The Social Construction of Risk in Trustworthy Digital Repository Audit and Certification
AbstractThis dissertation examines the social construction of risk in trustworthy digital repository (TDR) certification. It focuses on the Trustworthy Repositories Audit and Certification (TRAC) process, which is administered by the Center for Research Libraries and governed by the ISO 16363 standard. This research seeks to understand how standard developers, auditors, and repository staff members construct their understanding of risk, a foundational concept in digital preservation and TDR certification, in the context of a TRAC audit. In this dissertation, I have developed an analytical framework of risk that draws on eight social factors that influence how people and groups construct their understandings of risk in the context of digital preservation: communication, complexity, expertise, organizations, political culture, trust, uncertainty, and vulnerability. I argue that although digital preservation has been examined as a technical, economic, and organizational phenomenon, it is also social. I also argue that while the digital preservation community has regarded the concept of risk as a discoverable, calculable value, it is in fact socially constructed, and as such research is needed that considers the social context in which the repositories exist and the ways in which social factors may influence how participants understand and behave in response to risk information. This research employs a mixed methods research design combining in-depth semi-structured interviews with document analysis to examine: (1) how participants in three groups (i.e., standard developers, auditors, and repository staff members) construct their understanding of risk in the context of a TRAC audit, and (2) to what degree the eight factors from my analytical framework come into play in the audit process. My findings reveal the TRAC audit process is one in which the actors involved agree on a definition of risk, but differ about whether an audit process based on this definition can determine trustworthiness with regard to long-term digital preservation. My findings demonstrate that while standard developers, auditors, and repository staff generally share an understanding of the major sources of potential risk that face digital repositories, they disagree about whether an how these risks can be mitigated and how mitigation can be proven. Individuals who are more removed from the day-to-day work of the repositories undergoing an audit are more likely to accept well-documented risk identification and mitigation strategies as sufficient evidence of trustworthiness, while repository staff are skeptical that documentation is sufficient evidence of risk assessment and mitigation and thus question whether this will translate to actual trustworthiness for long-term digital preservation. My findings support the argument that digital preservation should treat risk as a socially constructed phenomenon and consider how social factors contribute to an understanding of risk by participants in the audit and certification of TDRs. I found that communication, expertise, uncertainty, and vulnerability were particularly strong factors that influenced how auditors and repository staff members understood risk in the context of TRAC audit processes. This research has brought empirical methods to an emerging discipline and has created a set of baseline data about the first wave of TRAC certifications that will lay a foundation for future research.
digital preservationtrustworthy digital repositoriessocial construction of risk
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