Paul Wheatley

Paul Wheatley

Last updated on 29 March 2023

Two of our major DPC resources - the Preservation Policy Toolkit and the Digipres Business Case Toolkit have just been significantly revised and relaunched, keyed in with our broader (re)launch of the DPC Australasia Office. In this blog post I'd like to give a few thoughts on sustainability of these (and other) DPC resources.

The digipres community does not have a great track record on sustaining its own digital outputs. The noughties were dominated by digital preservation projects with short term funding that churned out all sorts of resources, many of which have fallen by the wayside. I hold my hand up here and take some of the criticism as I worked on a number of those projects! At the same time I recognise that building in sustainability is not an easy thing to do. Short term funding focused on innovative R&D is by its very nature difficult to build in a way that will last. Ownership and responsibility is also a key challenge. Who will be the custodian over time and take the difficult decision to take down an old resource if it has genuinely become outdated or obsolete, or invest in the resource to bring it up to date?

I've tried to learn some of the lessons from the big project era, with some good results and some less so. So it's now of course really exciting to be working for an organization that has a sustainable footing and the resource and direction to manage its own digipres outputs properly. The toolkits mentioned above provide two great examples of that, and I'm going to throw in a third for free.

One of the most critical things underpinning the success of the Digital Preservation Coalition is its funding model. Like a great Northern Soul tune, it's certainly been a slow burner but ultimately a dancefloor filler. Starting with a handful of Members 21 years ago, we're now pushing 150. The membership fees and structure has made it viable for plenty of organizations to join and then get good value back. This in turn allows great investment in work, resources and community building for those Members and beyond. So kudos to those that designed the DPC in those early days, but what does that enable us to do now?

Well first up, we have the Digital Preservation Business Case Toolkit. This was developed as part of the Jisc funded Spruce Project a decade ago. By that point I was trying to learn the lessons and build in some sustainability for the project work I was doing. DPC hosted the Toolkit on its wiki - which worked quite well when we collaboratively book sprinted the resource into being but to be honest didn't help with its sustainability. It has lain mostly untouched all these years. It's also very out of date. We wrote it in an era when many digipres questions were still to be answered so a lot of the toolkit addresses how to make digipres happen in an organization. Nowadays we have answered many of those questions. So a Business Case Toolkit can focus just on just the business case bit! And that's what we've done with v2 of the Toolkit which is now available for all. Last year we held a book sprint to sift out the bits of the old toolkit that we liked and write lots of new and more focused material - thanks to all who participated! A significant follow up edit is always needed after a collaborative sprint, to draw all the threads together and make a cohesive resource. So the new toolkit is a really significant revamp and bears little relation to the original. I can imagine many cases where this kind of material would become so out of date that it would be retired and the world would move on. It's therefore great that the DPC can resource the revival, re-write and re-launch of a Toolkit that addresses such a critical part of the digipres challenge - securing funding to do your digipres work! This has only been possible because the DPC has in turn found a way to sustain support for the community.

The Digital Preservation Policy Toolkit was a much more recently created resource - only 3 years old. But as Jen documents here, elements of it quickly became dated as things have moved forward and the real life policies we referenced have themselves been revised and updated (in part I'm sure due to the impact of the Toolkit itself). So with this Toolkit we were able to revise elements of the original work without a complete rewrite. We've brought all those references up to date, ensuring the Toolkit can still provide an effective steer for all.

Lastly I'll touch on the Digipres Procurement Toolkit. This provides a lot of guidance and lessons learned on the challenge of procuring 3rd party services - an increasingly important, but never easy, way of building our preservation infrastructure. Last year we revised the Toolkit with a fairly light touch release that tidied, improved the structure and communications and incorporated some new feedback and lessons learned from Members (as well as adding some new project generated resources). This touches on an important aspect of sustainability and renewal. We are constantly listening out for suggestions, corrections or expansions to our existing resources from our Members and others using our resources. So initially you might not see the impact of providing your feedback, but when the time is right we will certainly put it to good use. In the case of the Business Case Toolkit we were able to incorporate some great advice that Members have picked up while working through their own procurement processes. I'd like to think that these resources are already proving useful to our Members, but in another sense they aren't yet finished. We will go on revising them and that will be an opportunity not just to update but to refine them based on the experiences and learning of our Members. The Northern Soul theme is getting a bit tenuous now, but there's definitely something in there about value increasing over time.

So that brings me full circle to summarise some of the key elements of making our resources sustainable. There's the tricky bit up front to try and build in some sustainability when you're creating something new. When it works, it's really helpful. But more often than not you have to fall back on review and revision. And that can be much more effective when you have a well connected user base who provides feedback. Underpinning this is the sustainable Coalition itself that enables us to resource the monitoring of our outputs (and continued requirements for them) and then the all important effort to review and refresh. So don't forget to let us know when you see a need for a correction in one of our resources, a gap to be filled, or a new technique or tool that should now be referenced.

These toolkits can hopefully continue to play a significant role in guiding organizations to develop their digital preservation capabilities. When you join the DPC - you're helping make that happen!


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