Review periods in OASIS


Stained glass windows in Art and Crafts style, c1874-1910, at ‘Haunted’, Stonegate, York. Culture Grid. CC BY

Before I start a quick note: this is a very long blog that tries to condense about 18 months of discussion and internal reporting into an overview of a key workflow in OASIS. I’ve tried to keep it short, but for clarity i have to explain some background…

The Background

Although we all love OASIS (!), one of the key problems that has consistently been raised has been the delay in reports being transferred into the ADS Library. A Level 1 user (unit, community group, buildings archaeologist, academic) uploads a report, completes the form and then there’s either a delay or in the worst case the report never gets copied over at all.

This is normally caused by a backlog at what has traditionally been called the validating organisation: the HER/SMR. In our review of workflows in HERALD Phase 1 it became apparent that the problems at the validation level were caused by:

  • No HER provision
  • An HER was not actively validating OASIS records, and did not want to!
  • Lack of resources for an HER to validate as quickly as they’d like
  • Validating an OASIS record was taking a long time

In the current system – and where there is agreement with the HER provider – in some areas of England so-called proxy validation is being undertaken by Historic England.

After a review and comment from project funders (HE and HES) and representatives from ALGAO (HER), the new OASIS is taking significant steps to overcome this backlog while also doing as much as possible to ensure the accuracy of information and ensuring that HERs are able to delay transfer of reports where there is a critical need.

The first thing we’re doing is changing the terminology! Validation is now being replaced by ‘Review’. This more accurately represents the role most HERs perform, and separates it out from any formal sign-off related to the planning process.

In England, one of the features being implemented is the HER being able to select its level of engagement. A previous blog explains the differences, but basically an HER that is Lite can access, and edit their records but are formally ‘Not Reviewing‘. An OASIS that is Standard is ‘Reviewing‘. By default all Scottish HERs will be Standard users, and we’re currently surveying English HERs (via the HER annual survey) to establish their level of use. It should be noted that an English HER can change their Reviewing status at any time.

What does all that mean? Here’s a simplified overview of the workflow:

1) A Level 1 user uploads a report. The user is also presented with a preview of the metadata record to accompany the report in the ADS Library. In Scotland, users will see the DES preview. Level 1 users will be able to correct any errors they see in this preview record.

2) A Level 1 user will also be able to set an embargo period for the report (in months), which includes the capacity to set a “no release” value.

3) The Level 1 user will be presented with a series of alerts and challenges reminding them of the obligations of depositing uploading a report to OASIS under the (pre-agreed) terms and conditions of the OASIS Licence Agreement. These Terms include:

  • That the Depositor (i.e. the Level 1 user) us responsible for ensuring that the report does not include any personal details (in accordance with current GDPR legislation)
  • That any third party material is covered by a licence or agreement which permits its distribution within the final report.
  • That the Depositor is responsible for ensuring that the correct version of the report has been uploaded (with primary reference to reports forming part of a planning condition).

4) If enough of the OASIS form has been completed, the form then establishes the stages of Level 2 (HER/SMR) and Level 4 (national body) review appropriate to the record:

  • In England Level 2 Review status
  • In Scotland Level 2 Review status is defaulting to OASIS Standard.
  • In England there is no formal Level 4 Review.
  • In Scotland, Level 4 Review of the DES record will be undertaken by Archaeology Scotland (Level 4). In addition HES (Level 4) will subsequently review the record and add in relevant Canmore information.
  • In Scotland, transfer of the report into the ADS Library would only occur after all parts of Level 4 review were completed.

5) In the case of areas where HERs are not reviewing records and reports (OASIS Lite), transfer of metadata and report to the ADS Library is allowed to happen (i.e. as soon as the minimum level of information has been recorded and report uploaded), unless an embargo period has been set by the Level 1 user. The resulting report in the Library will have a very clear disclaimer as to its origins and the lack of Review at Level 2.

6) Where an HER is reviewing, it was deemed necessary to have some sort of mechanism to stop records forming large indefinite backlogs at HERs. This is being called the Review Period. If no action is undertaken in this period the metadata and report are automatically transferred into the ADS Library, again subject to any Level 1 embargo period, and with a very clear disclaimer as to its origins.

7)I n the case of the report being rejected, the Review Period would be reset upon the next upload by the Level 1 user.

8) Additional reports can be added to an existing OASIS record (an OASIS record never closes). Each report would have their own Review Period.

9)T here will always be the capacity for a report to be removed from the ADS Library.

The question we were asked to solve was, how long should this Review period be?

