1.7 Effective Collaboration

A key to success in using, remixing, and sharing data openly is communicating effectively with colleagues and other stakeholders. Although rigorous research will take you part of the way in developing work that is well-regarded by other scholars, it will not happen in a vacuum. You must be the best advocate for your own work, and for digital archaeology as method and practice. Whether you are utilizing data that already existed or creating a totally new dataset, your work can impact real people and your colleagues, and it is important to build not only a technical framework but social supports for your work. Another way of understanding this is that you are responsible for ensuring you actually reach the audience you identified while following Appleford and Giuliano’s project design principles (described in chapter 01.2). A successful digital archaeology project is one which is well-understood and well-regarded by colleagues. In the following section we will describe how to frame digital archaeology work for colleagues and others who may be interested or impacted by it, and share three key tools for establishing boundaries and expectations for your project.

1.7.1 The Two-Sentence Pitch

Whether you are building a large, multi-faceted, multi-scholar project or experimenting on your own, you need to be ready to explain your work’s value. By the time you talk to a colleague about it, you should have a two sentence pitch. Being prepared to explain why your digital archaeology project is valuable is not only important for you to maintain the resources to continue your work, but helps build support for digital archaeology scholarship in the community. If there is one planning task you do, do this.

Example project: Graham and Ellenberger’s 2017 Heritage Jam Entry Two-Sentence Pitch: This is the first part of our research on how 19th century newspapers in Western Quebec and northern New York State depicted human remains and archaeology. We used language we found in the newspaper text to generate a realistic-looking fictional newspaper that is different every time you load it.

Example project: Ellenberger’s Museum Tablet Tour Two-Sentence Pitch: I made an accessible digital tour for the visible storage display at the University Art Museum so that visitors could learn more about the objects, and read interpretations written by students and faculty. It was rewarding to build the first digital database the museum has used and be able to infuse some of my anthropological values into its design.

1.7.2 Consulting Colleagues and Stakeholders

For many of us, the main audience of our research is our colleagues. But colleagues is about as vague and useless a term as “the public” and so when you develop a new project you should pin down (for yourself) the scholarly topics that your work will contribute to, and some examples of individuals who do related work. This will not only help you strategize who to seek out when presenting or publishing your work, but will give you an opportunity to examine what sorts of work are valued in those communities. For example, public archaeologists often present their work at scholarly conferences but may never publish them in peer-reviewed journals, and in digital archaeology the norm is to share data and documentation online. Be ready to either make a contribution in the form your colleagues will recognize as valuable or explain why you chose something different. Furthermore, don’t forget that most colleagues will not have the technical skills you develop during your digital archaeology project so prepare to explain yourself and your work.

If you are using legacy data, such as excavation data someone else created, do not assume that just because you can access it that you can do with it whatever you want without consequence. Data sharing norms are not consistent in international archaeology. Do not assume you are going to get anyone’s blessing, particularly if your work might be interpreted as a critique of the originator of the data, or other scholars whose work is in the same scholarly area. If it is possible to contact the originator of the data and give them a two-sentence pitch about your intended work, do it, and do it early. If you are a non-traditional or early career researcher, you should be especially attentive to this. When you contact them explain yourself without assuming they are interested in the technical aspects unless they ask. The sheer volume of data produced by archaeologists and the time it takes to code and manage that data leads us to be slow to adopt new technologies, even if we are on-board with them. It is easy to think of all colleagues as having the same competencies, and forget how alienating jargon can be, even to fellow professionals. If your plans change radically or if your derivative works will be shared in a way you have not discussed with them, follow up briefly. This is both professional courtesy and ethical practice.

Even highly technical or abstract work can impact people beyond the scholarly realm (see chapter 01.8 for further discussion of ethics). Two common examples of external stakeholders are descendant communities, whose ancestors we characterize, and local communities, whose property values and sense of heritage we may affect. You are the expert in your own project’s modern context and significance, so think carefully about what your work will mean for people whose interest is not solely in the academic rigor of your scholarship.

1.7.3 Making a Plan

In this section we will give you three more tools for planning and managing the human aspect of a project. None of these need to be exhaustive or perfect, and preparing on a basic level for how you will go about managing the project will save you time and effort in the long run. We have organized these tools from informal to formal. Consultation Session

Consultation is one of the most important things you can do to make your project successful. Discuss your idea with trusted colleagues, and if applicable, with stakeholders outside the field, before you begin manipulating data. Whether or not you believe your project to be of a sensitive nature, it is in your best interest to discuss your project with at least a couple of other people who understand it before sharing even preliminary results in public. Depending on your relationship with the colleagues or stakeholders you consult, the interaction could be more or less formal, but it is a good idea to set aside a separate time to focus on discussing your project. Any consultation should nonetheless have 5 parts:

  • Part 1: Description your proposed project
  • Part 2: Asking if the person has any goals for the heritage resources you are utilizing in your project
  • Part 3: Asking if the person would have any concerns about you doing the project you described
  • Part 4: Asking (in an open-ended fashion) whether the person might know anything that would help you achieve your research goals
  • Part 5: Thanking the person for their time

Start the meeting by describing your proposed project and asking the person an open-ended question about what they might know that could help you achieve your goals, or if they have goals for the heritage resources you are utilizing in your project. Your goal should be to get a sense of who might care about the project you are proposing, what aspects would be most compelling to them so you can decide how to proceed with respect to those social contexts.

