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Evaluation of the coordination secretariat for digitisation, digital preservation and digital accessibility (Digisam) (2014:16)

Statskontoret (The Swedish Agency for Public Management) has been tasked by the Swedish Government to evaluate the operations of Digisam, the National Archives of Sweden's dedicated unit for digitisation, digital preservation and digital access to cultural heritage materials and information.

This evaluation has covered two main issues: analysing and assessing the operational focus and result fulfilment, and analysing and assessing the appropriateness of the unit's organisation, including the distribution of roles between Digisam and the cultural heritage bodies affected by its operations.

A national strategy for cultural heritage digitisation

The responsibility for preserving Sweden's cultural heritage is divided between a large number of authorities and other institutions. This relates primarily to archives, libraries and museums. The progress made in terms of digitisation work varies within the cultural heritage sector. A number of institutions have made considerable progress and have a great deal of expertise, while others have barely started their digitisation work. These variations can be explained, to some extent, by the institutions mainly choosing for themselves how to tackle this work.

In February 2011, the Swedish Government tasked the National Archives of Sweden with setting up a coordination secretariat for digitisation, digital preservation and digital accessibility (Digisam). Digisam's commission runs until the end of 2015. In December 2011, the Government presented a national strategy for the work involved in the digitisation, digital preservation and digital access to cultural heritage materials and information. The aim of this national strategy is to establish greater coordination of the work carried out by the relevant institutions to digitise cultural heritage materials.

Organisation and distribution of roles

Digisam is an independent unit within the National Archives of Sweden, and reports directly to the Director General of the National Archives. Digisam is led by a steering group consisting of the heads of the National Archives of Sweden, the Swedish National Heritage Board and the National Library of Sweden, and a representative from the Co-operation Council of the Swedish Central Museums. This steering group is chaired by the Director General of the National Archives. A group of experts is also linked to the steering group, consisting of experts from the organisations represented by the steering group. However, much of Digisam's ongoing work is carried out by a dedicated secretariat and in a number of working groups.

Steering of Digisam via multiple channels

Statskontoret notes that certain aspects of the steering of Digisam's secretariat are unclear. The Director General of the National Archives steers operations both in his capacity as director general and as chairman of Digisam's steering group. The secretariat also holds regular coordination meetings with the Government Offices of Sweden. As a result, it is not clear at which level different strategic decisions should be taken.

According to the Government's commission, the steering group should establish Digisam's operations. However, Statskontoret is of the opinion that the steering group is not currently carrying out this task fully in the intended manner. Instead, the operational direction is largely defined by Digisam's secretariat together with the Director General of the National Archives. Statskontoret believes that the steering group should be involved more in Digisam's operational planning in order to achieve operational support that is as broad as possible. This would be easier if the secretariat were to work with the steering group to draw up rules of procedure, clarifying and formalising the distribution of duties and responsibilities between the players involved, such as the steering group's responsibility in relation to the secretariat.

Widespread support through working groups

The Government's commission to Digisam signals a desire for operations to be given widespread support among the relevant institutions. Statskontoret's evaluation shows that this support is ensured primarily via the secretariat's working methods, through discussions in working groups in which the relevant institutions take part. This has created a sense of participation and joint ownership of digitisation issues. Statskontoret is of the opinion that this provides a good basis for Digisam's products receiving support from the relevant stakeholders.

However, there are certain problems with the fact that the included institutions have mainly shaped Digisam's operations through discussions in working groups and not through the steering group's mandate to establish the operational focus. One problem is that it is unclear with what mandate the officials included in the working pagroups are able to to act. Another problem is that the steering of these issues is dependent on which of the relevant institutions are represented in the working groups.

Digisam's secretariat plays a motivating role in the work carried out

The Government has mainly left the relevant players to decide for themselves how the roles should be distributed between Digisam and the cultural heritage institutions. Statskontoret's impression of the situation is that it is primarily Digisam's secretariat that has the leading role in this work. It is therefore largely the secretariat that convenes working groups, investigates various issues and presents various documents. In many respects, the role of the institutions is advisory.

The secretariat has made a conscious effort to avoid burdensome administration, and has allowed performance management to develop together with the institutions included. As a result, it has been hard to get an overview of operations. Without a clear goal formulation for the working groups that have been initiated within the framework of the collaboration, the relevant institutions have also been reluctant to set aside resources for participating in this collaboration.

Operations and results

The Government has given Digisam an extensive commission, which includes several subsidiary tasks. Statskontoret notes that Digisam has initiated a number of activities and processes with the aim of achieving all elements of the commission. Our analysis of operational results has been structured based on what we have identified as Digisam's four main tasks.

