A step by step guide to the researching, drafting, establishing and sustaining a preservation policy. Use this to plan out how you will develop and establish your new policy.

Developing a policy is a multi-stage process. This section expands on and develops the stages originally published in the DigitalDPC_icons_stepbystep2.jpeg Preservation Handbook (2015). The main steps and activities that should be carried out are as follows: 

  1. Audience and advocacy.

  2. Establish purpose.

  3. Research.

  4. Draft Policy.

  5. Review and engagement.

  6. Gain approval.

  7. Communicate and maintain momentum.

  8. Publish publicly.

  9. Implementation (business as usual).


1. Audience and advocacy

Before writing a policy, you need to determine the audience(s) so that you can adopt the right tone, language, and background knowledge. This will ensure that your document is impactful. Consider the following: which organizations, departments, or individuals will be required to use this policy? Who will need to refer to it in the course of other, related, work? Who may be interested to read this policy, even if they are not a part of your organization? It’s worth identifying the relevant partners and managers you hope to work with. These could include:

  • those who will be working on digital preservation processes directly.
  • those who will want access to preserved materials.
  • the bodies who fund your preservation programme.
  • those who publish, contribute or deposit content that you will preserve.

Policies can both document practices that are currently followed, and introduce aspirational processes that you hope to follow in the future. So when you consider your audience, you may want to think about how you are advocating for support for your digital preservation programme. Consider the following questions: How can this document be written in order to demonstrate your adherence to good practice? How may this policy be used to help reach your digital preservation goals in the future?


2. Establish purpose

The purpose of all policy documents is to formulate principles that will enable an organization to reach its long-term goals or successfully fulfill its responsibilities or mandate. It will ensure that points of view held by the governing body of an organization are translated into steps that result in a compatible outcome. Policy will influence and determine all major decisions and actions and should therefore be formulated as a realistic and achievable framework for action.

The creation of a digital preservation policy document will be an opportunity to set out a number of definitions and principles that will provide a foundation for concerted action. By clarifying roles and responsibilities, scope, and principles, everyone involved with, or interested in, the digital preservation activities of the organization will have a clear and consistent understanding of what is required and what to expect.

When drafting the policy, give thought as to how the document will be used, both as a tool for advocacy and to help guide the creation and implementation of related strategy, targets or roadmaps.

The policy will also help to describe what constitutes digital preservation activity as distinct from related actions that are often conflated with digital preservation. Assumptions are often made by non-specialists, for example, that digitization and digital preservation are the same thing. Assertions are also often made by IT and system administration specialists that preservation is synonymous with, and sufficiently addressed by, the allocation of digital storage and the configuration of appropriate backup or disaster-recovery measures. The purpose of the policy, therefore, should be to clearly define the parameters for action with a view to adding value for the organization.


3. Research

Before writing policy, it is important to understand the organizational context in which the policy will exist. Time should be spent investigating existing policy, understanding business drivers and the needs of people or agencies who support or benefit from the organization. This phase will also incorporate research into good practice for digital preservation policy and strategies, examining other tools and resources available as well as reading preservation policies from comparable organizations.

Listed below are some of the questions you might find useful in your research as part of developing your own digital preservation policy. The answers to these questions will help inform your policy writing. Note that not all questions will be relevant or applicable to all organizations – those who do not yet have established digital preservation infrastructure and procedures should focus more on where they would like to be, rather than on what is happening now.

Organizational context and policy landscape

  1. Is there background to this policy that you would like to share with its readers? How you got here, the work you did, the mandate you have etc.?

  2. What is the mission of your organization, and how do you want the policy to support this? Do you have a statement of values, vision or mission statement that you want the policy to reference?

  3. Is there a top-level, organizational strategy under which the preservation policy will sit? Which parts of it should the preservation policy reference?

  4. How will the digital preservation policy relate to existing policy and procedure for physical content? What is the relationship to other policies from your department/institution?

Policy purpose and scope

  1. What is the fundamental purpose of the policy?

  2. Do you want the policy to reflect current practice or be aspirational?

  3. What is in scope for this policy (e.g. departments, materials, business data, digital collections)?

  4. What is not in scope for this policy?

  5. Are there any relevant standards or models that are relevant to your digital preservation work or that will help you move forward (e.g. OAIS, PREMIS, DPC RAM, NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation, DCC Lifecycle Model)?

  6. What policy principles do you want your organization to adopt? Are there particular topics you want to cover or areas that you would like to focus on?

Legal framework

  1. Are there any external policies/guidelines/legal statements you need to take into consideration (e.g. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Archives Service Accreditation, Repository Certification, regulatory compliance)?

  2. Could your policy be required as defence against potential legal challenge by end-users who are reliant on digital preservation procedures?

