David Kay – @serodavid – firstname.lastname@example.org – 4 November 2011
> Crying ‘Wolf’
It seems obvious that there would be a self-evident business case for making learning, teaching and research resources discoverable.
However, it is arguable that this is a ‘crying wolf’ scenario. Library, archive and museum services have been at this for time immemorial and therefore the idea of a further push (better indexing, open licensing) for a special reason (the evolving information ecosystem) may be somewhat unappealing – especially in a period of austerity.
> So … what makes a business case?
In these times it may no longer be sufficient to argue a case on the grounds of service improvement and fulfilment of approved mission (e.g. the university’s library strategic plan).
It is arguable that if the library (or archive or museum) has a signed off plan, then changes in the mode of discovery and the underlying handling of metadata are solely tactical issues within that plan and its budget envelope. In reality, that depends on how good and recent the plan is! Indeed, faced with the twin pressures of the student as customer and institutional financial priorities, the stated service mission may not necessarily be the ideal foundation for a compelling business case.
When faced with the opportunities presented by new models for resource discovery and utilisation, the enabling services (not just institutional libraries, archives and museums but also the keepers of repositories, VLEs and OERs) need to weigh the following factors:
- Institutional – Demands for step changes in efficiency and economy;
- Users – Requirements of undergraduates, researchers and BCE partners;
- Professional – Service improvement, enhancing local assets alongside wider resources;
- Global – Alignment with prevalent technologies and wider developments in the knowledge ecosystem
All these facets – not one or another – need to be considered in a compelling business case for new modes of discovery, and presumably in any tenable strategic plan.
> Did the 2011 Discovery projects find the business case grail?
The eight projects supported under the first phase of the JISC RDTF Discovery programme were experimental, exploring ways and means of developing new services based on more discoverable metadata, alternative formats (including Linked Data) and open licensing. Common technical and professional challenges had to be addressed ahead of any assessment of the business case specific to the host institution.
Nevertheless, the projects identified several benefit cases worthy of evaluation. Not all of the suggested benefits will be appealing, let alone persuasive, in every library, archive or museum setting. Indeed, they are more specific to circumstances and vision than to curatorial domain.
The synthesis of project findings, undertaken by Mimas, found that the projects had proposed around 15 business case ‘arguments’. As operational scenarios solidify and mature, we can reasonably expect there will be more where these came from, all of which might be combined to present business cases for the service, for the institution and, not least, for the user. [It should be noted that the Discovery projects did not address the business case relating to global drivers as the projects were predicated on this is a ‘given’ factor].
> Paint a business case by numbers? A personal Top Ten
Following some discussion of the list of 15 business case arguments with colleagues (thanks especially to Mike Mertens of RLUK for his feedback), here is my personal ‘Top Ten’. You can find the rest plus links to the relevant projects at http://discovery.ac.uk.
Institutional Level – Serving strategic institutional objectives, especially in support of a more effective learning and more efficient research infrastructure.
1 – Fulfilling institutional policy commitment to Open Data provides a strong basis for this work
2 – Contributing proactively to wider strategic directions such as personalization, user co-creation and integrated resource discovery
3 – Following such as Google in opening data to serendipitous development is low cost and may yield unknown benefits
Practitioner Benefits (Librarians, Archivists, Curators) – More economic and effective ways of ensuring the collection is well described.
4 – Making better use of limited professional time by embedding records improvement in core workflows and / or by automating separately
5 – Providing more efficient mechanisms to generate more effective indexing and access points, based on standard and shared authorities
General User Benefits – Making the collection being more discoverable, more accessible and linked to other relevant knowledge assets.
6 – Amplifying the impact of the collection by broadening the scope for discovery, achieving greater utilisation and enabling downstream discovery of relevant ‘linked’ resources
7 – Using open metadata to provide a richer user experience and create opportunities for a variety of interfaces
Researcher Benefits – Contributing to the research ecosystem, within and beyond the institution.
8 – Cultivating the international research ecosystem by minimising duplication of effort and avoiding knowledge silos
9 – Evolving scholarship by enabling participation of a wider community in testing, refining and building on research results
10 – Surfacing the unpredictable connections required by interdisciplinary research
> And finally…
Increasing numbers of managers and practitioners are involved in demonstrating the business case for enacting the principles endorsed by Discovery. What cuts it for you? Is it purely a cost metric or a measure of user satisfaction? Which of these arguments and what others would you put forward?