For example, if you are researching a historic cemetery, you should include a consultation meeting with the cemetery caretaker in your planning process, and possibly contact active descendants or historical society representatives that may have interest in the work. Often this action is the difference between doing detached academic research utilizing a cemetery as data and doing work which also contributes to the preservation of the cemetery. Your process and products can be designed in a way that helps caretakers physically maintain the cemetery and share contextual information with genealogists and amateur historians. In turn, you are more likely to be welcomed back if you would like to do more research and you may find yourself contacted by stakeholders over time with project ideas or new data. Strategy Document

The Strategy Document is a tool for writing down your plan for research and dissemination. Having a Strategy Document written out is particularly helpful if the data you are using is sensitive, if you need to communicate your practices to review boards or supervisors, or if the project will take a long time. Think of this document as a way to set expectations for your work. It need not be long or exhaustive, but it should explain what you’re doing, what data you are using, how you will manipulate it, and how you will discuss it in public so that even people who do not understand the technology you are using can comprehend. Writing it down rather than keeping it in your head will help you plan to use time and resources efficiently to achieve your research objectives, and will increase the chances that your work will be well-regarded among colleagues. An effective Strategy Document includes the following things:

    1. The Purpose of the project in 3 sentences or less. If the work is a component of a larger project or mission-driven institution, the purpose should directly tie into the mission of that larger enterprise.
    1. Concrete, achievable Strategic Goals that cover both the academic contribution and the way you would like the project to be perceived by specific people. For example, you may want to learn about a phenomenon X by researching it using digital archaeology tool Y. Additional goals you may have in mind is to demonstrate the value of tool Y for archaeological research, or to argue for the legitimacy of studying phenomenon X within the field of archaeology. Furthermore you may be interested in incorporating marginalized perspectives and although it may not be so central to your process that it makes it into your “Purpose” or your 2-sentence pitch, you would want to list this as a strategic goal to keep track of.
    1. An Outreach and Dissemination Plan that covers where, how, and how often you will share portions of the work in academic, public, and community engagement settings. Will you pursue the project as open scholarship, sharing the content and process openly throughout, or are there some aspects you will keep private? And are there people or communities you must be held accountable to before sharing? Policy Document

A Policy Document is essentially a more formal version of the Strategic Plan, and the main difference between them is that a Policy should include who is responsible for which tasks. This tool is most appropriate for those whose projects involve multiple colleagues working toward a shared goal or when the project involves representing institutions publicly. Having a clear, plain-language document describing planned work and distributing responsibility for that work to specific people helps put everyone working on the project on the same page from the start, and it can be shared with supervisors or institutional stakeholders who might request evidence that the work is consistent with their requirements.

The structure of the Policy Document should reflect the structure of your project. At the beginning there should be a statement of Purpose and a list of Strategic Goals, and following should be sections corresponding to the work ahead, divided either into topical components (e.g. database component, survey component, community outreach component) or process stages (e.g. consultation, data gathering, database management, dissemination) depending on what is most helpful to those involved in the research. In social media management this sort of document is customarily divided into sections corresponding to each social media account, and in each section there is a brief description of the account’s purpose, administration, content guidelines, and concrete and measurable short-term objectives. In a research version, you may divide such a document into sections according to topical components and allocate one for each collaborator, so each collaborator has a set of responsibilities and a way to judge whether their component is complete. It is a good idea to also state how authorship and other forms of public credit will be distributed between participants either in an appropriate section or at the end of the document.

Besides reducing the likelihood of miscommunication, having a Policy Document is also a way to diffuse conflict and frustration among collaborators. For example, the group can revisit the document and re-assess the plan if one collaborator is unable to complete their portion. The focus of the attention is the plan rather than the individual, which often reduces the tension around such interactions. (As an aside, while Policy Documents can usually be written by the individuals involved in a project, it is helpful to engage a research consultant who has experience in strategic planning to ensure the plan is sound.)

1.7.4 Persisting and Adapting your Plan

If you do most of your research on your own or improvise often, you may not be used to following a plan. Even if your plan is loose and flexible and two sentences long, we strongly urge you to follow one, and to return to it at a regular interval to consider whether to adjust your approach. The biggest difficulties people have in continuing their digital archaeology projects are with people, not technology, so the human aspect of project planning deserves attention. Everyone has heard of colleagues not believing certain projects have intellectual value or researchers who used data in a way that upset colleagues or interlocutors. Try to avoid that. Most of the time you can. When you reach a roadblock that needs to be solved by communicating with other scholars or stakeholders, troubleshoot it using the logic and persistence you would to solve a technical issue.

1.7.5 Exercises

    1. Write a two-sentence pitch for your most recent, already-completed project. Save that text in a file with your project data or technical plan.
    1. Write a two-sentence pitch for your dream project. Convince yourself in two sentences of why it is worthwhile to pursue.
    1. Identify a person who is more senior than you who might be interested in your dream project. What could you learn from them about the technical skills, data, or audience of your project? Revise your two-sentence pitch as if you were speaking to them specifically.