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Self-assessment as digital preservation training aid

On the Digital Preservation Training Programme, we always like to encourage students to assess their organisation and its readiness to undertake digital preservation. It’s possible that AIDA and the new AOR Toolkit could continue to have a small part in this process.

Self-assessment in DPTP

We have incorporated exercises in self-assessment as digital preservation training aid in the DPTP course for many years. We don’t do it much lately, but we used to get students to map themselves against the OAIS Reference Model. The idea was they could identify gaps in the Functional Entities, information package creation, and who their Producers / Consumers were. We would ask them to draw it up as a flipchart sketch, using dotted lines to express missing elements or gaps.

Another exercise was to ask students to make an informed guess as to where their organisation would sit on the Five Organisational Stages model proposed by Anne Kenney and Nancy McGovern. The most common response we usually had was Stage 1 “Acknowledge” or Stage 2 “Act”. We also asked which leg of their three-legged stool (Organisation, Technology, or Resources) was shortest or longest. The most memorable response we ever had to the stool exercise produced a drawing by one student of an upholstered Queen Anne chair.

Other self-assessment models we have introduced to our classes include:

  • The NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation, which is good because it’s so compacted and easy to understand. Admittedly, in the version we were talking about, it only assessed the workings of a repository (not a whole organisational setup) and focussed on technological capability like checksums and storage. This may change if the recent proposal, to add a row for “Access”, goes forward.
  • The DP Capability Maturity Model. In this model we liked the very rich descriptions of what it’s like to be operating at one of the proposed five levels of success.
  • The DRAMBORA toolkit, which emphasises risk assessment of a repository.

We also tried to encourage students to look at using elements of the TRAC and TDR audit regime purely from a self-assessment viewpoint. These tools can be time-consuming and costly if you’re undergoing full audited certification, but there’s nothing to stop an organisation using them for their own gap analysis or self-assessment needs.

Matter of fact this line of thinking fed into the SPRUCE toolkit I worked on with Chris Fryer; together we created a useful and pragmatic assessment method. ULCC prepared the cut-down and simplified version of ISO 16363, by retaining only those requirements considered essential for the purposes of this project. The project added value by proposing systems assessment, product analysis, and user stories as part of the process. My 2013 blog post alludes once again to the various assessment toolkits that can be found in the digital preservation landscape.

Review of self-assessment landscape

Are there too many toolkits, and are they really any good? Christoph Becker at the University of Toronto has been wondering that himself, and his team conducted a study on the assessment model landscape, which became a paper published at iPRES. His work in evaluating these assessment frameworks continues:

“Assessment models such as AIDA, DPCMM and others are very particular artifacts, and there are methodologies to design, apply and evaluate such models effectively and rigorously. Substantial knowledge and specific methodology from Information Systems research provides a foundation for the effective design, application and evaluation of frameworks such as AIDA.

“We have just completed an in-depth review of the state of the art of assessment frameworks in Digital Preservation. The article is currently under review; a much more informal initial overview was presented at IPRES (Emily Maemura, Nathan Moles, Christoph Becker. A Survey of Organizational Assessment Frameworks in Digital Preservation. In: International Conference on Digital Preservation (IPRES 2015), November 2015, Chapel Hill.)

“We also recently completed a detailed investigation that leveraged the foundations mentioned above to analyze AIDA and the DPCMM in detail from both theory and practice in two real organizations: The University of Toronto Libraries, and the Austrian State Archives (i.e. we conducted four assessments). We conducted these case studies not to evaluate the organizations, but instead, to evaluate the frameworks.

“We could now design a new assessment model from scratch, and that is our default plan. However, our work showed that (too) many models have already been designed. Most models have been designed with a focus on practice (which is good), but in very informal ways without rigorous design methods (which is not so good). Aside from a model, there’s also need for a tool, a method, guidance, and empirical evidence from real-world applications to be developed and shared. And then, since assessment is often geared toward improvement, the next question is how to support and demonstrate that improvement over time.”

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