Earlier today the Jisc announced the launch of a report on Sustaining Our Digital Future: Institutional Strategies for Digital Content.
This report, which provides a close look at three institutions (UCL, Imperial War Museums and the National Library of Wales) in the United Kingdom confirms:
- How fragmented the digital landscape is at universities and within other organisations.
- How there are examples of good practice within and outside higher education that all can learn from but that greater co-ordination is required to deliver this at a UK level.
- How little the topic of post-build sustainability comes up at the higher levels of administration.
- How risk is present within the current system, concerning the sustainability of digital content.
The report (which is available in PDF format) is substantial, containing 88 pages. In addition to this main report a second document (also available in PDF format) provides a “Sustainability Health Check Tool for Digital Content Projects“.
This report is very timely arriving at a time in which we are seeing reductions in the levels of funding available across public sector organisations in the UK, which will lead to questions regarding the sustainability of existing online services and digital resources.
The report is based on a study conducted by Ithaka S+R, with funding from the Jisc-led Strategic Content Alliance, which reported on findings of earlier studies showing that both funders and project leaders rely heavily on their host institutions to support and sustain digital content, beyond the end of the grant. But what will happen when the host institutions have significantly reduced levels of funding to continue to maintain and develop such content?
The report describes the need for an “early and honest appraisal of which projects are likely to require .. support post-launch“:
- Digital content, requiring just “maintenance”: These may not require ongoing growth, but certainly do require a clear exit plan to ensure that the content will be smoothly deposited and integrated into some other site, database, or repository. The issue of ongoing investment does not disappear; it just becomes the concern of the larger platform on which this piece of content now lives.
- Digital resources, requiring ongoing growth and investment: These require early sustainability planning, including identifying institutional or other partners and careful consideration of the full range of costs and activities needed to keep the resource vibrant.
The Sustainability Health Check Tool provides a paper-based checklist for those with responsibilities for managing digital content. The tool covers a number of areas including ongoing support; audience, usage and impact assessment together with preservation issues.
A series of video clips have been produced to accompany the launch of this report. It was particularly interesting to hear the comment from Prof David Price, Vice-Provost (Research) at UCL:
“We’re not just worried about things disappearing but about things never appearing! They are hosted all over the place, and not all the projects have a sustainable plan.”
This video clip is available on YouTube and embedded below.