Lasting Change: Sustaining Digital Scholarship and Culture in Canada

The report of the Sustaining Digital Scholarship for Sustainable Culture Group is now available as a pdf (web version coming soon). Lasting Change (available by clicking here) is a Knowledge Synthesis on the Digital Economy funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada from August to December 2010.

The group was comprised of Di Brandt, Andrew Bretz, Susan Brown, Lynn Copeland, Patricia Demers, Michael Eberle-Sinatra, Daniel Fischlin, Dean Irvine, Ashok Mathur, Hannah McGregor, Robyn Read, Susan Rudy, Stan Ruecker, Chantal Savoie, Ray Siemens, Stephen Slemon, Robin Sokoloski, Ron Walker, Darren Wershler, and Ann Wilson.

Here is the Executive Summary from Lasting Change: Sustaining Digital Scholarship and Culture in Canada:

Executive Summary

This report reflects the growing concern in the scholarly and cultural communities, and beyond, regarding the sustainability of Canada’s digital knowledge and heritage. Canada’s digital advantage is only of value if it can be carried into the future. Canadians must meet the challenge of preserving and enhancing scholarly and artistic knowledge production and our culture in a digital environment. This report reviews the current state of knowledge about the sustainability of digital scholarship and related cultural activity in Canada and identifies research opportunities that emerge from consideration of the literature.

The report concludes the following:

  • Economics and the Public Good: Digital scholarship and artistic creation make major contributions to the public good; they also produce economic spin-off effects that are insufficiently understood.
  • Challenges of Diversity: Sustaining contemporary culture and digital heritage will require a multi-faceted approach that draws on the academic community to address cultural difference.
  • Shifting Ground: The pace of change creates major challenges and a need for agile, flexible responses to new developments on the part of both institutions and governments.
  • Policy Opportunities: Canada is well positioned to take a series of proactive steps towards achieving a position of leadership in relation to digital innovation, scholarship and the arts and humanities.

The report addresses the state of knowledge and the identification of knowledge gaps as follows:


Digital humanities scholarship and creation sustains both the economic and the public good in Canada. It sustains the economic good by fostering innovation and knowledge mobilization, and by training highly qualified personnel with diverse intellectual and practical skills. Digital humanities scholarship sustains the public good by generating uniquely Canadian digital content while also preserving Canada’s digital and documentary heritage. The arts and humanities provide sites from which to arrive at a nuanced understanding of sustainability in the digital age, to serve as a basis for a flexible model of digital heritage that reflects the richness and diversity of Canadian culture.

Research Opportunities: Cultural spillover of digital scholarship in Canada; links between scholarship, cultural activity and artistic creation; sustainable digital activities for environmental sustainability; digital media as a site of indigenous engagement.


Libraries, archives and cultural memory institutions are taking the lead in creating, aggregating and exposing digital repositories that not only preserve our cultural heritage for the long haul but make it accessible to a wide public. Sustainability of this knowledge resource must be central to national digital preservation strategies. Widespread mobilization of the content offers the best chance of preservation in a fragile, uncertain digital environment.

Research Opportunities: Long-term viability of open and distributed models of preservation; the development of a robust and reliable national digital preservation strategy; the development of a high-profile Canadian creative digital archive.

Intellectual Property: Rights, Credit, Control

Alternative rights protocols model partnerships among scholars, artists and cultural practitioners to provide sustainable and equitable principles of access. They seek to acknowledge and balance the needs and investments of different sectors, and strive to foster a knowledge economy based on openness rather than a privatization of knowledge that results in the restriction of its dissemination.

Research Opportunities: The balance between credit and knowledge mobilization in the digital economy; the risks of privatizing cultural heritage; models of intellectual property rights that respect diverse interests; effective forms of remuneration for creative intellectual work in a digital economy; the promotion and circulation of scholarly and creative work.

New Modes of Research Creation

New forms of digital research reach larger audiences, push the boundaries between the academy and communities, and provide opportunities for partnerships and collaborations across traditionally isolated sectors and disciplinary boundaries. Their difference from traditional research, however, means they may not be adequately assessed by existing systems of scholarly evaluation.

Research Opportunities: Discrepancies between institutional rubrics of value and new forms of scholarship; modes of recognizing collaborative work on large-scale digital projects; the role of voluntary labour in sustaining scholarship; alternative forms of authorization and credit; means of bridging the gap between scholarly research and preservation.

Institutional Investments, Partnerships and Resourcing

Academic institutions can support digital research creation by providing infrastructural support, policy-level support of open access practices and technical staff invested in humanities research. Emergent institutional frameworks contribute to producing citizens with diverse and adaptable skill sets.

Research Opportunities: Evaluation of models for cross-sector partnerships; forms of accrediting digital skills acquisition through experiential learning; assessment of different modes of institutional support for digital research and content creation.

Funding Models for Sustainable Scholarship

Funding models must meet the particular needs of digital scholars, including fostering a range of partnerships beyond the academy and providing life-long learning to address the rapid shifts in digital technologies and practices.

Research Opportunities: The impact of funding models on research production and related cultural creation; the relationship between funding models and partnerships across institutional boundaries (libraries, archives, community and private sector); the role of sustainability in research programmes.

National Policy Gap

The move towards digital research in the humanities is inevitable, and strong national initiatives to support and ensure the quality of this work are central to building a globally competitive knowledge society. These include: a national digital preservation strategy, the fostering of strategic partnerships and greater support for innovative research creation and dissemination. A national metadata portal, a national tool repository and an articulation of a set of national sustainability standards and practices would have a major impact in providing a policy foundation to strengthen Canada’s digital economy.