Comment from Sabine Schrimpf on the draft Sustainability Reference Model

4 Dec

This is a guest post from Sabine Schrimpf of nestor, commenting on our draft Economic Sustainability Reference Model. Sabine writes:

The draft was sent to the 9 participants of a nestor group that discussed the Blue Ribbon Task Force Report in 2010. The second answer is from the nestor office/German National Library (DNB).

Comments of the nestor office/DNB

1. Scope and Target Audience

Neither scope nor target audience of the reference model is entirely clear right now. It intends to “help key decision-makers build a sustainability strategy” (p. 1, Scope) and at the same time to be a “practical, “on the ground” guide for practitioners designing a sustainability strategy for a digital curation activity” (p. 4, Introduction). Key decision makers and the practitioners are often not the same group of people. I would expect that practitioners familiarize with the reference model, draft a sustainability strategy and attempt to convince the key decision maker(s) of their organization to adopt it. If the reference model helps these practitioners to provide well organized, convincing arguments, then it serves a good purpose.

Contentwise, the reference model does a good job in providing and explaining key concepts and components, but I did not perceive it as a particularly practical guide. I do even fear that “reference model” and “practical” are contradicting concepts, because the reference model must be so theoretical that it fits all imaginable use cases.

2. Economic lifecycle vs. influence spheres of individual stakeholders

You draw attention to the fact that sustainability issues must be considered over the complete lifecycle for digital assets. This is a very important point. A certain stakeholder will, however, have only a part of this lifecycle under its control and he can only influence the sustainability of digital curation activities that are in his sphere of influence. Sentences like “A sustainable digital curation activity requires sufficient resources to achieve its long-term goals over the complete digital lifecycle” (p. 4, Introduction) are therefore ambiguous.

3. Chapter 5: Sustainability Strategy

This chapter intends to define the notion of a sustainability strategy. It does so in very abstract language and refers to concepts that will be introduced way later in the text (“account for the properties of the key entities”). Instead of descriptions (“A sustainability strategy is…”, “A sustainability strategy is not…”) I had hoped to find a more pragmatic list of items (beyond the 5 BRTF conditions for sustainability) that must be addressed in a sustainability strategy.

4. Chapter 6: Economic Risks

Very helpful, stimulating chapter

5. Chapter 7: Key entities

Very helpful and stimulating, but peculiarly balanced: The part on Stakeholders and Stakeholder Ecosystem dominates the chapter. I can see that it needs a lot of explanation, and the ArXiv example is very illustrative, but the other entities (Digital Assets and Process (btw: The subheading should say “Curation Process”, shouldn’t it?) seem to come off badly in comparison.  Could one imagine a Digital Asset Taxonomy and a Process Taxonomy in a similar way as the Stakeholder Taxonomy?

6. Chapter 10: Examples and case studies

The examples/case studies contain important inspirations, but they are very high level and organized in four abstract contexts. Right now, they seem a bit unconnected with the previous elaborations. The structure (7 important questions) or each example/case study could be mistaken for a model structure to design a sustainability strategy.

– would the reference model help you write a sustainability strategy?

– what sort of tools might help?

It clarifies some issues and concepts, provides a vocabulary and some valuable inspirations, but I still don’t have a clear understanding of what a sustainability strategy should look like. Asked for a tool, I would prefer a checklist or a “how to…” guide. In my opinion, a very good example is the “Policy guidance” document of the National Archives (


Sabine Schrimpf, nestor /DNB


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