National Heritage Board, Fornsök (NHBF)

Published on: 10/06/2009

The Fornsök application was initiated, developed and implemented by the Swedish National Heritage Board (NHB) with the support of the National Maritime Museums and the Swedish Maritime Administration. Development services were procured from IT-consultants Metria and Curalia (now Mogul).


The main aim of the project was to improve the quality of information and practical usability for public servants working with archaeological sites information in physical planning, to integrate underwater archaeological sites information in the system and to increase public access to archaeological sites information. Secondary aims were to prepare the NHB to take part in building a national spatial data infrastructure and to consolidate the NHB:s IT-environment in order to lower long-term maintenance costs allowing more resources to be dedicated to developing new functions and/or increasing data quality.


The main beneficiaries of the new application are the more than 3300 registered professional users. These users range from public servants in all levels of government as well as university researchers and companies in infrastructure development and forestry. On an operational level these user categories gain the most in terms of time saved in information-retrieval and in increased information quality to base decisions on. With archaeological data published for the first time as OGC web services the archaeological sites information is also easier to integrate in other applications e.g. business intelligence application and in any OGC-compatible GIS-client. Time savings for these users are at the heart of the NHB:s ROI-model.


More difficult to put numbers on, but equally important, is that with the launch of Fornsök the Swedish public for the first time had easy access to all information on all known archaeological sites on land and under water with integrated high-quality maps and charts. This is a major stepping stone in building legitimacy for the Cultural Monuments Act and in building a sustainable society.


Compared to the number ”visits” on the two older applications that Fornsök replaced use of Fornsök is one year after its launch about 50% higher. In terms of ROI a 50% increase in use corresponds to, conservatively counting, a gain of c. 1 800 000 SEK (approx. 201 600 euro).


Some lessons learnt in developing Fornsök are:

· Develop in small incremental iterations

· Integrate user tests in the development cycle

· Work closely with the procured developers

· Develop routines and applications for data management in parallel with the end-user application 

· Publish your data – don’t wait for perfect quality data or metadata, there’s no such thing

· Engage all internal stakeholders – they’re all your potential ambassadors

· Use social media to engage end-users

· Benchmarking, learn from what others are doing

Policy Context

The opening paragraph of the Swedish Cultural Monuments Act states that ”the responsibility of preserving our cultural heritage is shared by all”. This paragraph recognizes that sustainable and proactive preservation of heritage can only be achieved by active public outreach towards civil society. Information on archaeological sites and monuments held by the NHB falls under the Principle of Public Access and access to information and openness to communication are essential tools in working towards sustainable cultural heritage management and cultural resource management. Citizens can’t preserve a heritage they do not know. This is not simply pretty words as e.g. a land-owner by law must be aware of any protected sites on his property and ensure its protection in any activity on the property or pay for the costs of documenting the site if its removal is authorized by the County Administration Board.


Until the development of Fornsök, information on a major part of Sweden’s cultural heritage, archaeological sites and monuments, has in effect been severely limited. The Register of Ancient Monuments was, literally and figuratively, available only on paper at the National Heritage Board or at County Museums and County Administration Boards. This has limited its use and its usefulness. Difficulty in accessing information on protected archaeological sites has e.g. led to damage and destruction to thousands of sites through ignorance, especially in the forestry industry. This number should be compared to the few documented cases of deliberate plundering or vandalisation of sites. Therefore it is imperative not only to publish data on-line via NHB applications, but also to make them available, via web services, for syndication on other sites and other applications. Heritage information needs to be available everywhere, but heritage institutions can’t – open web services is the solution to that need.


The NHB strategy to use information and outreach in working for sustainable heritage is fully in line with the national policies on eGovernment. These policies bind government agencies to making their work transparent and easing access to information for citizens and businesses. On a more specific level the NHB has actively pursued a policy towards making information on protected archaeogical sites and listed buildings available through standards compliant web services e.g. the OGC-standard Web Map Service or industry-standard file formats e.g. Shape files. This is also in line with the Swedish National Geodata Strategy and the EU-project INSPIRE.


With Fornsök on-line public servants, citizens and businesses have easy on-line access to archaeological sites information through a dedicated web application and through standardized web services.

