What contractors thought of OASIS: HERALD Survey findings #2

Here’s the second instalment of the seven posts on the HERALD survey findings. This covers 155 of the total 516 responses from contractors otherwise known as the FAME survey and it includes contracting archaeologists and archaeological consultants.

  1. Respondents were almost evenly split between responding as individuals and on behalf of their organisations this probably reflects the high proportion of small businesses in commercial archaeology – over half of respondents have less than 10 staff in their organisation. Just over two thirds of respondents were contracting archaeologists, the rest were archaeological consultants. The majority of respondents work in England with almost 30% working in Scotland and/or Wales and almost 10% working in Northern Ireland.

  1. Almost a third of respondents use OASIS for all their projects and only 7% do not use it at all. It would appear that the rest use it for at least some of their projects with 15% only completing it when it is specified in the brief. Some respondents said that they use it for fieldwork projects but not for pre-planning events as these were subject to client confidentiality.
  1. Almost 60% of respondents fill in the OASIS form because it’s part of their internal procedures or in order to have their grey literature available online, whilst 20% do it because they have been told to by the HER/planning department and 10% do it to inform the HER. Just under a third of respondents start the OASIS form at the beginning of the project and just over a third start it when they have a completed report. The rest fall somewhere in between or say it depends on where they are working as different local authorities have different requirements.

“It varies for different types of jobs and different counties”

“I try and get it done at the beginning but sometimes it’s not started until later”

“Once the report is approved by the planning advisor”

The OASIS form is mostly completed by the project director or supervisor (62%) but in some cases by the archivist or post-excavation manager (14%). In larger organisations it is more likely to be part of the archivist’s role.

  1.  Over 73% of respondents upload reports for over half of their projects with 6% uploading no reports at all and 14% uploading reports for less than a quarter of their projects. The most common reason for not uploading reports is client confidentiality. Other reasons include: the files are too big, they have been asked not to submit desk based assessments via OASIS, it is low priority and so doesn’t happen.
  1. Standards: Over three quarters of respondents say they refer to research frameworks in their work and 40% think that OASIS has positively affected data standards but a third think it’s made no difference and 20% do not use them at all. Over 65% have never heard of the FISH toolkit and another 30% have heard of it but never used it.
  1. Grey literature; the most popular way of disseminating reports was through the ADS grey literature library, closely followed by email on request and through the HER and three quarters of respondents who use the OASIS form think that accessing grey literature online has positively affected their work.

    How do contractors make their reports available
    How do contractors make their reports available
  1. Awareness of additional functionality linked to OASIS was not very high; with only 8% recording and using DOIs and over half not having heard of DOIs at all. Over half of respondents were unaware that they could upload images to OASIS now but over a third of those were interested in using it now they knew. Only 8% upload a GIS boundary file, with a quarter choosing not to, almost 30% not knowing that they could and almost another quarter not being able to produce the file format required. Almost 50% of respondents don’t use the download functionality from OASIS, with another quarter not knowing that you could download records. It is used by 10% of respondents
  1. There were a number of interface and content issues that respondents highlighted with the current design of the OASIS form, and these reflect genuine issues with the form but they do not appear to be affecting a very large proportion of users.

    Issues with parts of the OASIS form
    Respondents’ opinions on different parts of the OASIS form

“Can’t answer these questions. The process is far too involved and time-consuming. If it were simple, then I would submit project details and reports to Oasis much more frequently.”

“The ‘type’ of project section is strangely worded; we mainly do desk-based assessments / watching briefs / building recordings / evaluations / excavations / geophysical survey. It is unnecessarily difficult to find the appropriate name for the project type within the current categories — ‘watching brief’ in particular could do with being more prominent — and sometimes projects incorporate elements of more than one of type, which isn’t very well catered for.”

  1. The workflow issues reflected what had been heard anecdotally, that there is a problem in some areas with records not being signed off by HERs but this has lessened with the introduction of NMR only validation for some areas. There was also concern over finishing records and losing access to them.

    Workflow issues with the OASIS form
    Opinions of the different stages an OASIS record passes through

“I cannot get our local HER to validate our entries, despite frequent reminders. Only about 4 or 5 have been done and we have some 50 records waiting to be approved. It seems EXTREMELY pointless to keep doing this if we can’t get around the HER officer’s delays.”

