This is the first draft of the last-but-one missing element of the draft reference model…
Economically sustainable digital curation is a complex topic even when discussed only in generalities. It becomes even more complex when applied to the particular circumstances of a specific digital curation activity. The reference model helps planners navigate this difficult terrain by breaking it down into four primary components: the economic lifecycle; the sustainability strategy; economic risks and remedies; and key entities.
The economic lifecycle can be understood as the background against which a digital curation activity operates. It is intended to convey the notion that economic decision-making does not take place in a static environment, but rather a dynamic one that continually cycles through a progression of events, each of which potentially may impact economic sustainability. In the same way that digital lifecycle models like LIFE or the DCC Curation Lifecycle Model capture the idea that the technical process of curation operates against a dynamic background cycling through stages such as creation, selection, or preservation, the economic lifecycle highlights the progression of events within which economic decision-making occurs. The first step in designing an effective sustainable strategy is to understand the economic lifecycle over which that strategy is expected to operate. The economic lifecycle is described in Section 4, and graphically depicted in Figure 1.
A sustainability strategy is the means by which a digital curation activity orchestrates the economic factors by which necessary to ensure that the activity has adequate resources to achieve its long-term goals. More specifically, a sustainability strategy is a plan for meeting the BRTF’s five necessary conditions for economic sustainability: value, selection, incentives, resources, and organization/governance. These conditions are described in detail in Section 5.1. Meeting these conditions requires a close understanding and coordination of the key entities relevant to economic decision-making for digital curation: digital assets; the curation process; and stakeholders. Digital assets are the what we invest in when we allocate resources to digital curation; the curation process is the mechanism by which our resource allocation is transformed into a “return on investment” (i.e., the ongoing availability of valuable digital assets); and stakeholders are the individuals or organizations that reap the benefits of sustainably curated digital assets, and/or contribute toward the curation process which maintains them. An effective sustainability strategy coordinates digital assets, the curation process, and stakeholders in ways that address the five sustainability conditions. The concept of a sustainability strategy is described in Section 5, and graphically depicted in Figure 2.
Economic risks and remedies are, in the case of the former, potential obstacles to achieving sustainability, and in the case of the latter, potential solutions for mitigating or overcoming these obstacles. In the most general interpretation, economic risks impact digital assets and the curation process in a variety of ways; a general list of the ways economic risk impacts digital curation is provided in Section 6.1. More specifically, economic risks manifest themselves as potential challenges to achieving one or more of the five conditions required for economic sustainability. A key element of any sustainability strategy is how it addresses the economic risks relevant to the particular context in which it operates. The reference model provides a simple framework of possible “reactions” to economic risk that a sustainability strategy can employ; the framework is described and illustrated with examples in Section 6.3.
Finally, identifying economic risks (and appropriate remedies for these risks) in the context of a given digital curation activity requires a deep understanding of the key entities that constitute the economic environment for that activity. As mentioned above, the key entities for digital curation are digital assets, the curation process, and stakeholders. Understanding the properties of these entities, and how they manifest and relate to one another in a particular digital curation context, is a necessary step for identifying the significant economic risks relevant to that context. Key properties of digital assets are described in Section 7.1; key properties of the curation process are described in Section 7.2. Understanding stakeholders presents a special challenge for sustainability planners; the key concept idea here is the stakeholder ecosystem, described in detail in Section 7.3. The stakeholder ecosystem consists of three layers of abstraction that, taken together, constitute a useful sketch of the way stakeholders are organized within a particular digital curation context, and how that organization might harbor potential economic risks impacting the prospects for achieving sustainability. The first layer is the types of stakeholder roles associated with most digital curation activities; these roles are graphically depicted in Figure 3. The second layer describes the relationships existing between stakeholder roles in a given digital curation context; an example of these stakeholder relationships is provided in Figure 4. The third layer completes the stakeholder ecosystem by describing the distribution of stakeholder roles across distinct individuals or organizations. Understanding this distribution of roles is critical to identifying potential economic risks inherent in a particular configuration of the stakeholder ecosystem. An illustration of how analysis of the stakeholder ecosystem can expose potential economic risks (and suggest potential remedies) is provided at the end of Section 7.3.
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In summary, the reference model for economically sustainable digital curation maps out the key elements of the problem space planners face when designing a sustainability strategy for their digital curation activities. The reference model simplifies the process of designing an effective sustainability strategy by breaking the process down into the key components that should be considered, and drawing planners’ attention to the properties of those components most relevant for economic sustainability. While the reference model does not in and of itself “solve” any digital curation activity’s sustainability issues, it provides a framework within which the nature of these issues can be understood, and appropriate solutions devised.
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