The Social Construction of Risk in the Audit and Certification of Trustworthy Digital Repositories

Rebecca Frank


Digital preservation is about ensuring the viability, sustainability, and accessibility of that digital information over time (Berman, 2008). Digital preservation research regarding trustworthy digital repository (TDR) certification has focused on technical, economic, and organizational factors (e.g. Lavoie, 2008; Lavoie & Dempsey, 2004). This is not sufficient to account for a complex view of the world. As such, a new approach is needed.

In this presentation I propose a model that treats TDR certification as a process that is carried out by individuals within organizations, who are influenced by social factors. I argue that digital preservation challenges, or risks, cannot be considered as merely technical, economic, or organizational. Rather, digital preservation is also a social process in which risks are constructed and interpreted by individuals. Their subsequent actions are influenced by social factors that shape their understanding of those risks.

The theories that form the basis for this model argue that risk has different meanings for different actors (e.g. Renn, 2008), and that social factors influence how those actors construct their understanding of risk (e.g. Wilkinson, 2001). They hold that social factors can “[intensify] hazardous situations and [enhance] their negative consequences” (Gordy, 2016, p. 15). The factors included in this model are: uncertainty, complexity, expertise, trust, vulnerability, organizations, and communication (e.g. Bostrom, 2014; Hutter & Power, 2005; Kasperson & Kasperson, 1996; Nelkin, 1989; Olofsson et al., 2014; Rijpma, 1997; Tversky & Kahneman, 1974; van Est, Walhout, & Brom, 2012; Wynne, 1992).

In this research presentation I will discuss findings from my ongoing dissertation research. I will report on the results of 45 semi-structured interviews with repository leaders from TRAC-certified repositories, auditors who have conducted TRAC audits at those same repositories, and individuals who are affiliated with the ISO 16363 standard and the PTAB working group, as well as the analysis of related documents.


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I am a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI). I am in the process of writing my dissertation and expect to graduate April 2018. My dissertation research examines the social construction of risk in the audit and certification of trustworthy digital repositories. I also conduct research in the areas of digital preservation, digital curation, and data reuse, focusing on social and ethical barriers that limit or prevent the preservation, sharing, and reuse of digital information.

I am currently a Graduate Student Research Assistant on the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) supported Qualitative Data Reuse: Records of Practice in Educational Research and Teacher Development (QDR) project and have previously worked on the IMLS supported Dissemination Information Packages for Information Reuse (DIPIR) project. I have an MSI from the University of Michigan School of Information with a specialization in Preservation of Information, and a BA in Organizational Studies from the University of Michigan. My work has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Australian Academy of Science.