UKOLN Good Practice Guide for Developers of Cultural Heritage Web Services

QA Processes


This section was originally published as QA Focus Briefing papers.


In order to provide value for money and a return on investment from the funders there is a need for project deliverables not only to be functional in their own right but also to be widely accessible, easily repurposed and deployed in a service environment.

To achieve these aims projects should ensure that their deliverables comply with appropriate standards and best practices. Although it may be easy to require compliance, it may not always be easy to implement appropriate standards and best practices. In order to ensure that best endeavours are made it is recommended that projects should implement quality assurance (QA) procedures.

QA Focus's Methodology

A QA methodology was developed as part of the QA Focus work. Projects may be concerned that implementation of QA procedures can be time-consuming. The approach recommended by QA Focus is designed to be lightweight and to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy, while still providing a mechanism for implementation of best practices.

The QA Focus methodology is based on the following:

It is felt that use of this methodology should not only be beneficial to the projects themselves, but also help to minimise problems when project deliverables are re-used.

Example Policies

As an example of implementation of this approach the QA policy for standards for the QA Focus Web site is given below.

Area: Web site standards

Standards: The Web site will be based on the XHTML 1.0 and CSS 2.0 standards.

Architecture: The Web site will make use of PHP. XHTML 1.0 templates will be provided for use by authors, who will use simple HTML tools such as HTML-kit. Web site will provide access to an MS Access database. This will also comply with XHTML 1.0 and CSS 2.0 standards. The Web site will also host MS Word and MS PowerPoint files. These documents will also be available in HTML.

Exceptions: Resources converted from proprietary formats (such as MS Word and PowerPoint) need not necessarily comply with XHTML and CSS standards if doing so would be too time-consuming.

Responsibilities: The QA Focus project manager is responsible for changing this policy and addressing serious deviations from the policy.

Checking: Resources should be validated when they are created or updated usually using the ,validate tool. When several resources are updated the ,rvalidate tool should be used.

Audit trail: A full audit should be carried out at least quarterly. The findings should be published on the QA Focus Web site, and deviations from the policy documented.

A second example describes the QA policy for link checking of the QA Focus Web site.

Area: Web site: link checking

Best Practice: There should be no internal broken links and links to external resources should work when a page is created. We should seek to fix broken links to external resources. Exceptions: There may be broken links in historical documents or surveys. In addition, if remote Web sites are updated it may be too time-consuming to update the links.

Change Control: The QA Focus project manager is responsible for changing this policy and addressing serious deviations from the policy.

Checking: When resources are created or updated the resource should be link-checked, usually using the ,checklink tool. When several resources are updated the ,rchecklink tool should be used.

Audit trail: A full audit should be carried out at least quarterly. Initially two tools should be used to spot deficiencies in the link-checking software. The findings should be published on the QA Focus Web site, and deviations from the policy documented.

These two examples illustrate that developing QA policies need not be time-consuming. In addition implementation of these policies need not be time-consuming and can improve the quality of the Web site.

Implementing Your Own QA

The following template can be used for developing your own QA framework.

The area covered by the QA (e.g. Web, software development, usability, ...)
The standards which are relevant to the area and which you intend to make use of.
Best Practises:
The best practices which are relevant to the area and which you intend to make use of.
The architecture you intend to use.
A summary of the exceptions to best practices and recommended standards and a justification for the exceptions.
Change Control:
A description of the responsibility for changing this QA document and the process for changing the policy.
A description of the systematic checking procedures which will ensure that you are complying with the policies you have established.
Audit trail:
A description of audit trails (if any) which provide a record your compliance checking, in order to identify any trends.

As can be seen this QA template is simple and straightforward to use. The QA Focus methodology recognises the lack of resources which can hinder the deployment of more comprehensive QA frameworks and so has developed a more light-weight approach.

QA Processes for Images

Producing an archive of high-quality images with a server full of associated delivery images is not an easy task. The workflow consists of many interwoven stages, each building on the foundations laid before. If, at any stage, image quality is compromised within the workflow, it has been totally lost and can never be redeemed.

It is therefore important that image quality is given paramount consideration at all stages of a project from initial project planning through to exit strategy.

Once the workflow is underway, quality can only be lost and the workflow must be designed to capture the required quality right from the start and then safeguard it.

Image QA within a digitisation project's workflow can be considered a 4-stage process.

