Illustration by Jørgen Stamp CC BY 2.5 Denmark


What is preservation planning?


Preservation planning is the function within a digital repository for monitoring changes that may impact on the sustainability of, or access to, the digital material that the repository holds. It should be proactive: both current and forward-looking in terms of acquisitions and trends. Changes might occur within the repository, within the organisation in which the repository resides, or external to the repository and organisation themselves. Changes might be monitored in the following areas:

  • Technology watch

access mechanisms

  • Designated communities

needs and expectations of users
needs and expectations of producers
emerging tools for machine to machine access
formal feedback from users and producers

The concept of preservation planning is defined within the functional model of the OAIS standard (CCSDS, 2012). This section focuses primarily on the Monitoring components within the OAIS definition. The 'Monitor Technology' and 'Monitor Designated Community' functions of OAIS provide surveys that inform preservation planning activities. These alert the repository about changes in the external environment and risks that could impact on its ability to preserve and maintain access to the information in its custody, such as innovations in storage and access technologies, or shifts in the scope or expectations of the Designated Community (see Lavoie, 2015,13). Preservation planning then develops recommendations for updating the repository's policies and procedures to accommodate these changes. The Preservation planning function represents the OAIS's safeguard against a constantly evolving user and technology environment. It detects changes or risks that impact the repository's ability to meet its responsibilities, designs strategies for addressing them, and assists in the implementation of these strategies within the archival system.


What is the purpose of preservation planning?


Identifying triggers for taking action to preserve digital materials

Where change has been identified, a risk assessment process can be used to analyse and identify the change that represents a significant risk to the digital material in the repository. Risks can then be addressed and hopefully mitigated following a preservation planning exercise to decide on appropriate preservation action. In this case, the monitoring or technology watch process is identifying trigger points for further analysis, preservation planning and, where relevant, action to preserve digital materials.

Building a knowledge base to inform preservation activities

The process of monitoring internal and external factors as part of a preservation planning activity can inform the knowledge base of an organisation, and in doing so improve its ability to perform digital preservation activities effectively. For example the "knowledge base" of an organisation might be augmented with information about the capabilities of a new software tool, or the obsolescence and unavailability of an existing tool. In some cases this process might be best performed individually or within an organisation, but alternatively might be more usefully performed in a collaborative manner. The vast depth and breadth of knowledge required for digital preservation naturally favours a collaborative approach, whereby particular organisations are able specialise in a particular area and contribute that knowledge to an open or shared knowledge base.

Implementations of a preservation planning service

The degree to which technology watch will be necessary will vary according to the degree of uniformity or control over formats and media that can be exercised by the institution. Those with little control over media and formats received and a high degree of diversity in their holdings will find this function essential. For most other institutions the IS strategy should seek to develop corporate standards so that everybody uses the same software and versions and is migrated to new versions as the products develop.

Failure to implement an effective technology watch or IS strategy incorporating this will risk potential loss of access to digital holdings and higher costs. It may be possible for example to re-establish access through digital forensics (see Digital forensics) but this may be expensive compared to pre-emptive strategies.

A retrospective survey of digital holdings (see Getting started) and a risk assessment and action plan (see Risk and change management) may be a necessary first step for many institutions, prior to implementing a technology watch.

Good preservation metadata in a computerised catalogue identifying the storage medium, the necessary hardware, operating system and software will enable a technology watch strategy (see Metadata and documentation).

Integrated preservation systems, and individual tools and registries can also support this function (see Technical solutions and tools).



Some of the core preservation watch activities are generic and therefore ready made for collaboration while others are highly localised and not easily shared.

DPC Technology Watch Report Series

These reports provide an advanced introduction to specific issues for those charged with establishing or running services for long term preservation and access. They are updated and new reports added periodically.

Scout – a preservation watch system, OPF blog post 16th Dec 2013

The SCAPE Project designed a demonstrator for an automated preservation watch service, called SCOUT. SCOUT was described by its developers as providing " ontological knowledge base to centralize all necessary information to detect preservation risks and opportunities. It uses plugins to allow easy integration of new sources of information, as file format registries, tools for characterization, migration and quality assurance, policies, human knowledge and others."

Assessing file format risks: searching for Bigfoot? OPF Blog post 29th Oct 2014

This detailed blog post raises concerns about challenges with automating preservation watch.

Barbara Sierman, Paul Wheatley 2010 Evaluation of Preservation Planning within OAIS, based on the Planets Functional Model Planets Deliverable no. PP7-D6.1

The Planets Project realised various aspects of the concepts defined within the OAIS Preservation Planning function, and performed an evaluation of OAIS based on these practical experiences. 2010 (34 pages).

Community Owned digital Preservation Tool Registry COPTR

COPTR describes tools useful for long term digital preservation and acts primarily as a finding and evaluation tool to help practitioners find the tools they need to preserve digital data. COPTR aims to collate the knowledge of the digital preservation community on preservation tools in one place. It was initially populated with data from registries run by the COPTR partner organisations, including those maintained by the Digital Curation Centre, the Digital Curation Exchange, National Digital Stewardship Alliance, the Open Preservation Foundation, and Preserving digital Objects With Restricted Resources project (POWRR). COPTR captures basic, factual details about a tool, what it does, how to find more information (relevant URLs) and references to user experiences with the tool. The scope is a broad interpretation of the term "digital preservation". In other words, if a tool is useful in performing a digital preservation function such as those described in the OAIS model or the DCC lifecycle model, then it's within scope of this registry.


Case studies

OCLC Research Report - Preservation Health Check: Monitoring Threats to Digital Repository Content

The OCLC Research Preservation Health Check activity was initiated by Open Planets Foundation. The Pilot used a sample of preservation metadata provided by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. The report presents the preliminary findings of Phase 1 of the Pilot and suggests that there is an opportunity to use PREMIS preservation metadata as an evidence base to support a threat assessment exercise based on the Simple Property-Oriented Threat (SPOT) model.

Digital Preservation Planning Case Study

Presentation on getting started with digital preservation planning, including scoping, risk assessing and prioritising your collection (including legacy media examples), and staff roles and responsibilities. 2013 (20 pages).




Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems, 2012. Reference model for an open archival information system (OAIS): Recommended practice (CCSDS 650.0-M-2: Magenta Book), CCSDS, Washington, DC. Available:

(Note this is a free to download version of ISO 14721:2012, Space Data and Information Transfer Systems – Open Archival Information System (OAIS) – Reference Model, 2nd edn).

Lavoie, B., 2014. The Open Archival Information System (OAIS) Reference Model: Introductory Guide (2nd Edition) DPC Technology Watch Report 14-02 October 2014. Available:



#1 James Wilson 2023-12-05 15:41
Use this information to compute scores for a number of pre-defined risk factors (e.g. the number of software applications that support the format, the format's complexity, its popularity, and so on). A weighted average of these individual scores then gives an overall risk score.