Krystal Thomas: Thank you, and welcome, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today’s webinar. My name is Krystal Thomas and I’m the digital archivist at Florida State University, and I’m currently the chair of the project managers group steering committee. And we’re excited today to be hosting Caitlin Haynes for a presentation about the Smithsonian Transcription Center’s agile approach to program and community management. This webinar is a part of our series on skill sharing and virtual learning experiences that we started running last year because of the pandemic.
Just a little housekeeping before we get started. If you have any questions during the presentation, please type them into the zoom chat. And we will bring them up at the end of Caitlin’s presentation. I would also like to let everyone know that this webinar will be recorded and uploaded to the DLF YouTube channel afterwards. So without much further ado, I will introduce Caitlin very quickly. Caitlin Haynes is the program coordinator for the Smithsonian Transcription Center where she collaborates with staff around the Smithsonian and worldwide digital volunteers to improve accessibility to the Smithsonian’s digitized historic collections.
And with that, Caitlin, it’s over to you. Caitlin Haynes: Hi, everybody. Thank you all so much for coming today. And thank you to Krystal and Anu and Gayle and everyone who helped coordinate this webinar today, and who helps to manage this amazing Project Managers Working Group. This is so exciting. I am very passionate about transcription center and about collaboration and communication. So anytime we get the opportunity to talk about what we’re doing, and sort of the lessons we’ve learned well in communication with others in our field, so that we can brainstorm how to make that even better, is an exciting opportunity that we usually jump at.
So I’m going to go ahead and share my screen. And I do have a few little slides here. So before I kind of dive into the background of transcription center, and what we do here in the Smithsonian, I did want to kind of qualify here, clarify and qualify everything and say that I am not a professional project manager, I am an archivist by training, I have a graduate degree in United States history and library science. And I have sort of grown in different ways, professionally in various positions in the cultural heritage field and inside the Smithsonian as well.
I’ve been in this position since 2018, here at the transcription center. And I don’t have any professional project manager, or program management certification. And the success of transcription center, which is a long standing program, is largely due to the sort of diverse kinds of different people inside and outside the institution that helped to make it all possible. And a lot of the work that we’re doing right now with agile program management is was literally sort of started and developed just a few weeks ago, which is really exciting.
This is really perfectly timed. And everything that we do, even though transcription center is eight years old is always sort of still in flux. I think that’s sort of the nature of programs in the cultural heritage field. Regardless, I’m sure I hope a lot of you can relate to that, or I hope not, you guys can relate to that, um, that, you know, we’re still sort of always figuring things out, always learning. And then of course, the resources and staff and time capacity are sometimes always changing.
So this is sort of just meant, sort of the ways that we’ve approached things, the sort of challenges and maybe even failures that we’ve faced in the history of transcription center, and the ways in which we’re trying to do things a little bit differently now. Alright, so with that, I want to go into a little bit of background about the transcription center in general, since I’m not sure how familiar everybody is with TC. Oh, and with my beautiful blurry picture.
Sorry, guys. Um, so what is the transcription center? So, created in 2013 the transcription center is the institution’s largest digital volunteering and crowdsourcing platform. It was developed inside the Smithsonian’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, which is our OCIO. Our IT unit is just a website freely available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, that connects curious learners everywhere with digitized content from across the Smithsonian’s museum departments, libraries and archives, and invites digital volunteers in helping us make those materials more searchable, readable and accessible through collaborative transcription and review.
Over the past eight years, transcription center has grown exponentially. So, together alongside more than 52,000 digital volunteers to date, we’ve transcribed and reviewed over 800,000 pages of historical materials, including diaries, scientific specimen labels, letters, memorabilia, scrapbooks, and more from 19 of our different Smithsonian units.
05:18 - In 2019, we became the first credible, federal crowdsourcing project to launch transcription of archival audio recordings.
05:25 - And since then, our volunteers have captioned more than 200 hours of these collections. We’ve also transcribed materials in more than 26 different languages. anonymous users can transcribe on the transcription center, anything that they would like, without registering, but registered users, which we do require that our registered users be 14 years of age or older, are able to transcribe, review other users’ work, and track their volunteer activity.
Unlike other onsite volunteer programs here at the Smithsonian, our digital volunteers can participate as much or as little as they’d like, with no minimum work requirement on our end, and no particular skill set or past experience required to join. Our volunteers range in age, background and interest, and include high school and college students, educators, retired and active librarians, history enthusiasts, scientists, corporations, everything in between.
