The senior administrators who participated in this survey offered numerous suggestions for strengthening and making DCHIs more sustainable. The following recommendations are a synthesis of their ideas and of common themes and issues that arose in the survey.
Planning and Marketing Recommendations
- Conduct needs assessments, market analyses, or some other appropriate research prior to formally establishing a DCHI, in order to identify audiences, clarify opportunities, and determine the nature and form the DCHI should take.
- Develop a business plan as soon as the idea for a DCHI becomes viable; revisit the plan at various intervals throughout the life of the DCHI.
- Create a separate business plan for each new initiative or program a DCHI undertakes. These plans should identify strategies and measurable criteria for determining success, specify time periods when projects are to be reevaluated, and include exit strategies if programs need to be dropped.
- Develop knowledge management and intellectual property policies for the DCHIs, so the assets of the initiatives are clearly identified and managed.
- Recruit more corporate board members to encourage new perspectives and foster future philanthropy.
- Market DCHIs and their products and services aggressively to the digital cultural heritage community.
- Promote DCHIs to the public.
The underlying objective of these recommendations is to make DCHIs more accountable and well planned and thereby reduce the uncertainties they face from one year to the next. Survey participants felt that DCHIs are often poorly developed entities. They emerge from a perceived sense of need rather than from factual knowledge (such as that provided by market research or a needs assessment) and frequently do not have formal, written business plans. When developing new programs, they rarely have a business strategy in place to implement these programs and monitor and evaluate their success. This lack of planning from inception through establishment results in ill-defined financial, human resource, and program needs.
DCHIs also must raise their visibility among the public and the specific communities they wish to serve. They need strategies (such as public and private partnerships and marketing plans) to attract and develop audiences. In the absence of such strategies, they risk dilution in an environment where they cannot be distinguished from the plethora of other information resources.
- Train executive directors, managers, and other administrative personnel of DCHIs in project management, business plan development, market and needs assessments, and financial management for nonprofits.
- Develop technology training for practitioners and implementers of DCHIs that is tailored to the cultural community and using cultural heritage content.
- Develop leadership training for senior administrators of cultural institutions to increase awareness about the nature of digital cultural initiatives and the need to integrate these projects into the operations of the institution.
- Conduct a survey of digital cultural heritage training programs to clarify what is currently available to the cultural community, what gaps exist and who might best fill them, and what obstacles make it difficult for people to take advantage of training opportunities.
- Create an online, edited directory of digital cultural heritage training resources for the cultural community.
To implement the planning recommendations outlined above, more training is needed in the areas of management, technology, and leadership for managers and practitioners. Some training is offered in academic programs, ad hoc workshops, and seminars given at conferences but there is no clear understanding of the extent of training that is available, who offers it, how they offer it, and whether it is adequate.
Integration and Culling Recommendation
- Conduct a meeting of stakeholders to discuss how DCHIs can be better positioned with respect to one another and to other digital projects. The meeting should address the need to clarify mission statements and audiences, minimize overlap and redundancy of activities, integrate organizations and explore new efforts under way to do so, and identify each organization’s intent in a particular domain.
A prevailing theme among interviewees was the need for “culling and integrating” in the digital cultural heritage community. Participants felt there was too much confusion about “who was doing what” among their own constituencies and the public at large. The process of phasing out some DCHIs was thought to be critical, albeit difficult. DCHIs emerge from a strong passion that tends to keep them alive longer than may be fruitful, and no tradition of exit strategies exists for their dissolution. The process of integration may be somewhat easier, in that it has advantages from the sustainability viewpoint of individual DCHIs. Integration can leverage resources, bring about economies of scale, and produce synergies among programs and members.32
Stable Repositories for Digital Cultural Resources Recommendation
- Conduct a study of universities, publishers, and other repositories of digital cultural resources to examine how they acquire and manage these materials, the issues involved in doing so, and their suitability as long-term repositories for digital cultural resources.
DCHIs that produce a digital product need to create an infrastructure to house and maintain that product or they need to partner with another organization or institution with such an infrastructure. Participants in this survey clearly preferred to view universities or publishers as long-term repositories for digital cultural resources. (Within universities, scholarly technology programs or digital library production departments are favored choices.) Nevertheless, no one knows how viable these repositories will be in the long run. Are they actively or passively accepting this role? How are they collecting and sustaining born-digital resources? Will there be a limit to the number of projects they can handle?
Institutions and organizations that are serving as repositories of these resources need to be examined more closely, so that the decision to transfer one’s resource or to partner with a repository can be made in good confidence.
Fostering Communication Between DCHIs, Funders, and Their Cultural Heritage Constituency Recommendations
- Create opportunities for discussion between leaders of the funding community and DCHIs to try to align the sustainability concerns of the DCHI community with the interests and capabilities of the funders.
- Conduct a survey of the cultural heritage constituency to understand what it needs or expects from DCHI products, services, and organizations.
The discussions with DCHIs and funding agencies revealed a partial mismatch between the sustainability needs and concerns of the two groups. The federal funding agencies are addressing sustainability issues by investigating long-term research problems in humanities computing and technical solutions to the problem of sustainability of data sets, as well as encouraging best practices. DCHIs acknowledge the importance of these areas, but are equally concerned about other problems that affect sustainability: for example, organizational dynamics, growth and change, the need for funding to sustain projects after they are developed, and the need for training at all levels. DCHIs also were fairly critical of funding agency and foundation strategies, feeling that funders were ill informed about DCHIs’ needs and shortsighted in their funding goals. Meetings between stakeholders in both groups would help clarify the differing perspectives and open a dialogue that might lead to more agreement between what DCHIs feel they need and what funders feel they can provide.
In addition, a third party needs to be brought into the discussion: the individuals who contribute to, and use, DCHI resources. What does this constituency want from DCHIs that offer digital products to the cultural or educational community? What do they need from organizations that investigate or champion digital cultural heritage issues? Some baseline data on the perspectives of this community should be gathered before dialogue can be opened with this critical third partner.
32 Recently, a small group of DCHIs have begun discussing ways to integrate their needs by centralizing some of their activities and administration without dissolving the unique identities of each organization. This group, called the “Allied Digital Humanities Organizations Committee” (ADHOC), is exploring the feasibility of integrating-via an umbrella organization-various aspects of their operations, particularly the legal forms these organizations take, the business services they require, the publications they produce, and the events they sponsor. The DCHIs participating in ADHOC are the Association of Computing in the Humanities, the Association of Literary and Linguistic Computing, the National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage, the Society for Textual Scholarship, and the Text Encoding Initiative Consortium.
From Unsworth, John. “Re: Welcome” ADHOC Listerv firstname.lastname@example.org (private discussion list) (August 16, 2002).