Web Focus: QA Focus Has Finished - Let's Start Embedding QA
About QA Focus
The JISC-funded QA Focus Project officially finished on 31 July 2004. The project, which started on 1 January 2002, supported JISC's digital library programmes. QA Focus developed a quality assurance (QA) framework which could be used by projects funded by JISC's Information Environment programmes to ensure that project deliverables were functional, widely accessible and interoperable. The quality assurance framework was supported by a wide range of briefing documents which provided brief, focussed advice on use of standards and best practices in a range of areas including selection of standards, digitisation, Web, metadata, software and service deployment. In addition to the briefing documents QA Focus published a range of case studies which described the approaches taken by projects themselves in the use of standards and best practices.
During 2002 the QA Focus Project was provided by UKOLN in conjunction with ILRT (Institute for Learning and Research Technology). However, following ILRT's decision to refocus on their core activities, the AHDS (Arts and Humanities Data Service) replaced ILRT from January 2003 until the end of the project.
QA Focus Deliverables
The key deliverable was a lightweight quality assurance framework. The QA framework is based on a requirement for documented policies which describe the technical architecture for project's technical infrastructure together with systematic compliance checking procedures which will ensure that the policies are being implemented correctly. The development of this methodology recognised the resource constraints which projects are likely to face and so was deliberately designed to be easy to understand and simple to implement. The methodology is described in the Summary of the QA Focus Methodology briefing document on the QA Focus Web site .
The QA framework is supported by over 70 briefing documents which provide advice covering the need for particular standards, brief details of approaches to using them and ways and means of ensuring the standards are used correctly. The briefing documents are available from the QA Focus Web site , in Microsoft Word and HTML formats as illustrated in Figure 1.
As well as the briefing documents over 30 case studies have been published which describe the approaches taken by the projects themselves to implementing best practices.
The briefing documents, case studies, together with related resources have been brought together in a series of QA Focus Handbooks  which are designed to provide comprehensive advice in a form suitable for printing. The eight handbooks range in length from 13 to 82 pages, which provides an indication of the wide coverage of the resources.
Validating Our Approach
During the development of the QA framework the QA Focus team sought to validate their approaches by presenting their work at several peer-reviewed conferences. This included presentations at the EUNIS 2003 Conference in July 2003, the ichim03 Conference in September 2003, the IADIS Internet/WWW 2003 Conference in November 2003, the Online Information 2003 conference in December 2003 and the ECDL 2004 conference in September 2004. These papers, together with accompanying slides, are also available from the QA Focus Web site .
Although QA Focus was funded to support JISC's digital library programmes, we recognised that QA was more likely to be embedded as a normal part of development processes if QA was integrated within the development culture of the organisation hosting the project. We therefore sought to give presentations and run seminars not only at events aimed specifically for JISC projects but also the wider community. In particular we ran workshops on QA at the Institutional Web Management Workshops in 2003  and 2004  and described the approach to QA in several workshops organised for the JISC Regional Support Centres (RSCs).
Although much valuable advice is provided in the briefing documents, due to the variety of approaches which projects are likely to take (due to their differing aims, technical environments, etc.) the documents cannot provide specific advice but have to be general. There is a danger that the advice may be read without the principles being implemented in an appropriate fashion. In order to help to embed QA in project development processes we have developed a series of online toolkits which aim to provide some level of interactivity. The toolkits currently cover selection of standards, best practices for Web sites, mothballing Web sites and use of metadata. An example of an online toolkit is shown in Figure 2.
The intention is that the project-specific responses to the issues raised in the toolkit will be addressed by the project in, say, project reports to the project funders, within the project's advisory or steering group or with the project's peers. Rather than provide detailed answers to the issues covered, the toolkit provides links to relevant QA Focus resources which proffer examples of the issues which projects will need to address.
Licence for Use of QA Resources
The funding for the QA Focus Project finished on 31 July 2004. Although no further funding is available to provide support to JISC programmes, we intend to use the resources and the methodology we have developed for the benefit of the communities we support. In addition we are seeking to maximise the impact of the QA Focus deliverables. We intend to make the QA Focus briefing documents available under a Creative Commons licence  which will allow the documents to be updated, copied and distributed for non-commercial use provided that acknowledgements are given to UKOLN and AHDS. We feel this will help to ensure that the benefits of the JISC funding are maximised and will avoid others having to repeat the work we have carried out. This should be of particular benefit to sectors such as the museums, libraries and archives communities as UKOLN is well-placed to ensure that this sector is made aware of these resources.
We are currently clarifying legal issues to ensure that this licence can be provided (for example we still need to ensure that we can provide a Creative Commons licence for the small number of briefing documents which were commissioned). Once this has been done we intend that the briefing documents will include licence details along the lines illustrated in Figure 3.
The QA Focus Project has successfully developed a quality assurance methodology which can be used to support digital library development programmes. A range of support documents are available, together with advice of simple tools which can be used for testing Web sites (see, for example, details of the URL-interface to Web validation tools ).
We hope that that the work described in this article will be of interest to a wider community, such as Web developers in the UK Higher and Further Education sectors and the cultural heritage sectors.
An example of the perceived value of the work can be gauged from a comment given by a participant at the QA for Web Sites Workshop held at the Institutional Web Management Workshop at the University of Birmingham in July 2004:
Without doubt I found this to be the most useful thing of the entire workshop. Practical and thought through fully. I think, without doubt, this will be the area [QA] of our Website which will benefit the most from attending the workshop.
We look forward to the wider community exploiting the methodology and resources which have been developed thanks to the JISC funding.
As project leader for QA Focus I would like to thank JISC for funding the project, JISC staff including Caroline Ingram (during the early days of the project) and Rachel Bruce and Balviar Notay, together with Karla Youngs and Ed Bremner of ILRT for their involvement in the first year of the project and the QA Focus project officers: Marieke Guy and Amanda Closier (UKOLN) and Gareth Knight and Hamish James (AHDS).
- QA Focus Web site, QA Focus, UKOLN
- QA Focus Handbooks, QA Focus, UKOLN
- QA Focus Papers, QA Focus, UKOLN
- QA For Web Sites - What Goes Wrong And How Can We Prevent It?, Workshop at Institutional Web Management Workshop 2004
- Catching Mistakes: QA For Your Web Site, Workshop at Institutional Web Management Workshop 2003
- Creative Commons
- A URI Interface To Web Testing Tools, QA Focus Briefing Document No. 59, QA Focus, UKOLN