Starting out with curation costs
Understanding some basic concepts - organisational context, stakeholders, services/activities and resources - and how they fit together is a great starting point for understanding digital curation costs. These concepts provide a basis not only for evaluating your own organisation, but also for comparing your organisation's costs against those of others.
Understand your organisational context and stakeholders
Ensuring you understand your organisation's context and your stakeholders' needs should always be the first step when trying to get a handle on what you are spending in relation to digital curation. If you know what is driving your organisation's interest in curating digital assets - which assets needs to be curated, who requires access to them, and for how long - you will be in a much better position to judge whether your curation spending is fit for purpose.
Scope your assessment
Once you are familiar with your organisational context and your stakeholders' needs, you should then consider what you want to assess. Scoping your costing exercise is crucial to ensuring that you get the data you need to make an accurate assessment. Will you be looking at a particular curation service, an operational unit, or the organisation as a whole? What time period do you want to assess? Records of past costs are primarily used for accounting purposes, while estimates of future costs are typically needed for budgeting purposes. Consider who you will need to contact to get details on curation spending. Figures may be held centrally within your finance department, more locally within specific operational units, or even externally by third-party service providers.
Assess your costs in terms of activities and resources
On completing these first two steps, you will be ready to assess your actual curation spending. Essentially, the costs of curation can be broken down into two components. These are costs associated with the range of activities being undertaken in relation to curation, and costs associated with the resources that are allocated to carry out these activities.
Break down your work into activities
Breaking down your overall work into individual activities allows you to focus on measurable amounts of work performed by people and/or systems to deliver digital curation services. Bear in mind, however, that defining specific activities can often be tricky as organisations do not always separate curation-related activities out from other business processes. Please don't underestimate the effort that will be needed to identify workflows and roles when defining activities. Service-related adjustments may also need to be factored into activities to reflect operational costs driven by factors such as quality, reliability or resilience.
Evaluate the resources you use
Performing activities to deliver digital curation services involves expending resources. Examples might include funds to purchase equipment, or funds to pay staff wages. In line with the accounting approaches used in most businesses, you will need to separate out the resources you spend in relation to digital curation into different categories - capital or labour, direct or indirect. Keep in mind that you may also need to take account of financial adjustments due to factors such as inflation, depreciation and accrual of interest.
Looking for more detail?
If you wish more in-depth guidance on collecting cost data and associated calculations in an operational context, check out the 4C project's Cost Concept Model and Gateway Specification. The report also provides a critical foundation for more strategic thinking around sustainability.
Now that you have a handle on the basics, it's time to break down and describe your costs in detail using a cost model.