Digital Content Management (DCM) Workflows

Version 1.1 - date last updated: 2 March 2016


This workflow documentation process helps a TDR to define and enhance workflows for the whole of the life cycle to manage digital content effectively over time across generations of technology and meet the requirements and expectations of digital preservation good practice. 


This ongoing process captures cumulative documentation of digital content management workflows, including current and desired states of an organization's workflow and then versions and changes over time as the workflow evolves. In the example provided, the high-level workflow diagram captures the workflow stages for managing physical/analog content, digitization, an managing digital content on one page with the connections between the workflows and stages called out and the roles (content curators, digital preservation and other service providers) clearly specified.


The workflow example from the Digital Audio Music Project (DAMP) at MIT Libraries illustrates how to apply the principles from the DPM workshop and how to document your digital content management workflow using a three stage approach:

  1. gather your workflow documentation to identify strengths and gaps (organizations often have a sense that they have more workflow documentation than they do)
  2. work through the stages and steps within stages of the workflow for a specific use case and try out the workflow using a test batch, capturing lessons learned to fill in and improve the workflow documentation
  3. generalize the workflow stages and steps within stages to enable the workflow documentation to be applicable to any digital content, and develop use cases for specific digital content types (e.g., digital audio) to identify any exceptions to the common workflow for each content type

Your organization will choose the phases and timeframes that work for you. Once (or as) you have documented your organizational workflows, you can use the documentation as a basis for discussions of and planning for how software tools and other technological developments can improve, scale, or simplify your workflows through automation. Even if your organization is or will be using software like ArchivesSpace, Archivematica, and BitCurator, you need organizational workflows to see how that technology fits into your organizations work and practices.

A template helps in being consistent with the documentation for each Stage and in ensuring each Stage is complete. Example: Workflow Stage Documentation template sections from DAMP:

  • Summary (description of the workflow stage)
  • Roles (who is involved in the Stage)
  • Inputs to the Stage (what outputs from previous Stages come into the Stage)
  • Actions (what steps / activities occur during the Stage, both optional and required)
  • Outputs from the Stage (products from the Stage that become inputs to next Stages)
  • Notes (e.g., context, to-do items) 
  • Tools (both current and desired)
  • References (to other documentation, examples, etc.)
  • Use cases (links to use cases for content types)
  • Previous Versions (links to drafts and older versions)

Benefits of your workflow documentation to justify spending the effort to develop and maintain the documentation:

  • demonstrates compliance with digital curation and preservation standards
  • helps to identify semantic confusion (e.g., saying the same words and meaning very different things) within your organization as you work through the stages, steps of each stage, then test the workflows
  • enables consistency as production scales up (more people can do the same things in the same way repeatedly) supports training practices for new staff
  • encourages workflow improvements, both organizational (e.g., simplifying steps) and technological (e.g., highlighting where software tools would be helpful)


  • make iterative drafts of the diagrams and text available to the workflow documentation group and then more broadly as drafts are reviewed and finalized
  • allow the diagrams and the explanatory text for each stage to each demonstrate their value, not either diagrams or text, but both
  • use available design tools, whatever is familiar and/or supported locally - don't get distracted by how to create the diagrams
  • use generic labels for functionality in the steps so that software tools and other technologies can be inserted and changed as needed

Five Stages Context for a Digital Content Management Workflow

  1. Acknowledge: aware that investing the time and effort in documenting digital content management workflows is invaluable
  2. Act: establish a project to document current and desired states of organizational workflows to prioritize technological developments
  3. Consolidate: define comprehensive workflows that enable operational activities and inform technological developments 
  4. Institutionalize: iteratively develop use cases for existing and new content types and actively to apply manage digital content
  5. Externalize: share organizational workflows and incorporate community developments


About the digital content management workflows:

  • This is an active design process for workflows that is adapted from the data processing pipeline documentation approach artfully designed by Cole Whiteman for ICPSR
  • Nancy McGovern collaborated with Cole to integrate digital preservation components into the ICPSR data pipeline, applying approaches from the DPM Workshop workflow session (2008-2010) and is leading an effort to define and develop organizational workflows at MIT Libraries, samples of which are referred to here (2014-2015) 
  • MIT Libraries DAMP example development:
    • ​Overall organizational workflow architect for the project and high-level workflow design: Nancy McGovern, Director/Co-Developer of the DPM Workshops and lead for digital curation and preservation at MIT Libraries
    • Lower-level diagrams for steps within workflow stages and documentalist for phase 3 of the workflow documentation project: Tricia Patterson, NDSR Boston Resident at MIT Libraries
    • Phase 2 workflow subgroup members: Elizabeth Andrews, Cate Gallivan, Mikki Macdonald, Nancy McGovern, Tricia Patterson, Kari Smith, and Ann Marie Willer