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'What the 4C Project Learnt in Lisbon' by Neil Grindley

neilcropped133hiLast week the great and the good of the digital preservation community converged on the lovely city of Lisbon for the annual ritual of business card swapping that is known as iPRES (the International Conference on Preservation of Digital Objects). Presumably anyone with even the remotest interest in digital preservation will have caught a few of the 1375 tweets or the hundreds of photographs it generated (see Eventifier for details: so I’m not expecting that to be news to anyone. It’s just by way of introducing where we were and what we were up to.

The 4C Project took a poster to Lisbon, ran a workshop, convened a focus group and got into a number of conversations that are going to help us go forward. From my point of view I thought it was a very useful and constructive week and I thought I’d share a few things that I took from it.

1.       The value of doing a poster

In the past I haven’t always been entirely convinced by poster sessions at conferences as they seem to require a great deal of effort and don’t seem to deliver much of an opportunity for the project to really get their point across or make an impact. However, I think that has changed over the last few years. The incorporation of the ‘minute madness’ as a plenary session helps as does a carefully and centrally situated place for displaying them all. More fundamentally though, what it can also do is give you a chance to work out some presentation ideas, both in terms of graphically communicating the project (i.e. developing or refining a visual identity for it); and for rehearsing verbal communication about it. At the risk of seeming like a shameless self-promoter, I’ll point you at my stumbling attempts to do just that at the conference - /community-resources/ipres-workshop/videos

2.       People really do want to help

One of the anxieties we have as a project is that we have picked a very difficult topic to tackle and one of the most difficult parts of it (borne out by others who have tried it) is almost certainly going to be trying to gather costs data. I’m not saying that we went to iPRES and we were inundated with offers of data and invitations to examine spreadsheets full of figures ... BUT we did get some. And that’s really important. We’ve got several organisations we can now follow up with who have said they would really like to help us and that’s fantastic. Given that we aren’t even precisely sure at this stage what the best way of sitting down and gathering that data is, I’m more than happy to start with a few sympathetic organisations and pay very close attention to what we can learn during the process. What I hope is that it will help us to build a ‘Cost Concept Model’ and inform the way that we construct the ‘Curation Costs Exchange’.

3.       Don’t be too precious

One of the principles of the 4C Project is to try and get input as we go along and to share early and share often. Willliam Kilbride describes the usual approach of many IT projects as adopting ‘shock and awe’ tactics in the timing and the intensity of their deliverables. 4C is seeking to avoid bombarding the community with massive drone strikes of monolithic indigestible reports and the focus group at iPres was – I think – an example of sharing work in progress and getting useful feedback at an early stage. We asked the group for their thoughts and opinions on the work we are doing on Indirect Economic Determinants (which acronymically and coincidentally continues the military theme!) and on the Economic Sustainability Reference Model (ESRM). It was clear that both these pieces of work are challenging to communicate effectively and will need very careful targeting and explanation if they are going to be picked up by their target audience. But that’s a good thing to find out at this stage. Much better now than at the end of the project! We would of course be delighted to receive more commentary and input from anyone who wants to take a look at the work. Please go to our ‘Community Resources’ section on the website (/community-resources ) and either use the ‘add comments’ function on the web page or send us an email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

I learnt a lot of other things at iPres as well. Who knew for instance that it might be a better idea from a technical perspective to save your archival master images as compressed files rather than in a lossless format? Sean Martin at the British Library presented interesting research on the topic. The paper goes on to suggest “that very little additional value is obtained in moving from minimally lossless to lossless but this would increase storage costs by roughly a half”,[1] which from the point of view of the 4C project is the interesting bit.

Neil Grindley is the Coordinator for the 4C Project and when he isn't doing that he is a Programme Manager at Jisc, the UK's expert organisation on digital technologies for education and research.

[1] Martin, S., Macleod, M., (2013), Analysis of the variability in digitised images compared to the distortion introduced by compression, iPRES 2013 Conference Proceedings ( (accessed 11/09/2013)