Jenny Mitcham

Jenny Mitcham

Last updated on 26 January 2022

For three years now, the DPC has been working alongside colleagues at the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) on their digital preservation challenges. It has been a little while since we blogged about this project, but I wanted to take the opportunity to let you know about some of the outputs that have been released over the last year and mention some new work to look out for in the near future.

Like many organizations, the NDA handles large quantities of digital information that need to be retained, managed, and made accessible to future generations. Keeping that information safe and secure, re-usable and understandable as technologies, organisations and even society changes is no easy task but is one to which the NDA is committed. As I have mentioned before the NDA as an organization is quite distinct within our membership, but the digital preservation challenges it faces are strikingly similar to those faced by the rest of the community.


Our project with the NDA was deliberately designed to take advantage of opportunities for community collaboration and this was envisioned as a two-way process. The project intended to lean on the wider community (gathering good practice advice from others) and to give back to the community (producing outputs of value to all). Knowledge in, knowledge out.


Here are some examples of areas of work and recent outputs that have emerged from the NDA project that have benefited from much wider community knowledge.


Data Types Guidance Notes

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to preserving digital records. Preserving different types of data in different file formats relies on specialist knowledge. With that in mind, the NDA sponsored the production of a set of ten Data Type Guidance Notes which provide bite-sized overviews of specific digital preservation challenges and solutions. They focus on a range of data types which organisations typically encounter, such as email, spreadsheets, and databases and also cover more specialist topics such as GIS and CAD. The Guidance Notes were authored by Artefactual Systems alongside the DPC and were released last summer as part of our Technology Watch series.


EDRMS Preservation Toolkit

The NDA also asked the DPC to establish a taskforce to develop some advice and guidance on the preservation of records held within an Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS). Eighteen people from across the DPC’s membership contributed to the work of the taskforce, which resulted in a Briefing Day (Unbroken records: A briefing day on Digital Preservation and EDRMS) and an online booksprint to produce the EDRMS Preservation Toolkit. After initial release to the DPC membership, this important resource will be made freely available to all at the end of this month and brings together the knowledge and experience of task force members.


Preserving design and construction records

In one form or another, digital records have increasingly become essential to the NDA’s activities. This is especially noticeable in the management of the NDA’s physical estate. Which is why the DPC commissioned a new Technology Watch Report on another challenging digital preservation topic. Written by Aliza Leventhal and Jody Thompson, Preserving Born-Digital Design and Construction Records summarizes key developments and initiatives in this sphere up until the present day and provides useful case studies from organizations collecting and working with these complex records. As with most digital preservation challenges, there is no magic bullet to preserve this data type, but the report offers helpful recommendations and advice for those working in this area.


DPC RAM (version 2)

In 2021 we were pleased to be able to release version 2 of our maturity model for digital preservation, the Rapid Assessment Model. Originally designed in conjunction with the NDA, moving to version 2 acknowledged the fact that the model has been of value to the wider community and thus needs to move forward in response to feedback and evolving good practice.

We’ve been pleased to see translations of this new version coming in since its release and now have versions published in several different languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese and Japanese – with more to come). A big thank you to our volunteer translators and reviewers for helping this model to reach a wider audience.


Future topics

Moving into the final year of the project we still have lots on our to-do list. Here are just a few…


The NDA has asked the DPC to provide some advice and guidance on good practice in the creation and management of geospatial data records. Discussions have been held with colleagues at Sellafield, Magnox, and Dounreay, and a brief internal report produced, but we are keen to gather together the wider community to share experiences and good practice at an online briefing day event at the end of March. Watch this space for more details (and do contact me if you have information you would like to share).


Another challenge we are tackling at the moment is the production of a set of requirements for a digital preservation system. Rather than making this specific to just the NDA, our aim is to create a set of core requirements for a digital preservation system that any organization can pick up and use as a starting point for their own procurement exercise. These requirements will complement and sit alongside our existing Procurement Toolkit. We are currently finishing off a couple of rounds of community feedback but do watch out for them later this year.


The DPC is also about to launch a new project to investigate the challenges of preserving databases for the long term. This work will be based upon a number of case studies provided by Sellafield, which will be complemented by a similar number drawn from the DPC’s wider membership. We will be working with a group of digital preservation solution providers to test out different methodologies for tackling each challenge, and the project will end with an evaluation of their approaches. We are really excited to be kicking off this work and will be sharing more details as the project progresses.


Knowledge in, knowledge out…

We are very happy to hear from you if you have experiences or case studies that you would like to share with us as we move forward with these new areas of work. If we can incorporate and build on existing community knowledge and package that up in a way that is useful not just for the NDA, but for all of our Members, then we hope we can move the conversation forward for everyone.

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