‘History of Heralds in Europe’ – A Collaborative Book-Project – Update
Developments of the Project since March 2015
The second workshop in March 2015 was followed by a very productive and motivated time, which saw a significant number of discussions and an elaborate exchange of ideas. Each group started by developing a basic structure for their chapter and also decided which scientific approaches were most suitable for being employed in their research. At the beginning of the working-phase, both platforms – googleDrive for the writing process and the exchange of material and google+ as a network for news, ideas and other discussions – were used successfully. After a few months the willingness to cooperate digitally decreased noticeably, which is a common and well-known development encountered in digital projects, caused by the full schedule of the participants and conflicting priorities as well as the complexity of working together in large groups without the possibility of meeting in person. In order to support the participants, the position of a project-coordinator was created in May 2016. Tasks included organizing the completion of the book-project by developing a schedule containing deadlines and intermediate objectives, coordinating the communication within and between the groups and by helping with software-problems.
Current Work in Progress
Since May, we have achieved a lot, so that the final stage of the project and the completion of the book have begun. Since May each participant-group were primarily concerned with creating their own chapters by planning the structure. Still, the participants were also focusing on a continuous exchange across all groups by providing other sources and information from their field of interest. Although each group writes their chapter collaboratively, the allocation of tasks and the approach to the writing-process were subject to individual organization. In order to create a complete, coherent concept in a single text as opposed to e.g. an anthology, part of the original approach was rejected: for instance, the original number of chapters was reduced from seven to six by incorporating the omitted chapter into the other ones. Consequently, the next step was the creation of a detailed table of contents, which was finished by the end of September. Now, the final phase of our project has started. Since a large number of spotlights – short descriptions of a subject or a source within a larger chapter – has already been finished, work on the final print-version has begun.
Experiences: Collaborative Writing and Working Together in the Digital Space
While writing the different chapters, some observations were made. It may not come as a surprise but setting a date and time for working simultaneously in the chapter-documents proved to be the most productive and time-serving way for every group. For that, it is necessary to set a regular appointment – which posed quite a challenge since the participant’s different schedules have to be taken into account. Therefore, central coordination of schedules, dates, appointments and working sessions proved to be essential for a successful course of the project. Working collaboratively poses another difficulty: not only does working in the digital space exclusively require knowledge of and the willingness to use different programs but also an intuitive grasp on using software may come in handy. Digital programs like googleDrive offer numerous advantages such as automatically saved, trackable changes. Also, there are no non-latest versions in use. Nevertheless some participants prefer to use more traditional ways of working together, so that it was necessary to combine ‘analogue’ and ‘digital’ working methods. A solution might be to develop an illustrated step-by-step instruction for explaining the use of the program or to take on the job of sending the current version to the member who does not want to participate in the use of digital programs.
However, obstacles like these are by no means exclusive to the realm of collaborative writing but in contrast to other approaches, working together digitally offers additional and feasible solutions to well-known problems. Another positive experience that we have made, was to create an exclusive digital space for exchange. This very exchange between the whole group, consisting of specialist for different fields of research, lead to productive discussions and was highly motivating. This way of working together reduced the workload for each participant since they could frequently profit from their colleagues‘ extant knowledge – therefore (and despite some minor issues that did not work out perfectly) we have definitely been encouraged in using this working method by the development of our project so far.