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Curation Costs Exchange

Understanding and comparing digital curation costs to support smarter investments

Using the DCSM for sustainability planning

The Digital Curation Sustainability Model (DCSM) offers a structured approach to identifying and thinking through the range of sustainability issues that are relevant to your organisation. To achieve this, the model builds on the key components of sustainability context, investment lifecycle, sustainability variables and risk management to recommend a structured questionnaire for self-assessment.

Perform a structured assessment

In practical terms, using the DCSM requires you firstly to design a questionnaire that covers the range of sustainability issues relevant to your organisation. Next, assess your organisation by completing this questionnaire in consultation with other stakeholders. Finally, use the results of your assessment to plan any actions necessary to achieve sustainability.

To assess your organisation:

  1. Evaluate the DCSM components to identify and summarise the sustainability issues relevant to your organisation.
  2. Work through the DCSM components and sample questions to design a customised self-assessment questionnaire.
  3. Assess your organisation by answering the questionnaire in consultation with all relevant stakeholders including external partner organisations where applicable.

Remember to draw upon the previous work you've done on mapping your basic cost concepts to your organisational structure, your identification of current cost drivers and the stakeholders you've identified through your BCM work when considering questions around sustainability.

Customise the assessment for your organisation

Defining a single generic questionnaire that effectively represents practice and terminology across many different sectors is unrealistic. Sectors such as industry, memory institutions, education and government each have their own characteristics. To cope with this, the most effective use of DCSM requires you to customise the self-assessment questionnaire for your organisation.

Understand your sustainability context

To make informed investment decisions and develop an effective sustainability plan, you must understand the environment in which your digital curation activities take place. The DCSM highlights the need to understand your digital assets, organisation and stakeholders - these are common components of all digital curation contexts.

In terms of digital assets, you need to assess issues of use (both current use and potential future use), value to the organisation, accessibility, and any properties that may affect curation activities. Digital assets, in this context, represents a wide range of digital entity such as records, data sets, collections, software or computational environments.

  • Can you specify particular digital assets that may be especially challenging to sustain over time?
  • Is the amount of digital curation activity that is required easily quantifiable?
  • Do the assets have technical attributes that make them difficult to manage?
  • Do the assets have any other properties that complicate their management?
  • Is it possible to batch format assets when processing them?
  • Is the ownership of the assets clearly defined?
  • Can digital curators get effective access to the assets?
  • If others are looking after copies of the assets, is an adequate agreement in place to assure the safety of the assets?

In terms of organisations, you need to assess the degree to which digital curation is aligned with business objectives, the level of dependency on outsourcing, and the type of structures and processes in place to support curation functions.

  • Are the mission and objectives of the organisation set out clearly?
  • Are the mission and objectives understood by those responsible for sustaining the digital assets?
  • Is the organisation reliant on sustaining digital assets to achieve its business objectives?
  • Is it understood that digital curation is a business function rather than an IT problem?
  • Does the organisation have any structural issues that hinder the effectiveness of digital curation?

In terms of stakeholders, you need to assess the range of stakeholders, the balance between consumers and providers of curation services, and the distribution of curation roles across these stakeholders.

  • Is responsibility for providing the curation service clear?
  • Is it clear who the curation service consumers are?
  • Has a stakeholder map been drawn up?
  • Is it clear who has responsibility for the digital assets?
  • Is the authority to grant access to the curated digital assets clearly established?
  • Is anyone getting free use of the digital assets that should be paying for their curation?

Understand your investment lifecycle

To assess the ongoing investment needed to sustain digital assets over time, organisations must make decisions about the value of the assets for both current and future use. The DCSM focuses on the need to understand how and when decisions are made within your organisation.

  • Can the next investment decision point be identified?
  • Is it apparent that digital curation is adding value to the digital assets?
  • What information may be required to inform the next investment decision?
  • Are resources available to actively manage the investment decision point?

Understand your sustainability variables

Organisations can employ different levers to influence their prospects for delivering sustainable services. The available levers are, to some extent, dependent on the specific sector in which an organisation operates. For the specific case of sustaining digital curation and digital assets, the DCSM highlights the need to assess the levers of value, motivation, governance, resources, and appraisal and selection. For sectors outside digital curation, you may consider modifying the DCSM to take account of other sustainability variables.

