Reach 05 - The Cost of Curation

Digital | Didseatach

How much does it cost to curate data? The 4C project (Collaboration to Clarify the Cost of Curation) is working to find out exactly that. Society is producing digital assets in ever-increasing quantities, but there is still a lot of uncertainty about if and how this data can be kept in a usable and understandable form for perpetuity. There are now requirements from UK funding bodies that research data remains available – in most cases for ten years after its creation – but who will pay for it?

Joy Davidson, Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute (HATII) has been working on the 4C project since its launch. It is an international project with 13 partners in total, led by Jisc. There are industrial partners such as Keep Solutions, based in Portugal, and Secure Business Austria (SBA) at the University of Vienna. Other universities involved are the University of Edinburgh and the University of Essex, as well as two National Libraries – in Denmark and Germany. For Joy, the mixture of different partners with different interests is crucial to understanding the range of costs  incurred when curating digital assets and understanding how these costs might be split across the various stakeholders to reflect a range of needs and perspectives.

Luis Faria, Innovation Director at Keep Solutions commented “It has been a pleasure to work with Joy [Davidson] on the 4C research project. The University of Glasgow has consistently provided us with high-value staff for our research projects and I would recommend this institution to others.”

In recent years, several other projects have developed cost models for understanding the curation of digital information. The 4C project assessed these models using 79 criteria, but found that many of the models were only effective within the organisation they were designed for. They were not universally applicable. In particular, none of the existing models adequately covers the point at which data is created, leaving out many of the curation activities that happen before an asset enters the archive.

To improve on this, the 4C project wanted to create a concept model that will help future model developers and service providers to cover better the entire lifecycle, from creation to archiving, while also taking into account the fact that digital assets might be re-used and repurposed at several points over their lifecycle. The existing models were often difficult for people without detailed curation knowledge to employ.  Indeed, the main findings of the cost model review were that all of the models could be better supported with improved user guidance, the provision of sample cost data, and from being simplified.

The 4C project has come up with a Cost Concept Model (, which they hope will help to get everyone more aligned and using the same terminology, a first step to achieving greater transparency and comparability of curation costs. Feedback on this model would be greatly appreciated to make sure that these generic descriptions are useful and usable. The project team welcomes feedback at

As noted earlier, the 4C project also found that there is a general lack of curation cost data available to help test cost models and to enable content curators and service providers to benchmark their costs and to streamline their processes and solutions. To gather real life data to facilitate comparison with peers, they have also created the  Curation Costs Exchange (CCEx), where people can enter the known curation costs within their organisation. As Joy says, “the more data that is entered into the CCEx , the more useful it will be” - so start adding your data and feedback to the beta version, available now at

In time, the Curation Costs Exchange will allow people to build up profiles of what they spend on digital curation and to compare their costs to others. Costs are dependent on context, so the project team are working to understand and communicate the drivers - known to the team as ‘indirect economic determinants’ - behind particular costs. With this context in mind, the model is able to help users make more informed judgements about the money they spend on curation activities and to assess their potential return on these investments.

Ultimately, the 4C project would like to see more strategic investment in curation. For this, they have just released a Roadmap ( to try and get community endorsement for their key messages. Co-operation and transparency are key for the sustained future of digital curation, as well as better engagement with the people who produce and sell solutions. Better clarity about the costs of their products and services will make cost modelling easier and more accurate in the future.

It is also important in general for people to have a better understanding of who will be responsible for costs throughout the lifecycle of a digital asset, and to be able to build those kinds of details into funding applications and sustainability plans.

In the future, this will mean that the cost of digital curation, for different people at different points in time, will be knowable. From there, Joy hopes that stakeholders can work together to better define their requirements and make future solutions cost effective as well as really meeting their needs.

The project will end in February 2015, but it is important to Joy that this issue remains on the agenda for all relevant stakeholders – from content curators to funding bodies and a wide range of end users. The roadmap that they have created needs to be used and developed: “We don’t want this to end, we want it to continue” says Joy. Right now, the 4C project is looking for champions within its stakeholder groups to support the future of digital curation – could that be you?



If you wish to find out more about this article or about how you can progress your ideas (i) as an academic wishing to engage with a non-academic organisation or (ii) as a non-academic organisation interested in engaging with the academic knowledge base, please email the College of Arts KE Team.


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