We had our third Data Conversation here at Lancaster University again with the aim of bringing together researchers to share their data stories and discuss issues and exchange ideas in a friendly and informal setting.
We all had plenty of time to eat pizza and crisps before Neil invited us all to consider reproducibility and sustainability in relation to software. Neil has a very clear and engaging style which really helped us, the audience, navigate around the complex issues of managing software. He asked us all to imagine returning to our work in three months time – would it make sense? Would it still work? He also addressed some of the complex issues around versioning, authorship and sharing software.
The second half of the afternoon followed the more traditional Data Conversations route of short lightning talks given by Lancaster University researchers.
First up was Barry Rowlingson (Lancaster Medical School) talking about the benefits of using GitLab for developing, sharing and keeping software safe.
Barry Rowlingson weighs up the benefits of GitLab over GitHub…
Next was Kristoffer Geyer (Psychology) talking about the innovative and challenging uses of smartphone data for investigating behaviour and in particular the issues of capturing the data from external and ever changing software. Kris mentioned how the recent update of Android (to Oreo) makes retrieving relevant data more difficult – a flexible approach is definitely what is needed.
Then we heard from Andrew Moore (School of Computing and Communications) who returned to the theme of sharing software, looking at some of the barriers and opportunities which present themselves. Andrew argued passionately that we need more resources for software sharing (such as specialist Research Software Engineers) but also that researchers need to share their attitudes towards sharing their code.
Our final speaker was the Library’s own Stephen Robinson (Library Developer) talking about using containers as a method of software preservation. This provoked quite some debate – which is exactly what we want to encourage at these events!
We think these kind of conversations are a great way of getting people to share good ideas and good practice around data management and we look forward to the next Data Conversations in January 2018!
This blog post was co-authored by Rachel MacGregor and Hardy Schwamm.
It was fantastic to see PASIG 2017 (Preservation and Archives Special Interest Group) come to Oxford this year which meant I had the privilege of attending this prestigious international conference in the beautiful surroundings of Oxford’s Natural History Museum. All slides and presentations are available here.
The first day was advertised as Bootcamp Day so that everyone could be up-to-speed with the basics. And I thought: “do I know everything about Digital Preservation?” and the answer was “No” so I decided to come along to see what I could learn. The answer was: quite a lot. There was some excellent advice on offer from Sharon McMeekin of the Digital Preservation Coalition and Stephanie Taylor of CoSector who both have a huge amount of experience in delivering and supporting digital preservation training. Adrian Brown (UK Parliament) gave us a lightning tour of relevant standards – what they are and why they are important. It was so whistle stop that I think we were all glad that the slides of all the presentations are available – this was definitely one to go back to.
The afternoon kicked off with “What I wish I knew before I started” and again responses to these have been summarised in some fantastic notes made collaboratively but especially by Erwin Verbruggen (Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision) and David Underdown (UK National Archives). One of the pieces of advice I liked the most came from Tim Gollins (National Records of Scotland) who suggested that inspiration for solutions does not always come from experts or even from within the field – it’s an invitation to think broadly and get ideas, inspiration and solutions from far and wide. Otherwise we will never innovate or move on from current practices or ways of thinking.
There was much food for thought from the British Library team who are dealing with all sorts of complex format features. The line between book and game and book and artwork is often blurred. They used the example of Nosy Crow’s Goldilocks and Little Bear – is it a book, an app, a game or all three? And then there is Tea Uglow’s A Universe Explodes , a blockchain book, designed to be ephemeral and changing. In this it has many things in common with time-based artworks which institutions such as the Tate, MOMA and many others are grappling with preserving.
The conference dinner was held at the beautiful Wadham College and it was great again to have the opportunity to meet new people in fantastic surroundings. I really liked what Wadham College had done with their Changing Faces commission – four brilliant portraits of Wadham women.
