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Datanomics: the value of research data

Glasgow_NB_Keynote

Twenty years ago format obsolescence was seen as the greatest long-term threat to digital information.  Arguably, experience to date has shown that funding and organisational challenges are perhaps more significant threats. I hope this presentation helps those grappling with these challenges and shows some key advances in how to use knowledge of costs, benefits and value to support long-term sustainability of digital data and services.

These are the slides from my keynote presentation to the joint Digital Preservation Coalition / Jisc workshop on Digital Assets and Digital Liabilities – the Value of Data held in Glasgow in February 2018. The slides summarise work over the last decade in the key areas of exploring costs, benefits and value for data. The slides posted here have additional slide notes and references to new publications since the workshop and some modifications such as removal of animations. One day I hope to have time to synthesis this presentation in an accessible way as a more extensive article but hope this slide deck on Slide share at https://www.slideshare.net/Nbeagrie is a useful interim resource.

Datanomics

New “What To Keep” research data report published by Jisc

What to Keep

“What To Keep?” a new Jisc research data report by Charles Beagrie Ltd has just been published by Jisc. You can access the full report directly at: https://repository.jisc.ac.uk/7262/

What to keep in terms of research data has been a recognised issue for some time but research data management and in particular appraisal and selection (i.e. “what to keep and why”) has become a more significant focus in recent years as volumes and diversity of data have grown, and as the available infrastructure for ‘keeping’ has become more diverse.

The purpose of the What to Keep report is to provide new insights that will be useful to institutions, research funders, researchers, publishers, and Jisc on what research data to keep and why, the current position, and suggestions for improvement.

The analysis of emerging themes and mappings is available as a set of tables. Seven mini case studies illustrate in more detail the approaches and rationale for what to keep for different repositories, stakeholders and disciplinary areas.

The report provides insights on how what to keep decisions can be guided and supported, and the ten study recommendations and the potential implementations for them, provide practical suggestions for future development.

What to Keep Recommendations

European Open Science Cloud

EOSCpilot_web

Charles Beagrie Ltd have been providing additional expert resource in Open Science and Open Scholarship to Jisc, a partner in the EOSCpilot project funded by the EC’s Horizon 2020 Research & Innovation programme. The EOSC – European Open Science Cloud – aims to create a trusted environment for hosting and processing research data to support EU science.

We helped to support the finalisation of draft policy recommendations aimed at encouraging implementation and take-up of the EOSC. This involved supporting consultation on the draft policy recommendations, and helping to prioritise and develop them in more detail, to produce a coherent policy proposition.

We look forward to seeing the final public recommendations and future development of EOSC.

Research Data: What to Keep?

Charles Beagrie Ltd has started a new research data study for Jisc and UK institutions.

Jisc is working to develop shared infrastructure, influence policy and provide guidance to support institutions with the growing need for robust research data management. There is a wide-range of needs and existing provision for creation, collection, storage and preservation, and reuse of data within UK Higher Education.

What research data should be kept?

Researchers, data curators and policy makers all need to answer the question, what research data should be kept? We can’t keep it all, because that would be too expensive and time-consuming. However, we have to keep data that is irreplaceable and unique in its value for future research; to enable it to be reused and validated: to enable peer review to be informed; and to enable there to be trust in research findings. Types of data needing to be retained vary and may include related materials such as software and documentation. But how much and what is enough? Obviously, there is no single answer to that: it depends on many factors, but what are those factors, and how should we weight them? These remain difficult and open questions, but this year Jisc is working with us to take a step toward answering them.

How can we identify what to keep?

We are setting out to explore, what actually is the optimal data to keep from research projects conducted at UK institutions? Over the course of the rest of 2018, our project will work with a small number of research areas to find out. What conditions, such as openness or timescales, might be ideal? We will consult the views of researchers (as data creators and data users), research funders, ethics professionals, archivists, research data managers, peer reviewers, other research users, and others on these questions. We will dig into the reasons for their views, and into whether research data is currently kept in line with those views, or not.

Why are we carrying out this investigation now?

This work comes at a critical time in the evolution of research data management and sharing. At the policy level, the recommendations from the UK Open Research Data Taskforce are expected shortly. These may take into account both the recommendations to Government of the 2017 report by Dame Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti into the future of the UK artificial intelligence industry and the recent Government announcements around this, where research data can be a key input into AI tools. The availability of research data is also a matter of concern to those interested in research integrity and reproducibility. Relevant infrastructure investments include both the Jisc research data shared service and the increasing activity around the European Open Science Cloud.

Both policy and infrastructure investments need better information about the extent and nature of the research data that needs to be kept, under what conditions, and for how long. Our 2018 project will not provide all this information, but it will explore current practices and take the next step.

Digital Past 2018

I spent two days last week at the excellent Digital Past 2018 conference in Aberystwyth. It was my first time at the conference.

