Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Ithaka metrics

In our last post, we considered whether the Beagrie metrics are going to work for this project. This time, we'll look at another JISC-related initiative, the Ithaka study on sustainability (Sustaining Digital Resources: An On-the-Ground View of Projects Today) from July 2009.

Beagrie's metrics were of course directed at the HFE sector, and the main beneficiaries in his report are Universities, researchers, staff, and students who benefit from improved scholarly access. Conversely, Ithaka takes the view that an organisation really needs a business model to underpin long-term access to its digital content, and manage preservation of that content. They undertook 12 case studies examining such business models in various European organisations, and identified numerous key factors for success and sustainability.

The subjects of these case studies were not commercially-oriented businesses as such, but Ithaka takes a no-nonsense view of what "sustainability" means in a digital context: it means whatever you do, you need to cover your operating costs. One of the report's chief interests then, is discovering what your revenue-generating strategy is going to be. They identify metrics for success, but it's clear what they mean by "success" is the financial success of the resource and revenue model, and that is what is being measured.

The metrics proposed by Ithaka are very practical and tend to deal with tangibles. Broadly I see three themes to the metrics:

1. Quantitative metrics which apply to the content
  • Amount of content made available
  • Usage statistics for the website
2. Quantitative metrics which apply to the revenue model
  • Amount of budget expected to be generated by revenue strategies
  • Numbers of subscriptions raised, against the costs of generating them
  • Numbers of sales made, against the costs of generating them
3. Intangible metrics
  • Proving the value and effectiveness of a project to the host institution
  • Proving the value and effectiveness of a project to stakeholders and beneficiaries

How would these work for our project? My sense is that (1) ought to be easy enough to establish, particularly if we apply our before-and-after method here and compile some benchmark statistics (e.g. figures from the Linnean weblogs) at an early stage, which can be revisited in a few years.

As to (2), revenue generation is something we have explicitly outlined in our bid. Since the project is predicated on repository enhancements, we intend to develop these enhancements in line with existing revenue models proposed to us by the Linnean staff. Our thinking at this time is that the digitised content can be turned into an income stream by imaginative and innovative strategies for reuse of images and other digital content, which might involve licensing. As yet we haven't discussed plans for a subscription service, or direct sales of content.

(3) is an interesting one. The immediate metric we're thinking of applying here is how the enhanced repository features will improve the user experience. I'm also expecting that when we interview stakeholders in more detail, they can provide more wide-ranging views about "value and effectiveness", connected with their research and scholarship. These intangibles amount to much more than just ease of navigation or speed of download, and they ought to be translatable into something of value which we can measure.

But maybe we can also look again at the host institution, and find examples of organisational goals and policies at Linnean that we could align with the enhancement programme, with a view to indicating how each enhancement can assist with a specific goal of the organisation. As Ithaka found however, this approach works better with a large memory institution like TNA, which happens to work under a civil service structure with key performance indicators and very strong institutional targets.

In all the Ithaka model looks like it can work well for this project, provided we can promote the idea of a "business model" to Linnean without sounding like we're planning some form of corporate takeover!

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