The conference proper began on Day Two and over the course of the two days there were lots of interesting presentations which it would be impossible to summarise here. John Sheridan’s engaging and thought provoking talk on disrupting the archive, mapping the transition from paper archive to digital not just in a literal sense but also in the sense of our ways of thinking. Paper-based archival practices rely on hierarchies and order – this does not work so well with digital content. We probably also need to be thinking more like this:
and less like this:
for our digital archives.
Eduardo del Valle of the University of the Balearic Islands gave his Digital Fail story – a really important example of how sharing failures can be as important as sharing successes – in his case they learnt key lessons and can move on from this and hopefully prevent others from making the same mistakes. Catherine Taylor of Waddesdon Manor also bravely shared the shared drive – there was a nervous giggle from an audience made up of people who all work with similarly idiosyncratically arranged shared drives… In both cases acquiring tools and applying technical solutions was only half of the work (or possibly not even half) its the implementation of the entire system (made up of a range of different parts) which is the difficult part to get right.
As a counter point to John Sheridan’s theory we had the extremely practical and important presentation from Angeline Takawira of the United Nations Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals who explained that preserving and managing archives are a core part of the function of the organisation. Access for an extremely broad range of stake holders is key. Some of the stakeholders live in parts of Rwanda where internet access is usually wifi onto mobile devices – this is an important part of considerations of how to make material available.
Alongside Angeline Takawira’s presentation Pat Sleeman of the UN Refugee Agency packed a powerful punch with her description of archives and records management in the field when coping with the biggest humanitarian crisis in the history of the organisation. How to put together a business case for spending on digital preservation when the organisation needs to spend money on feeding starving babies. And even twitter which had been lively during the course of the conference at the hashtag #PASIG17 fell silent at the testimony of Emi Mahmoud which exemplifies the importance of preserving the voices and stories of refugees and displaced persons.
I came away with a lot to think about and also a lot to do. What can we do (if anything) to help with the some of the tasks faced by the digital preservation community as a whole? The answer is we can share the work we are doing – success or failure – and all learn that it is a combination of tools, processes and skills which come from right across the board of IT, archives, librarians, data scientists and beyond that we can help preserve what needs to be preserved.
We were very excited to be visiting the lovely city of York for the Digital Preservation’s event “From Planning to Deployment: Digital Preservation and Organizational Change”. The day promised a mixture of case studies from organisations who have or are in the process of implementing a digital preservation programme and also a chance for Jisc to showcase some of the work they have been sponsoring as part of the Research Data Shared Services project (which we are a pilot institution for). It was a varied programme and the audience was very mixed – one of the big benefits of attending events like these is the opportunity to speak to colleagues from other institutions in related but different roles. I spoke to some Records Managers and was interested in their perspective as active managers of current data. I’m a big believer in promoting digital preservation through involvement at all stages of the data lifecycle (or records continuum if you prefer) so it is important that as many people as possible – whatever their role in the creation or management of data – are encouraged into good data management practices. This might be by encouraging scientists to adopt the FAIR principles or by Records Managers advising on file formats, file naming and structures and so on.
The first half of the day was a series of case studies presented by various institutions, large and small, who had a whole range of experiences to share. It was introduced by a presentation from the Polonsky Digital Preservation Project based at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Lee Pretlove and Sarah Mason jointly led the conversation talking us through the challenges of developing and delivering a digital preservation project which has to continue beyond the life of the project. Both Universities represented in this project are very large organisations but this can make the issues faced by the team extremely complex and challenging. They have been recording their experiences of trying to embed practices from the project so that digital preservation can become part of a sustainable programme.
The first case study came from Jen Mitcham from York University talking about the digital preservation work they have undertaken their. Jen has documented her activities very helpfully and consistently on her blog and she talked specifically about the amount of planning which needs to go into work and then the very real difficulties in implementation. She has most recently been looking at digital preservation for research data – something we are working on here at Lancaster University.
