Roles and responsibility
The roles and procedures relating to digital data management need to be outlined within the project data management plan (DMP) and might be similar from project to project.
Both digital data creation and management are often quite predictable in most projects, with similar sequences of events, content and personnel involved.
Outside the project team, key people might include
- planning archaeologist, who will identify the scope of the project and monitor delivery, reviewing the project design/WSI against methods used. For the digital data this involves checking and reviewing the DMP.
- consultant, who will ensure their client understands the project design/WSI and associated costs, including the requirement to produce a stable, ordered, accessible archive that preserves both physical and digital archive components.
- digital repository curator, who will provide guidance for the submission of an archaeological archive to the trusted digital repository. They will require an up-to-date DMP to be included with the deposited archive.
- project manager, who will take on a similar role to the planning archaeologist, ensuring that the scope is clear and programme delivery is reviewed. They will also check the DMP is in place and up to date.
Depending on the size and the complexity of the project or organisation, individual roles within the project team will differ. Irrespective of the structure of that team, the project manager should make sure that someone is responsible for
- ensuring the project design/WSI refers to relevant technical data standards, including best practice guidance, organisational manuals and professional standards
- incorporating a completed DMP in the project design/WSI that meets the standard required by CIfA Standards and guidance.
- notifying the digital repository of the nature of the project, including any deposition requirements and incorporating expected costs into the project delivery programme
- maintaining the integrity and security of archive material during project delivery
- metadata and documentation, selection, and ensuring ethical and legal requirements are met
Project stages and tasks
The project itself is made up of multiple workstreams and tasks, and the data archive is created, established, and managed throughout the life of a project and beyond. Having an organisational digital data policy/manual that articulates how digital data should be collected and managed as part of any project means that key information just needs to be tailored for each project DMP.
However complicated, the project will always have a beginning, middle and end. How data is managed at each stage will affect how easily and successfully the digital data archive can be prepared and deposited.
- The beginning, involving initiation and start-up, will include the project proposal or briefs and a detailed project design/WSI, which should include a project specific selection strategy and DMP.
- The middle – project delivery and execution – will involve data-gathering and documentation, using the DMP as a guide and updating as appropriate. The data archive should be maintained in line with organisational processes and the DMP. Data should be fully documented and, once the project delivery is complete, materials for the archaeological archive selected and prepared for deposition.
- The end, archive deposition and curation, should result in the digital data archive residing with a trusted digital repository. The repository will preserve the archive in the long term, supporting full access and reuse of project materials.
Of course, that’s not really the end at all. Once deposited, the archive may be used in multiple ways, contributing to research, education, and enjoyment!
As with other aspects of an archaeological archive, it is unlikely that every digital file generated during the life of a project should be retained in full as part of the preserved archaeological archive.
A selection process should be undertaken that is agreed in advance of deposition by the relevant stakeholders (eg project team, advisory team and intended repository). CIfA’s Selection Toolkit for Archaeological Archives (2019) provides comprehensive advice regarding the development of a project-specific Selection Strategy.
Throughout project delivery, particular stages will provide review points where updates to the selection strategy and DMP can be made. These will ideally be linked to key project stages that provide an opportunity to review and update, such as project design, post-excavation assessment, updated project design, and final reporting.
The reasons for selection of digital components will vary from project to project and should take into consideration
- the project aims and significance of the results
- the research potential and contribution to research frameworks
- the ability to provide greater access to heritage information
Some archaeological projects, such as watching briefs or small-scale evaluations, are unlikely to produce a large digital data archive for deposition. In such cases, a technical archaeological report attached to the OASIS record with a selection of images may suffice – if agreed as part of the selection strategy and DMP process.
- What data should be included so future researchers can reexamine and reinterpret the site?
- How do these data need to be archived to facilitate that process?
These wider ethical questions are concerned with preserving the archaeological site and providing access to research data. The answers should help inform your selection strategy, as well as contribute to practical decisions around file formats and documentation.
See Infosheet #6- Selection for digital archives for examples of how different elements might be considered for inclusion in the preserved archive, which also includes an example directory of a working project folder side-by-side with the preserved archive from the same project.
Having an organisational process that maps out how digital data is managed throughout a project will help teams keep the project archive in a manner consistent with CIfA Standards. A good system will also help simplify the archive process, planning in the documentation and data selection processes to project delivery. Once a system is mapped and in place, regular checks during delivery will keep everything in order – and reduce issues when it comes to deposition.
Project monitoring from the planning archaeologist or project lead will ensure that everything is on track, and that relevant stakeholders are kept in the loop. This can be supported from the outset by the requirement to include a DMP in all project documents, including technical reporting stages (eg project design/WSI, assessment report, updated project design, technical report). A final copy of the DMP should also be included in the data archive deposited with the repository.
Finally, including clear QA processes via internal organisational procedures and project monitoring protocols generates trust and confidence in the data for reuse, maximising value and impact beyond the close of the project.
Infosheet #7 - Project monitoring provides insight into how these important processes can support the maintenance of top-quality digital archives.
All records and materials recovered during an archaeological project and identified for long-term preservation, including artefacts, ecofacts and other environmental remains, waste products, scientific samples and also written and visual documentation in paper, film and digital form (Perrin et al 2014, 20).
A data management plan, or DMP, is a document which describes how you are planning to manage the data gathered through the delivery of a project, and what will happen to that data (eg. plans for sharing and preservation) once the project is complete.
An online database and index of archaeological investigations undertaken in the UK, providing details about archaeological projects as they are set up and delivered. OASIS records for archaeological investigations are regularly required to be set up as part of work undertaken within the planning process. The redevelopment of OASIS through the HERALD project adds a further advantage in project tracking throughout delivery and into archive stages.
Data should be richly documented using metadata that meet relevant community standards and provide information about provenance. Data archives are released with a clear and transparent usage licence, so the data repository can manage reuse appropriately. Data formats should be limited to widely used and open formats, consistent with archive needs. In short, data should be easy to use and easily cited, meaning it can be easily integrated into future research.
The methodology detailing the project-specific selection process, agreed by all stakeholders, that will be applied to the working project archive in order to create the archaeological archive.
The data management plan is a separate document to the selection strategy but should be developed in conjunction with it. Both documents should be included in pre-project documentation (eg project design and/or WSI).
A trusted digital repository is an accredited service that supports the long-term preservation of digital archives through the provision of specialist resources, knowledge, capacity and technical solutions that facilitate the storage, curation and accessibility of data in perpetuity. This recognised and universal system of data archive standard has provided the basis for certification of repositories using the CoreTrustSeal accreditation.