The Review Period

To this end, the question over the desired length of the period was put to ALGAO (HER) members in England and Scotland, courtesy of the relevant ALGAO representatives on the OASIS Management Board. The recommendation from Scottish members was for an initial review period of at least 12 months, with the capacity for Level 2 users to place their own embargo period (including “no release”) on any report within their mandate. The feedback from England was mixed, with a range of review periods from 3 months to a year mooted, and again with some form of ability to stop or delay a report from being released.

The need to reconcile the differing requirements for a Review Period across HERS and countries has been discussed at great length. The primary concern of HER users is the possibility that a shorter review period would result in the release of reports into the ADS Library that were not formally approved by the relevant Local Authority archaeologist/Planning Adviser, and thus potentially clash with the signing off of work/developer requirements within the planning framework. Another concern is that HERs with less resources/staff capacity would not be able to review all the uploaded reports for their administrative areas within a short period of time.

In short, everyone wants reports to be made available as quickly as possible, but we do need to have a sensible Review Period and the means for an HER to extend this where there is justified need. This has been labelled as “the capacity for Level 2 users to set an Extended Review”, with the following limitations:

  • The Extended Review period would not be infinite.
  • There would be no ability to set separate periods.
  • HERs that are not reviewing (England) will not have access to this function.
  • Level 1 users will still have the option to set their own embargo period, including ‘never release’.

However, we still need to decide how long these periods should be!

Analysis of OASIS workflows

To augment the anecdotal feedback from HERs, it was thought beneficial to look at the actual data stored in OASIS to look at how long records stayed in the system. The following analysis is based on exports of data from an 18 month period over 2017/18, and are deliberately brief to aid clarity. It is acknowledged that within them are a myriad of factors (organisational, financial, and personal) which influence the timings identified which are not considered here. However at the time of writing they are at least a neutral and statistical source on how OASIS is currently used.

OASIS workflows: Scotland

The following data was exported from the current OASIS database on 1st June 2018:

  • Identified 490 records completed by Level 1 user in 2017
  • 315 of which have since been validated by the HER (64% over a period of c.18 months)
  • The average time from one of these records being completed by Level 1, and then validated by the HER was:
    • 52 days (mean average)
    • 33 days (median average)
  • The average time for all records (validated and awaiting validation) was:
    • 167 days (mean average)
    • 66 days (median average)
  • Nationally:
    • 54% of records were processed in under 3 months
    • 9% of records were processed in 3-6 months
    • 13% of records were processed in 6-12 months
    • 24% of records were processed in 12 months+

A breakdown of times by anonymised Scottish HER shows a deeply polarised picture: with most HERs (and those with least records) taking over a year to process a record; conversely, areas where OASIS is used frequently process records in a relatively short period of time.

Time that a completed OASIS record then spends with (anonymous) HER in Scotland (for all records completed by level 1 user after 1st January 2017).  Each HER area is split into a bar showing the percentage of records that fall within the time periods. Dotted line shows number of records for that area

OASIS workflows: England

The following data was exported from the current OASIS database on 1st June 2018:

  • Identified 3376 records completed by Level 1 user in 2017
  • 2250 of which have since been signed off by the HER (66% over a period of c.18 months)
  • The average time from one of these records being completed by Level 1 and signed off by the HER was:
    • 76 days (mean average)
    • 31 days (median average)
  • The average time for all records (validated and awaiting validation) was:
    • 173 days (mean average)
    • 115 days (median average)
  • Nationally:
    • 47% of records were processed in under 3 months
    • 10% of records were processed in 3-6 months
    • 25% of records were processed in 6-12 months
    • 18% of records were processed in 12 months+

These broad figures only aggregate out a great deal of nuance as it is well known that validation workflows within the current OASIS system vary across the country, as demonstrated by a breakdown of the 2017 data by HER (see below). A brief overview of these figures shows some clear trends:

  • HER working patterns currently vary significantly
  • The majority of areas process the majority (57%) of their records in 6 months or less.
  • 82 % of records are processed in under 12 months.
  • There are some areas where validation is significantly slower.
  • Even areas with high numbers of records and throughput (what we may tentatively call typical users) still have a minority of records which take over 6 months to process, and in certain cases over 12 months.

