Joint Disciplinary and Technical Advisory Board Report
Disciplinary Advisory Board
Brian Crane, Versar, Inc (Springfield, Virginia)
Katherine Emery, University of Florida
Eric Kansa, University of California at Berkeley, Alexandria Archive Institute
Francis McManamon, National Park Service (Washington DC)
Fraser Neiman, Monticello, University of Virginia
Vincas Steponaitis, University of North Carolina
Phillip Walker, University of California at Santa Barbara
Willeke Wendrich, University of California at Los Angeles
Thomas Whitley, Brockington & Associates, (Norcross, GA)
Technical Advisory Board
Worthy Martin, University of Virginia
Julian Richards, Archaeology Data Service, University of York
Herbert Van de Sompel, Los Alamos National Laboratory
17 Feb 2008
The initial meeting of the Archaeoinformatics.org Disciplinary and Technical Advisory Boards with the Steering Committee was held from February 15-17, 2008, at the Hotel Santa Fe, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (One Board member, Sebastian Heath, was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.)
The advisory boards had been supplied with brief written reports on archaeoinformatics.org activities. The meeting began with presentations by Steering Committee and Advisory Board members, accompanied by considerable discussion. That full-group session was followed by discussion on targeted topics pursued by three breakout groups, each with Advisory Board and Steering Committee members. The breakout groups then reported back to the full group.
Following these presentations, the Disciplinary and Technical Advisory Boards met jointly, without the steering committee present, in order to evaluate the project’s work to date. It seemed appropriate for us to prepare a joint, rather than separate board reports. We found the Steering Committee receptive to our suggestions and we expect that these suggestions will substantially inform the final plan.
We provide this report as a statement by the Boards of important issues confronting the discipline and an evaluation of the planning efforts to date pursued under the Digital Antiquity grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Our comments are generally not at variance with the goals and activities and plans of the Steering Committee. Rather, they are intended to highlight points that we consider most important.
1. Understanding of Disciplinary Needs
- General disciplinary needs have been well defined, as have the payoffs of a potential information infrastructure. The boards concur that major disciplinary problems are: the inaccessibility of data and gray literature; the potential and ongoing loss of data; and the inability to perform important new and innovative research.
- It would be useful to more specifically articulate how the more general needs and benefits would apply to particular classes of stakeholders. Stakeholder groups that should be separately considered include academics, CRM companies, public agencies, museums, and the general public.
- As development is planned, the needs should be prioritized so that initial demonstrations will be seen to be responsive to widely perceived needs and stakeholder interests.
2. Scope of Archaeoinformatics.org Mission and Objectives
- The scope is properly focused on archaeology (including prehistoric and historic archaeology and bioarchaeology) with appropriate connections to key constituencies including cultural resource management (CRM) and academic practitioners. It would be unwise at this time to extend the scope to include, for example, standing historic structures. However, the possible articulation with other databases of information about cultural resources, for example, historic documents, historical analytical databases, historical architectural structures, museum collections, traditional cultural properties, and cultural landscapes should be recognized.
- The scope needs to be more clearly specified and integrated with an implementation timeline.
- The objectives should be addressed to specific stakeholder audiences taking into consideration what each would consider as its priorities. These might include CRM archaeologists, academics working in US and international contexts, public agency archaeologists and State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs), and educators.
- A key component the plan must be community building. Developing the social components will be just as critical as developing the technical capabilities.
- Development of a widely accepted body of shared principles and practices can lead to much-needed transformations of agency practice and disciplinary culture in ways that support data accessibility, interoperability, and preservation.
- Sustainability—financial, technological and social—of an archaeological information infrastructure must be emphasized.
3. Evaluation of Effort to Date:
- Administration: The current structure has worked well to date.
- Advisory Boards: Having reached this point, we recommend some reorganization as the initiative moves forward:
- The two advisory boards and steering committee should be merged into a single board of directors.
- The board should be led by an executive subcommittee, which initially should consist of the current steering committee members.
- Some members should continue to be nominated by professional societies; others with special expertise should be nominated by board members.
- There is a need for representation of SHPOs and current data repository managers familiar with site-file information management and access.
- The diverse stakeholder constituencies of the infrastructure should continue to be considered when reviewing and making any changes to disciplinary advisory board composition.
- Financial Model: The possible sources have been well identified. Of course, more concrete plans for tapping available revenue sources will need to be developed.
- Lecture Series:
- The virtual lecture series is a good idea and has been executed with strong content. Although the lectures are archived and accessible, the series needs better publicity. It might be good to offer downloads as podcasts.
- As the initiative moves forward and tools become available, this lecture series could move more into a widely promoted training mode, including “slide share” documents.
- Survey: The survey was useful as far as it went.
- In the future, more formal marketing research is needed, including expected yield-for-service (identification and quantification of potential income from stake holders who are willing to pay for specific services).
- More insight is needed into community perspectives and needs.
- The Steering Committee has identified a number of important attributes of a desirable archaeological cyberinfrastructure.
- In the course of the meeting, a consensus has developed on appropriate Level 1 and Level 2 (initial and subsequent stage) functionality of cyberinfrastructure services.
- Some key technological “building blocks” have been identified and the steering committee recognizes that more specific technological specifications need to be developed.
- Some outside tools have been identified. While they need to be tested, appropriate adoption of open source software applications supported by broad user communities will improve sustainability.
- Some experimentation with the software tools will be needed to identify optimal configurations.
- The current examples presented are useful, but are closely associated with Steering Committee members (leading to potential sociological liabilities that may need to be mitigated).
- Other case studies are needed that that will illustrate the broad scope and large scale of the initiative and its relevance to diverse audiences in the US and internationally.
- For each case study, the purpose needs to be clearly justified in terms of what is to be learned and how it can be used in the overall promotion of the infrastructure.
- Both tDAR and ArchSeer are useful in illustrating and providing specific functionality. Additional models (including ADS and OpenContext) will be useful in both community building and in demonstrating semantic interoperability enabled by the ArchaeoInformatics cyberinfrastructure.
4. Overall Progress: EXCELLENT.
5. Additional Recommendations:
- The initiative will require active outreach and training programs. This relates to the earlier point regarding the need for community building as well as the need for specific training in the use of data access tools, identification of metadata, and other technical skills.
- An informal survey to ascertain the current state of affairs and needs of existing data repositories and collections would be informative.
- Archaeoinformatics.org should establish liaisons with other relevant efforts (e.g., US FGDC and international standards for documenting heritage properties).
- There should be support for the notion of a spectrum or levels of interoperability. For example, one can designate certain fields to be required, and others to be optional with varying degrees of importance. This approach will maximize the utility of datasets without unduly compromising interoperability.
Finalized 1 March 2008 based on board comments on a circulated draft.