1) Strategic QA

Strategic QA is undertaken in the initial planning stages of the project when the best methodology to create and support your images, now and into the future will be established. This will include:

2) Process QA

Process QA is establishing quality control methods within the image production workflow that support the highest quality of capture and image processing, including:

3) Sign-off QA

Sign-off QA is implementing an audited system to assure that all images and their associated metadata are created to the established quality standard. A QA audit history is made to record all actions undertaken on the image files.

4) On-going QA

On-going QA is implementing a system to safeguard the value and reliability of the images into the future. However good the initial QA, it will be necessary to have a system that can report, check and fix any faults found within the images and associated metadata after the project has finished. This system should include:

QA in the Digitisation Workflow

Much of the final quality of a delivered image will be decided, long before, in the initial 'Strategic' and 'Process' QA stages where the digitisation methodology is planned and equipment sourced. However, once the process and infrastructure are in place it will be the operator who needs to manually evaluate each image within the 'Sign-off' QA stage. This evaluation will have a largely subjective nature and can only be as good as the operator doing it. The project team is the first and last line of defence against any drop in quality. All operators must be encouraged to take pride in their work and be aware of their responsibility for its quality.

It is however impossible for any operator to work at 100% accuracy for 100% of the time and faults are always present within a productive workflow. What is more important is that the system is able to accurately find the faults before it moves away from the operator. This will enable the operator to work at full speed without having to worry that they have made a mistake that might not be noticed.

The Top 10 Tips

1) Document Your Policies

You should ensure that you document policies for your project - remember that it can be difficult to implement quality if there isn't a shared understanding across your project of what you are seeking to achieve. For example, see the QA Focus policies on Web standards and link checking [1] [2].

2) Ensure Your Technical Infrastructure Is Capable Of Implementing Your Policies

You should ensure that your technical infrastucture which is capable of implementing your policies. For example, if you wish to make use of XHTML on your Web site you are unlikely to be able to achieve this if you are using Microsoft Word as your authoring tool.

3) Ensure That You Have The Resources Necessary To Implement Your Policies

You should ensure that you have the resources needed to implement your policies. This can include technical expertise, investment in software and hardware, investment in training and staff development, etc.

4) Implement Systematic Checking Procedures To Ensure Your Policies Are Being Implemented

Without systematic checking procedures there is a danger that your policies are not implemented in practice. For example, see the QA Focus checking procedures for Web standards and link [3] [4].

5) Keep Audit Trails

You should seek to provide audit trails which provide a record of results of your checking procedures. This can help to spot trends which may indicate failures in your procedures (for example, a sudden growth in the numbers of non-compliant HTML resources may be due to deployment of a new authoring tool, or a lack of adequate training for new members of the project team).

6) Learn From Others

Rather than seeking to develop quality assurance policies and procedures from scratch you should seek to learn from others. You may find that the QA Focus case studies [5] provide useful advice which you can learn from.

7) Share Your Experiences

If you are in the position of having deployed effective quality assurance procedures it can be helpful for the wider community if you share your approaches. For example, consider writing a QA Focus case study [6].

8) Seek 'Fitness For Purpose' - Not Perfection

You should seek to implement 'fitness for purpose' which is based on the levels of funding available and the expertise and resources you have available. Note that perfection is not necessarily a useful goal to aim for - indeed, there is a danger that 'seeking the best may drive out the good'.

9) Remember That QA Is For You To Implement

Although the QA Focus Web site provides a wide range of resources which can help you to ensure that your project deliverables are interoperable and widely accessible you should remember that you will need to implement quality assurance within your project.

10) Seek To Deploy QA Procedures More Extensively

Rather than seeking to implement quality assurance across your project, it can be beneficial if quality assurance is implemented at a higher level, such as within you department or organisation. If you have an interest in more widespread deployment of quality assurance, you should read about the ISO 9000 QA standards [7].


  1. Policy on Web Standards, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  2. Policy on Linking, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  3. Procedures for Web Standards, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  4. Procedures for Linking, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  5. Case Studies, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  6. Contributing To Case Studies, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  7. Selection and Use of the ISO 9000:2000 family of standards, ISO,

Note that an annual audit is carried out on the Good Practice Guide for Developers of Cultural Heritage Web Services Web site as part of the Web site's QA Processes.

Comments On This Document

This section will be used to provide notes on the section, including details of any changes.

April 2006
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