TDL DP Decision Tree FAQ

Why does it help to disambiguate ‘digital archives’ and ‘digital preservation’? 

As the digital archives and digital preservation domains advance, the blurring of these related but distinct terms results in ambiguity. As a starting point for discussion, the DAP Framework uses these working definitions:

digital archives refers to all the activities organizations or individuals required in real-time to appraise, acquire, process, describe, secure, and make available specified digital content;

digital preservation refers to all the activities organizations or individuals engage in over-time across generations of technology to ensure the long-term readability and usefulness of specified digital content.

The DAP Framework disambiguates the terms to enable specificity in discussions by comparing and contrasting the activities of each domain.


The use of a DAP Framework illustrates the distinctions between digital archives and digital preservation, the interdependencies between them, and the differences in timing and duration of activities - real-time versus over-time - that define them.

Note: See the full explanation of the Digital Archives and Preservation (DAP) Framework. including the layers and other components of the model, from the Handbook of Archival Practice, 2021. There is also a brief video that walks through the DAP Framework.

What are the benefits of developing a DP Policy Framework?

Developing a high-level policy may not be the place to start with digital preservation, but it is essential when you shift from working on digital preservation projects to b a building a sustainable digital preservation program that uses projects strategically to achieve your digital preservation objectives.

If you need/want to make the case for investing the resources to convene a group that will develop then promulgate a DP policy, there are significant benefits you can point to, including:

  • helping to form and build your digital preservation team - the process requires discussions of topics that the policy will address so it’s an opportunity to get to a common page on key issues

  • raising awareness about your program and its objectives - it’s important to communicate, especially with people who may be interested and not at the policy development table

  • helping to manage expectations about what is in and out of scope for your DP program - a policy makes it easier to know what to say ‘yes’ to and to navigate saying ‘no’ when you need to decline a transfer

  • identifying needed developments for your digital program - policy development highlights the gap between what you are doing (policy) and what you intend or desire to do (planning)

  • demonstrating your alignment with good DP practice - a high-level policy is a core component of your documentation as your program advances

When the time comes to work on your policy document, these resources may help:

Do you have a DP policy? in the Stewarding Your Collections section with resources and assistance on developing your policy; and

DPM Maturity Model: Five Stages (cheatsheet) and Three-legged Stool (cheatsheet) and 2003 Article for suggestions on building your DP program including milestones and examples for each stage.

What does ‘well-managed collections’ mean and how do I achieve it?

Getting started on digital preservation for collections can be daunting. Some organizations may be tempted to ump into using tools or repositories before their content is ready. The DPM Workshop uses the term ‘well-managed collections’ to provide a simple checklist for organizations to begin establishing basic good practice as a prerequisite for proceeding to address more demanding requirements. There are five recommended elements as examples of what to work towards to achieve well-managed collection status

  • basic submission information for your content, e.g. accession ID, creator, submitter - be sure to capture this for all incoming digital content and work to identify best available submission information for content you already have

  • minimal metadata for all of your content at the file level, e.g. file identifier, file name, file type - MIME type is useful, date submitted or acquired

  • repositories may identify common or preferred submission formats to accept or to be prepared to transform files upon submission - there are recommended preservation formats for many content types

  • storing your content from submission onward in known and controlled spaces to avoid loss or damage before your content can be packaged for preservation - identify requirements that may determine where and how your content may be stored, e.g., if it contains confidential or regulated information

  • as soon as you are able to, store your content in at least two locations that ideally not subject to the same environmental or other risks

As you achieve well-managed collections status, you and your content will ready to make use of available options to preserve your digital collections.

How do I complete a digital preservation gap analysis for our collections? 

With the development and evolution of good practice for digital preservation since the release of the 1996 Preserving Digital Information report, a seminal document that marks the start of the digital preservation community, there is a recognized need for repositories to demonstrate that their policies, practices, and workflows are aligning with good practice and addressing community expectations for demonstrating good practice. Completing a periodic gap analysis of your digital archives program is a proven way to identify areas for improvement and to set priorities for developing your program. Though it is widely used, there is no single method or standard for completing a gap analysis. These are some common steps for conducting one:

  1. Define your desired state. For digital preservation, standards for good practice define your desired state.

  2. Determine your current state in relation to good practice. It is important to document your true state and not the state you aspire to achieve.

  3. Document the gaps between your desired and your current state. The results of your gap analysis provides the basis for your development plan.