Next up was Louisa Matthews from the Archaeological Data Service who have been spearheading approaches to Digital Preservation for a very long time. The act of excavating a site is by its nature destructive so it is vital to be able to capture a data about it accurately and be able to return to and reuse the data for the foreseeable future. This captures digital preservation in a nutshell! Louisa described how engaging with their contributors ensures high quality re-usable data – something we are all aiming for.
The final case study for the morning was Rebecca Short from the University of Westminster talking about digital preservation and records management. The university have already had success implementing a digital preservation workflow and are now seeking to embed it further in the whole records creation and management process. Rebecca described the very complex information environment at her university – relatively small in comparison to the earlier presentations but no less challenging for all that
The afternoon was a useful opportunity to hear from Jisc about their Research Data Shared Services project which we are a pilot for. We heard presentations from Arkivum, Preservica and Artefactual Systems who are all vendors taking part in the project and gave interesting and useful perspectives on their approaches to digital preservation issues. The overwhelming message however has to be – you can’t buy a product which will do digital preservation. Different products and services can help you with it, but as William Kilbride, Executive Director of the Digital Preservation Coalition has so neatly put it “digital preservation is a human project” and we should be focussing on getting people to engage with the issues and for all of us to be doing digital preservation.
On 5 April we invited Libby Bishop to give a workshop on how to share qualitative data. Libby is well known in the Research Data Management (RDM) world as the Manager for Producer Relations at the UK Data Archive (University of Essex) although she introduced herself as a “maverick social science researcher”.
Why have a workshop on sharing qualitative data?
The short answer is: because it is difficult! If we look at the datasets deposited in our Lancaster Research Directory (currently about 150) you will find very few qualitative datasets. The reason for that is that there are many challenges in sharing this type of data. Which is why we invited expert advice from Libby.
Firstly, you can have a look at Libby’s slides below but I would like to highlight a few things that were especially of interest to me further on.
Qualitative data does get reused! Not just for research.
One of the surprises for me personally was that the reuse purpose of qualitative data is mainly for learning purposes (see figure below). According to Libby’s research 64% of downloads of qualitative data are for learning and 15% for research.
In our workshop Libby used a dataset created by Lancaster University researchers to illustrate the benefits of archiving data: It will get re-used! The example is the dataset “Health and Social Consequences of the Foot and Mouth Disease Epidemic in North Cumbria, 2001-2003” which is available from the UK Data Service (http://doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-5407-1). It is a rich qualitative study including interviews with people affected by the Foot & Mouth crisis and diaries documenting experiences in Cumbria 2001-2003.
Libby explained how the researchers themselves thought the data could not be archived but with support (and some extra funding) created an important resource that is being reused in different contexts.
Get the consent right!
A major hurdle on the way to sharing qualitative data is the right consent from research participants. Workshop participants worked on some real life examples provided by Libby and realised that critiquing consent forms is much easier than writing one yourselves.
For example, any pledge to “totally anonymise” an interview is a promise you are unlikely to keep. Also, vague statements or legalistic terminology were criticised.
Libby highlighted that consent statements actually have become more difficult to write as dissemination tools (including data archives) have diversified.
Here are a few points that stuck on my mind after the Sharing Qualitative Data workshop:
Sharing qualitative data offers many benefits. We heard of examples where research participants were more keen on sharing their (anonymised) data than overly careful researchers.
The prime responsibility of the researcher is to protect participants but she/he has also a responsibility to science and funders. Both together according to Libby “is not an easy package”.
The three tools for sharing qualitative data are:
A well written and explained informed consent form
Protection of identities (through careful anonymisation)
Regulated access (not all data should be open without restrictions)
Here at Lancaster University we are very excited to be part of a group of pilot institutions taking part in Jisc’s Research data shared services project. This aims to provide a flexible range of services which suit the varied needs of institutions in the HE sector help achieve policy compliance for deposit, publication, discovery, storage and long term preservation of research data. It’s an ambitious project but one that there is an undoubted need for and we are trying to work with Jisc to help them achieve this goal.
