Comment from Roger Schonfeld on the Sustainability Reference Model

1 Dec

This is a guest post from Roger Schonfeld of Ithaka S+R, commenting on our draft sustainability reference model. Roger writes:

First, let me just say how glad I am that you both are continuing the work of the BRTF, and if there are ways that I can help this effort please let me know.

I appreciated the opportunity to review the draft you’ve created thus far, which contains a lot of richness. One section that caught my eye as especially valuable was section 6 generally, and especially the very valuable list contained in 6.2. This started to feel like a bit of a roadmap for a project leader, a model for how to build the kind of plan you are suggesting they might need.

But that really raises a fundamental question for me, which is, what sort of plan does a project leader need? You seem to be suggesting (a bit indirectly for my taste, which may mean that I am misinterpreting things) that what is really most needed is a risk analysis and remedy framework. But I would argue that what project leaders really need is a business plan. And a reference model for a business plan that sustainability delivers digital preservation/curation would be, to my mind, an incredibly valuable proposition, one that you’ve come a long way towards offering.

To provide that kind of approach, you’d need to go a bit further, and by way of example let me turn to the risk avoidance section within 6.3. Some of the risk avoidance dynamics you review – Hathi’s choices to limit its risk exposure without eliminating it altogether – is indicative of the very nature of how these decisions  get made in any kind of organization. The question of what level of risk to assume in this case is balanced by another set of risks – the risks of not being valuable enough to members/participants. And ultimately, these questions about balancing value, risk, and reassurance, take place in a competitive marketplace for content and services (even if the competition is for library etc dollars/pounds). Thus, a business planning framework seems, at least to me, a more fully realized way to express the kind of plan I think you are pushing towards, rather than one that is more exclusively focused on risks and remedies.

This may take the project in a broader or different direction than you wish, so I hope you will forgive my taking the liberty to state this possibility so directly, but I hadn’t seen the difference that I now perceive in some of your earlier communications on this project as I do now when I read the draft. I apologize if this all comes from my having read something too quickly and not fully understood.

One other small note. I will probably continue to dissent at least gently from the emerging consensus that “the case for preservation is the case for use” [to me it should have been “the case for preservation is the case for potential use.”] But your summary sentence at the end of the first paragraph under section 4 seemed to me to take things a bit further even: “demonstrable value from use is likely to make the strongest case for ongoing investment in digital curation.” Given our experience with preservation in the print and paper environments, where actual use was one characteristic associated with preservation investment, alongside the potential for use in some future era, as well as the provenance and selection/editorial history of the object, I think you may be over-stating the case at least slightly.

Hope this all is in some way helpful. Look forward to staying in touch with you as this work proceeds.

Roger Schonfeld


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