Periodically repeating your gap analysis and reviewing your gaps to set your next priorities enables you to incrementally address, or fill, your gaps. There are available options for more in-depth self-assessment and audit of your progress towards good practice. A gap analysis that uses a lighter, less formal may be a great way to get started. Remember that every organization has resources to build on, e.g. policies or protocols for physical collections that may be adapted or extended to address digital collections, staff skills and experience - be sure to look for these during your gap analysis.

How defining roles and responsibilities helps demonstrate good practice? 

Most repositories have limited resources and essential requirements to be met that require assigned roles to ensure that these are continually addressed. It is necessary to know ‘who’s on first' - to avoid having nobody on first or a handful of people on first, either of which results in risks to and potential loss of your digital content. In documenting roles and responsibilities, high-level documents identifies relevant types of roles, lower-level policies defines responsibilities associated with roles, and a roster of current assignments that accompanies your documentation indicates who currently has which role(s). As preservation questions about your digital content arise, it should be clear who to consult at; and it should not be necessary to update your high-level policy documents when role assignments change.

The DPM Workshop’s TDR Self-assessment Tool provides the option for using the project management approach called RACSI that defines a set of roles: Responsible, Accountable, Support, Consulted and Informed. In using RASCI to complete a TDR Self-assessment, different parts of an organization might have different roles depending on the type of requirement being addressed. Assigning who is responsible, accountable, and so on for each requirement can help you determine what the roles are for your organization if you haven’t already done that.

What are the benefits of documenting our alignment with DP good practice? 

Demonstrating good practice for digital preservation requires comprehensive, current documentation of your decisions that are captured in policies, your activities that are captured in workflows and procedures, and your development work that is captured in your planning documents. These are some activities that involve creating, extending, or updating your documentation:

  • Developing and updating your policies, procedures, and plans

  • Selecting and using management and software tools

  • Defining and maintaining workflows

  • Making and capturing decisions that pertain to digital preservation

  • Completing periodic self-assessments and external reviews

Documenting what you decide and what you do as you go along is efficient and cost-effective. It also helps you to incrementally demonstrate good practice.

Some of the benefits of creating and maintaining documentation include:

  • Helping you to manage risks and expectations about your program

  • Facilitating interactions between people and technology by documenting actions, roles, and outcomes

  • Identifying and resolving bottlenecks that slow down or block your work

  • Detecting and filling gaps to help you improve and advance your work

  • Defining and illustrating terms used by your organization or with partners

  • Tracking and applying decisions to avoid repetitive and costly decision making

  • Documenting your work to enable you to be transparent and accountable in line with good practice

Defining a project plan for developing policies and other documentation may help to make the case for the resources needed, such as time of participating staff members, sometimes licenses for software that may be used. Whoever is responsible for creating and maintaining the documentation should prepare the final version for approval when it is ready and a plan to coordinate periodic reviews and updates of the documents on a regular schedule, often on a two-year cycle. Using versions of documentation allows production work to continue without interruption while updates are completed. Remember that the best test for your documentation is using it.

Your digital preservation documentation accumulates over time and needs to be managed and preserved, along with all the other preservation planning metadata - your Digital Content Review results, for example - as an essential record of your work. 

What are the benefits of a self-assessment for our organization? 

Beneficial outcomes:

  • Formalize policies (identify and address policy needs)

  • Define roles and responsibilities (specify levels and scope of responsibility)

  • Consider succession planning

  • Designate funding (develop a description of 

  • Rationalize metadata (identify gaps and priorities)

  • Address preservation rights from the start of the life cycle (in submission agreements and at Ingest)

  • Prioritize technical developments (rank next steps to maximize impact)

How working definitions help with preservation planning?

Effective preservation planning for digital content and collections brings a necessary and evolving mix of domains together. The concept of 'radical collaboration' means coming together across disparate, but engaged, domains in ways that are often unfamiliar or possibly uncomfortable to member organizations and individuals to identify and solve problems together, to achieve more together than we could separately.

Domain specialists are so familiar with their own terms and their usage they may be unaware that others may understand these terms very differently. Working definitions involve discussing and agreeing upon the way terms will be used. This is especially helpful when there are multiple existing definitions, none of which are quite right on its own, but might contribute to a working definition the group is able to adopt. Developing and sharing working definitions, a core concept of radical collaboration, is a way to build understanding as we come together to work on shared objectives. When collaboration starts, review terms, use working definitions to fill gaps as you go, and share working definitions with new members helps to avoid this possibly invisible barrier to working together.

This is a joint initiative between TDL Digital Preservation Services and the Digital Preservation Management (DPM) Workshop and Global Archivist LLC. Dr. Nance McGovern 2024.