06:23 - We do know that we have participation from over 150 different universities, colleges and high schools around the world. And then like I said, we also have participation internally from our user community of colleagues across the institution from those 19 different Smithsonian units. And what I mean by that is, of course, those different departments within all of the various various museums across the institution, our internal transcription center team, so the people that are actually working day to day full time on the transcription center, to help communicate and in with and engage all of these different user communities inside and outside the institution.
help with technical development, and project and program management is of course myself as the program coordinator. And then we also have on community coordinator who’s full time and a technical lead developer. So three full time staff members. Transcriptions that are activity ensures that our Smithsonian collections, as I said, are not only more easily discovered and accessed, but it also provides our diverse and dispersed user communities the opportunity to engage with historical content on a personal level, which leads to new discoveries and connections.
Thanks to our digital volunteers, Smithsonian curators have been able to locate specific information to include in exhibits. Individuals researching their family history, including our very own Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch, have been able to locate specific ancestors in the historical record, and archival collection staff have been able to make connections between our records throughout the Smithsonian and with external museums.
And throughout all of this, our volunteers and researchers worldwide have been very communicative about the ways in which participation in transcription center has impacted their lives, which of course, means the world to us.
08:20 - And I think even one of these comments makes all of the work that we do, important and meaningful and worth it. But of course, what I really want to focus on today, and I’m sure why all of you actually joined is the ways in which our team has really developed, maintained and grown our user communities both inside and outside the Smithsonian, and how our approach and strategies for community and overall program and project management has adapted to some of the major changes that we’ve seen during the covid-19 pandemic.
So what did we do in the very beginning of transcription center in 2013, I’m going to go all the way back. So the development of transcription center inside the Office of the Chief Information Officer provided us with a number of sort of strengths and opportunities. So the primary focus in the beginning of transcription center was on technical development and support, which we know puts us in kind of a unique position, because not all crowdsourcing projects, or cultural heritage projects have kind of continuous ongoing technical support.
So that’s always been really amazing and a really incredible strength, I think of transcription center. And because of that, because that was integrated from the very beginning. It meant that the development of our platform was really seamlessly integrated with a lot of our internal and homegrown Smithsonian databases and content management systems, that are archivists and museum collection staff were working with across the institution.
So it meant that we could easily sort of import that material, that digitized content in different ways. And it also meant that we can more automatically and seamlessly export those completed transcriptions into our databases to ensure their search ability and accessibility in a way that didn’t require any sort of manual labor on the part of the transcription center team or archivists, librarians, or museum staff. So awesome, excellent all the way.
But because the focus, rightly so being in OSIO, was primarily on this technical development and support. We didn’t necessarily from the very beginning, equally prioritize, or kind of estimate appropriately, the need for a community management aspect of transcription center. This was, there wasn’t an element and a component of community management that was built into the initial development of the transcription center, it was always meant to be a program centered around public engagement, but it was also a pilot project in 2013.
To see if and even how this would work within the Smithsonian, there wasn’t a precedent within our institution to inform best practices, or provide information about how the public would engage or wouldn’t engage.
11:16 - And there was sort of a larger kind of guess that, yeah, okay, we need a community manager, I think, to engage our internal users. But in terms of an external community, we’re going to build this thing, we’re going to see how it goes. And we’re gonna hope that they’re gonna come because it’s the Smithsonian. So we built it, and they did come. Early participation and engagement and sign up on the transcriptions on our site was really high.
But it was largely based on the novelty and excitement around the Smithsonian brand at large. The question of how to keep users engaged and sustain participation and really build a community of public users and volunteers was a little bit more challenging. So in 2014, the team brought on our first dedicated project coordinator.
12:03 - So one of my predecessors, Meghan Ferriter, who is, of course, at the Library of Congress now, and she’s incredible and Transcription Center owes a lot of its success to her. So she was tasked specifically with handling this sort of internal and external community management and engagement. But in the beginning, as I said, things were relatively separated in terms of technical development on one side and community engagement management on the other.
Megan quickly realized that volunteers were transcribing pretty quickly on the site, but the interest was declining since the launch of the transcription center, and that most users were not completing the necessary second step of the transcription process, which is volunteer review. So to solve this, she continued and increased a sort of combination of everyday and continuous communications and outreach, including the creation of a monthly e-newsletter, social media channels, blasts of information across social media, our website and in the newsletters about new projects, staff highlights, volunteer highlights collection spotlights, etc.
blog posts across the institution, and then have pre-recorded and live virtual engagements with other Smithsonian staff. She also began working with colleagues across the institution to craft more structured experiences, targeted campaigns that dove deeper into particular topics or projects, to keep our community members engaged and interested in the kinds of material that we were launching on the transcription center. She’s also the one that coined the phrase volunteer as a way to more accurately capture the role of our participants.
