Paul Wheatley

Paul Wheatley

Last updated on 22 March 2024

We're pleased to announce the release of version 3 of the Digital Preservation Coalition's maturity modelling tool: the Rapid Assessment Model, otherwise known as DPC RAM.

We have been collating feedback from you all since our last RAM revision in 2021, and this has been incredibly useful for alerting us to potential revisions and additions - so thanks very much to everyone who contributed. We've also had a review and expansion of what might broadly be termed ethical issues. But don't panic, we haven't made any drastic changes to the model - we certainly don't want to compromise the potential for analysing maturity over time. Hopefully we have managed to sharpen the existing text, remove ambiguity and ensure RAM encapsulates the latest in digital preservation good practice whilst keeping it quick and easy to use.

This blog post provides an overview of the main changes we have made, with a bit of discussion around the motivation for this work.

In version 2 of the model we introduced some minor changes relating to ethical concerns. We were aware that more work was needed in this area to incorporate some of the well established and comprehensive good practice guidance that is available. And so this time around we've conducted a more thorough review in this area.

One of the benefits created by the DPC's expansion into Australia and New Zealand, with the opening of our office in Melbourne back in 2020, is the DPC’s growing connection with experts in Indigenous data sovereignty and the de-colonization of archives. I visited Australia last year and had the opportunity to attempt to soak up the many discussions on this topic that were taking place. I also briefly spoke on a panel session centred around discussion of the Tandanya Declaration where I attempted to explore what I thought was a significant gap in our digital preservation toolset - specifically incorporation of the latest thinking on Indigenous data sovereignty into not just guidance on how to do digital preservation (which is already very comprehensive) but also into the tools that allow us to evaluate how well we are doing our digital preservation. I made the point that we've made great steps in recognising the importance of not just the technical but also the organizational challenges, but have we as a community fully recognised the human perspective in our work?

So that's exactly what we've tried to do with this new version of DPC RAM. We've attempted to draw on the expertise in this area from particularly Australia and New Zealand, but also from other parts of the globe. The core principles of RAM such as being concise, easy to use and universally applicable regardless of the kind of organization using the Model, set us up for quite a tricky challenge however. Boiling down established good practice to the pithy sets of examples that form the core of RAM is never straightforward. We've been very fortunate however to be able to tap into that expertise from the community and again we would like to give our thanks to those that helped review and shape the key changes we've made.

Building the human perspective into DPC RAM

At the heart of these changes is the expansion of the "Legal basis" capability which has been renamed "Legal and ethical". As the Tandanya Declaration notes: "state-oriented intellectual property rights are built on enlightenment values of individual ownership; they are an inappropriate legal structure to defend Indigenous collective rights to traditional cultural expression and Indigenous knowledge". The wording that summarizes each level, and many of the examples, now references not just legal rights and responsibilities but also social and cultural ones. A critical new example at the optimized level of Legal and Ethical notes that trusted and collaborative relationships should of course be at the heart of interactions between archives and Indigenous peoples - and indeed many other communities. This also highlights our use of specific wording used in the Model. We wanted to specifically reference the preservation and management of content created by or about Indigenous people, but at the same time also make the RAM examples relevant to content by or about many other communities around the world. Particularly those communities that have also had their voices silenced or misrepresented by wider society.

Bitstream Preservation now references issues related to the geographical location of storage. A new example highlights an area where data sovereignty intersects with other legal and policy driven requirements. Collection description has often been at the heart of discussions around the decolonization of archives so it was important to highlight the need for close working with Indigenous or other community groups when authoring metadata. Discovery and Access is of course another critical area, and a new example here references community consultation and the need for consideration of social and cultural protocols, and not just legal rights, when providing user access to digital information.

These changes of course do not represent a completely comprehensive encapsulation of good practice in this area. This would not be practical to do within the confines of DPC RAM. And in fact this is not the actual aim of DPC RAM. The approach taken within the model is to give an impression of practice at a particular level. As we have said many times before, the bulleted examples in DPC RAM are not a check list. But the companion resource: Level up with DPC RAM is however exactly where we should be incorporating more of the detailed wealth of good practice information on data sovereignty. A review of Level Up has allowed us to incorporate a number of new references, such as Tui Raven's excellent Guidelines for First Nations Collection Description. Looking ahead, we'd like to provide reference to more case studies of 21st century archival work with Indigenous communities and data and this is something we hope to be able to explore with some upcoming project work.

Other changes and updates to the model

There are a host of minor wording changes that hopefully bring more clarity to existing detail within the model. We certainly want to remove ambiguity and ensure as far as possible that the RAM levels can be interpreted in a clear and consistent fashion. A few slightly more substantial changes have also been made which I'll highlight here. But if you'd like to see precisely which text has changed, you can find a version of RAM with these highlighted here.

Continuous Improvement sees a little shuffling of the examples relating to collaboration and peer review, with clarifications of the terms used. Community features a new example on support from senior management. Bitstream Preservation has had the most significant overhaul to remove mention of specific risk mitigations at particular RAM levels. Instead it now focuses on an overall risk based approach that will steer mitigation appropriate to the requirements of the organization in question. This is more in line with good practice and a better fit with the process focused approach of DPC RAM. And finally, Discovery and Access saw a considerable number of clarifications of the existing wording which we hope will make it easier to make an assessment of maturity against this capability. New examples about takedown and on the sustainability of access systems were also added.

RAM Worksheet, website and other tools

The RAM Worksheet has had a really thorough re-design and now incorporates the ability to include RAM data from previous years. Adding your older RAM scores to the spreadsheet will engage various rather nifty graphs which we hope will be helpful in tracking your organization's capability over time. As ever, we have tried to add these features whilst also maintaining the simplicity of the existing tool. Hopefully we have that balance right, but this may be something we develop further in future revisions, so do pass on your feedback. We also have a brand new template for producing a forward plan based on your RAM assessment. All of this is now packaged up and presented on a re-vamped and streamlined RAM webpage.

Where next for RAM?

Well that's very much down to you! Version 3 of RAM has been built on the comments we've received from you over the last 3 years, as well as review and feedback from the DPC's Good Practice Sub Committee and a host of other experts we've consulted. We will of course be reviewing DPC RAM again in 3 years time. So as always we would love to hear your feedback over this next period. RAM is all about current community good practice in digital preservation, so we'll be back to make sure as best as we can that it continues to incorporate the good practice learnings of this community. 

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