Main task 1: Coordinate the work that the participating cultural heritage institutions carry out jointly

Digisam plays a leading role in spreading a consensus and an insight into the joint ownership of digitisation issues within the cultural heritage sector. Statskontoret has found that Digisam has also contributed towards digitisation issues being given a higher priority internally within the relevant institutions.

Operational digitisation work remains unaffected by Digisam

Statskontoret notes that coordination within Digisam has thus far only had a limited effect on how the individual institutions carry out their own internal digitisation work. Nor has Digisam had an ambition of changing digitisation work within the relevant institutions during the timeframe for the commission. The coordination work is instead based on bringing about changes at a strategic level. In this way, Digisam has initiated a number of different activities that can be seen as a step towards coordinated digitisation work within the relevant institutions. The influence on the internal digitisation work of the relevant institutions can, however, increase in the future, as many of them have told Statskontoret that they are currently awaiting the results of ongoing work, including within the working groups linked to Digisam.

Main task 2: Build up skills and provide contacts

Collaboration within the framework of Digisam has created new networks and interfaces through which knowledge of digitisation issues is spread between the players involved. Our evaluation shows that the relevant institutions are satisfied to a large extent with the work carried out by the secretariat to spread knowledge and provide contacts. This is also true of Digisam's contribution towards achieving a consensus on digitisation issues within the cultural heritage sector.

Main task 3: Present advice and guidelines

Digisam has identified infrastructure as a common theme in much of its work. Digisam is carrying out a number of different activities within this area, with the aim of delivering useful advice and guidelines for areas such as standards and distribution of responsibilities by 2015.

Since Digisam's work had not been completed at the time of carrying out our evaluation, Statskontoret has been unable to assess with certainty whether Digisam will be able to present the planned advice and guidelines. However, we have not seen anything to suggest that this will not be the case. Our assessment is also that Digisam has, essentially, identified those areas within which advice and guidelines will be needed in the future.

Main task 4: Participate in EU work

Digisam has a coordinating function for the work of the relevant cultural heritage institutions in various EU projects. This is seen as positive by many of those involved, including because Sweden is now represented by a collective voice in various EU projects. At the same time, several players have indicated to Statskontoret that the benefit of Digisam's involvement in an EU context is unclear, since it is hard to get an insight into how time and resources are prioritised between the international work and Digisam's national coordination work.

Digisam has brought more effective use of state resources

According to Statskontoret's assessment, the work carried out within Digisam has led to increased coordination. For example, Digisam has contributed to improving consensus on digitisation issues within the cultural heritage sector, and towards a greater exchange of knowledge between the relevant institutions. Through the various networks and interfaces that have been established, Digisam has also created several forums for collaboration. The fact that the steering group consists of representatives of the sector at director general level and equivalent also means that the strategic steering of digitisation issues among the respective authorities can take place in a coordinated manner. In turn, coordination within the sector increases the likelihood of compatibility between the various institutions' systems and of a more accessible cultural heritage for the general public. Digisam has also generated added value as a leading force for digitisation issues. Partly as a result of Digisam's creation, the relevant institutions have begun to prioritise digitisation issues internally to a greater extent than before.

Overall, Statskontoret is of the opinion that Digisam has contributed to creating a number of important values when it comes to digitisation work within the cultural heritage sector. This contribution justifies the relatively small resources that finance Digisam's operations. Statskontoret therefore believes that Digisam's establishment reasonably involves a more effective use of state resources than was possible under the prevailing conditions before Digisam was established. However, the full extent of the effectiveness of this use of resources will only be clear once Digisam has fulfilled its commission.

Continued coordination is needed

Statskontoret is of the opinion that there will continue to be a need for the coordination of digitisation issues within the cultural heritage sector after Digisam's mandate period has expired at the end of 2015. Digisam's commission includes reporting proposals during 2015 on how coordinated digital information management and a coordinated digital long-term preservation of collections and archives should take place in the future. Digisam's proposals will therefore form a basis for the Swedish Government's position on the future infrastructure in terms of digitisation issues within the cultural heritage sector. The design of a future coordination function is therefore dependent on the proposals that Digisam's work leads to and on the Government's assessment of the following questions:

  • What degree of coordination of digitisation issues within the cultural heritage sector is desirable?
  • What mandate should any future coordination function have?
  • What organisational form is desirable for such a future coordination function?

Statskontoret proposes that the Government should extend Digisam's mandate while the Government takes a position on Digisam's proposals in terms of the future infrastructure of the field of digitisation within the cultural heritage sector. During the preparation period, Digisam should be tasked with maintaining the networks and interfaces that currently constitute a much appreciated forum for forging contacts and exchanging knowledge.