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Contributions to a Framework for LET Standards Development – a position paper

September 12th, 2010 · No Comments

This is a “position paper” for the September 24th discussion meeting, “The Future of Interoperability Standards – Technical Approaches”, organised by JISC CETIS in association with the ICOPER project.

This contribution follows up on my position statement to the January 2010 “Future of Interoperability Standards” meeting. One conclusion was that “we need a better understanding of the different phases of standardisation work and the different stakeholders and types of expertise involved”.

This September meeting is about technical approaches to LET standardisation. I would suggest to take two steps away from current practice to reflect upon issues related to how to improve the legitimacy of LET standardisation. Through a number of ICALT papers Paul Hollins and I have developed a Process and Product Legitimacy model of LET standardisation (Table1).

Table 1 Process and Product Legitimacy of LET standardisation (Hollins & Hoel 2010)

Process legitimacy

Product legitimacy

All ‘interests’ considered and ideally represented

Inscription of stakeholders’ interests in the final standard

Open process

Enactment status of the standard (is the standard implemented and used in services?)

Balanced choice of Standard Setting Body

Technical maturity of the standard

We have seen that this model needs to be extended, especially to capture more of the technical aspects of the standards we produce. As a writing exercise I have tried to come up with some constructs that could inform a framework on LET standardisation, comprising of four ontologies (Figure 1).


Figure 1 Contextual dimensions of LET standardisation activity

The hope is that these ontologies could be used to develop a prescriptive model of LET standardisation that could improve the process and product of our activities. (For details on the construction of these ontologies, see the draft paper.)

Where the process “first meets” the product is when the New Work Item is developed. A brief textual analysis of the proposals presented to the CEN Workshop on Learning Technologies shows that technical issues related to how the standard should be developed is not discussed at this crucial time in the development process. The proposal is more designed to fit the funding schemes of the European Commission than the technical needs of the implementers. Any reference to a preferred design approach is highly superficial. If you want to foresee where the specification will be heading, you have to look outside the proposal text, e.g., at the standards that are referenced as building blocks for the new work.

To come up with an agreed design approach we need to make sure that this issue is addressed as early as possible in the standardisation process. To change the New Work Item process might be too optimistic. However, to make sure that the scope discussion is taken seriously after the project is funded or accepted should not be impossible. To make sure that such a discussion gives the project a good direction we should develop some best practice guidelines.

This draft paper is a first stab at developing such guidelines. The discussion is on a more abstract level (therefore two steps away from practise) than the recommendations in the position papers of Scott Wilson and Adam Cooper. For future version of the paper I will see if their contributions could serve as “extensions” of the proposed framework of mine.

The current version of prescriptive framework consists of a number of stages depicted in the following figures.

1st step – Establishing the project, its team and analysing the background

The first step is to establish the project and its members. This should be done in parallel with a background analysis to establish the historical context of the project, characteristics of the application domain and the basic views underlying the proposal, its scope and it potential solution.


Figure 2 First step of a LET standardisation process – analysis of history, application domain and basic assumptions.

2nd step – what are the competing frameworks / design approaches?

The next step is to “establish” a competing or contrasting activity system working towards the same outcome as the proposed project , see Figure 3.


Figure 3 Second step of a LET standardisation process – envisioning the project as part of competing activity systems

I’m not suggesting to establish parallel teams, but to create an awareness throughout the project of the ecosystem of activity systems working in the LET domain. The contrasting activity system could be a project working on similar tasks on a national level, in other countries, in other standards groups, or at other times in history, etc. The main objective of this alternative system is to challenge at all time the proposals of the development team.

3rd step – Analysing design approaches through perspectives

Figure 4 describes the third step discussing alternative design approaches through three perspectives, the systelogical perspective (why); the infological perspective (what); and the conceptual perspective (what does it mean).


Figure 4 Third step of a LET standardisation process – three different perspectives on the methods development

4th step – Concluding on design approach – model level and kind

The fourth and last step is to agree upon what kind of model that should be developed, and at what level (Figure 5).


Figure 5 Summary model of LET standardisation descriptive framework

The discussion on model level might take into considerations the discussion in Scott Wilson’s position paper on the use of UML or other modelling techniques, or abstract models like the Singapore Framework. It could also include the principles proposed by Adam Cooper for the structuring of data-oriented interoperability specifications.

Tags: Mind the Gap

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