Description of target users and groups

The main user groups are:

· Public servants at all levels of government: national, regional and municipal

· Researchers and students at universities and colleges

· Private companies, especially in the forestry industry

· Local heritage groups

· Private citizens with an interest in their heritage


Fornsök is technically available to any and all users. The user interface and interaction patterns are modeled on commercial geoweb applications such as Google Maps, Eniro and rather than on desktop GIS-applications. However the content itself is primarily aimed to be useful to users familiar with archaeology and with the legal framework surrounding the management of archaeological sites and monuments in Sweden. This is a legacy from the time when archaeological surveys were intended to be made by professional archaeologists for professional archaeologists, be they public servants or researchers/scientists. The majority of registered users of Fornsök work at one of Sweden’s municipalities and many others are public servants at government agencies at the national and county levels. University affiliated researchers, PhD-students and Master’s students also constitute a large number of registered users of the application and data exported from the application. A growing number of users belong to private companies.


Writing popular descriptions for the c. 1 million archaeological sites presented by Fornsök is beyond the capabilities of the NHB so efforts have instead focused on an on-line help system explaining the terminology used and presenting photographs of typical types of monuments. Together with the Swedish Forest Agency and the Forestry Research Institute of Sweden a special site dedicated to the management of archaeological sites in woodlands and directed towards smaller private forest owners has also been set up.  The effort to complement the information published with on-line help information is an effort to make the information easier to understand for non-specialists e.g. private citizens and/or members of local heritage groups (the latter are often very knowledgeable). Introducing Web 2.0-technologies such as comments and user-tags is under consideration as possible ways to encourage user feedback, increase searchability and incrementally raise data quality.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

Fornsök and the Archaeological Sites and Monuments Information System as a whole are managed by the Digital Information Services unit at the National Heritage Board. The unit evolved out of the old National Register of Ancient Monuments and its staff and organization, where the field notebooks and paper maps were manually updated with the results of surveys and excavations and then photo-copied and sent out to County Administration Boards and County Museums. From the late 1990´s this activity gradually transitioned from a paper-based workflow to a digital workflow. This process is still going on today as only some, not all, survey results and excavation reports are sent to the NHB in a digital form which can be imported to the Archaeological Sites and Monuments Information System. To speed up this process the NHB has developed a method for digital documentation of archaeological sites and cultural remains in the field by using a computer and a GPS. This method is under implementation. The NHB has also made digital forms available for reporting new finds, thus making up-dating the database easier and quicker.


The Digital Information Services unit is responsible for managing the information content and use of the Archaeological Sites and Monuments Information System with systems management performed by the NHB´s IT-services. Systems development is paid, specified by and prioritized by the Digital Information Services unit and either performed or procured by IT-services. Large scaled digitization projects are also managed by the Digital Information Services unit in cooperation with the County Administration Boards.


At present the Digital Information Services unit has seven employees working full-time with up-dating the database with new information, information and metadata management, user support, systems development, digitization coordination and outreach.


Systems development is planned and performed together with NHB´s IT-services and/or consultants. During the development of Fornsök user testing was integrated in development and closed betas was run on an independent message board for archaeological debate. The NHB has an agreement regarding the management of Fornsök with the National Maritime Museum and the Swedish Maritime Administration. Up-dating the database with new information regarding maritime archaeological remains is done by the National Maritime Museum. The Swedish Maritime Administration provides maritime charts for the Fornsök application and also information on any new maritime archaeological sites discovered during hydrographic surveys.

Technology solution

The National Heritage Board (NHB) has since 2001 developed a Java based platform for modeling, storing, managing and publishing heritage information in a typical three-tiered system architecture. Data is stored in an Oracle DBMS with business and access layers developed entirely on open source components in Java. During 2008 the platform was extended to include storing, managing and publishing geographical data. The resulting GIS-stack is fully OGC-compliant and based on open source softwares such as GeoServer and OpenLayers.


With the platform extended to encompass GIS the Fornsök-application was the first of the NHB´s web-applications to feature a fully integrated map combining geographical search with structured and free text searches. Use of a map cache allows high performance in displaying overlays and background-layers. Utilizing OGC-standards map data published by other government agencies, e.g. geological maps from the Swedish Geological Institute, can be dynamically accessed and displayed in combination with the archaeological sites. The NHB:s own data is accessed by Fornsök via the OGC-standard WMS and the NHB:s archaeological sites WMS-service can be read by any WMS-capable client. As both the EU INSPIRE-project and the Swedish National Spatial Infrastructure project have adopted OGC-standards the NHB can be said to be INSPIRE- and SDI-ready.


