OLAC Process

Date issued:2006-04-05
Status of document:Standard. This document describes a standard that is currently followed by OLAC archives and services.
This version:http://www.language-archives.org/OLAC/process-20060405.html
Latest version:http://www.language-archives.org/OLAC/process.html
Previous version:http://www.language-archives.org/OLAC/process-20030708.html

This document summarizes the governing ideas of OLAC (i.e. the purpose, vision, and core values) and then describes how OLAC is organized and how it operates.

Editors: Gary Simons, SIL International (mailto:gary_simons@sil.org)
Steven Bird, University of Melbourne and University of Pennsylvania (mailto:sb@csse.unimelb.edu.au)
Changes since previous version:

In section 2, peer review is extended to cover automated review based on peer consensus regarding best practice. In section 3, oversight of www.language-archives.org is added to the responsibilities of the OLAC Coordinators. In section 5, the statement on intellecutal property rights refers to the Creative Commons License [CCL] that has superseded the previously used Open Publications License [OPL].

Copyright © 2006 Gary Simons (SIL International) and Steven Bird (University of Melbourne and University of Pennsylvania). This material may be distributed and repurposed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Governing ideas
  3. Organization
  4. Types of documents
  5. The document process
  6. The working group process
  7. The registration process

1. Introduction

This document is the standard that defines how the Open Language Archives Community (OLAC) is organized and how it operates. It begins by describing the purpose and vision of OLAC and the four core values which guide OLAC's operation. With this foundation, it sets out the organizational structure, three types of documents together with a document process, a working group process, and finally a registration process.

In developing this standard, many ideas have been adapted from the process documents of four other standards efforts: [DCMI-Process], [IETF-Process], [OASIS-Process], and [W3C-Process]. The organization and process developed for OLAC are much simpler, however. This is fitting since OLAC is a small community with limited resources and—like most open source projects—it crucially depends upon the volunteer participation of many part-time members.

2. Governing ideas

In a successful enterprise, the participants have shared purpose, vision, and core values. These are what Peter Senge calls the "governing ideas" of the enterprise [Senge94]. The governing ideas answer three critical questions: "Why?" "What?" and "How?" Together they answer the question, "What do we believe in?"

The purpose (or mission) of OLAC is as follows:

OLAC, the Open Language Archives Community, is an international partnership of institutions and individuals who are creating a worldwide virtual library of language resources by:

The vision of OLAC is described elsewhere in terms of "the seven pillars of language archiving" [OLAC-Vision] and shares much in common with the Open Archives Initiative [OAI]. In a nutshell, it is that:

Any user on the Internet should be able to go to a single GATEWAY to find all the language resources available at all participating institutions, whether the resources be DATA, TOOLS, or ADVICE. The community will ensure on-going interoperation and quality by following STANDARDS for the METADATA that describe resources and for processes that REVIEW them.

The following core values guide the means that OLAC employs to achieve its vision:


By open we mean "freely available to all interested parties." This implies visibility, accessibility, and reusability. All of the metadata published by participating archives are open (though the resources they describe need not be). All of the documents published by OLAC are open. The processes by which those documents are developed are also open. Individual membership in OLAC and its working groups is open to all interested parties


Decision making in OLAC is governed by the principle of consensus. A proposed standard or recommendation is adopted only when those who have reviewed it share substantial agreement that it is ready to be adopted by the community. This principle does not require unanimous consent, but requires far more than a simple majority. As a rule-of-thumb, decisions in OLAC should be based on at least 80% agreement. In the Advisory Board and Council, consensus is achieved when no more than one member objects to a proposal.

Empowering the players

The standard protocols and processes that define the framework for the community are not set by an executive committee or by members who have paid dues. Rather, they are set by those who are actually "playing the game." The only price paid by participating institutions is to implement the standards of the community. The greatest voice in the consensus process that sets the standards and recommendations of the community will be given to those who are most active in implementing them.