Last week we were invited down to Jisc London HQ to learn about the progress of the project and – just as importantly – share our own thoughts and experiences on the process.
Daniela Duca has written a comprehensive overview of the meeting and the way forward for Jisc from the meeting.
Our table represented a microcosm of the project: Cambridge University (large institution), ourselves at Lancaster (medium) and the Royal College of Music (small). We all have extremely different needs and resources and how one institution tackles a problem will not work at another. However we have a common purpose in supporting our academics and students in their research, ensuring compliance with funders and enabling our institutions to support first class research outputs to share with the wider world.
We had been asked to do some preparatory work around costing models for the meeting – I think it would be fair to say we all found this challenging – probably because it is! My previous knowledge of costings comes from having looked at the excellent Curation Costs Exchange which is an excellent staring point for anyone considering approaching the very difficult task of costing curation services.
My main interest in the day lay in the preservation aspects of the project especially in exploring wider use cases. It’s clear that many institutions have a number of digital preservation scenarios for which the Shared Service solution might also be applicable. What is also clear is that there are so many possible use cases that it would be very easy to accidentally create a whole new project without even trying! I think it’s fair to say that all of us in the room – whether we are actively involved in digital preservation or not – are very interested in this part of the project. There is no sense in Jisc replicating work which has already been done elsewhere or is being developed by other parties so it presents an ideal opportunity for collaborative working and building on the strengths of the existing digital preservation community.
Overall there was much food for thought and I look forward to the next development in the shared services project.
The below is a very quick summary of things that I found interesting, remarkable or funny at IDCC17. But before I start, a big thank you to Kevin Ashley and his team for organising such an interesting event with a varied programme! And thanks for all the conference pictures on Flickr!
Monday, 20 February (Workshops)
Actually a nice idea to have the conference proper sandwiched between two days of workshops which gives attendees the chance to be quite flexible with their time commitment (you need to visit Edinburgh as well while you’re there)! The location was the Surgeons’ Hall which is conveniently located for attractions in the Old Town of Edinburgh.
I went to the “Technical Appraisal of Complex Digital Objects in Evolving Environments” workshop run by the PERICLES project. PERICLES is a four-year Project funded by the European Union which will be finished in March 2017.
The project has the ambitious aim not just to preserve data files, but also the surrounding environment including software, and associated hardware requirements. I enjoyed the discussions about authenticity of objects (how much can you change or convert before you “lose” the original) and identification of videos. But I have to admit that the demo of the Ecosystem tool (using a complex ontology) was a bit too much for my limited understanding. But sometimes it is good to see your limits, so thanks to the presenters from King’s College and the University of Göttingen.
Monday finished in style with a drinks reception in the wonderful Playfair Library!
Tuesday, 21 February (Conference)
Tuesday started with the keynote “A Process View of Missing Data” from Maria Wolters who is a Reader in Design Informatics at School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh.
Maria’s point is that Missing Data can improve overall data quality if we understand why data are missing!
Next up was a Parallel Session on “Curation Communities”. Marta Teperek and Rosie Higman reported on a topic that is close to my heart: engaging researchers in RDM and creating an RDM Community. The challenge our colleagues at Cambridge have is that the University “is a maze” with 150 Departments! Marta reported that the RDM approach in the past was led by the “stick approach” (e.g. pointing out compliance with data policies). This clearly has its limitations (which we also experience at Lancaster University). Instead, the support team in Cambridge is working on a more “democratic” and researcher-led process.
In the same spirit are Cambridge’s Data Champions who “are local experts on research data management and sharing who can provide advice and training within their departments.” Rosie organises training for the Data Champions so that they can in return train their peers in RDM. A great idea and I am curious to hear about the success. This is similar to the idea of Lancaster Data Conversations but more ambitious.