Role-based authentication and authorization allows Fornsök to be used by professionals and public users alike with these two roles having access to different functions and levels of detail in information. Detail of information available to public users is typically limited in terms of access to names and cadastral unit in compliance with the Personal Data Act and in access to precise locations for treasure hoards and Saami holy sites. Professional users of different roles can download data as Shape files county by county while public users can only export any search result as KML-files for display in e.g. Google Earth. As the archaeological sites and information system is updated many times a day Fornsök reads directly from the database ensuring information published is up to date.

Technical platform:

Server OS Solaris 10

DBMS: Oracle 10

Java Engine: Java 1.5

Web Application Framework: Cocoon 2

GIS Server: Geoserver 1.7

GIS Client: OpenLayers 2.6

UI Library: Yahoo UI

Technology choice: Proprietary technology, Standards-based technology, Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

The main aim of the project was to improve the quality of information and practical usability for public servants working with archaeological sites information in physical planning and to increase public access to archaeological sites information. This is definitively the case today. When the archaeological data was only available is analogue form, the Register of Ancient Monuments had approximately 600 visitors/year. Those visitors chiefly consisted of university researchers and public servants within heritage and historic environment management. All county museums and county administration boards also had photocopies of the information pertaining to their county. There is no collected statistics on the visitors/year looking at those copies. Today Fornsök has on average 600 visits each day. The users represent a wide variety of organizations including cultural heritage management organizations, universities, municipalities, archaeological businesses, power companies, broking firms, forest industry, architects, as well as government agencies such as the Swedish Road Administration, the Swedish Rail Administration, the Swedish Forest Agency and others.


Fornsök has more than 3300 registered professional users. To that number should be added an unknown number of citizens who use Fornsök without logging in.


The questionnaire sent out in 2006 regarding the predecessor to Fornsök gave a very positive result, showing that almost 80% of those answering the questionnaire held that they now had better access to better basic data for their work and almost 70% thought that they could work more efficiently and save time. More than 60% thought they benefitted much from the application. No similar questionnaire has been sent out after Fornsök was launched but responses from users during the development and after indicate that Fornsök is an even better application. This is as it should be as much of the development was based on suggestions given in answers to the questionnaire.


An example of a more unexpected response and use is that a company working on among other things geographic storing technology has made information from Fornsök available in a mobile phone application. There are also examples of undergraduates using Fornsök and data extracts in their research and doing GIS-analyses which were not possible to do earlier.

Track record of sharing

During the planning process before developing the predecessor of Fornsök the project group did an extensive tour to different prospective user organizations within Sweden to take part of experiences and expectations. This tour also included visits to other government agencies with interesting applications already on-line as well as the national heritage boards in Norway and Denmark. This monitoring of development in our neighboring countries and Europe as a whole has continued with participation in international conferences such as CAA (Computer applications in archaeology) and EAA (European association of archaeology). At the CAA conferences of 2007 the Swedish National Heritage Board led a session called “Digital National Monuments Records – What for? Where to?”.


Since the late 1990´s the NHB has cooperated with the Swedish Forest Agency on a survey project concentrating on archaeological sites in Swedish forests. The result has been that information about several thousand of newly discovered sites has been added to the Archaeological Sites and Monuments Information System and made available through Fornsök.


During 2009 we were approached by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. This led to a meeting where they could learn from our experiences in development and information management.

Lessons learnt

Some lessons learnt:

· Develop in small iterations and in constant dialogue with the end-users. Don’t aim for the ultimate and perfect application in one go. By developing in small iterations it is easier to integrate user demands in the development cycles. Publish closed and then open beta applications. This ensures the application delivers the information and functionality the user really wants, rather than what the managers of the project think the users should want.

· Work in close cooperation with contracted developers.  Put in house developers, contracted developers, end-users and managers of the system in the same room. Disparate understandings of requirements and the forming of a common vision and goal comes easiest through working closely together. A succesful development project is 80% communication and 20% code.

· Don’t be afraid to publish information that isn’t perfect. Perfection is an ideal that should be constantly strived for, but can never be reached. Perfect information quality is too often an excuse not to publish at all. Instead, publish the information with clear metadata on quality and with mechanisms that allow users of the information to help in fixing errors or making information more complete.

· Develop routines and applications for support and system management in parallel with end-user applications.

· Get all the internal stakeholders and colleagues ”on your team”. Every employee is a potential ambassador for your project.

· Use social media, your own and others, to engage in dialogue with users. This helps in requirements analysis, in managing user expectations and in generating buzz for the project.

· Benchmarking, monitor the development on a general level regarding Geoweb, Web 2.0 and specifically the development of National Monument Records in other countries. Learn from what others are doing, you don’t have to invent the wheel, it’s already been done

Scope: National