Owners, oversight, audiences and communication

  1. Who will own this policy?

  2. What group will have oversight of the policy being implemented?

  3. What role/group will update the policy when it comes up for review?

  4. Who are the audiences for your policy? You may be writing this for a particular purpose, but who else could benefit from reading it?

  5. Who else needs to be involved? Establish who will comment on drafts of the policy and who you need to communicate the completed policy to. You may wish to include users of the digital content (whether internal or external to your organization).

  6. How will the policy be communicated?

Implementation and future review

  1. How will collaboration across your organization (and perhaps beyond) help to deliver this policy?

  2. How will the implementation of this policy be tested and reported?

  3. What is the review schedule for this policy?

Case studies

This case study from The Ohio State University Libraries has lots of useful contextual and background information around how to undertake research before writing a digital preservation policy.


4. Draft policy

Once you have undertaken initial research you should be ready to start drafting an initial version of the policy for comment and review. Consider how you are going to do this and who needs to be involved. Do you have all the information that you need? Would a more collaborative approach to drafting the policy work well? As part of the Book Sprint event to create this resource, the University of Bristol brought together 5 members of staff to draft their preservation policy as a group. They found this to be an effective way of developing a policy in a very short space of time. You can read about how this worked for them in the University of Bristol Case Study.

Before you start to write, consider whether it would be helpful to establish some basic guiding principles. You can refer to these throughout the process to ensure the policy is on the right track and that you haven’t moved too far away from the goals you set out. A helpful blog post from Edith Halvarsson describes the principles that guided the policy development work at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge as part of the DPOC project.

In establishing your own guiding principles, you may wish to refer back to the What makes a good digital preservation policy? section of this Toolkit and pick out those elements that are important or relevant to you and your institution. These may relate to the length of the policy, the use of jargon or clarity of language for example.

Once you are ready to start writing, refer to the Template for building a preservation policy section of this Toolkit. This includes a list of policy headings and an explanation of what each heading should cover. Real-life examples of policy statements from different organizations are included to provide some inspiration.


5. Review and engagement

Before proceeding, ensure that your draft policy meets with your guiding principles and matches with the suggestions of What makes a good digital preservation policy?.

Experience shows that digital preservation is likely to involve a diverse range of partners and colleagues across, and external to your own organization. They all have a role in the successful delivery of your policy, and if they are not engaged properly can delay, deflect or defeat the goals you have set out. So encouraging their participation and support is tremendously helpful: it can speed adoption, give early warning of challenges that may arise, and embed the policy within existing policy and procedures. Therefore it makes a lot of sense to build in some time for consultation about the draft policy to ensure the engagement and contributions of all those involved. This will likely set the tone for the collaborative delivery of digital preservation services, so feedback and comments should be considered carefully and managed transparently.

This review is likely to include participation from the following groups:

  • IT departments and services who may need to support technical infrastructure.

  • Data creators who generate content that will need to be preserved.

  • Depositors who may supply content for preservation.

  • Users who may wish to access content and are able to supply a use case.

  • Partners in the global digital preservation community who may be able to support or review your work collaboratively.

This process of review and consultation can be as formal or informal as you need, depending on the culture and norms of your organization. At the more formal end it’s possible to develop a stakeholder analysis, but even here most analyses start with a simple list of people and functions that have some role, however small, in the delivery of a policy objective.

A more formal analysis would begin by identifying stakeholders and categorizing them as ‘Key Stakeholders’ (whose support is essential); Primary Stakeholders (who will have a direct impact on a preservation programme); and Secondary Stakeholders (who will have an indirect impact). Stakeholder analysis like this would go on to measure the ‘power’ and ‘interest’ of each stakeholder group and respond accordingly. Close attention is paid to those with the most power and most interest in a programme, who will need to be consulted on an ongoing basis and whose requirements will be prioritized; relationships with those with less influence over the programme or less interest in the outcomes can be monitored, but their requirements may not be prioritized. The power and interest of stakeholders may change through the lifetime of a programme or service, so longer-term activities (like preservation) may need to have their stakeholder analysis periodically reviewed and updated.

Formal stakeholder analysis can be tremendously helpful, but its real purpose is to make sure that all the relevant partners and colleagues have had a chance to influence and contribute to the policy which they will ultimately help you deliver. An open, honest and ongoing dialogue will serve you well however you choose to structure it.

Remember that if you are a Member of the DPC the DPC team may also be available to provide some feedback on your policy draft. Contact us if you would like to request this service.


6. Gain approval

Most organizations will require new policy documents to be officially ratified by the management board. Make sure you are aware of the approval process within your organization and any requirements that will need to be fulfilled. Once ratified, the policy will carry more weight and as a result will be easier to implement as part of ongoing strategy.

