Friday, December 16, 2011

TRAC: A3.5: Seeking and acting on feedback

A3.5 Repository has policies and procedures to ensure that feedback from producers and users is sought and addressed over time. 

The repository should be able to demonstrate that it is meeting explicit requirements, that it systematically and routinely seeks feedback from stakeholders to monitor expectations and results, and that it is responsive to the evolution of requirements.

Evidence: A policy that requires a feedback mechanism; a procedure that addresses how the repository seeks, captures, and documents responses to feedback; documentation of workflow for feedback (i.e., how feedback is used and managed); quality assurance records. 

I think the market economy that keeps ICPSR in business is the very best evidence that the organization seeks input from its community, and applies that feedback to its operations, content selection, preservation strategies, and nearly every element of its business.

In practice we can see many different types of feedback mechanisms:  contract renewals; annual membership renewals; biennial Organizational Representative meetings; regular ICPSR Council meetings; and, regular participation at all sorts of public forms about social science research data, digital preservation, technology, etc.  It also happens electronically via social media, a helpdesk where a real person answers the phone and emails, and feedback pages on the main web portal.

In some ways it feels as if this TRAC requirement is aimed at organizations that might be funded by one community, like a national government, but used by a very different community, such as research.  In a scenario where the consumers and the payers are different, it is indeed critical that there be some mechanism to collect input, or the repository could enter a kind of "zombie" state where it ceases to serve its community effectively, but the funding organization continues to fund the repository nonetheless.

That said, I do think there is room for improvement in this area for ICPSR.  In particular, I think there is a great opportunity to work more closely with the individual data producers, engaging them in the curation process, and making the workflow - from deposit through eventual release - more transparent.

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