This year has seen UKOLN building on its work on ways in which standards can be used to support digital library development programmes. In the past a simplistic approach had been taken, which assumed that standards developed by trusted standards bodies (W3C, IETF, ISO, etc.) would become widely accepted within the market place. This approach, however, has failed in the past (Coloured Book software anyone?) and we currently are seeing a wide range of debates over standards across the Web development community (Web Services Considered Harmful; RSS vs RSS vs Atom debates; the Semantic Web vs the lower case semantic web and microformats and, more recently, a radical vision for the future based on XHTML 2.0 vs an evolutionary development towards HTML 5.0 – as described in Molly Holzschlag’s Blog) .

UKOLN’s contribution to the debate has been the development of a contextual three-layered approach, based on a neutral standards catalogue (containing details of standards, their governance; their maturity and a risk assessment) together with policy layers for selecting relevant standards and for managing non-compliance with the policies. This approach, which has been designed to provide a level of flexibility which is needed in a rapidly changing technical environment is supported by an advocacy strategy (which promotes the benefits of open standards) and an iterative feedback and development approach (in order to learn from patterns of best practices).

We have sought to develop our ideas and gain feedback by papers which have been submitted to a number of peer-reviewed conferences. In May a paper on A Contextual Framework For Standards was presented at the “Workshop on E-Government: Barriers and Opportunities” which was co-located with the International World Wide Web Conference held in Edinburgh.

My colleague Marieke Guy has been engaged in implementing the system which is based on our contextual model. It was pleasing when Marieke and I met with members of the eReSS project to discover that they had taken a similar approach in the area of e-science standards.

This contextual approach has been designed to be usable by the wider community. The information provided in the standards catalogue has a Creative Commons licence associated with the entries, so there should be no legal barriers to the reuse of the content. This will enable developers, policy makers, managers, etc. within institutions to make use of the resources to support institutional development activities. More importantly from a JISC perspective, the approach can be used by JISC’s partners in the Strategic E-Content Alliance (SEA). The SEA is an alliance of bodies such as JISC, MLA. BBC and Becta, which aims to provide seamless access for the public to a wide range of scholarly, cultural and educational resource. The contextual approach to the selection and use of open standards is particularly relevance in this content as, though the bodies will seek agreement where possible on relevant standards, there will be areas in which organisational or political considerations may outweigh technical factors.

Next year will see UKOLN continuing to build on this work – and we are particularly pleased that a paper on Addressing the Limitations of Open Standards has been accepted at the Museums and the Web 2007 conference.