In the afternoon I went to the Parallel Session on Sensitive Data. Debra Hiom from the University of Bristol who gave a really interesting presentation on safe access (presentation available for download here as .pptx). Debra reported that Bristol have agreed on four standard data access level (Open, Restricted, Controlled and Closed) and have tasked an Expert Advisory Group on Data Access with handling the more sensitive cases.
Tuesday finished with a very enjoyable Conference Dinner in The Caves which felt a bit like dining in underground club (which is exactly what The Caves are often used for).
Wednesday, 22 February
Wednesday offered more parallel sessions. I became a bit nostalgic at the talk of Alex Ball (Bath University) “Choose your own research data management guidance”. Alex and colleagues from GW4 universities are developing RDM guidance using interactive fiction software Squiffy. This is a very interesting take on RDM guidance which of course reminds of playing interactive games like The Hobbit back in the days. Really curious to see a demo hopefully soon!
Food for thought came from Jez Cope (Sheffield University) who advertised Library Carpentry (slides), a software skills training for library professionals. We have been thinking about digital skills here at Lancaster University, so a programme like Library Carpentry is very timely. Jez’ talk explained the concept of the training and we might well take part soon, so thanks for that.
Thursday, 23 February
Finally, on Thursday I participated in the workshop “Essentials 4 Data Support, the Train the Trainer”, delivered by Ellen Verbakel (4TU.Centre for Research Data) and Marjan Grootveld (DANS). Ellen and Marjan presented the thinking behind their course (freely available here) which is a combination of face-to-face training with online modules and assignments. The training is aimed at “data supporters” (librarians, IT staff and researchers with duties involving data management).
We did a number of exercises including mapping RDM stakeholders and the review of Data Management Plans.
It was very interesting exchanging views and experiences with international colleagues to how different legal frameworks, cultures and policies inform our work.
Then, finally IDCC was over and attendees faced storm Doris on their way home. Thanks, DCC team for an engaging, intersting and fun event!
The first Data Conversations happened on Monday, 31st of January 2017. Below is a quick overview of the action. You can find slides of four talks below.
Data Conversations Opening
The event was opened by Professor Adrian Friday from the Data Science Institute (DSI) who emphasised that the DSI is all about collaboration between disciplines which is also the spirit of Data Conversations. In fact the 25 attendees came from a range of Departments: Biological and Life Sciences, Chemistry, Computing, Educational Research, History, Law, Lancaster Environment Centre, Politics, Psychology and others.
Data Conversations Talks
Unfortunately, Dr Chris Jewell from the Medical School had to cancel his talk. You can see an overview of the agenda below.
Leif Isaksen – Does Linked Data Have to be Open?
Leif Isaksen from the History Department (Leif is also involved in the Data Science Institute) presented the Pelagios Commons project which provides online resources for using open data methods to link and explore historical places.
Leif stressed that linking data is a social process which is built on open partnerships.
You can see Leif’s presentation below:
Jude Towers – Is Violent Crime Increasing or Decreasing?
Dr Jude Towers from Lancaster’s Sociology Department discussed crime rates, especially the rate of domestic violence over time through the Crime Survey for England and Wales. A current ESRC project is looking at how changing survey methodologies alter the underlying data of crime statistics.
Alison Scott-Baumann – Protecting participants and their data on a sensitive topic
Alison and Shuruq explained how difficult it is to get the balance right between confidentiality and data security required to manage often highly sensitive data, and to meet the expectations of data sharing. They stressed how much effort they spend on explaining the terms of the consent forms to project participants.
David Ellis – Building interactive data visualisations to support publications
Chris Donaldson & James Butler – Mining and mapping places with multiple names
Finally, Dr Christopher Donaldson and Dr James Butler talked about their research using a 1.5 million word corpus of Lake District 18th and 19th century literature. Christopher and James use the Edinburgh Geoparser System to automatically recognise place names in text and disambiguate them with respect to a gazetteer.
