Helen Dafter

Helen Dafter

Last updated on 7 July 2023

Helen Dafter is Archivist at The Postal Museum in the UK

What’s New DPC CAT?

This blog is based on a presentation given at the DPC Unconference 2023.

The Postal Museum has recently used the DPC’s Competency Audit Toolkit  (CAT) to identify staff skills and skill gaps at an organisational level.

The museum is at an exciting and demanding stage of digital preservation activity. We are now in the process of getting a digital preservation system. The Collections team is responsible for museum and archive collections and has recently been restructured with new staff responsibilities. I want to share digital preservation work across the team – it is not possible for me to deliver and implement a new digital preservation system, alongside day to day activities singlehanded. It will also be more healthy for the museum to have several staff with the knowledge and skills to care for digital collections. All collections staff have responsibility for the museum’s analogue collections and my aim is for digital collections to have equality in staff resources.


In order to effectively share the workload and develop staff capacity it was necessary to first identify what the current skill the collections team have. It was important to test assumptions relating to staff skills levels – these could be either assuming staff held skills which they don’t, or assuming the organisation lacked skills which a staff member did actually have. As well as providing a baseline audit of the organisational skills, the competency audit exercise also gave staff an opportunity to reflect on the skills needed for digital preservation and what they may bring to this work.


The first step was to discuss the Competency Audit Toolkit with the Head of Collections to get their support for carrying out this exercise. Senior engagement was important to make sure that any identified development needs could be followed up. The resources on the DPC website were helpful in explaining what the toolkit was and how it could be used.

This assessment was intentionally focussed on the skills we hold as an organisation, rather than individual skills, and this was made clear when communicating with staff. The assessments were not used as part of appraisals or performance reviews.

The assessment was carried out in two phases. Firstly a group of 6 staff making up the Collections Digital Preservation Working Group completed the assessment. Secondly a further 8 staff from across the wider Collections team completed assessments. This approach allowed staff with more active engagement with digital preservation to familiarise themselves with the toolkit and identify any possible problems before rolling out to the wider team. In both phases I emailed the staff I wanted to complete the assessment with an explanation of what the CAT was, why we were doing it (again emphasising the organisational focus), and linking to the individual assessment spreadsheet and supporting information on the DPC website. I allowed two weeks for each phase to complete and ran a drop in session during this period for any questions arising.


The results of the individual assessments were collated and mapped against our DPC Rapid Assessment Model (RAM) results to identify skills gaps between our staff skills and our current and target RAM levels.

In the first phase there was a 1 level skill gap between our assessed current RAM level for metadata and the highest skill level held by staff who completed the assessment in this group. This could be due to an over positive assessment of where we are now, or staff underscoring their skills in this area.

There were more gaps identified between our current skills levels and our target RAM levels. This was to be expected – reaching our targets is likely to require staff development. In most areas there was only a 1 level skill gap which should be achievable. The identified gaps mostly fell within the Information Technology and Digital Preservation specific skills elements. Again this was to be expected, staff are likely to be more skilled and confident in the generic and transferable skills elements than in the subject specific ones where they may have less experience.

When the wider collection team completed their assessments these were collated together with the results from the first phase. Reviewing these results the gap between the current skill level and target RAM For metadata standards and implementation was closed. This means that although the Collections Digital Preservation working group was lacking the necessary skills in this area, the skills were available in the wider team. There continued to be gaps between the current skills and target RAM levels, mostly in the same areas as for the first phase.

In both phases it was notable that the average skills levels showed larger gaps against both current and target RAM levels. These gaps show that although we do largely have the skills needed for our current digital preservation activity these are located in a small number of staff, raising questions for the organisational sustainability of this work.


It would have been useful to provide more guidance around how to complete the assessments. In particular there was inconsistency around whether staff scored their skills in areas which they had identified as not being relevant to their role. Some individuals had also added comments expanding on their scoring – such as ‘not currently relevant, but expect it to be in future’. These were useful but were not reflected in the mapping exercise.

Any self-assessment exercise involves an element of subjectivity. It is very hard to know if staff were over confident, or underscored themselves in particular skills.

The two phase approach allowed us to familiarise ourselves with the toolkit but it did take longer to collate all the responses. In future it might make more sense to ask all relevant staff to complete the assessments at the same time. If a more granular understanding of where the skills sit is needed this can be done by inputting selected responses into the toolkit.

It would have helped to be a little clearer around some of the terminology, specifically the references to metadata. Metadata can mean different things to a cataloguer, a digitisation specialist, and someone working in digital preservation. This may explain some of the skills gaps we experienced in this element.

One other organisation specific consideration for us was which version of our RAM to use. We have two RAMs, one relating to the archives of Royal Mail and Post Office Limited (which the museum cares for) and one for The Postal Museum’s records. These are similar but differ in some areas such as legal status. I decided to use the museum’s RAM as this is the one we have most control over and which may more closely reflect the combined museum and archive collections.

Next steps

The results of the assessment are being communicated internally and externally. It is important to make sure that staff who have put time into completing the assessments know the results and how we plan to use them. The findings have also been shared with a subcommittee of the museum’s board and at the DPC Unconference. These form an important evidence base for advocating for skills development across the organisation.

The findings also allow me to share training opportunities in a more targeted manner. I can highlight training courses which will address identified skills gaps and link my recommendations back to the CAT.

I plan to repeat the assessment in 2024 to reflect changes to staff and confidence levels. We are now recruiting to two roles and other staff may leave or change responsibilities over the next year. Existing staff may also have changing levels of confidence in their skills, depending on their practical experience.

I would also like to explore the potential to use the role description elements of the toolkit. Our use to date has focussed on the organisational assessment but I can see a lot more potential for the toolkit overall.


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