Peer review

As a part of the academic community, OLAC places a high value on peer review. All of the standards and documents of OLAC go through a process of peer review that is open to all who want to participate. To assure quality within its network of interoperating repositories and services, OLAC solicits peer review regarding conformance of participating institutions to its standards and recommendations. OLAC also conducts automated review based on peer consensus regarding best practice.

3. Organization

This section describes the organization of OLAC in terms of the groups of participants that play key roles. This document only defines the groups; see [OLAC-Organization] on the OLAC web site for a complete list of the currently participating individuals and institutions.


The persons who oversee the operation of the process described in this document, relying on input from the Advisory Board as needed. They also ensure that the content and services offered at www.language-archives.org are consistent with OLAC standards.

Advisory Board

The members of the advisory board are persons who are recognized by their peers as being leaders within a subcommunity (whether defined by discipline or by geography) of the wider language resources and digital archiving community. They serve at the invitation of the OLAC Coordinators. The term of service is two years and is renewable. The role of an advisory board member is two-fold: to advise the Coordinators about how to respond to particular concerns of their subcommunities, and to promote OLAC within their subcommunities.


A panel of individuals (numbering from seven to nine) who make decisions for the community as described below in The document process and The registration process. Members of the Council must have experiential knowledge of OLAC gained through being involved in the implementation or operation of an OLAC repository or service, and must be willing and able to commit time and energy to the functions of the Council. Geographic and domain distribution of members is relevant, but will not override the other criteria. Council members serve a term of two years, renewable. Council members are nominated by the Coordinators and ratified by consensus of the Advisory Board.

Archives and Services

Data providers and service providers [OAI-FAQ] that are following the OLAC standards and have been successfully registered on the OLAC web site. For each registered archive or service, there is a designated contact person with whom the OLAC Coordinators communicate to conduct community business.

Working Groups

Groups of individuals who participate in the OLAC process by drafting documents that are eventually submitted to the community as proposed standards, recommendations, or notes. A working group may also be formed for the purpose of cooperating in the implementation of standards, recommendations, or notes. For each working group, there is a chairperson who serves as the designated contact person.

Participating Individuals

Members of the wider user community who are interested in participating in the OLAC process. They become individual members by subscribing to the general mailing list on the OLAC web site. As subscribers they receive all community-wide announcements, which include invitations to participate in newly formed working groups and to give comments on all proposed OLAC documents when they are put to the community for review.

4. Types of documents

A key aspect of the OLAC process is how documents are developed and promulgated, for it is through documents that OLAC defines itself and the practices that it promotes. The documents published by OLAC are of three types:


A standard describes procedures that archives and services must follow when participating in the activities of the community or specifications they must follow when implementing an archive or service.


A recommendation describes the OLAC consensus on the best current practice regarding some aspect of language-resource archiving. Data providers and service providers (as well as the projects and individuals that create language resources) are encouraged, but not required, to follow these recommendations. The public review of archives and services may include an assessment of degree of conformance to recommended practices.


A note is any document published by OLAC that is neither a standard nor a recommendation. One purpose of notes is to ensure that standards and recommendations stay focused on rules and principles. Extended discussion or details of implementations should be treated separately in supporting notes. Another purpose for notes is to provide a venue for perspectives that are not widely held. For instance, a note could be:

  • Experimental. A note could propose a new or different approach that is not mature enough to be put forward as a standard or a recommendation but that has enough merit to put forward within the community for peer review.

  • Informational. A note could give helpful information related to some aspect of a standard or recommendation, such as a description of historical background, an elaboration, a rationale, a non-normative explanation, or even an alternative viewpoint.

  • Implementational. A note could give a description of a particular approach to implementing a standard or recommendation.