Time that a completed OASIS record then spends with (anonymous) HER in England(for all records completed by level 1 user after 1st January 2017).  Each HER area is split into a bar showing the percentage of records that fall within the time periods. Dotted line shows number of records for that area. Areas validating via proxy and non-validators filtered out

Reaching a decision

The brief overview of current statistics indicates that:

  • Where OASIS is embedded within an HER’s workflow – and where resources permit – the time to successfully validate/review a record is below 3 months for over half of records.
  • In each country, the majority of records are validated in under 6 months (57% in England, 63% in Scotland)
  • In each country, over three quarters of records are processed in under 12 months (82% in England, 76% for Scotland)
  • Some records, even in areas with very efficient reviewing times, will take over 12 months to process

In trying to pick out the most suitable periods, it is worth highlighting that:

  • There is a need to establish a balance between being aspirational and being realistic.
  • The new system will improve the quality of recording by level 1 user.
  • Alerts will be in place to aim to prevent uploading of unsuitable reports. This can include guidance from each HER on how to use the form in their area/expectations etc.
  • The use of the embargo period seems to be well established in many areas, which could be taken to indicate that dialogues between Level 1 users and Development Control/Archaeological Advisers on what should be uploaded to OASIS – and limits to accessibility – are already in place. However it is also clear that a form of Level 2 override is still needed.
  • Although safety nets are planned, there are obviously still cases where a Level 2 ‘override’ is needed.
  • In Scotland the workflow through DES-HES will still be in place.
  • Both the initial Review and Extended Review period could be changed at any point.

At this stage, it is suggested that as the majority of records from each country are successfully reviewed/validated in under 6 months that an initial Review period of 6 months is set as the starting value in the new OASIS system. As there seems to be a significant number of records which do take up to a year to process, it is suggested that there is a strong need for an Extended Review button/option being able to add on an additional 6 months when triggered, meaning a record would have a cumulative total of 12 months under review in the first instance. If rejected by the Level 2 user, the initial Review period will still be in place upon upload of a new report, giving the Level 2 user a further 6 months to act.

Overview of the Review / Extended Review workflow

The option for Extended Review will appear in the Report section of the form, and will also include an additional field for the Level 2 user to record a description of why the report is being withheld if they wish. This will be available to anyone with access to that record. To allow the Level 2 user to have as clear a picture as possible, the following alerts and information displays are being built into the new OASIS form.

  • Current release date of report will appear on overview e.g. “Report will automatically be released into ADS Library on 01/04/2030 if no action taken”
  • Level 2 user will be able to filter records on Release date to see imminent releases
  • Level 2 user can set their email preferences to send a digest of reports nearing end of their Review period, e.g. “The following reports will be released into ADS Library next month:
    • jensdigg1-12345
    • jensdigg1-12346
    • etc.

The Extended Review period will automatically add 6 months onto the existing Review period, this is best demonstrated with some hypothetical examples:

  1. Level 1 user uploads report a report to OASIS on 1st January 2030. All relevant sections of the form are complete, and record can pass to Level 2 review (OASIS Standard). No action is taken by Level 2. The report is released into the ADS Library on 1st July 2030 by default (with disclaimer)
  2. Level 1 user uploads report to OASIS on 1st January 2030. All relevant sections of the form are complete, and record can pass to Level 2 review (OASIS Standard). Level 2 user reviews record in 1st April 2030, no problems and report goes into the ADS Library.
  3. Level 1 user uploads report a report to OASIS on 1st January 2030. All relevant sections of the form are complete, and record can pass to Level 2 review (OASIS Standard). Level 2 user reviews record in 1st April 2030, has a query over the version/contents of the report, clicks “Query/refuse report” and communicates this back to Level 1 user with a request that report is re-submitted. The record is marked as ‘awaiting upload of report’. On 1st June 2030 the Level 1 user uploads a new version of the report. The Review Period is re-set to 6 months from this point, meaning that if the HER does not perform any action the report automatically goes into the Library on the 1st December 2030.
  4. Level 1 user uploads report a report to OASIS on 1st January 2030. All relevant sections of the form are complete, and record can pass to Level 2 review (OASIS Standard). On the 1st June 2030 the Level 2 user is alerted to the fact that report will be released next month until action is taken, Level 2 user is busy and wishes to give themselves more time to check contents and status with DC, and clicks ‘Extend Review’. The report is now due to be released on 1st January 2031 (i.e. 12 months after report was initially uploaded).
  5. As above, on 1st November Level 2 user reviews record and identifies problem with the report, clicks “Query/refuse report” and communicates this back to Level 1 user with a request that report is re-submitted. The record is marked as ‘awaiting upload of report’. On 1st January 2031 Level 1 user uploads a new copy of the report with another 6 month review period if no action is taken by Level 2. The report is released into the ADS Library on 1st July 2031 by default (with disclaimer). The option to click another Extended Review is now not available. If the Level 2 user is still not happy with the contents of the report they have this additional 6 months to refuse it, effectively resetting the Review Period each time.

That’s the plan! This has been presented to English and Scottish HERs and there is agreement that this is a sensible way to proceed. This will be reviewed, tro see if the windows are working as intended, and guidance/training on this workflow for all users will be a key feature of the public rollout of the system. However, time to stop writing!

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