set up and configured on the Web server, enabled the establishment of a discussion forum which permits all OCPA partners to easily communicate any announcements, news and information about their research activities and current events, or raise any questions and/or issues with the Observatory members. This continuously growing list currently has some 500 subscribers.
The 'activities' section of the OCPA website is to be expanded and further developed as the Observatory itself becomes operational. This section so far features access to the OCPA mailing list, including detailed information on and instructions for its usage, documentation deriving from OCPA meetings and recent issues of the OCPA Newsletter.
As foreseen by the OCPA Draft Project Document, the linguistic scope of the OCPA website currently covers English and French, planning to include, as soon as possible and to the extent possible, information services in Arabic, Portuguese and Kiswahili.
As a first step towards this multilingual objective, the OCPA website, set up in English language, also includes news items and documents in French. In addition, 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.
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 were 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.
Currently, on the average some 10 search requests are conducted per week.
Figure 3: Simple and advanced search form
Figure 4: Number of search queries
A collection of service help pages offers user support to its visitors, providing free browser and reader tools to facilitate the display of all OCPA Web contents, explaining the basic and advanced navigation and content retrieval mechanisms, and offering service information which includes Web development credits and legal information such as copyright notice, disclaimer and privacy statement.
The OCPA WWW project is promoted through the publication of news about its activities in the Culturelink review, and is continually advertized through a link from the Culturelink Network WWW Resource Centre.
The site's address is also available from all major search engines and directories (AltaVista, HotBot, Yahoo!, Open Directory, etc.), making its resources widely known and used. To be recognized and included in search result listings, keyword meta tags are regularly 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.
Some 17000 visitors to the OCPA home page have been registered in 2002 and around 4500 visitors in the first three months of 2003.
Figure 5: Web visitors' trendline
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 needs to be continuously updated and regularly expanded, collecting, processing, analysing data and disseminating coherent and up-to-date information, and guiding the user to both the most recent and the most significant web resources concerning culture and development problems, initiatives and policies in Africa.
After the formal establishment of the Observatory 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:
- Redesign and adaptation of the entire OCPA web site to include the newly designed OCPA logo.
- 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.
- With the progressive development of the Observatory's activities, the website's 'news' section should be reserved for timely OCPA announcements, keeping the publication of external news and current information for the Newsletter.
- 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, additional 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, starting with the information about the Observatory itself.
- To facilitate an efficient management of the envisaged enlargement of the site and the further development of new information services, migration of the site to a content management system should be considered.
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. In addition to the existing mailing list, a web-based discussion forum might 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.
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 already 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, shall be set up.
Through its Internet activities, OCPA strengthens 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.