5. The document process

The OLAC document process defines how documents get endorsed and published by OLAC. This involves moving through a life cycle that has six possible status categories. Each status is defined in terms of the activities that are required for advancing it to the next status:


A document has draft status as soon as it enters the process. It may enter by one of two means. (1) Any working group may create a draft document. (2) An author who is not part of a working group may submit a draft document to the OLAC Coordinators. In the latter case, the Coordinators have two options: they may choose for the document to be processed in a working group (either by directing the author to join an existing working group or by assisting the author to form a new one), or they may solicit feedback from reviewers of their choice.

A document remains under development with draft status until either its developers choose to withdraw it from the process, or the people processing it (whether a working group or the Coordinators with ad hoc reviewers) reach consensus that the document is ready to be presented to the entire community as a proposal.


When a document achieves proposed status, the OLAC Coordinators send a call for review with a specific deadline date to the entire community. The basic question that is asked of reviewers depends on the type of document:

  • Standard. Is the document ready to serve OLAC as a standard? (Reviewers should agree with the content since they will be obligated to follow it.)

  • Recommendation. Is the document ready to be put forward to the language resources community as recommended best practice? (Reviewers should agree that the described practice will produce high-quality metadata or resources, though they are not obligated to follow the practice.)

  • Note. Is the document ready for publication? (Reviewers are not asked to agree with all the content, only to agree that it is of adequate quality to be published.)

At the end of the review period, the Coordinators and the Council deliberate concerning the feedback that is received. By consensus, they reach one of five outcomes:

  • Release. The document is ready as-is to be promoted to the next stage in the life cycle.

  • Revise. The document is nearly ready for promotion to the next stage, but the editors should make specified revisions and a final review made by the Coordinators and Council before it is promoted.

  • Resubmit. The response to the call for review was inadequate. Thus the document should be submitted back to the whole community for an additional period of review.

  • Rework. The document needs substantial rework. When the editors complete the next version, it should be submitted again for review by the whole community.

  • Reject. The document is not well founded or is not adequately relevant in the context of OLAC, and should be withdrawn from the process.

The outcome of the review is reported to the whole community via the general mailing list.

Standards, recommendations, and some notes require implementation and community experience to ensure that they are ready for adoption. These documents are promoted to candidate status and enter a testing phase. Notes that require no implementation may go straight to adoption.


When a document enters candidate status, the OLAC Coordinators send a call for implementation with a specific deadline date to the entire community. The implementation period will be set for a duration not shorter than one month nor longer than six months, depending on the anticipated difficulty of implementation. At the end of the testing period, a call for review is issued in which the community members who have actually put the document to use are invited to describe their experience and comment on whether it is ready to advance to adoption, potentially with changes they might recommend. The process for evaluating the results of the review and advancing to adopted status is as described for the proposed stage.


A document may remain in the adopted status for an indefinite period. Its status remains as adopted until the Coordinators and Council make a decision to move it to retired status. (Once adopted a document may not be withdrawn; it may only be retired.)


A document attains retired status only upon a decision of the Coordinators and Council. It typically happens automatically when it is superseded by the adoption of a newer version of the same document. A document may also be superseded by the adoption of an altogether different document, or may be judged to have simply outlived its usefulness.


The status of a document changes to withdrawn when it is removed from the document process before attaining adopted status.

Changes to adopted documents. In the case of corrections or editorial refinements, the OLAC Coordinators may authorize a new version of an adopted document without going through community review. However, any substantive changes must be processed through the Council. The Council will determine the status of the revised document: whether the changes are minor enough to adopt the revision without a round of testing, whether it should become a candidate so as to invoke a period of testing, or whether the changes are so great that the document should revert to proposed status so as to invoke a call for review by the whole community. When the new version is in candidate or proposed status, its header section must show a link to the adopted version that is currently in force.

Documenting dissent. The appropriate place for the discussion of dissenting opinions about aspects of a document is in the mailing list for the working group that has sponsored the document. In this way the alternative ideas will not be lost, but will become part of the permanent archive of the working group's mailing list. At any time, dissenting ideas may be given a more prominent form by developing them into an experimental note that proposes an alternative approach or into an informational note that discusses the relative merits of different approaches.

