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How sustainable is your research project website?

Many researchers create websites to disseminate their research without planning for how the website content will continue to be accessible and usable when their funding runs out. Websites are also rapidly outpaced by software and hardware advances, meaning that they cannot be relied upon as secure or long term hosts for research findings or outputs. Research funders are increasingly reluctant to fund the creation of websites: a feasibility study conducted for Jisc and the Wellcome Trust cites research which found that, on average, webpages disappear after only 75 days.

In addition to issues of financial and digital sustainability, there are also environmental sustainability issues: every website and every visit to a website has a negative impact on the environment. So you should consider carefully whether building a new website for your research project is the most financially, digitally, and environmentally sustainable way to disseminate your research.

Build an ‘archiveable’ website

If you do decide to create a research project website, there are various ways that you can enhance the ‘archiveability’ of your website. That is, by following best practice in the design and content of the website, you can increase the likelihood of a successful ‘capture’ of your website by a web archiving tool (see next section on tools). Web crawlers find highly dynamic and interactive websites hard to capture, for example.

You can increase the archiveability of your webiste by creating a sitemap that will help a web crawler to navigate your website; this will also help users who are interacting with your website via a screenreader. You should also ensure that any documents you embed are in open (non-proprietary) file formats.

You can find fuller guidance on creating archiveable websites from The National Archives, The National Records of Scotland, and the University of Edinburgh.

You should also make a plan at the outset to preserve the website at the end of the project. This will ensure that your website continues to be accessible and usable in the future.

Preserving your website at the end of a project

To preserve your website, you should:

You can self-capture your website by using web archiving software such as Conifer to take and host an interactive capture of your website.

You can also nominate your website to be captured by British Library’s UK Web Archive. The UKWA team will capture your website and make it available open access online. To see how this works, take a look at this UKWA archived copy of a University of Westminster research project website, Arts on Film.

Using the University WordPress platform

Using the University WordPress platform ensures that you can capture and preserve your website in a data repository at the end of your project. Customisable platforms such as Wix are popular but cannot be captured by web crawler software such as Conifer, Heritrix (used by the Internet Archive and the British Library’s UK Web Archive), or MirrorWeb, which we use to archive University websites for the University of Westminster Archive.

All staff can request a free WordPress site or blog for their research project by completing the WordPress Site Request Form (staff login). After your request is approved by the web governance committee, you start building your site in the test area before it goes live: it can take 4-6 weeks to set up your site, so make that you request your site as early as possible

You can also request domain names to link all the research blogs for one research group, centre, or community, such as cti.westminster.ac.uk.

The University WordPress sites are managed centrally by ISS, ensuring that your website is maintained, updated securely, and abides by the new UK accessibility legislation for public body websites. Using the University WordPress also ensures that your website is GDPR and SEO compliant (that is, your site meets the standards regarding content, links, and accessibility that are required to be indexed by Google), and includes a privacy notice.

The template has a branded University header and footer, and is open to customise as you wish: you can apply a wide range of plugins (for social media accounts, for example), and you can also hire external website design companies to customise the template for you, although this will increase the amount of time before your website can go live. Contact the Research Development Team at research-knowledge-exchange-office@westminster.ac.uk to discuss contracts and costings.

You must not use Wix or Google Sites if you intend to collect personal data through your site as they are not DPA (GDPR) 2018 compliant.

When uploading content to your site:

  • ensure that you use Creative Commons images that are licensed for re-use (you must not use any material for which you do not own the copyright)
  • ensure that explicit consent for public use has been obtained for any photographs from events
  • ensure that you abide by the University’s Digital Accessibility guidance (staff login).

Further information and guidance

For further information on the University’s WordPress platform, contact the ISS Business Relationship Manager for your College (staff login).

For guidance on preserving websites and using research data repositories, contact the Research Data Management Officer at research-data@westminster.ac.uk

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