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 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.
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
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.
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,
- 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
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
are grouped into several major collections, facilitating the navigation
and targeted content retrieval throughout the site.
Figure 1: OCPA homepage
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
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
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
The OCPA WWW information services are structured into
the following major sections:
general information about the Observatory and
- 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; further activities to be developed
after the establishment of OCPA (databases, publications,
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.
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,
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
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
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
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.
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
In addition, search tips give detailed instructions
on how to formulate the search queries to receive the most relevant
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
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
So far, the OCPA website is set up in English language,
including news items in French.
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.
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.