Many of you have seen that hashtag on social media that we use to more accurately capture that role as equals appears on our initiative, rather than simple public participants on helping us out because our volunteers really are the ones that are helping us learn just as much if not more than we are getting from them in transcribing these collections. This combined approach that she created that we’ve continued in transcription center up until this day of sort of combining structured outreach efforts and everyday engagement practices that were consistent and constant, offered the increasingly diverse community that we were getting of digital volunteers multiple ways to dive into our Smithsonian collections, ensuring that we had this continued public interest in participation.
Even as users cycled in and out which is a just the nature of a crowdsourcing activity. Equally important we found was the various avenues of communications between volunteers and our Smithsonian staff. So communication with our volunteers, we realized really early on, was critical to the success of our program, not only to gather, inform, encourage and support participants, but to also help us troubleshoot issues on the platform, answer transcription questions, and acknowledge the importance and impact of volunteer work.
Also, of course, a key component of that is soliciting feedback from our participants, being open and willing to listen to what they have to say about how things are working, or maybe not working, to improve and inform our own evolving workflows and projects, from the simplest change to the most complex technical developments, the volunteers had to be involved and continue to need to be involved on every level of this, because they are the major ones being impacted, and their use and experience, of course, significantly impacts the success of our program overall.
So like I said, in the beginning, this is all going really well, everybody’s doing a great job. There’s a lot of strengths to it developing at OCIO, and there being a strong focus on technical development, and ongoing support. And then, of course, our community manager, our first coordinator did a really good job of creating different kinds of strategies, and engagement opportunities to sort of craft this and grow and develop and support this new program.
But that technical aspect, and that community management aspect remained relatively separated.
16:06 - Our community though itself, the growth of it remained relatively steady. And while large, was still for the most part manageable, a manageable number. And again, that growth was steady. So it was okay for us to sort of continue to do things in a somewhat separate way from technical and community perspectives. But Dun, dun dun, then we face 2020. And throughout all of this work, let me just back up for a second.
16:36 - And we did have, of course, some sort of continuous and consistent set of challenges and priorities and messaging that we have always maintained throughout the transcription center pre- and post-pandemic. That of course, the primary strengths of our program arise from the pan-institutional nature of the program and our dedicated communities that our digital volunteers are essential to the mission of the Smithsonian, and that they deserve diverse, consistent, and clear communication engagement.
But there’s a larger challenge, of course, that the community itself is ever-evolving and continuously growing and that our resources, just like any other cultural heritage project and program, are limited. So then we get into 2020. All right, so like many other digital platforms and crowdsourcing projects, transcriptions under saw a massive uptick in participation and engagement during the pandemic. Between March of 2020 and March of 2021, the number of registered digital volunteers on our site increased from 14,000, a little bit over 14,000 to over 51,000, with participants transcribing and reviewing an astounding 5000 pages a month, if not more.
Demand for new projects and content, as well as engagement opportunities also, of course, increased, with Smithsonian staff working together to ensure that new material was being imported. And I’m gonna have to apologize, I don’t know if you guys can hear that. But it is really storming outside, and it is loudly thundering, so apologies if you guys can hear the storm. This high level of engagement and attention on the transcription center primarily stemmed from the fact that we were one of the only digital volunteering platforms here at the Smithsonian.
And we are the only digital volunteering platform here at the Smithsonian, that allows such flexible participation. Because of this, though, sort of all this attention these new users as you can see this giant spike and our numbers continue to grow. This fiscal year, did result in an increased awareness of our program, of course, not only externally, but also within our own institution. So media spotlights, public inquiries directed across the Smithsonian about the transcription center, and new requests from corporate partners and donors to our institutions, central advancement offices, opened up a lot of new opportunities for our team to collaborate with colleagues and participants that we hadn’t necessarily been in communication with before.
We also saw a significant change in the makeup of our volunteer community. So prior to the pandemic transcription centers, most active and communicative digital volunteers were what we largely classified as self-motivated participants. So these were primarily individuals between the ages of 25 and 65, who chose to participate on their own or, seek out on their own, the transcription center as a way to gain knowledge, give back and directly engage with the Smithsonian and our historic collections.
Many of these individuals had an interest or background in history or science or the cultural heritage field, some of them were even professional proofreaders, amazing, and engagement from sort of more specific or kind of groups of people, like students and educators and even corporate employees did exist, but occurred on a relatively rare basis. Almost immediately at the start of the covid-19 pandemic, though, transcription center began to see an extremely high increase in inquiries and participation from both of these new groups, students and corporations.
I mean, sort of groups of individuals participating as a team, as part of a course, as part of an activity with their organization, etc. seeking opportunities to volunteer safely while at homes, we saw a huge uptick in those kinds of participants.
