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The Digital Agency for International Development

Forced Migration Online - Digital Library

Moved the Forced Migration Online Digital Library from an unsupported, proprietary system to a searchable, open source repository, increasing accessibility

May 2008 to Nov 2009



Forced Migration Online, based at the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford had two clear objectives – to archive and safeguard key materials relating to forced migration, and to make these materials as widely available as possible.

The current technical infrastructure, using legacy proprietary products, was holding FMO back from achieving either of these objectives. The current repositories were becoming more difficult to support and this was a concern for the long term archival and storage of FMO's documents.

There were also several aspects of these proprietary systems that were limiting access to the documents:

  • The relatively high bandwidth user interface that made the archive less accessible in developing countries.
  • The lack of unified search across FMO's repositories.
  • The inability of search engines to spider the archive were also making the archive not as accessible as it could be.

Moving to a system based on open standards and open source software safeguarded the reliability and maintainability of the archive into the future. It also provided the opportunity to address some of the key accessibility issues for users.

The work included:

  • Importing the existing documents into the new open source repository
  • Creating a user interface to allow the documents to be searched
  • Creating a management interface to edit and submit new documents


Forced Migration Online was designed for use by students, academics, research institute staff, practitioners, librarians, policy makers, members of the media, information providers, forced migrants themselves, or anyone else interested in the field of forced migration.

We could not be happier with Aptivate. They are methodical, meticulous and a pleasure to work with. Aptivate’s Agile development approach ensured regular releases of a functional system; participation of our users and staff; and vital opportunities to reprioritise the work being done. They gave us the flexibility to focus on our goals, while confidently managing the technical details for us. Our project was delivered on time and to a warm reception from users. We look forward to working with Aptivate again

Mike Cave, Project Mananger, Forced Migration Online



We held an initial kick-off meeting at the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford, where we reviewed the existing system and talked to all of the stakeholders.

We worked in an Agile, iterative manner tackling high priority, high risk items first over a series of 2 week project cycles. We agreed a set of possible work activities with Forced Migration Online at the start of each iteration and prioritised them together. We then worked closely with FMO throughout the iteration to complete them.

Our objective was to deliver working software every 2 weeks. FMO had the opportunity to re-prioritise the activities at each iteration for the successive iterations of work.

Incremental delivery through time-boxed iterations helped mitigate risks associated with complex software projects. Concrete valuable assets were created throughout the project and any assumptions were tested early.



The digital library was migrated to Fedora Commons, which provides a REST API to add, delete and edit the documents and meta data. We chose Solr as a search backend.

The data migration from the proprietary system and search indexing was handled by a Python script. The search and management interfaces were written in Java/JSP running on Tomcat.