Note: as of July 2015, this document is no longer editable. Please find a static version here:
ABSTRACT: This Best Practices document responds to a perceived need for clear, actionable recommendations for humanities scholars beginning a collaborative digital project who want to know: “what questions should I ask if I am interested in starting a digital humanities project?” Because scholars are rarely trained in project management, it aims to provide a series of questions applicable to a wide range of projects; questions that are not written in prose, don’t require significant digging to find, aren’t tethered to a specific group’s experience, and aren’t behind a paywall. This document focuses specifically on the initial stages of a digital humanities project: engaging a collaborator and setting expectations.
Digital Humanities Best Practices: Engaging a Collaborator
Scope of Project:
- What do you want to achieve (scope)? Have initial conversations to identify a best route to achieve your goal(s). What can your project reasonably accomplish?
- Ask ‘what are the benchmarks/objectives of achievement/impact?’ rather than ‘what do want to build, exactly?’ Keep these benchmarks in mind when in discussion with your team/collaborator.
- Which aspects of the project are absolutely necessary for a satisfactory project? Which are secondary and negotiable?
- What expertise is needed for the project? What individuals/institutions have that expertise?
- Are potential collaborators interested (as well as capable)?
- Can certain experts be consulted for advice (periodically, or in the planning stage) rather than brought on as fully-engaged project collaborators?
- How do each of these questions apply to the individual collaborators (people)? How do they apply to the collaboration (project)?
➜ Resource: Bethany Nowviskie’s “Ten Rules for Humanities Scholars New to Project
Consider a Written Agreement:
- Is the team/person you are working with a:
- Collaborator (co-creator; everyone has equal say)
- Commission relationship (the overall vision belongs to some but others are trusted to envision aspects of the project for pay)
- Contract (hired professional to execute a specific vision)
- Will team members be asked to sign a contract or charter?
- Charter - outlines work ethics and ethos, guidelines to follow, desired attitudes (can be appropriate in inter-departmental or inter-institutional work)
- Contract - can assume hierarchy of power, financial remuneration, deliverables (can be appropriate for outsourced / hired work)
- Will contents of your written agreement differ based on charter or contract model? Is a hybrid appropriate?
- Does a legal resource exist at your university or institution that you can draw upon for support or that can provide standard contract language?
➜ Resources: The Praxis Program’s 2014-15 Project Charter
Tito Sierra’s “The Project One-Pager”
Stan Ruecker and Milena Radzikowska’s “The Iterative Design of a
Project Charter for Interdisciplinary Research”
Industry University Cooperative Centers’ 2014 Membership Agreement
With Your Collaborator: Discuss, Agree, and Put in Writing:
- How will authors / collaborators be credited for their work? Would instituting a collaborative review process for authorship be beneficial?
- What amount of work constitutes authorship or collaboration?
- Do credits reflect or imply a hierarchy?
- If hierarchy isn’t desired, how can it be challenged?
- How can student collaborators be reassured that their contributions will continue to be acknowledged as the project lives on/changes in publications or conference presentations?
- Can parameters for recognition be worked out in advance? Do they need to be ascertained / revisited at the project’s end?
- Who will speak for the project at conferences or departmental meetings?
➜ Resources: Collaborators’ Bill of Rights
UCLA’s A Student Collaborator’s Bill of Rights
Elijah Meeks’ “How Collaboration Works and How It Can Fail”
Output / Deliverables Expectations:
- How is scope of work defined?
- As the group works toward achieving its goals, what are the team’s expectations for flexibility toward altering the project’s course? (Expect change!)
- Could an “If-Then” document help think through favorable outcomes in a variety of possible scenarios?
- What products are being disseminated?
- Can they be published under creative commons?
- Can they be built using open-source software?
- What resources does each author need, based on that author’s role in the project?
- Do authors already have the required skills? If not, what do they need to learn?
Project Management Basics:
- Who will be project manager?
- What is the timeframe for project completion?
- How will progress be tracked, reported, and communicated?
- Would project management software be useful? (e.g., Basecamp, Wrike, Asana)
- What scheduled meetings and deadlines can be foreseen upfront and added to a chronologically-organized, shared timeline or calendar?
- What are the project’s associated costs?
- Can the costs of each aspect of the project be broken down (in terms of time or financial resources?)
- How and when are payments communicated or delivered?
- How will the group make decisions? (designated point-person(s), group vote)
- How might potential conflicts be resolved?
- Could a designated external point-person act as arbitrator?
- How will the team compensate for or divide up “lost” work due to a departed team member or missed deadline?
➜ Resources: Sharon M. Leon’s “Project Management for Humanists”
Tom Scheinfeldt’s “Intro to Project Planning and Management”
- How can the team maintain open, transparent, frequent communication?
- What is a reasonable response time?
- What does “frequent communication” mean for your team?
- What means of communication suit the team?
- How can digital communication tools be leveraged without overwhelming / inundating project participants? (blogs, wikis, email, listservs, shared digital spaces, instant messaging, websites)
- Can person-to-person meetings facilitate rapport or enable the group to grapple with especially thorny issues? (in person, on the phone, via skype?)
- If communication records will be kept, how and where?
- Will all team members be included in all meetings / on all correspondence? (balance between inclusivity and information overload)
- How often, when, and where will meetings take place? (only have a meeting if you need to; face-to-face meetings can be crucial; review literature on how to run a meeting since strategies like “let’s sideline this for now” can be very useful)
Speaking the Same Language:
- If team members come from different disciplines, how will you understand each other?
- Will you codify a common language, or would doing so collapse nuance and erase expertise? Where is this language made explicit?
- Could communicating via diagrams, mock-ups, or annotated images help avoid misunderstandings?
- Could a “translator” help bridge the gap between expert vocabularies?
- Who is providing the project’s data?
- When will data be disseminated? In what form?
- What does the data consist of?
Project Maintenance, Longevity, and Ownership:
- Do collaborators agree on the project’s access and openness (whether via Creative Commons licensing, institutional repositories, or other options)?
- Who has physical responsibility or ownership of the project once it is completed?
- Different collaborators might own different parts
- Could licenses help determine one party’s right to use the other’s assets created before the engagement began (in the case of code or proprietary technologies, for example)?
- Who owns assets created in support of the project?
- Even if one party doesn’t “own” an aspect of the project, can they “use” it in the future? How? Would either party benefit from portfolio rights?
- For a contracted project, does copyright need to be contractually asserted prior to the engagement? If so, will the commissioning party hold full copyright?
- Who manages project data?
- What will happen to the project after completion?
- Who will fund stewardship of the project after its completion?
- Whose servers will host it?
- Who is responsible for maintenance?
- Who is responsible for storing data created in support of the project?
- What archive or repository might hold an additional copy?
➜ Resources: Info on licensing code: Choosing An OSS License
Creative Commons Licenses
Best Practices author: Elizabeth Buhe; contributors: Jessica Backus, Liz Lastra, Alice Lynn McMichael, Bethany Nowviskie, Miriam Posner, Emily Pugh, Lynne Siemens, Orta Theorx, CAA THATCamp 2015 participants
earlier draft and bibliography archived here
last updated 6/10/2015