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Project Abacá presented (07/03/2014) at Welsh Government Workshop in Aberystwyth

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The Abacá team spent a very enjoyable and productive half day in Aberystwyth, Wales, with the company of The Welsh Government, National Library of Wales and a member of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. We were there to host a workshop presenting our work on a proof-of-concept classifier for assisting sensitivity review of digital records and to discuss the sensitivity review process from a Welsh context.

The workshop was conducted in three parts: 1) a presentation with Q&A, 2) break-out groups discussing sensitivities and how software tools could assist the sensitivity review process, and 3) a group discussion to share the groups’ ideas from part 2.

The bulk of the presentation was centered around a classification experiment, you can view THE SLIDES FROM THE EVENT HERE, to illustrate the procedure of developing features for the classifier. The audience were mainly from an archivist sector management background with no prior exposure to software classifiers so, as a warm-up exercise, we had the group act as human classifiers.

The attendees were asked to come up with different ways they could classify themselves into two distinct groups. One suggestion was Archivist / non-Archivist. This quickly highlighted the ambiguities that need to be addressed when defining questions. For example one suggestion of defining an archivist was whether the person held the relevant qualification. This definition classified one attendee, whose job title was Archivist, as a non-Archivist, because he lacked the official qualification. All agreed this was rather unjust, and hence started the iterative process we computing scientists know and love.

Abacá - Welsh Government Workshop, Aberystwyth, 07-03-14

Attendees self-assemble as a human height-classifier

The Q+A session revealed an initial hope that a solution could be found by having people catalogue records properly and that meta-data could go a long way to improving the situation. This vision was quickly disassembled by the attendees and classified as Not-Viable, a view that has been an impetus for the Abaca project. By analyzing the problem the difficulties became clear and a consensus quickly formed on the need for new methodologies and specialized software tools to support the sensitivity review of born-digital records.

The discussion groups were a great opportunity for the members of the Welsh Government to highlight the issues they felt were of high priority for any system assisting the sensitivity review process. From the discussions it was clear the management of risk is a top-priority, enabling riskier decisions to be “passed up-stairs”. Also, it was clear that the system should be able to sort the inherent disorder of digital records, due to the absence of a structured file plan, and present the data logically. The importance of clear dialog between computing science researchers and archivists, which has not happened in previous attempts to solve their problems (such as in the development of EDRMS systems) was also stressed and, expectedly, bi-lingual support was also very high on their list of priorities!

These, and the rest of the, valuable contributions from the attendees will feed into our future research and have reinforced our view that the Abaca project is conducting research that is vital to ensure the viability of sensitivity review of born-digital records and the continuation of transparent governments.

You can read the publication of our proof-of-concept classifier for digital sensitivity review here.

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