Posts Tagged ‘interviews’

The interviews

Between December 2011 and March 2012 we conducted interviews with 20 academics from PhD students to Professors across 10 departments of the University.  We are very grateful to all the interviewees for their time and constructive input to the project.

The key areas we wanted to focus on were:

  • What do people know about digital preservation?
  • Are people already preserving digital material?
  • Would they like more help and if so, in what format?

Early in the project we decided to carry out face-to-face interviews rather than using an online questionnaire.  Although interviews would make analysis more complex, we felt they would give context and help gauge the interviewees’ level of knowledge more accurately than relying on self-assessment.

All interviewees were happy to be audio-recorded and the interviews (which varied in length from 22 to 72 minutes) were transcribed by an audio typist.

A key feature of this research was that the team was as interested in gaps in interviewees’ answers as much as in their stated preferences. So an interviewee may say that they have everything sorted and do not need any training or support – while the same person’s response to the questions on digital preservation may have revealed some lack of understanding.

However, the main lack of understanding was this particular interviewer’s – of the work the interviewees are engaged in – and in the geography of Cambridge…  I learned a huge amount and am extremely grateful to everyone for their patience.


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Survey summary and findings

We have now completed our survey of digital preservation practices among the academic community of the University of Cambridge. Here is the summary of our findings.

The project team surveyed a small subsection of the academic community interviewing 20 researchers (3 PhDs, 7 Research Associates, 6 Readers/Lecturers, 4 Professors) from a variety of departments covering four of the six Cambridge Schools.

Interviews were conducted in a semi-structured way with an interview questionnaire used as a guideline. We will blog about the interview process later.

Finding 1: Digital preservation actions are not currently part of researchers’ workflows.

There is a general lack of awareness of data management and digital preservation issues. The most common understanding of digital preservation was “long term back-up”.  Most interviewees did not appraise their material but kept everything.

Finding 2: Back-up procedures outweigh preservation issues.

A general lack of description and organisation of research material meant that access to data was often restricted to the data owner and/or creator.  Without active management of issues around format and obsolescence, there are concerns about long term access.

Most of the researchers interviewed did not think there was significant demand for their material to be re-used, and in some cases did not think that re-use was possible without the risk of it being misinterpreted.

Finding 3: Whilst this lack of digital preservation skills is commonly acknowledged, improvement is not a priority.

Most senior researchers felt that they were not in a position to prioritise training in this area over other activities.  Some, particularly supervisors on behalf of PhD students and students themselves, agreed that a better understanding of information management and digital preservation issues at the beginning of one’s research career would be beneficial.

With respect to the method of delivering support, no single approach suited all of our target audiences.  By and large, students preferred face-to-face training.  More experienced researchers did not feel that they had time to attend training sessions and preferred online support.


Within the project scope we suggest we respond to the project findings in four ways:

  1. Creating and delivering training modules on digital preservation to graduates and early career researchers.  These will supplement our existing training programme on data management.
  2. Expanding on our online guidance for all members of the University.  This will include FAQs to give answers to specific questions.
  3. Promoting the new and existing resources.
  4. Organising a cross-departmental lunchtime seminar series.

Our findings and recommendations were approved by the Advisory panel in our meeting on 29 March 2012.

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March update

We have now interviewed twenty researchers which concludes our fieldwork. We will blog on the interview process shortly.

Currently we are busy writing up our findings and debating the outcomes. We are looking forward to the Knowledge Exchange Event next week (22nd March at LSE). Our advisory group will review our recommendations on the 29th March after which we will circulate what tools and resources we have decided to develop.

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January has been a busy month for the PrePARe project team.  We’ve welcomed our new Project Officer Fiona, who has been busy setting up interviews, and she and Barbara attended the project kick-off meeting in London.  Meanwhile Anna’s been working on the desk research and looking into existing support on digital preservation.

Together the team has also had several meetings to discuss the interview questionnaire.  Because the interviews are semi-structured we don’t want to be too rigid, and so our discussions focused on making sure that our questions were open, not leading and would cover our main areas of interest: what people know about digital preservation and where they want to go to get more guidance.  As we’ve carried out a few interviews, we’ve also been able to make some assessment about which questions work and refine questions which maybe don’t work so well.

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We have been successful in recruiting a Project Officer and expect our new team member to start in January. This will allow us to kickstart the interview rounds among researchers.

We have started on our desk research and are currently identifying potential participants within the University  to interview about their current preservation practices.  We are also finalising the interview questionnaire and will be talking to a couple of volunteers this week.

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