Coaching the Minerva Project
by Politecnico di Milano, January 2003
The objective of MINERVA is to contribute to the implementation of the Lund Action Plan, an initiative of all European Member States which defines the strategic principles and makes recommendations for actions that support added value to digitisation activities in ways that would be sustainable over time. The goal of Minerva is to create a network of Member States' Ministries, to discuss, to correlate and to harmonise activities carried out in digitisation of cultural and scientific content, in order to create an agreed European common platform, recommendations and guidelines about digitisation, metadata, long-term accessibility and preservation.
Given the political nature of Minerva and its goal of coordinating activities at trans-national European level, this project in turn will represent an important channel for disseminating the VNET5 philosophy, and for exploiting its results in the real world of cultural institutions.
The coaching activity of the VNET5 team of Politecnico di Milano focused in particular on the following aspects:
- Broad spectrum investigation of quality, and systematic analysis of quality aspect: the Minerva team was convinced to analyse quality from the two main perspectives, that of the end-user and that of the systemic structure. These two quality dimensions are complementary and partially interwoven, since bad quality implementation may affect the user perception, and, at the same time, a high-quality implementation may become ineffective for the user if the content or the functionality of the interface are bad. Still, this distinction is useful to help us analyse quality more precisely, and to identify the criteria by which we want to decompose the concept of quality. Quality from the end user perspective is strongly related to what is commonly called "usability".
- Identification of the goals of the Minerva Quality Framework: the main goals of the Minerva Quality Framework have been identified as:
- to standardize (as much as possible) and to make more objective the notion of quality for cultural web applications, and its measurement process
- to provide a tool for comparing/evaluating different cultural web-enabled products, and to perform more effective quality control during the development process
- to provide an objective basis to evaluate cost-benefits of efforts in digital content production and cultural web applications development
- to generate a more critical attitude in end users of cultural web sites, and increase the maturity of the cultural web site market
- to facilitate the development of good quality web based cultural products and services
Identification of the target users of the Minerva Quality Framework: for cultural heritage applications, this is particular crucial and it requires a specific in depth analysis, which can be done only with the contribution of cultural heritage experts. The principal users for the Minerva Quality Framework identified (in its "end user perspective") are:
- cultural institutions who are responsible for providing the content sources of a cultural web site and of identifying the application requirements
- political institutions who are responsible for promoting quality standards and coordinating the efforts in the cultural heritage field
- project managers who are responsible for matching quality criteria in their projects designers, developers and evaluators of cultural web sites, who will have a reference methodology to apply in their work
- end-users, who will be facilitated in their search of high quality content and servicesto focus on quality from the user perspective. Quality from the user perspective is strongly related to the nature of an application.
- Redesign of the Quality Working Group activity: a stronger involvement, in the Quality Working Group, of experts in cultural heritage who have direct contacts with the general public and "culture consumers" and therefore can have a feeling of end user needs; besides, the design of the "validation plan" for the Minerva Quality Framework (totally ignored by the project in its initial conception) was supported.
- Adoption of VNET5 Usability Methods in Usability Analysis of the Minerva Web Site: the Minerva Quality Framework is largely founded on the user-centred vision suggested by VNET5. In addition, the MILE usability method is currently part of the procedures suggested to evaluate usability aspects of quality in cultural web applications; a number of Minerva national team are currently MILE for evaluating the usability of their web applications, reporting positive feedbacks on the effectiveness of the method.