What is assessment?

Broadly speaking, assessment is the process of developing an objective understanding of the state or condition of a thing through observation and measurement. Assessment should be based on systematic, consistent, and purposeful gathering of information/data (metrics) to support successful outcomes, promote continuous improvement, and enable strategic decision making.  


In the context of archival processing at Harvard, the goal of this section is to foster a culture of assessment around processing and to provide some basic guidelines and tools for making data-driven decisions about processing priorities, planning, and practices, which will in turn help improve both outcomes and outputs.


Why is assessment important?

Assessment helps repositories gain an accurate and meaningful understanding of what needs exist, and how to efficiently and effectively address those needs. This understanding helps staff:

  • Measure and communicate the size and scope of our holdings

  • Prioritize work (descriptive and preservation activities, processing queue, etc)

  • Allocate current resources

  • Advocate for additional/new resources

  • Improve and refine practices and policies


But I don’t have time for assessment!

While assessment may seem like a luxury activity in environments where time and resource limitations make it challenging to keep up with day-to-day operations, even very small-scale assessment efforts, if thoughtfully constructed, can have a beneficial impact on processing outcomes. When resources are limited, assessment can help ensure that the repository staff is working efficiently and effectively to put those limited resources toward the right efforts.


How to do it

The sections on the various areas of assessment (see the lefthand navigation) will cover in greater detail approaches for three particular types of assessment, but here are some general tips for assessment efforts:


Where to begin 

Assessment isn’t just collecting data for the sake of collecting data, it’s deciding what is the RIGHT data to collect to support a repository’s assessment need. Determine assessment needs first, and then decide what data to collect and how to collect and analyze it. Consider: what questions do you want to answer, and what data do you need to answer them? (See the “Example Assessment Scenarios” section for ideas). It’s fine to start small and scale up as needed.


Consistency is key 

Whatever data is collected, it’s important to collect it consistently. It’s hard to analyze and use data that has not been recorded in a standard way. Consider creating detailed instructions for how data should be recorded, particularly if multiple staff members will be doing the data collection.


Monitor and analyze 

Depending on the scale and scope of the data being collecting, archivists may want to perform a periodic quality review to check for errors in data entry so that they can be corrected retroactively and/or going forward. Likewise, decide how the data will be analyzed and how regularly this will be done (quarterly, annually, as-needed, etc.).



See the Assessment Toolkit for sample documents and links to resources that can support your assessment efforts.