At the 2020 OPF AGM, our members discussed diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) both within OPF and across the wider digital preservation landscape. OPF’s community has much to celebrate in terms of its diversity, but there was (and still is) a long way to go, with euro-centricity and gender imbalance being particularly pronounced within OPF initiatives.
Between the pandemic, a burgeoning economic crisis, and profound human rights injustices, 2020 was a time of shared crisis. Within this context, many of us were prompted to acknowledge our privilege and begin using it to invoke positive change.
The future of the Diversity and Inclusion in Digital Preservation Working Group
It was in this spirit that OPF launched its Diversity and Inclusion in Digital Preservation Working Group. A collaborative initiative with the Dutch Digital Heritage Network (DDHN), the group aimed to be a space to discuss areas of concern, consider what we can do better, promote the work of underrepresented groups, and address barriers to participation in the international digital preservation community. By working together, drawing on ideas and concepts that we know, and moving beyond empty gestures, we hoped to make sustainable changes to benefit a more diverse and inclusive community.
In our meetings, we learnt a lot from each other by sharing projects and initiatives from within our organisations. Our discussions also proved fruitful in generating wider discussions among peers and providing a basis for publications and other initiatives within our workplaces. The unique areas of expertise of the group’s members were varied, ranging from bias in AI, inclusive metadata, the use of language and terminology, community-driven preservation, and diversifying the digital preservation community. While exciting, this breadth of interest made it challenging for us to make clear, tangible progress.
The decision to launch the working group stemmed from our recognition that the sector is far from perfect in taking action and making progress in diversity, equality and inclusion. We were hesitant to fall into the pattern that plagues many sectors; inadvertently prioritising discussions on inclusion and representation, rather than taking action.
As such, we have recently taken the decision to dissolve the Diversity and Inclusion in Digital Preservation working group. Instead, we are eager to continue this work in other forms. We would like to host focussed discussions and facilitate small-scale projects with our members, and we are also working on some new D&I resources for our website.
Our Executive Director, Julie Allen recognises that
“It is crucial to understand our contextual position and relevance in wider engagements, and hold ourselves accountable to make a difference culturally and technologically for generations to come.”
By addressing topics on an individual basis, we can free ourselves from the tendency to view DEI as a generalised issue, and instead, give the time and space needed to tackle discrete projects. Ultimately, it is down to our members to shape this work and we will support and enable it. We recognise that bringing about change is an ongoing process, and we will continue to listen and learn, helping to facilitate the change we want to see through the ongoing use of the group’s slack channel, which is open to all. If you would like to suggest an event or initiative, please get in touch.
When the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group was established, we were quick to acknowledge that focusing on inclusion offered opportunities for practical action resulting in tangible change. Where we fell short was in recognising that inclusion means more than simply being included. Individual contributions must be valued, respected and understood: there must be evidence within the community that individual differences do not work against us and each member must be given the opportunity to occupy an equal space, regardless of their nationality, gender, seniority, or technical ability.
In 2020, we wanted to know how we could work to progress equality within our community and increase understanding, appreciation and respect for diversity and take action to encourage inclusion. We are proud of what we have achieved:
- Reviewing contributor diversity at our events (e.g. OPFCON) and webinars (making an active effort to address gender imbalance and euro-centricity).
- Setting up the scheme to pay for webinar contributions from independent speakers, small archives, charitable organisations, or minority-focused organisations.
- Adopting more inclusive hiring practices – taking on our first female ED and gaining a greater gender balance across our team.
- Taking steps to diversify our board of directors.
The working group taught us that DEI is something we should all make the time to learn about and build on within the communities that we are part of. But one crucial question still remains for OPF:
How do we use our tangible, technological skill and receptive community to foster a more widespread awareness of the value of difference?
In an October 2020 blog post, I wrote about how the open source principles that have shaped OPF as an organisation might be applied to our efforts to address systematic inequality and invoke meaningful change:
- Collaboration: make a bigger difference by working together
- User focus: include the communities you want to represent
- Transparency: share what works and what doesn’t
- Agility: continuously improve by tackling issues as they arise
- Adaptability: create solutions that can be adapted to meet the needs of many
OPF will continue to adopt this approach to its own internal work on diversity and inclusion, working to improve equal representation across member groups and forums, in events, and in terms of accessibility of resources.
Our inaugural OPF Advisory Group (OAG) meeting was a good time to reflect and celebrate the achievements and areas we had improved. However, this reflection also prompted us to acknowledge our shortcomings and change the ways that we engage with these issues. There is no silver bullet for creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture that works for everyone, but we are committed to continuing to unpick these issues, champion quieter voices, and facilitate change in a language we can all work with.
We encourage our members to get in touch with Georgia if they have a D&I project they would like to showcase in our webinar or blog series., If there is something specific that you think OPF should be working on, or an initiative or event that we should be involved in, please get in touch.