Intellectual property rights. All documents published by OLAC on its web site are published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License [CCL] which permits redistribution and even repurposing provided that attribution of the original source is given and that any derivative work is distributed on the same terms. Typically, the authors or editors of the document will be listed as the copyright holders.

6. The working group process

Working groups play a fundamental role in the OLAC process as the primary source of the documents that enter the OLAC document process. In keeping with the OLAC core value of openness, working groups are open to observation and participation by any member of the community. They are self-organizing in that members of the community may recognize the need for a working group and set it up on their own initiative.

Formation. A working group is formed by three or more individual members of OLAC who represent at least three different institutions. In order to form a working group, the prospective group must submit the following to the OLAC Coordinators:

When the above conditions are satisfactorily met, the OLAC Coordinators will set up a web page for the working group and a mailing list that is seeded with the initial membership list. The OLAC Coordinators will also be subscribed to the mailing list as a way of keeping informed of the working group’s activities. When tho web page and mailing list are in place, a call for participation will be sent out to the entire OLAC community. Any person who wants to participate in the development of the planned documents may subscribe to the mailing list and thereby become a member of the working group.

Chairperson. The working group chairperson serves as the point of contact with the OLAC Coordinators concerning the activities of the working group. The chairperson is responsible to keep the working group moving toward completing the documents listed on its web page and to communicate changes of plans for the working group to the OLAC Coordinators. A chairperson may resign or may be removed by a 2/3 vote of the working group members. A vacancy is filled by election from among members of the working group.

Meetings. Working groups typically conduct their business electronically, via their web page and their mailing list. If and when working groups do want to meet by teleconference or face-to-face, the working group members or their institutions will bear such costs.

Activities. The most concerted activity of a working group takes place while its documents are in the draft stage. Once a document reaches proposed status, the working group gets involved only when the community review calls for major revisions. Such revisions should be vetted within the working group before the document is resubmitted for community-wide review.

Decision making. The decision making within a working group will generally be done informally by gauging the sense of the traffic on the mailing list. However, silence should not necessarily be taken as consensus. At critical decision points, the chairperson should ask working group members for explicit feedback to ensure that consensus has indeed been achieved.

Dissolution. A working group will remain constituted as long as it is making progress towards developing planned documents or as long as documents it has developed are in proposed or candidate status. When these conditions are no longer met, the working group may elect to dissolve itself or may be dissolved by the OLAC Coordinators.

7. The registration process

The OLAC web site provides a mechanism for institutions or individuals to request that their repository or service be enrolled as a participating archive or service. To successfully enroll as an OLAC Archive, the repository must meet the following criteria:

To successfully enroll as an OLAC Service, the service must meet the following criteria:

A request for registration is first processed by the OLAC Coordinators, and then referred to the OLAC Council for final approval when the mechanical aspects of the application are in order.


[CCL]Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.
[DCMI-Process]Dublin Core Metadata Initiative - Structure and Operation.
Guidelines for Dublin Core Working Groups - Working Draft 1.4.
Dublin Core Usage Board Administrative Processes.
[IETF-Process]Internet Standards Process - RFC 2026.
[OAI]Open Archives Initiative.
[OAI-FAQ]Open Archives Initiative Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).
[OASIS-Process]OASIS [Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards] Technical Committee Process Overview.
A Scalable Process for Information Standards, by Jon Bosak.
[OLAC-Organization]OLAC Organization.
[OLAC-Vision]The Seven Pillars of Open Language Archiving: A Vision Statement.
[OPL]Open Publication License is officially superseded.
[Senge94]The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization, by Peter M, Senge. New York: Currency Doubleday, 1994. See especially, "Anchoring vision in a set of governing ideas," pages 223-225.
[W3C-Process]World Wide Web Consortium Process Document.