October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper: Dutch National Initiative For Quality Assessment Of Digital Heritage Projects

Marco de Niet, Digital Heritage Netherlands, the Netherlands


Commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Cultural Affairs and Science, the foundation Digital Heritage Netherlands (DEN) operates a quality system, which is used for dissemination and assessment of ICT expertise through self-regulation. The quality system is a tool, designed for Dutch cultural heritage institutions, to facilitate the collecting, distribution and evaluation of knowledge about IT policies, IT standards and best practices. This shared knowledge will support the cultural heritage field to build towards a national Dutch Digital Heritage Collection in a professional, future-proof, and public-oriented manner.

During the past years, heritage institutions were  particularly focused on making their own collections available in a digital form. Each institution concentrated on its own target groups, used its own methods, and invested a lot of funds along the way. However, a sound digitising policy has a much wider social significance. Digitisation is more than just presenting individual collections. Heritage institutions have a duty in passing on heritage information to the public, to science and to education in the widest sense thinkable. This requires close collaboration and matching ICT strategies. As an independent knowledge platform, DEN supports the heritage institutions to achieve this.

The quality system of DEN consists of a Registry of ICT standards and a Project Bank to promote best practices. Furthermore, DEN supports heritage institutions with creating digitisation policies, investigates how they are implementing ICT into their daily work, and organises various expert meetings and large scale conferences about e-culture and innovation. The DEN quality system is also providing the ICT related criteria for the Dutch governmental grant scheme 'Digitising with a policy' (4 m Euro in 2007).

Keywords: Netherlands, digital heritage projects, quality assessment, IT policy, standardisation

The Dutch National Digital Heritage Collection

Because of the Internet, the public has become used to quickly finding, using and adapting general information. Nowadays, it expects no less of the information services of museums, archives, libraries and other heritage institutions. To meet these expectations, heritage institutions need to set up sound ICT policies and achieve carefully structured digitisation practices. They should be able to (collectively) present their collections and archives in such a way that their information is tailor made for different target groups and can be used for different purposes.

During the past years, Dutch heritage institutions have particularly been focusing on making parts of their own collections available in a digital form. Each institution concentrated on its own main target groups, used its own methods, created services to raise the profile of specific collections, and invested a lot of funds along the way. However, a sound digitising policy has a much wider social significance. Digitisation is more than offering basic registration of individual collections. Cultural heritage comprises an invaluable source of knowledge, creativity and identity, and heritage institutions have a duty in passing on heritage information to the public, to science and to education on an international scale. This requires close collaboration, matching IT strategies and efficient and effective digitisation. We need to get from a situation in which knowledge about ICT-standards is scattered and use of ICT is determined in projects instead of policy, to a situation in which heritage institutions are in control of developments collectively. Only then can they raise the profile of cultural heritage and meet the needs of individual users and international communities.

To achieve this on a national scale, Dutch heritage institutions are encouraged by their government to contribute to a national virtual collection of digital sources and context: the Dutch Digital Heritage Collection. By focusing on the emergence of a national infrastructure, an ever-increasing amount of digital heritage information can become available to the general public in a standardized way. This also enables the continued development of new applications of digital heritage sources.

As a clearing house for ICT knowledge, the foundation Digital Heritage Netherlands (DEN) supports the Dutch heritage institutions to find the right approaches to achieve this wider goal. As a knowledge platform DEN stimulates innovation and co-operation across the boundaries of the heritage sectors: museums, archives, libraries with heritage collections, and institutions for the preservation of historic buildings and for archaeology. Commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Cultural Affairs and Science, DEN operates a quality system to assess projects and services that deal with digital heritage. The main goal of this quality system is to offer insight into a more effective and efficient application of ICT by promoting standards and showing best practices. Instead of letting each institution invent the wheel for itself, all heritage institutions are enabled to learn from each other and work collectively to a better quality of their services. The quality system consists of a range of tools that facilitate the collecting, distribution and evaluation of knowledge about IT policies, IT standards and best practices. It enables the cultural heritage field to achieve harmonisation and jointly build towards this national Digital Heritage Collection in a professional, future-proof and public-oriented manner.

Quality System

The main activities of DEN regarding the quality system are registration of best practices, documentation and dissemination of knowledge, assessing the quality of developments on a national scale and promotion of innovation. It is the explicit wish of the Dutch government that the quality assessment be linked with self regulation: it is up to the cultural heritage field itself to decide on the norms to which they will comply. As a result, a core element of all the activities of DEN is the raising of the involvement of heritage institutions with the quality system.

