In the CHI fellowship, during the first semester we carry out rapid development project challenges with a team of fellows. Last year, the CHI fellowship was completely online due to COVID-19. While Zoom was essential to allowing us to still meet, work on these projects together, and have the fellowship that CHI is all about, I do not think we are quite to the point where digital will completely replace the in-person experience. While technology and digital tools can absolutely enhance engagement, in-person engagement is a completely different experience, especially when working together on a project. Rather than taking time to brainstorm alone and bringing it to a team at a set time on Zoom, this year all of our meetings have been in the MSU Lab for the Education and Advancement in Digital Research (LEADR). Being in person with my team allowed all of our strength to come out in different ways and play off of one another’s ideas. Coming from multidisciplinary backgrounds, we found a common ground and were able to work well together integrating ideas that we bounced from one another in a setting that was created for such an experience.
One of our first challenges is creating a “Project Vision Document” in which, as a group, we create a vision document based on a hypothetical digital project with a chosen cultural heritage institution. While thinking in a creative way for public engagement with cultural heritage is absolutely a part of this challenge, it is the other associated aspects that I want to focus on in this piece. First of all, a vision document is an outline of a project proposal including aspects such as the project deliverables and outcomes to the functionality of the project itself. An added aspect to this document this year is the environmental scan. An environment scan is the process in which we were asked to research any existing projects with associate content to our proposed one but also to see if there are similar projects, unrelated to your topic created. This aspect of seeing what is out there is an essential part to growing the scholarship, instead of just repeating similar ideas. Building beyond what is currently available allows for collaborations, not roadblocks of an idea. This allows the project to grow from just an idea into a thoroughly thought-out plan.
Planning is more than just figuring out what you want to do but understanding what you are also able to do. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t build the ideas you have but, instead, understand what you reasonably can do, your strengths and weaknesses and then collaborate with those who create a balanced team to build the best. Collaborators are not just coders and academics in digital cultural heritage. Thinking about the audience you want to engage with means that the audience itself can be a part of the team or even active collaborators. Working with those who you are creating an enhanced experience for is a great way to see what is actually needed from the ground up.