Emma Hancox

Emma Hancox

Last updated on 17 March 2023

Emma Hancox, Digital Archivist at the University of Bristol, explains how we went about developing a new preservation policy for her institution, alongside the development of the Digital Preservation Policy Toolkit.

Our three-day digital preservation policy ‘Book Sprint' grew out of the University of Bristol’s need to create a digital preservation policy to support the preservation of digital collections in Special Collections and the Theatre Collection, and the Digital Preservation Coalition’s awareness that its members would benefit from support with writing their own policies. The DPC Team, a group of invited domain specialists from other DPC members and University of Bristol stakeholders assembled in Bristol to draft the policy’. The plan was that by the end of the process Bristol would have its policy and the DPC would have a Toolkit for other organizations to use in developing their preservation policies.

Book sprint photo

The Book Sprint team, with Gromit, at the University of Bristol.

We began the policy-writing process by looking at examples of digital preservation policies from other institutions and created a list of what we liked about them. We all agreed that it was good for a policy to be relatively short and concise. Following this process, the external Book Sprint members worked together to create a list of questions that an institution could ask itself to create a tailored policy. As an immediate test of the usefulness of these questions, staff from the University of Bristol split into two groups to answer them. Each group had a representative from the DPC as a ‘critical friend’ from outside the University who was also acting as a scribe.

The questions were designed to tease out the contexts in which the digital preservation policy would take shape over the following two days. The first group worked from the top of the list and the second from the bottom, meeting in the middle so that all the questions were covered. The questions proved very useful as a way of kick-starting thinking around the policy, breaking the task down into manageable chunks and making beginning a policy seem much less intimidating. Having a person from outside the University to assist with responses to the questions was invaluable. As well as providing a useful sounding board, they ensured that if any particular question couldn’t be answered at that moment, the groups moved quickly onto another question rather than being derailed by it.

Defining the scope of digital material to be covered by the policy was a challenge, and the Bristol group spent additional break-out time discussing this on day two of the Book Sprint. Clearly, the policy couldn’t cover all the digital material created by the University, and there were other functions and related University policies that needed to be referenced or engaged with. Eventually, it was agreed that the archival accession processes employed by Special Collections and the Theatre Collection were an appropriate and justifiable cut-off point for materials to be covered by the policy. It was acknowledged that this cut-off point might change in the future and that the policy review schedule would provide a useful point to consider any future changes in scope.

The Sprint method was found to be an excellent way of putting the policy together. Following the initial process of drafting questions to guide background thinking on the policy, the domain specialists created written guidance on how to approach each section of a digital preservation policy, which would then form the basis of the Toolkit. As soon as the guidance was written, the Bristol group used it to write their policy, giving feedback to the specialists on its usefulness for each area. This feedback was taken on board and the Toolkit content refined as necessary. In this way, writing the toolkit was an iterative process.

The University of Bristol representatives shared the writing of the policy between them, each selecting a section from the generic policy headings spreadsheet and working on a Bristol-specific version. Sharing the writing process in this way helped to generate content in a short space of time. Although working independently, the group from Bristol felt that it was important that they were in the same room to keep the momentum going, pool knowledge, provide feedback and (perhaps most importantly) to offer each other biscuits and encouragement. It was also invaluable to have domain experts in the same room to answer questions and bounce ideas off. Replicating the process by email or a succession of meetings would not have been as efficient, and the Sprint format also necessitated blocking out a dedicated chunk of time, one of the key challenges Bristol had faced in creating a digital preservation policy.

After working individually on the sections, the Bristol team brought them together into one document to assess and look at as a whole. The Policy Principles section was the last piece of guidance to be developed by the external Book Sprint team and was found to be the most intensive to write. The Bristol team spent a substantial amount of time discussing the principles, testing them against their organizational situation, and adapting and reconfiguring them.

With the principles section of the policy complete, it was time for the DPC staff and domain specialists to read Bristol’s policy and provide feedback. The policy was also sent to two other experts outside the Book Sprint group. It was essential to get a fresh perspective, since at this stage everyone had been together in the same room for three days, We needed to know that what we were discussing made sense to other people, not just to those of us who had been involved in the writing process. The feedback was positive, with only a few minor points to work on. .

Based on Bristol’s experience, the Toolkit offers a manageable way for organizations to begin the somewhat daunting task of writing a digital preservation policy. Adopting a similar approach to the Book Sprint method, bringing people together for focused time to work on the policy away from their desks, is highly recommended and is a way of working that University of Bristol staff would like to adapt for future tasks. The Bristol team would like to thank the DPC and the workshop participants for their time, knowledge and enthusiasm in this process.

The preservation policy created during the Book Sprint has since undergone further internal review, and is publicly available here:

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