Organised by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW), it showcased innovative digital technologies and techniques for data capture, interpretation and dissemination of the heritage of Wales, the UK and beyond. An image from one of the digital projects featured “Commemorating the Forgotten U-boat War around the Welsh Coast 1914-18” is used in this blog.

Fortunately for a first-time attendee, it was also the 10th anniversary of the conference, so there were several outstanding keynotes that looked back over developments in the last decade, current emerging trends, and more speculatively into the future.

I had my first attempt at doing a conference summing up at Digital Past this year. I have always been a great admirer of Cliff Lynch’s conference summings up at the Coalition for Networked Information and elsewhere. It is a very difficult job to do well. I think I still have a lot to learn from Cliff but it was an interesting challenge!

I would highly recommend the conference to colleagues. Keep an eye out for the next one.

The Costs of Inaction: advocating for digital preservation


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Illustration by Jørgen Stamp digitalbevaring.dk CC BY 2.5 Denmark

Traditionally the major challenge in digital preservation has been seen to be technology obsolesence. However, arguably the organisational challenges, particularly funding (and advocacy for funding), have proved to be much more significant over time.

In recent years an increasing number of community efforts have focussed on helping organisations to identify benefits and write a business case for digital preservation. The Keeping Research Data Safe (KRDS) Digital Preservation Benefits Analysis Tools and the Digital Preservation Business Case Toolkit are good examples.

Most organisations require a business case for major funding projects. This will outline what resources are required, what the resource will be used to achieve, and how this new investment will benefit the organisation.

It is seen as good practice to have actively considered a number of alternative options to the preferred one that you have put forward. One of the options normally recommended for inclusion in a business case is that of doing nothing and its consequences (“the costs of inaction”).

This blog suggests how research on “the costs of inaction” might contribute successfully to advocacy and business cases for digital preservation.

Although it will be of value to all repositories, it will be particularly pertinent for new and emerging repositories. New and emerging services may face particular challenges because digital preservation is a long-term activity: collections are usually appreciating assets – returns can increase over time as  collections reach a critical mass and user awareness of them grows.

For these  repositories it is always helpful to consider “the cost of inaction” and the counter-factual position if no repository exists. There are already hidden opportunity costs and negative consequences involved in doing nothing and they can provide a benchmark against which the value of and funding case for new or emerging services can be assessed.

Counter-factual evidence is difficult to gather and this remains an understudied approach. There are a few great examples for other preservation domains (I am a big fan of AVPreserve’s Cost of Inaction Calculator for Audio Visual archives and its promotional video) and this video is worth watching to understand underlying principles even if you are not an AV repository.


Another relevant example is from the domain of data archives. A recently completed CESSDA-SaW Cost-Benefit Advocacy Toolkit produced on behalf of the Consortium of European Social Science Data Archives looks at how we might evaluate immature repositories or the case for creating new ones. The Toolkit emphasises the potential importance of thinking counter-factually. What would happen if there was no repository?

There are a small number of studies that have looked at quantifying some of the hidden and opportunity costs, particularly for data archived with individual researchers as opposed to being preserved in a long-term repository.


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Illustration Charles Beagrie Ltd ©2017. CC-BY licensed

The CESSDA SaW Return on Investment Factsheet in the toolkit pulled together what evidence we have on the counter-factuals for data repositories. These studies are all partial and narrowly focussed. However, they variously consider what happens when research data is archived by individual researchers.

The reported findings are summarised in the table below in terms of total data loss, partial data loss, access (data requests fulfilled), and delay (the elapsed time until requests are fulfilled). The loss of data, loss of access, delays and inefficiencies are in many ways the flip-side of the high efficiencies seen for users of data archives. They are discussed in fuller detail in the Factsheet.


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Illustration from Cessda-SaW Return on Investment Factsheet Charles Beagrie Ltd ©2017. CC-BY licensed

These reported metrics are from studies of different disciplines and study dates (and perhaps have differing levels of certainty – absolute loss is a very difficult metric to gather evidence for). However, they contrast sharply with the excellent preservation record, very high fulfilment rates, and rapid online access rates of public data archives in the social sciences. The public data archives also are appreciating as opposed to depreciating assets with improving rather than decreasing trends in value over time.

These studies and results provide an indicator of how valuable more data on the cost of inaction would be to the digital preservation community generally. They also provide pointers to the methodologies that could be used. Feedback from focus groups with key stakeholders of data archives undertaken during production of the toolkit (see the CESSDA SaW D4.9 Cost-benefit Advocacy Toolkit Deliverable Report) certainly suggests how effective data on the costs of inaction could be as a central part of our advocacy and in business cases for digital preservation. It is research I would like to see extended and if you are aware of other examples please let me know.

This blog post was first published on the DPC website as part of the first ever International Digital Preservation Day on 30th November 2017.

