Acting On Change: Pericles/DPC Conference and DPA Awards London 2016

DPA Awards 2016 nominees and judges (Image @SueCorrigall licence OGL)
DPA Awards 2016 nominees and judges (Image @SueCorrigall licence OGL)

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Pericles/DPC Conference: Acting on Change at the Wellcome Institute in London.  The theme of the conference was moving forward with digital preservation; in other words taking steps beyond just the technical tools and looking outward instead of inward.  There were excellent keynotes and panel sessions and useful and thought-provoking workshops.  PERICLES (Promoting and Enhancing Reuse of Information through the Content Lifecycle) is a EU funded four year project which seeks to address the issues of managing digital preservation in an ever changing world.

Kara Van Lassen of AVPreserve set the tone brilliantly with her inspiring keynote “Seeing the forest for the trees – looking outside the OAIS model” which focused mainly on moving away from what she called the “boutique approach” to digital preservation and towards developing a broader ecosystem of integrated automated services.  She touched on some of the difficulties in getting funding for what she calls “maintenance” (which after all is what digital preservation often is) as opposed to “cool new stuff” and recommended some listening and reading on the subject, such as the podcast “In Praise of Maintenance” and the article “Hail The Maintainers”. She concluded that what was required was a culture of change in the way people and organisations work so that digital preservation “just happens” and no one notices.  This was echoed many times during the course of the conference and is definitely something we have been thinking about in terms of the way we are developing our research services here at Lancaster University.

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Barbara Sierman’s OAIS illustrations

The panel session following again took its theme of “Beyond OAIS”.  Many of us welcomed the all female panel and were impressed by the range and depth of experience represented with Angela Dappert, Pip Laurenson, Barbara Reed and Barbara Sierman – a truly international panel. Barbara Sierman spoke firmly in favour of the much-maligned OAIS model saying it was a guide and a conversation piece (she also had wonderful slides which illustrated her point of OAIS not being a cage to limit us but a guide to let us fly freely (and tweet too presumably!). Barbara Reed brought a welcome archival slant to the discussion with a more critical view of OAIS which she felt had certain assumptions which did not fit well with archival theory. Pip Laurenson likened the journey towards OAIS as like William Blake’s illustration of Dante’s Purgatory and Angela Dappert explained that the only way of never being wrong is by doing nothing. The call overall was to be involved and a good way to start with OAIS is to look at and contribute to the conversations taking place on the Digital Preservation wiki.

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Image from Tate Galleries

In the afternoon we continued with the theme of working on the the maintenance and advocacy side of digital preservation. As Dan Gillean of Artefactual pointed out in his presentation two thirds of ISO 16363 is organisational rather than technical. Jen Mitcham explained to us that the key to working successfully was to work collaboratively and Angela Dappert wanted more encouragement for smaller organisations to take the first steps in preservation. Matthew Addis suggested that capability models could be a good way to start. Anna Henry finished off with describing some of the challenges of communication. The panel session gave us all both a lot to look at and a lot to think about. Wrapping up for the day we were asked – what is stopping us from making progress in digital preservation? The answer is money and confidence. The latter we can do something about…

DPA Awards (image by permission of the Digital Preservation Coalition)
DPA Awards (image by permission of the Digital Preservation Coalition)

And speaking of boosting confidence I was delighted to be invited to the Digital Preservation Awards Ceremony where the hard work and fantastic achievements of many individuals and projects were deservedly rewarded.  There’s a full list of the winners here although those who didn’t come away with an award were winners too, having achieved what we were all talking about – advocacy, innovation and sustainability.  Hopefully it will also give a boost of confidence to all those nominated as well as raise the profile of these projects with funders, more senior managers and those in a position to put additional resources into the ongoing maintenance of digital preservation programmes.

DPA Awards (image by permission of the Digital Preservation Coalition)
DPA Award winners (image by permission of the Digital Preservation Coalition)

The keynote on the second day was from Matthew Addis who continued with the theme of looking outwards and urged everyone to look for and actively seek opportunities to make a difference.  “Everyone benefits from the power of the many”.  A question from the audience was “How do we avoid getting shoved out of the way by the IT community?” and the answer is:  We work together!  We should collaborate and not compete and help move digital preservation upstream to where it’s an invisible part of everyday practice.

The second day’s panel was no less impressive than the first with a wide range of experiences and backgrounds represented and again a truly international gathering.  The panel were posed a series of questions posed by Natalie Harrower and in being asked for a “wish list” for 20 years time in digital preservation came up with a surprisingly varied set of responses.  Neil Beagrie wanted better metrics and better evidence for the impact of data losses.  However he also made a very popular suggestion which was a call for more one page summary documents which can be used as part of the advocacy process.  Nancy McGovern wanted the dash board of dash boards for her work (as did we all) and Jean-Yves Vion-Dury wanted a more sophisticated system of knowledge exchange. Natalie Milic-Frayling was brave about admitting the mistakes of past programmes and called for built in continuity in the design of tools.  George Papastefanatos echoed Matthew Addis with a call for the end of digital preservation as a separate “thing” but rather that it was integrated into the way everyone creates and uses data.

The session was an extremely lively one and I will definitely be returning to the recordings of it to capture some of the nuances of the debates.  In the afternoon I chose Pro-Active Data Management with Simon Waddington, George Papastefanotos and Tomasz Miksa.  Simon Waddington covered some approaches to data appraisal and compared technical and human appraisal decisions.  He highlighted the potential benefits of using modelling to help predict change and inform these decisions but had to admit that this was very expensive…  George Papastefanatos looked at preventative maintenance – again back to theme of the morning – and how we should be working towards robust and adaptable systems.  Tomasz Miksa took up the very hot topic of research reproducibilty and drew parallels with digital preservation techniques in how the environment in which the data is created becomes vital for understanding, preserving or reproducing it.  There followed a lively debate centering around the gap between theory and research and everyday practice and the need to be realistic when assessing what is achievable and possible.  Miksa made the very important point that people will choose the best tools available for them – these may well not be the most sustainable.

Me at the wonderful Wellcome Collection
Me thinking about writing a one page report at the wonderful Wellcome Collection

Wrapping up William Kilbride invited us all to be the agents of change and I for one have come away with some homework.  Developing and improving our advocacy work.  Producing short (!) reports to set out what we are trying to achieve and how and finally to continue to work collaboratively with others to avoid reinventing the wheel and to enable everyone to move forward in an ever changing world.

Rachel MacGregor, Digital Archivist

All images authors (CC-BY) unless otherwise credited.

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Rachel MacGregor

Digital Archivist at Lancaster University. Interested in data discovery, archives, open data and lots of other things.

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