“communication should be formalised and standardised for all counties. Currently patchy responses from HER.”

“There are a large number for us still left to complete, as ticking the completion box renders the form uneditable everyone is loathe to tick it. Also uploading reports, there’s no system for checking client confidentiality so they are often not uploaded just in case. Trying to go through backlogs of unfinished oasis entries is very time consuming.”

  1. Generally the improvements suggested for OASIS were positively received; some people raised concerns with a separate area for recording buildings surveys would make it difficult to relate them to archaeological work undertaken at the same time. OASIS users were less keen to include specialist reports than non-users (30% thought they shouldn’t be included). The reasons included that this information should already be included in the report already and separate reports would lose context if they were uploaded. However the majority thought it would be better to have them available. Almost 70% thought that OASIS should use the EH Event Type thesaurus. Over 90% of respondents thought that community groups should use OASIS. The inclusion of archive deposit with a museum was less well received with only 57% of OASIS users saying yes. The main concerns were that is would slow down the completion of the OASIS record and what would happen if museums were not accepting archives. However others thought this was a positive step and would improve the availability of archives.

“It could take too long. Oxford Archaeology have still not published the Vineyard excavations in Abingdon after some 25 years – would you send them a chase up every month?
However it could be useful for statistical purposes if only to show that museum stores are becoming overwhelmed.”

  1. The most popular interface changes with OASIS users were to be able to mark the location of a project on a map and to be able to choose from a list of thesauri terms. They were not worried about controlling notifications which probably means OASIS emails are rarely reaching individuals. Favourite workflow changes included that EH would continue to validate if the HER was not in order to make sure that reports were made available and using OASIS to request museum accession numbers.

    Possible workflow changes to OASIS
    Possible workflow changes to OASIS
  1. Users of OASIS would also like additional functionality in the system or would like a better search facility whether this is through OASIS or the ADS Grey Literature Library it is unclear. Comments included:

“The more you can centralise and provide a framework for archive deposition the better, the different procedures for all the various museums makes getting archives deposited much harder than it needs to be. If Oasis could notify museums and request accession numbers it would be invaluable. Also if there was a database of museum deposition charges/guidelines it would also make things a lot easier.”

“Just want everything to be clearer and not time out after half an hour. Should be able to save the form at any point and then go back to it.”

“the ability to record a multi-type project (e.g. HBR / watching brief) on 1 record, including the possibility of 2 separate repositories. In fact the ability to choose 2 separate repositories regardless of whether it is a multi-type project can be very useful (e.g. if the landowner keeps the material archive, but the paper archive goes to a museum)”

  1. Communications: users of OASIS chose emails discussion lists and the OASIS website as their favourite means of communication with the blog coming third.
  1. Training: under a quarter of respondents had had training in OASIS and just over a quarter knew there is a manual online to download which would explain many of the problems and misconceptions in the responses to the survey. When asked what sort of training was preferred a manual came first (58%), followed by training videos (42%) and a helpdesk (27%). Only 17% thought they would attend group training sessions.
  1. The best things about OASIS for OASIS users were the access to grey literature online and the consistent recording of events. There is much less agreement on the worst things aspects of OASIS; the most common issue was that the OASIS form is over complicated and time consuming to complete and that the validation by HERs takes too long before going online. Another issue mentioned was that completing the OASIS form is not obligatory and so leaves gaps in the record of events and it is not a level playing field for contractors. There were other interface issues such as the time-out on the form was too short and that the design was outdated. The improvements section focused on continuing to do what OASIS does but better, with an improved interface, better searching, better wordlists, better help and training and that OASIS form is quicker and simpler to complete with an auto-save function to stop people losing entered data. Another theme in the comments was that there should be mandatory validation by HERs or that reports should be released either before validation (with a health warning) or after a set time period if the HER has failed to validate.
  1. The proportion of respondents who defined themselves as non-users of the OASIS form was very small, only 7% of the total respondents. The main reasons for not using the form were that they didn’t know it existed or that they had not been asked to use it. Others didn’t use it because it was not suitable for recording their projects.

“My work involves providing specialist dataset analysis and building solutions (eg. databases) to support project work. As such they are not themselves OASIS material, although the organisations hiring me may use these for projects that should be/are in OASIS”

There was a correlation between some non-users of the OASIS form and awareness of technology in general.

The third instalment of the survey results will be the from post-excavation specialists.

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