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Forum Guide to Metadata
NFES 2009-805
July 2009

Chapter 4. Implementing a Metadata System - Conducting a Metadata Needs Assessment

One of the challenges faced by the planning team is to implement a metadata system that meets the needs of many different types of users, collectively referred to as "stakeholders." Meeting their needs will require a comprehensive "needs assessment," which is undertaken to gather information about how stakeholders will use a metadata system so that planners can, in turn, ensure that the system being developed will meet those requirements. However, because many stakeholders may not be familiar with the concept and potential advantages of metadata, beginning the needs assessment with examples of metadata use may be helpful so that stakeholders gain enough understanding to provide meaningful input.

Planners must be able to distinguish between "wants," those features that stakeholders would like to have; and "needs," those features that are required to run the organization.

The end product of a needs assessment is a Needs Statement. A good approach for documenting the Needs Statement is to write it as though all staff involved in its creation will be taken off the project and new people will implement the next phase. Documentation can be considered effective if the "new people" can read the Needs Statement as a stand-alone product and understand its findings without additional input from the "old" team.

A Needs Statement should describe both functional needs and technical needs (see exhibit 4.2). In this context, functional needs are defined as the tasks or actions, or "functions," the metadata system will accomplish. For example, functions may include

  • locating the definitions and other attributes of all metadata items in the system;
  • entering metadata into the system;
  • searching by key words and terms;
  • customizing and generating metadata reports;
  • harmonizing with the data dictionary;
  • linking to external data standards;
  • updating metadata items;
  • identifying metadata item modification history;
  • mapping metadata items to individual data elements;
  • identifying data element "owners" and "stewards";
  • enabling data "owners" and "stewards" to modify data and metadata;
  • mapping data items to their physical storage location within a data system;
  • assessing data quality; and
  • regulating system access.

The technical needs included in the needs statement should not be overly technical or complex. They are simply statements of capabilities required of the technology solution that will support the metadata system. Capabilities might include

  • meeting all relevant technical standards and specifications;
  • accomplishing expected performance requirements;
  • achieving ease of use/interface expectations;
  • providing access safeguards and security for sensitive and confidential information;
  • handling peak user-capacity;
  • accommodating connection needs for users based on their location and how often they need to access the system;
  • maintaining version control for the data dictionary and business rules; and
  • automating loading and updating capabilities.
View Exhibit 4.3