From the late Nineties, European and UK funding agencies across sectors, from education to cultural heritage, have invested significant resources in the creation of digital content in the not-for-profit sector. The grants have facilitated major digitisation and encouraged innovative work that paved the way for forms of scholarship and communities possible only in an online environment. In the words of the recent Comite des Sage report ‘The New Renaissance’:
“Digitisation breathes new life into material from the past, and turns it into a formidable asset for the individual user and an important building block of the digital economy.” 1
Still, the way we create content online is still in its infancy, and the path from initial funding to long-term sustainability can be challenging. Despite financial investment, some undesirable outcomes have emerged:
- Project leaders return again and again to funders, because alternative revenue streams have not been developed;
- Completed projects cannot always be updated/ungraded once funded has ended;
- Content created may live in silos, be difficult to find and hosted on a variety of platforms;
- Preservation strategies are often uncertain, both for digitised and born digital content;
- Project leaders often rely heavily on the largesse of a host institution
- Some programmes or projects that cease to secure ongoing funding are obliged to stop work altogether
Add to this the challenging economic environment of the past few years and all of these issues are brought into glaringly sharp relief.
Since 2007, Ithaka S+R and the Jisc-led Strategic Content Alliance have led the way in examining ways that the academic and cultural heritage sectors are defining sustainability and helping to make sure that the digital resources will endure and provide value well beyond the term of the grant. In 2012, two years and one economic crisis later, this essential research is more important than ever to answer questions such as:
- What were the key sustainability issues to consider?
- How have project leaders made their resources valuable to users?
- How have project leaders made growth and innovation possible?
- Which sustainability models have been most successful?
- How had budget cuts and other factors affected the projects?
Answers to these questions however are never simple and the process by which projects, both current and previous, consider them are multifaceted and complex. As a first step to traversing the difficult road to sustainability, the following video lecture series has been developed with Nancy Maron (sustainability expert at Ithaka S+R) to consider how universities, museums and libraries can deal with these issues in a challenging economic environment. You may not find all the answers here, but you will certainly find out more about the questions you need to be asking and guidance on how to answer them.
Split into parts or available as full versions, the videos (under a CC-BY-NC-SA licence) allow for individuals or organisations to embed or repurpose the relevant sections for their own specific audiences. As they are in easily digestible ‘bite-size’ chunks with links to the relevant resources referenced, these should help you to think in more depth about the issues raised and to read and research at your own pace. All we ask is that you let us know how you are planning to use them and if/ how these have been useful to you.
Please follow the links below to view the videos most relevant to your sector: