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The Digital Preservation Business Case Toolkit

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This is a guest post by Paul Wheatley of the SPRUCE Project, which is “aiming to foster a vibrant and self-supporting community of digital preservation practitioners and developers via a mixture of online interaction and face to face events.” For more on SPRUCE, see an earlier interview with Paul.

A significant proportion of the project I’m currently running, the Jisc funded SPRUCE, has been about hands on digital preservation work: learning by doing. Changing attitudes from the bottom up. Doing digital preservation and sharing the outcomes, good or bad, for others to learn from.Supporting those who are actually managing digital data, and attempting to build a stronger community of peer support. I’ve been getting my teeth into a lot of this work throughout the project, and it has been great fun. A little bit on the back burner however, has been our aim to support the same audience in quite a different way: we wanted to make their practical digital preservation work more sustainable by helping these practitioners pull in the funding they need.

Step by step, from SPRUCE Digital Preservation illustrations
Step by step, from SPRUCE Digital Preservation illustrations

So we’ve been building our expertise and experience in various aspects of writing digital preservation focused business cases. As well as funding some case studies on the subject, we’ve been working with loads of practitioners at our mashup events on various business case themed exercises, and collating the results. This was all useful foundational work, but still to be properly realised into project outputs. In the last month however, I’ve finally been working full time on turning these foundations into the new Digital Preservation Business Case Toolkit, an online guide to help you make the case for funding your digital preservation work.

Except rather than sitting down and writing this work up in the time honored fashion (i.e. on my own) and then soliciting the feedback from our project team, we went for a slightly more experimental approach. At the beginning of August we hosted a three-day book sprint. We invited, along the project team, some of our favorite practitioners from our mashup events and a couple of external experts, and set them to work on collaboratively writing the toolkit.

We didn’t have a particularly strong view on how we wanted the end result to look, so we took things from the top and began by brainstorming what the contents page should look like. Immediately this gave us several interesting angles from which to tackle the rather nebulous problem of business case writing. Business cases themselves are defined very much by the organisation within which they sit, the stakeholders that are involved and the focus of the work they are making the case for. So what we needed to do was guide a user through the key thought processes without simply prescribing a particular outcome. Ask the right questions and the user should be able to come up with the right answers that are appropriate for them.

Hackathon, from SPRUCE Digital Preservation illustrations
Hackathon, from SPRUCE Digital Preservation illustrations

With the various approaches in place, we broke up into small groups and first brainstormed a bullet point summary for each toolkit section and then the detail to fill out those bullets. Working in short iterations, we peer reviewed the text as it appeared, enabling us to really hone each section using the selection of skills and experience that our book sprinters brought to the event.

Of course it wasn’t quite as straightforward as that (and I’ve blogged here in more detail about the challenges and benefits of book sprinting) but it was very effective in letting us build a key project output in a way which maximised the contributions, experience and buy in of our project team and invited experts.

We’ve just released the first version of the Digital Preservation Business Case Toolkit and we’ll be refining it during the remaining few months of the SPRUCE Project. We’ve funded a further couple of case studies which will be putting the toolkit through it’s paces and we’re hoping to solicit feedback from other users that will help us address any shortcomings in this first release.

A final word should go to Tom Woolley, our book sprint illustrator. Tom produced some fabulous drawings to bring the toolkit alive, and we’ve made all of them available under a CC license for those who would like to make use of them elsewhere.

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