“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Oscar Wilde’s epigram still strikes a chord more than a century after it was written, but for those of us in the business of managing digital objects over time (let’s call it digital curation) it needs a bit of an update. In its place I’d offer: “nowadays, people are beginning to know the price of stuff but they struggle a bit to know whether it’s valuable.”
Actually I’d go further and say that we may not even be sure what sort of value we are talking about when it comes to digital objects or digital processes.
We can only measure the true value of data curation and assess impact through trying to apply consistent methods across different organisations and their stakeholders. A recently published report attempts to describe precisely this. Commissioned by Jisc and carried out by Neil Beagrie and John Houghton, the report looks into the value and impact of three well-established research data centres: the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS), now part of the UK Data Service, the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) and the British Atmospheric Data Centre (BADC).
It provides a summary of the key findings from new research and reflects on:
- The methods that can be used to collect data for such studies
- The analytical methods that can be used to explore value, impacts, costs and benefits to different stakeholders
- The lessons learned and recommendations arising from the series of studies as a whole
Assessing user benefits
This is the first time that this array of qualitative and quantitative methods has been applied to determining the value of data curation. The headline result is that the value of the access that users have to the data (which is made freely available by the data centres) is more than double the sum of money invested in the centres.
This is obviously useful and good news for the data centres, but it is also a welcome insight for those of us who are trying to wrangle the benefits, value and cost of digital curation into more readily understandable frameworks.
Adding value to your digital curation
The EC-funded and Jisc-led 4C Project - Collaboration to Clarify the Costs of Curation - is charged with coming up with a number of resources. These include reports, models and a Curation Costs Exchange (CCEx), all of which should help organisations make leaner investments into digital curation and to have a better knowledge of the benefits and the return on investment that they might expect. The objective of the CCEx is to more easily allow comparisons to be made between curation processes and to try and link that to the component costs of those processes.
The aims of the report and the 4C Project do not align exactly, but it is clear that the study has much to offer about the application of methodologies and the sort of assumptions that can and should be made about the value of digital assets.