Collective Wisdom: Book Sprint to Community Review

The following is a post by Senior Innovation Specialist Meghan Ferriter about the Collective Wisdom initiative. Collective Wisdom  seeks to identify and enrich networks of practitioners of crowdsourcing in cultural heritage, document current practices, and invite others to join in thoughtful consideration of future practices. Supported by an Arts & Humanities Research Council UK US-UK Digital Scholarship grant, the initiative is led by Dr. Mia Ridge (British Library), Dr. Sam Blickhan (Zooniverse), and Dr. Meghan Ferriter (Senior Innovation Specialist, LC Labs).

Across a very busy 10 day period in March 2021, 15 co-authors and I collaboratively wrote the Collective Wisdom Handbook. In this work, we share and contextualize examples, practices, and considerations for undertaking crowdsourcing in cultural heritage organizations. Now, it’s your turn! We’re seeking feedback on the Collective Wisdom Handbook until August 9, 2021.

We welcome your review of the themes, advice, and case studies brought together in the handbook. Have your say by leaving a comment. But first! Continue reading for the story of how the book itself was shaped by the book sprint experience, the wider project goals, and the contexts in which this practical guidance was composed.

Collective Wisdom book sprint organization

Artifact of the Collective Wisdom book sprint, held in March and April 2020

Why Collective Wisdom?

We proposed the Collective Wisdom project to examine how new and emerging technologies are intersecting with crowdsourcing practices. Examples include projects that integrate machine learning data and workflows with the efforts of participants, or those that seek to design for more inclusive experiences based on language and community needs. These approaches prompt considerations for existing crowdsourcing projects and other work in cultural heritage and GLAM organizations. The handbook describes challenges and opportunities that should be addressed directly.

The Collective Wisdom team also knows from first-hand experience that there are hard-won (but easily overlooked) lessons in this field. We want to bridge academic and experiential knowledge, supporting practitioners and providing scaffolding for newly interested colleagues. Through our activities, we expect to emerge with a research agenda and articulate shared understandings of tricky, intractable, and unsolved problems that would benefit from investigation by researchers or experimentation by practitioners.

We also wish to call forward the many ways that we can continue to improve upon equitable, ethical, and representative crowdsourcing in cultural heritage projects. Although our Collective Wisdom goals are broad, we created a set of shared project values, aiming to create coherence with the practice we wish to see in these spaces of cultural memory. We carried those values forward into the book sprint collaborative writing approach, and in progress toward the Collective Wisdom project goals.

Some of the specific ways we have committed to these goals include consistently sharing about our work publicly; inviting others to engage via prompts and calls to action; encouraging everyone to identify tensions in approaches and practice; and aiming to empower other people to take on the work of designing meaningful crowdsourcing projects with practical but forward-looking guidance. We also hosted surveys in advance of our book sprint to gather reflections on experiences that could be included as case studies and workshop discussion topics; you can view those results here as an anonymized dataset.

For this initial collaborative writing phase of the Collective Wisdom grant, we hoped to create a space that honored the varied experiences of all of our co-author participants. Some of the considerations we integrated into the planning included how we could make space for different working styles and balance those needs with the book sprint’s time constraints, such as ensuring sessions were optional, summarizing progress for those who had missed writing periods, and spreading activity across US- and UK-based participants. And we continue to return to and refine our expectations throughout planning for this grant.

Undertaking the Book Sprint

A book sprint is a collaborative writing experience that aims to bring ideas into structure through an intensive 5 day event, as you may recall from the Open a GLAMLab book sprint. Or that’s how it typically works. Following the onset of the global COVID-19 crisis, we put the Collective Wisdom project book plans on hiatus as we determined how we might best pursue our grant goals. By late 2020, we affirmed that we would still use the book sprint method to write a book, collaboratively, and now in 10 business days using an adapted book sprint model for fully remote authors. For our purposes, the book sprint process was a peak example of a specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound activity. Although we had professional facilitation to move us along, and even with 10 days to create a rich body of writing, a book sprint may not be the sort of event for those seeking a leisurely engagement!

Fellow participants called the book sprint exciting and also daunting. The process presented the right level of challenge while allowing us to work quickly with new methods. Throughout the experience, collaboration and consulting with one another (as well as commenting!) were at the center and led the group into pathways to creating the Collective Wisdom Handbook.

Several aspects of the book sprint seemed to work well for our co-writing group. As you may expect, we shared resources through collaborative tools, used group chat, and returned to digital outlines and schedules to volunteer for tasks. We had two 5 day periods during which we moved through a cycle of activities of outlining, writing, and editing; and we had a week between each of these two blocks. Throughout the book sprint, our co-authoring group did individual activities but in ways that were simultaneously visible and generative, such as brainstorming, outlining, writing in collaborative documents, and commenting within drafts. Checking in at several points each day saw us oscillating between wider group discussion and breakouts. Then as the book sprint unfolded further, we moved increasingly into writing blocks. That shift meant that the group had opportunities to develop detail from outlines and discussions that punctuated those blocks.

We also embraced humor and being direct when required, as well as doing our best to participate in the method and process through which the facilitation team was leading us. There were few places where we might have better prepared our cohort or gathered more details about the process that lie ahead, such as expectations for shaping up the content of the book after the book sprint wrapped. We were invited to share feedback with our facilitators as they also seek to improve their practice. We also recently shared what we learned from the experience at the Association for Computers in the Humanities 2021 conference.

Adjusting our approach

One additional factor that colored our Collective Wisdom Handbook writing experience was the COVID-19 global crisis. We initially proposed our project in the Autumn of 2019 and, upon being awarded in early 2020, set out to convene co-authors in person in spring 2020. While we did not expect our group’s writing process to be impacted by a global pandemic, we also could not have anticipated the role many crowdsourcing projects would play for cultural heritage and memory organizations, audiences, and communities around the world during the COVID-19 global crisis. The increased participation in crowdsourcing projects during lockdown—including By the People at the Library of Congress and their thoughtful, welcoming approaches throughout—was an incredible demonstration of the opportunities crowdsourcing projects create for public audiences. This flourishing activity at so many organizations allows us to think ahead about how we all can address values-oriented practice and the connection between design and implementation of projects. For the public, and for our own project, these opportunities and considerations seem more critical now than we might have expected.

Additionally, we see new and emerging methods surfacing in crowdsourcing practice—such as integration of machine learning data and workflows, and design for more languages and communities—which bring forward new challenges that need to be addressed thoughtfully and with care.

Get Involved in Collective Wisdom

Because the Collective Wisdom team has designed a project that aims to gather expertise, experience, and knowledge to share with the field, we want to invite you to participate and add your perspective!

Please join us by adding comments, examples, and feedback to the Collective Wisdom Handbook. This open commenting period is a chance to integrate practical experience from a wider set of intersecting communities. As you’re turning the digital pages of the Collective Wisdom Handbook, please keep in mind that this work captures a particular moment in spring 2021, and that it represents the reflections of a small group of practitioners, which means it can only be improved with your engagement in the work and in future events.

The Collective Wisdom project continues as we gather community feedback and then respond to engagement with the handbook. Our next steps include attention toward editing and publishing this collaborative work, as well as planning a remote workshop for 20-22 October 2021. That workshop will focus on the horizon for crowdsourcing in cultural heritage, as well as addressing in more depth the themes that surfaced in the Collective Wisdom Handbook. Watch for updates here and the @LC_Labs Twitter account!

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