Ecological modelling for repositories: an overview

[copy of my post from the RRT Team blog]

Introductory Report released

We’re pleased to announce the release of the final version of RRT’s introductory report:

An ecological approach to repository and service interactions .

In the report we examine the idea that ecology can usefully serve as a metaphor (or source of metaphors) to help articulate the complex contexts which digital libraries, repositories, and related services operate in.

Many problem-solving tools focus on one dimension of a context such as system architecture or business process. In the report we suggest that prior to using such problem-solving tools it is essential to have a wider view of the local context and to understand and be able to communicate how human interactions, system interactions, and human/machine interactions relate. Ecology offers one metaphor to view such a discussion, and shape how these interactions are analysed and considered.

The report is available from .

With this milestone it seems appropriate to also mention other work related to this report.

Ariadne article:

A Bug’s Life?: How Metaphors from Ecology Can Articulate the Messy Details of Repository Interactions
R. John Robertson, Mahendra Mahey, Phil Barker.

Case Studies

Metadata in an Ecosystem of Presentation Dissemination
R. John Robertson, Phil Barker, Mahendra Mahey, internet gambling Poster at DC2008

3 more case studies are underway.


Some of you may be aware that I’ve been working halftime for CETIS and halftime for the CDLR (Centre for Digital Library Research). From today I’m now working full time for CETIS.

I started working for CDLR during my studies at Strathclyde, and over the past four years have had the chance to work on a variety of interesting projects and with a good group of people. The projects have included:

  • an examination of metadata creation and workflow process (MWI),
  • designing guidelines for the creation and implementation of digital asset management systems (mandate),
  • and a series of projects looking at the Static Repository part of the OAI-PMH specification (Stargate)

As I move to work fulltime at CETIS on the Repositories Research Team, I’ll be continuing to develop a few case studies for the repository ecology and stay involved with the eFramework, but I’ll also be contributing to other work the team is begining to support the synthesis of recent work in the Informaiton Environment programmes. Watch this space …

Upcoming CRIG unConference

At the end of this week JISC’s Common Repositories Interfaces Group (CRIG) are holding a two day meeting to look at the key scenarios affecting repository interfaces.

Our discussions for the two days are going to build on a series of teleconferences organised by the CRIG support project – WoCRIG which have just been podcast. I’m both excited about this meeting and a little nervous.

I think that the support project are doing a good job of stirring us up to move forward the work of CRIG and helping us engage with and shape the next stages of repository interface interoperability. For the next stage of this work, this meeting, they’ve organised an unConference. Two days of informal thinking, discussing, and getting at the core of the interoperability issues related to repositories. I’m looking forward to it for what I know I’ll learn, for the chance to contribute, and for the chance to actually just have time to sit down and talk about these things.

The nervousness on my part comes from the unknown – I’ve never been to an unConference before and although the idea is good – to have discussions about what people want to talk about and to cut out the fairly predictable presentation part of a meeting and so to get at the eureka moments that usually happen alongside but not actually in conferences – I’m aware of how much, for me, those eureka moments come along because I’ve been sitting for extended periods of time for my mind to go off at tangents while half listening to a presentation which may or may not be relevant to my thoughts.

Anyway I guess it’s a bit like a codebash for ideas – and that’s no bad thing.

Domain models and the ecological approach

This a more focused brief discussion to follow up my last post about different approaches to modeling. It attempts to understand some of the similarities and differences between a domain modeling approach and an ecological approach.

Thoughts so far:

  1. Like a domain model an ecological view is concerned with more than the technical issues and interfaces
  2. A domain model is usually at a given large scale. In UK terms often the information environment level (parallel to the ecosystem level). An ecological view, on the other hand, can be at different levels. The size of a domain is somewhat arguable but (AFAIK) within the eFramework the domain is taken as the UK (or other given country).
  3. A domain model is more like what Les is getting at in terms of an ontology. It’s trying to agree a set of (abstracted) terms to represent all of the activity in a particular area. An ecological view is looking at a slice of that activity in a particular setting for particular purpose. However, I need to think this through a bit more.
  4. From a project’s point of view. if we treat the project as a book it may be a bit like the difference between classifying it (putting it in a domain model) and writing an abstract of it (creating an ecological model).
  5. From a high level point of view a domain model agrees categories of everything that’s going on; an ecological view (selectively) puts entities, interactions, and influences into a picture/ story.