The core tool in the quality system is a registry of instruments that heritage institutions can apply to build or improve their services. These instruments can vary from well-known IT standards and research methods to quality manuals and checklists. To make such a varied collection of quality instruments accessible, the registry is arranged according to the four stages of the Deming cycle, PLAN-DO-CHECK-ACT. This cycle provides an opportunity for continuous feedback during all stages of creating digital heritage services:

ACT: set up an IT policy for providing digital heritage services

PLAN: turn the IT policy into concrete plans and projects

DO: carry out IT projects

CHECK: evaluate the IT projects

ACT: modify the IT policy according to the outcome of the evaluation


Depending on the stage of development of its digital heritage services, a heritage institution can 'plug in' into the registry and find the quality instruments that are relevant for that particular stage. The most extensive section in the registry, the 'DO'-section, is refined using the digital lifecycle from the standards map which was created in the EU-funded project Epsinets (European Public Sector Information Network). This lifecycle runs from creation of digital data through description, storage, access and presentation to interoperability and preservation. By using these two cycles, the registry can function as a continuous guideline for the institutions to determine how to set up or rearrange their information services.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Two cycles to classify the Registry

DEN has installed a board of editors with representatives from all heritage sectors, to make sure that the quality instruments that are incorporated in the registry stay close to the daily practice of the institutions and that they are suitable for building a national infrastructure. Together, this group takes care of the four main activities that are needed to make the registry valuable for institutions to use:

  1. Selecting instruments for the registry. Only the instruments that can contribute to achieving a national infrastructure are selected. These can be instruments that the management of heritage institutions can apply for deciding on IT policy, but also IT standards that are used for creating or providing access to digital heritage.
  2. Documenting these instruments, e.g. by selecting or compiling white papers, guidelines, summaries, manuals, check lists etc.;
  3. Providing links between the registry and other useful sources of information, e.g. the Web sites of the owners of standards or Web sites of projects in which a specific standard is applied and explained;
  4. Deciding on technology norms through self regulation: what norms are considered by the institutions themselves to be within reach, either as a minimum (e.g. for small museums and archives) or as a benchmark?

The second important tool in the quality system is a Project Bank. This inventory of innovative projects and examples of good IT practice shows which of the Dutch heritage institutions are successfully applying the standards and rules for ICT usage as documented in the Registry. The Project Bank offers the institutions a platform for showing their activities and choices for quality instruments. Each heritage institution gets an entry in the project bank which states the status of the ICT policy of the institution: Is there a ICT policy plan? Is there a digitisation plan? Has the institution already decided on a digital preservation strategy? The result is an 'IT fingerprint' of each heritage institution in the Netherlands that is actively contributing to the quality system.

A third tool that should be mentioned here is an inventory of on-line thesauri, classification systems and other controlled vocabularies that are used and maintained by Dutch heritage institutions. By providing this inventory, DEN stimulates other institutions to make use of knowledge that is already available, instead of trying to create small new controlled vocabularies, which may not get the commitment for maintenance over a longer period of time. This inventory also supports Semantic Web projects that aim at improving access to cultural heritage.

It is worthwhile mentioning that this quality system is an integral part of a grant scheme from the Dutch Ministry of Education, Cultural Affairs and Science. The grant scheme is called 'Digitaliseren met Beleid' ('Digitising with a policy'), with a funding potential of 4 million euro in 2007. Institutions applying for funding from this grant scheme need to meet quality criteria derived from the Registry. Projects that are awarded are obliged to register with the Project Bank. The grant scheme not only funds innovative projects but also the creation of ICT policy plans.

Additional Activities

In addition to the implementation of this quality system, DEN regularly organises, either independently or in collaboration with others, expert meetings, workshops and large-scale conferences to show trends and techniques in the digital area and to support the dissemination of ICT knowledge. DEN also initiates sector wide IT monitors, and contributes to the creation of benchmarks for digitisation. By doing so, DEN charts the development of the national Digital Heritage Collection. As a result, institutions are presented with opportunities to compare and improve their digital services. Funds and governments can adjust their policies if required.

To Summarize

In the Netherlands, a quality system has been set up for linking and sharing ICT-knowledge within the cultural heritage field. This is considered to be an efficient and effective way to make the use of ICT more professional. The quality system enables the connecting and comparing of projects and individual services, which is an important step towards building shared services on a national or international scale. As standardisation is considered a process that should not be forced by the government (top down), but that needs to be supported in the policies of the institutions involved (bottom up), the quality system of DEN is designed in such a way that it supports self regulation. Only by joint investments in ICT can museums, archives, libraries and other heritage institutions, create this virtual national collection of Dutch digital heritage for all to enjoy.


Main Web site of DEN:

Government Web site to promote the Dutch national Digital Heritage Collection:

Web site about the grant scheme 'Digitising with a policy':

Cite as:

Niet, M. de, Dutch National Initiative For Quality Assessment Of Digital Heritage Projects, in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published October 24, 2007 at http://www.archimuse.com/ichim07/papers/deNiet/deNiet.html