In terms of value, you need to assess the fee structures in place for accessing and using digital assets, whole lifecycle costing policies, and the approaches used to quantify asset values across a range of business services.

  • What is the cost of the digital curation service?
  • Is it possible to estimate the lifecycle costs of the assets?
  • Is there broad agreement about the type of the benefits that accrue from curating assets?
  • Is there broad agreement about the amount of benefit that accrues from curating assets?
  • Do the benefits justify the required expenditure?
  • Have all steps been taken to enhance the value of assets?
  • What steps have been taken to quantify the value of the assets?
  • What steps have been taken to qualify the value of the assets?

In terms of motivation, you need to assess issues of how well any digital assets align with the overall objectives of an organisation, and how the stakeholders in an organisation are incentivised to support the ongoing investment necessary to sustain the of value of the digital assets.

  • Do the incentives for sustaining the assets align with organisational drivers?
  • Have resource providers declared their motivations for continuing to invest in sustaining the assets?
  • Is information available that sets out how the digital assets contribute to business objectives?
  • Is there an up to date and effective business case for digital curation?
  • Are there effective channels of communication to stakeholders for maintaining support for curation?

In terms of governance, you need to assess the mechanisms in place within an organisation to support policy creation and policy implementation for digital curation, whether the necessary skills and experience are in place in those responsible for shaping organisational policies, and the range of applicable external and internal regulatory regimes.

  • Is the organisation under an obligation to sustain the assets? (e.g. funder requirements, project conditions, customer expectations)
  • Are the governance arrangements clear for taking responsibility and approving sustainability strategies?
  • Is there a written policy that mandates a way of sustaining the assets?
  • Is there a written strategy that sets out how the assets will be sustained?
  • Are roles and responsibilities for sustaining the assets clearly allocated?
  • Are roles and responsibilities for sustaining the assets appropriately allocated?
  • Have benchmarks and metrics been assigned to evaluate the outcome of curation activity and its impact on sustainability?

In terms of resources, you need to assess whether sufficient resources have been allocated to deliver digital curation services, whether those charged with digital curation activities have appropriate skills and training, and the role played by both human and other resources such as IT systems.

  • Are functioning agreements in place to transfer funds and/or other resources from those who are willing to pay to those who are able and willing to curate?
  • Is the mechanism for payment or transfer of other resources arranged such that it is effective, robust and reliable? (e.g. pricing, fees, philanthropic donations, effort)
  • Are curation activities organised and managed to make the most efficient use of the funds or resources received?
  • Can sufficient human resource with adequate capability be employed to ensure effective curation takes place?
  • Are the appropriate tools and infrastructure available to allow effective curation to take place?

In terms of appraisal and selection, you need to assess issues such as whether the resources available for digital curation within an organisation align with the retention policy that is in place, and whether value-based judgements are used to underpin the procedures deployed within an organisation.

  • Is it understood that the best use of resources involves making choices based on value judgements and selecting material for curation?
  • Is it possible to de-select and transfer or dispose of assets that are deemed no longer worth sustaining?
  • Is selection and appraisal included as part of an active curation strategy in the organisation?
  • Is the selection of materials based on an agreed value framework?
  • Is active planning occurring for dealing with curation at scale?

Understand how your risks are managed

Organisations need to respond effectively to any unexpected issues, both threats and opportunities, that arise. Flexibility, contingency planning and risk management processes are some of the approaches available to an organisation to help plan sustainable responses. The DCSM highlights the need to understand attitudes to risk, attitudes to contingency overhead, and investment in strategic partnerships within your organisation.

  • Are the digital assets subject to regular risk assessment measures?
  • Are curation services subject to regular risk assessment measures?
  • Is a formal risk framework (e.g. ISO 31000) used?
  • Does the organisation design contingency measures into its activities?
  • Based on past experience is it estimable how regularly unexpected issues may arise or uncertain events occur?

Looking for more detail on the DCSM?

Please read the 4C project's Digital Curation Sustainability Model (DCSM) report, which includes more detail on customising a questionnaire to assess sustainability of digital assets over time.

Next steps

Now you understand how to use the DCSM, continue with our advice on planning for sustainability.