CESSDA SaW Final Conference in Dublin

The final conference of the CESSDA SaW project was held in Dublin, Ireland on 19th October 2017 and summarised the project results in strengthening and widening of European infrastructure of social science data archives. Organized by the Irish Social Science Data Archive (ISSDA) and CESSDA ERIC, the event was very successful hosting representatives from 28 countries. CESSDA members, non-members and aspiring members, were rounded to present the outcomes of a two-year project which has helped increasing the consortium and strengthening its members.

It has been an extremely productive and collaborative project with many valuable and interesting outputs. Charles Beagrie Ltd has led on the development of the cost-benefit advocacy toolkit (released in April 2017) in CESSDA-SaW and we covered this in a previous blog post – but there are many other project outputs now available that will be of interest to the research data management community.

There is a fuller report, presentations and photos from the conference available here.

Public Release of New PDF/A Technology Watch Report

The Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) and Charles Beagrie Ltd have released Preservation with PDF/A by Betsy Fanning, the latest in their series of Technology Watch Reports to the public. This is now the 14th Technology Watch Report produced over the last 5 years by Charles Beagrie Ltd and the DPC. It provides a comprehensive review of the PDF/A standard and its use.

An update to the original Technology Watch Report, Preserving the Data Explosion: Using PDF published in 2008, the report begins with a history of the PDF/A standard and its development, before moving on to an examination of conformance levels, validation methods and considerations to be made when choosing to use PDF/A for long-term preservation.

“Conformance to the standard is not a simple ‘yes/no’ binary state, in part because there are now four variants of PDF/A,” explains author Betsy Fanning. “One question that is often asked is: ’When should I use PDF/A, and which version should I use?’ This report attempts to answer that question and to provide some guidance about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with each.”

Preservation with PDF/A examines each of the four variants and lays out the conditions under which it might be beneficial to use PDF/A-3 rather than PDF/A-1, and vice versa, before presenting a range of practical considerations to make the most effective use of the file format.

Neil Beagrie, managing editor of the Technology Watch Report series on behalf of the DPC, added “the choice of file format is a component of a wider technical and organizational infrastructure which comprises a comprehensive digital preservation solution. This report will make interesting reading for anyone putting together their digital preservation strategy.”

Note the new style cover design!

Read ‘Preservation with PDF/A’ now

15th anniversary for Charles Beagrie Ltd

Today is the 15th anniversary of the founding of Charles Beagrie Ltd by myself and Daphne. Our thanks to our associates, partners, and clients for making the last 15 years enjoyable and productive ones stretching across many different disciplines and sectors!

Digital Preservation Handbook wins IRMS Innovation of the Year Award

 

The Information and Records Management Society (IRMS) has recognised the re-imagined and revised 2nd edition of the Digital Preservation Handbook as its Innovation of the Year.

Speaking after the Awards ceremony, IRMS Chair Scott Sammons praised the Handbook, saying “This fantastic resource has had such positive feedback from our members. It takes the traditional idea of an information handbook and repackages it to offer essentially useful information in a way that is simple, easy to understand and easy to act upon. It ticks all the boxes.”

The 2nd edition of Digital Preservation Handbook provides an authoritative and practical guide to the complex topic of digital preservation. The Digital Preservation Coalition has hosted and maintained the Digital Preservation Handbook since 2002. Supported by a group of external funders, the new edition of the handbook was developed by an expert community of international authors, under the editorship of Neil Beagrie of Charles Beagrie Ltd, in a series of innovative ‘booksprints,’ ensuring it spoke to as wide an audience as possible whilst retaining a deep understanding of the topics covered.

Neil noted “The online DP Handbook first went live in May 2002. This award is a wonderful way to recognise the ambition and vision of the DPC in instigating this revision, the innovation and effort involved in the Handbook’s re-design and re-launch last year, and the Handbook’s longstanding contribution to the profession and digital preservation practice. Thanks to all who made the second edition so successful: William and staff at the DPC, the funding sponsors, contributors (content, booksprints, peer review, and advisory board), Daphne at Charles Beagrie Ltd for design, layout and proof-reading, and Digital Bewaring for wonderful images.”

Not so much a handbook now, a new responsive website provides free-of-charge open access to case studies, videos and peer-reviewed online content which captures the state of the art in managing data for the long-term. It includes interactive functions, allowing readers to add comments and suggest examples and updates, while a completely new section called ‘Getting Started in Digital Preservation’ supports the DPC’s programme of introductory workshops.

Member of the editorial board for the DPC, Sharon McMeekin says “this is the award the matters most to us. It is a resource created by the digital preservation community for the digital preservation community. We couldn’t be more thrilled that it has been recognised as the great resource it is by the IRMS and its members.”

The 2nd edition of the Handbook was developed and delivered by a research consortium of the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) and Charles Beagrie Ltd. The DPC helps members to deliver resilient long-term access to digital content and services, helping them to derive enduring value from digital collections. The Coalition also raises awareness of the attendant strategic, cultural and technological challenges and supports members through advocacy, workforce development, capacity-building and partnership.

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