There is no single way to handle this approval process as it will vary significantly in different agencies. In large or complicated organizations the process is likely to take longer, and may also require some formality with documents shared in good time ahead of meetings. A thorough stakeholder analysis (above) should make this process easier. Consider whether any additional advocacy work for digital preservation is required alongside the process. A well-written policy should speak for itself, but if you feel your audience needs further explanation a tool like the Executive Guide on Digital Preservation may help. It is likely that the decision will be ratified by a committee which may have many other items to consider, so it may be worth ensuring that there is already support in the committee, such as from a digital preservation champion. As far as possible, let the committee ratify a decision or recommendation that has already been largely agreed in advance.


7. Communicate and maintain momentum

A successful policy is actively used and referenced by staff. The process of researching and developing one is a great way of initially engaging colleagues in digital preservation issues, and a policy communication plan helps you continue that momentum once the policy document has been approved. If staff are not aware of the policy, it can easily become neglected and unused.

While waiting for approval for the policy, begin drafting a communication plan for how you will reach other key stakeholders and staff. The communication plan might include:

  • A list of the groups of people you want to make aware of the new policy.

    • Example: new staff, donors, IT department, collections staff, etc.

  • Ways you will engage these groups.

    • Example: Induction talks for new staff, staff newsletters, staff meetings, etc.

  • Where the policy will be published.

    • Example: staff intranet, organizational website, document management system, etc.

Communication of a new policy will often lead to questions around how it will be implemented. This is particularly the case if the policy is aspirational and the infrastructure and procedures are not yet in place. Consider how the policy impacts the people you are communicating it to, and consider how you will answer questions that might arise. You may want to pre-empt these questions by providing some specific guidance in your communications. This can be useful even if your answer is that an implementation plan or roadmap is currently being written.

Look for opportunities to sustain the successful engagement that has been made in developing the policy. A cross-departmental group that helped produce the policy could continue to act as champions to push forward implementation and adoption across the organization. Establishing a steering group with oversight for digital preservation activities could help to solidify this approach.


8. Publish publicly

Making your policy available online is normally considered a good idea (unless you have specific reasons not to). Many organizations that carry out digital preservation activities want to show openness and transparency, and feel that publishing policies online helps demonstrate to external stakeholders that they are addressing digital preservation in an appropriate manner. If you intend to go through certification or accreditation channels you will need to be prepared for others to look at your policy documents, and if they are online already you will be one step ahead.

Your policy should be easy to use and to cite in other policies and documentation. The techniques you use to do this may depend in part on the intended dissemination format and platform. If your policy is online, consider using persistent identifiers such as Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) to enable long-term citation of the policy during its lifetime, and to ensure it is crawled by relevant web archives.

Good examples of online digital preservation policies include:

  • Cambridge University Libraries Digital Preservation Policy (2021)- here the preservation policy is held within the organization's institutional repository. Not only does it have its own DOI (providing a consistent way to reference it) but it also provides context and citation details. The policy itself can then be downloaded as a pdf file.

  • National Archives of Australia's digital preservation policy (2020) - this preservation policy is formatted as a web page rather than a separate document for download. This facilitates hyperlinks between the different sections of the policy and allows for greater flexibility with formatting of the text, meaning some sections of the policy are hidden and can be expanded by the reader if required.

If your policy is published online as a web page (rather than a downloadable file), do make sure it contains the necessary information for citation. Policy date is often unclear where the policy is formatted as a web page but this information can be incredibly useful to those who are accessing the policy.

It is good practice to use section and paragraph numbering to ensure that individual parts of the policy can be easily referenced. This can dramatically increase the usability of the policy. Policies that contain long paragraphs of dense text can be off-putting for potential readers, and also make it harder to cite individual elements. If your policy is long (for example, more than 8 pages) a table of contents at the start of the document will make it easier to use. Page numbering is also useful, however lengthy the document is.


9. Implementation (business as usual)

The steps required to implement your policy as ‘standard business practice' will vary considerably. An aspirational policy in particular will require a detailed plan to establish how it will be implemented. It may be necessary to put in place new procedures, systems and technologies, or staff training. In some organizations a business case may be required to gain the resources required to establish a digital archive, or a specific digital preservation programme may need to be put in place.

Remember that your new digital preservation policy should have an impact on the wider policy landscape within your organization. As you write your policy you are likely to reference related organizational strategy, policy and procedure documents. In order to move your new policy to standard business practice, ensure that other policies are updated in line with the digital preservation policy and reference it where appropriate. This cross referencing will help embed digital preservation in your organization.

It is important to manage expectations and accept that moving forward with digital preservation from first steps to a ‘business as usual’ footing may be a long process. Having a policy to back up and validate what you are doing will be a huge help.

Here are some additional resources that may help with policy implementation:


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