Introducing quality and trustworthiness as indirect cost drivers in digital curation
The primary approach of applying standards to ensure quality in digital curation is at present focussed at the level of processes and operation. The evaluation of quality of digital archive processes, workflows, information security and quality of services is the object of self-assessment and formal audits.
Quality and trustworthiness have become nearly synonymous in the digital curation discourse and merged into the practice of auditing trusted digital repositories.
At least five methods have been proposed to evaluate the trustworthiness of digital repositories, ranging from self-assessment (DRAMBORA, DSA) to formal audit and certification by external auditors (TRAC, DIN 31644, ISO 16363). These are used in two main ways: first, to increase the trustworthiness of the repository among its stakeholder groups and ultimately achieve a better reputation for the organisation; second, to increase the quality of processes being undertaken. Trustworthiness and reputation are seen as being enhanced through the publication (transparency) of audit results (which has become synonymous with assessment of quality).
As the concept of auditing is becoming part of the mainstream dialogue in digital repositories, the potential motivations for undertaking audits remain diverse. Most organisations undertaking audits will make a business case for undertaking the audit based upon a combination of these factors:
- to improve the work processes;
- to meet a contractual obligation;
- to provide a publicly understandable statement of quality and reliability.
The costs of quality assurance of processes have turned out to be hard to measure and benchmark because quality is determined directly or indirectly by multiple overlapping cost factors and costs are shared between many activities across longer periods of time. The data collection exercise of this task did not succeed in gathering audit and certification related cost data through a questionnaire because the required data was not readily available or could not be made public. As soon as these issues became fully apparent, the methodology was reconsidered and focussed on a more qualitative approach. We carried out interviews with a series of senior digital repository managers, who were known to have carried out some form of audit and certification process and specialists within the digital curation domain. We also set up a focus group to discuss our preliminary findings in depth with our advisory board members representing funding organisations (with responsibility for data archives).
Data collection and analysis made it clear that detailed costing is seldom part of the initial work on audit, and benefits begin to accrue already from simple exploration and preparation for addressing the audited issues. Many of the processes involved in audit—for example records management improvement, business process analysis—overlap with other desirable business outcomes and it is often impossible to identify such work as purely an investment for audit. The reports from the digital curation community testify that the primary motive for undergoing assessment or audit at this stage is pragmatic. Financial benefits through improved efficiency and quality of work are not the primary motives, partly because they are very difficult to ascertain among the total costs of the curation function.