James demonstrated how he can deal with name variations (secondary names), it is a lot of work. For example, the lake “Coniston” appears in the corpus as: Thurstan, Coniston Lake, Coniston Water, Thurston, Conistone, Conistone Lake, Cunnistone Lake, Thurston Lake, Coniston Mere, Lake of Coniston, Conis- ton, Conyngs Tun, Conyngeston, Thorstane’s watter, Turstinus.
Feedback so far
The feedback from attendees and presenters so far so far is encouraging.
Enjoyed the presentations. I hope these data conversations will become a nice community for those interested in data. Relaxed and nicely themed but not too prescribed. The venue was good and the cakes and biscuits were very good!
We got some comments on the length of the presentations and question time.
Really enjoyable – perhaps a bit more time for each speaker / questions and discussions.
We will look into amending the format. We do like to keep a balance between time for data stories and discussions and giving a number of Lancaster researchers a forum to talk about their experiences. Thanks for the comments and suggestions so far!
Upcoming: 2nd Data Conversations 4th of May
We hope to report on some of the data presentations in more detail in future blog posts. Meanwhile, we are already preparing for the next Data Conversations event on 4th of May (1.45-4 pm). The theme of the event will be “Data Security and Confidentiality”, and registrations are open: http://bit.ly/ludatacon2. Please come along and if you have any questions get in touch with the RDM Support Team: email@example.com.
Well… it’s probably quite hard to get to the truth of the matter but here at Lancaster we are trying to find out what researchers really think. This is crucial for developing and improving our services and vital for
We are one of the organisations taking part in the JISC RDM Shared Services pilot and you can read their take on the work being done here. With JISC’s help we undertook a researcher survey to find out a bit more about the kinds of research data which were being produced, how the data were (or weren’t) being managed and researcher attitudes towards their data.
Researchers were asked about the types of data which were generated from their research. The results were quite interesting to us. Unsurprisingly perhaps far and away the most popular “type” of data were “document or report” followed with a bit of a gap by spreadsheets. Structured text files (eg xml, json etc) came a lot lower down the list as did databases.
What interested us was comparing the kinds of files which researchers said they created during the research process with the kinds of files which were actually being deposited with us as research outputs. Obviously comparisons are problematic not least because our researchers were being asked about the data generated as part of their research activities rather than specifically those which were ultimately selected for permanent preservation. We also know that we only get a small proportion of the research data which are being created within the university and the respondents may include people who have not deposited data with us. Having analysed the research datasets which we have already we can see that a huge percentage were structured or unstructured text files and a much smaller proportion were spreadsheets or Word documents.
Is it that our researchers have a false sense of the kinds of data which they are creating and using or is it that we as data curators have a poor understanding of the researcher community? I suspect that it is a bit of both but as data curators it is our duty to both have a good understanding of the data environment and also to be able to communicate to our research community. This is something we need to address as part of improving our advocacy and engagement strategies.
Another question which was asked was was about sharing data and this got answers which did surprise us. The majority said that they did already share data and very few said they were not willing to share. For the ones who did not share data it was mostly because it was sensitive or confidential data or they did not have permission to share it. Of those who did share data the majority said it was for “the potential for others to re-use data” and because “research is a public good and should be open to all”. An encouraging third of those questioned said they had re-used someone else’s data.
Of course we know that the people who did answer our survey represent those who are in some way already engaged with the RDM process. We also know that people are likely to give the answers they want us to hear! But if people are serious about being willing and able to share we really want to support them in this.
So we’ve decided to try and get talking to our researchers – and for them to talk to each other – by setting up a series of Data Conversations – events where researchers can discuss creation and dissemination of data to try and encourage a climate of sharing and valuing the data. It means we can hope for data that is well curated from the start of its life and that will be selected for deposit appropriately and with good metadata.
Better communication and advocacy will help us in the long run to preserve and share high quality relevant data which can be shared and reused. Managing (research) data and long term preservation of digital data are collaborative activities and the more we understand and share the better we will be at achieving these goals.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
I attended the first Research Data Alliance workshop held in sunny Birmingham which was designed to bring together practitioners from across the UK to find out more about the work of the RDA. It was also a chance to see how we might be able to contribute and benefit from what the organisation has to offer. Despite already being a member of the RDA Interest Groups for Archives and Records Professionals, I confess to having been more of a casual observer than an active participant. So it was a brilliant opportunity to find out more about exactly what the Research Data Alliance is, how it works and what it hopes to achieve. Rachel Bruce from JISC introduced the event by outlining some of the ways in which JISC are working with the RDA across broad areas of Research Data Management and then handed over to Mark Parsons, the charismatic Secretary General of the RDA. Parsons is passionate about data, about connecting people and about creativity. He gave examples of technology “leapfrogging” and how local networks can come together to solve global issues. He used an illustration from the New York Magazine on how Willie Nelson is using local networks to take on corporate agricultural firms in the battle for the rising (legalised) marijuana market.
He also introduced ideas around how networks and connections lead to creativity and again referenced Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s Friction (this is the link if you’re lucky enough to be a Lancaster University person!) as well as Steve Johnson: “Chance favors the connected mind”:
That is how innovation happens…
The RDA he explained were absolutely not about a top-down framework but instead promoted a model of organic development; creating spaces for things to happen in. It was not, as Parsons explained, about thinking locally and acting globally but about doing local and global at the same time. The RDA has 75 Working and Interest Groups covering a very wide range of topics from the general right through to the extremely specific. There is no question that it is a complex network so we were invited to hear from a few of the Interest Groups: I chose Certification and Metadata, mostly because of their particular relevance to Digital Preservation.
The first session of the afternoon was on certification and first up was Lesley Rickards from the British Oceanographic Data Centre introducing the work of the Certification of Digital Repositories Interest Group. They are trying to map out Core Requirements for certifying repositories across the two main certification schemes for “trusted repositories”: World Data System (WDS) and the Data Seal of Approval (DSA). The two are different schemes using different concepts and methodologies which the RDA were keen to bring together. This they have successfully achieved with a Common Requirements document painstakingly mapping on onto the other and allowing for greater interoperability.
Next was Ingrid Dillo from the Data Archiving and Networked Service in the Netherlands who spoke about their experiences with obtaining certification – they went the whole hog and obtained Data Seal of Approval, World Data System certification and NestorSeal. DSA certification was A Lot of Work (approximately 250 staff hours) but nothing like as onerous as NestorSeal which took an eye popping 1500 person hours (if I recall correctly) which is something few repositories I imagine would be willing to contemplate. Interestingly DANS did not attempt ISO 16363. Certification is extremely important and Dillo pointed out the benefits of increased stakeholder trust and raising the profile of digital preservation in her organisation. She also felt the extra effort of attaining NestorSeal was worth it because it addressed some of the issues she felt were outstanding in the way they managed data. As for ISO 16363 it has a notoriously low take up and I wonder if too onerous a system coupled with limited resources means this situation does not change much in the near future.
The second session of the afternoon was on metadata and with Alex Ball of the Digital Curation Centre talking about the work of the RDA Metadata Standards Catalog Working Group whose initial aim was to make metadata standards easier to find and to advocate for their adoption. They hope that creating a more easily searchable catalogue of metadata will help with this. Sarah Jones (DCC) also introduced an enhancement to DMPOnline (a really useful tool we find!) which will make the addition of metadata easier and move towards Data Management Plans which are capable of being analysed by machines. This session also included a presentation from Dom Fripp of JISC on some of the ways in which they are trying to bring people together and be effective at using shared resources – don’t develop in isolation! He talked about JISC’s Research Data Discovery Service – a massive project which looks very exciting and also some of the work of the RDA Interoperability Working Group.
My quote of the day was “You’ve got to grab [metadata] when it’s produced” (Dom Fripp). This is so true and needs to be factored in when developing workflows and planning advocacy strategies.
My take-aways from the day were: it’s good to collaborate. Connections and conversations lead to new ideas.