20:37 - With such a high uptick in participation and interest, of course, our small team, which at the time was just myself, and our technical lead, we did not have a second community coordinator at this time, meant that we were getting quickly overwhelmed. As you can imagine, with getting almost over 30,000 new digital volunteers in just a few months, we got pretty overwhelmed. And it became really apparent that our previous sort of modes of program management, or really lack thereof, because we were basically doing things on our own individually, was really inadequate, it really spotlighted for us the kind of problems and gaps in our current processes and amplify existing issues and challenges that we had.
So it really highlighted the need for more strategic planning and strategic program management. It also, of course, highlighted the need for resources as well to improve collaboration and communication within our own team. And of course, with our various user communities. In short, it forced us to prioritize and strategize. As the sole community and program coordinator at the transcription center at the time, I was faced with, as you can imagine, thousands of emails and new volunteers.
And so, I sort of took a step back and worked to strategically seek out resources and help from various colleagues around the institution. So I called upon fellow volunteer coordinators and museum educators to help me draft new guidelines and information for students who were seeking forms for proof of volunteer service, which was a huge, huge need. When students could not volunteer in other ways. I called upon our participating Smithsonian units in the transcription center, to, of course, step in and identify additional available content to transcribe and also help me answer all of these public inquiries.
And then, of course, I also kind of took advantage of these new opportunities for collaboration, and worked with our Office of Public Affairs and the central Smithsonian and our central office of advancement.
22:46 - With press coverage, social media engagement, and the development of new virtual engagements for students, and corporate partners. I also, of course, had to start working even more closely and communicatively, with, is that a word, communicatively? With our technical development team, our technical lead, to ensure that our site could handle this huge increase in traffic that we were seeing and brainstorm additional functionality and troubleshooting to improve our user experience and sort of answer new platform issues, questions, challenges that we were seeing, and that our volunteers were bringing to us.
These collaborations not only helped in the immediate sense of improving our overall team communications and just like, making my life a little bit easier, but also opened up new avenues for solving some of our biggest challenges, meaning resources and staff capacity.
23:38 - Because of the new kind of attention and awareness of transcription center around the institution, primarily in our central office of advancement. We were able to push leadership here in Ohio and across the institution to dedicate more resources to the transcription center. And we were able to hire our new team member, Emily Cain, our community coordinator, who I believe is also on this call in November of 2020, to assist with the management of our ever-growing community of volunteers.
We’ve also worked with our advancement teams to develop corporate engagement opportunities specific to the transcription center that have resulted in new funding to support transcription center initiatives. So, things like a virtual transcribe-a-thons with corporate members, as well as sort of content experts sharing information about our collections on a deeper, more personal level. We’ve also, of course, engaged in more virtual transcribe-a-thons like you see here on the screen, with students, high school and college, around the country and the world.
We hosted transcribe-a-thons pre-pandemic, but primarily in person, and so that, of course, limited things to schools in our surrounding DC area. By doing them online, we’re able to not only welcome more people, but have them with a wider array of our volunteers.
24:53 - And in a way that fits all of our schedules a little bit better. We’ve also found that virtual transcribe-a-thons just work better because we can share a screen and really kind of get into the documents together in a way where we’re not running around the room and trying to like make everybody pay attention to somebody else’s computer. So it actually works really well. Most recently, though, literally in the past few weeks, we’ve been able to take a step back and reassess everything about the way that we were approaching program and management in the transcription center.
Now that we have a new team member, and more support and resources, we were able to take a step back and have an actual strategic planning week to address our overall program management, our team roles and responsibilities and our goals and priorities.
25:37 - All of this work and development helped reaffirm the transcription center’s overall mission and allowed us to see the true benefit of collaborative and iterative, agile project management. So before 2020, as I said, the community engagement and management aspects of our program and technical development and management of our program were largely separate. So we had sort of all of this ongoing work kind of going on on the day to day basis, and with larger kind of goals and campaigns and initiatives on the community and game engagement side.
And then our technical work was largely structured as kind of one off tasks and sort of, or one week sprints, and more of like a waterfall project management approach. And the two didn’t necessarily always meet. It was difficult for us to kind of keep track of each other’s progress, align goals and priorities and hold each other accountable and hold ourselves accountable for what we were really getting done. Other, some initiatives kind of dragged on with no real ability for our team to follow through.
Now, however, after bringing together our internal team, just the three of us again, we’ve been able to establish new processes and workflows that prioritize and organize program initiatives and equitably divide up team responsibilities to address our community needs and capitalize on new opportunities sort of more efficiently and appropriately when they arise. So we’re now sort of focusing and tracking all of our programs and tasks under larger ongoing and upcoming campaigns and initiatives that allow for us to sort of adapt as our ever-evolving community changes, while still incorporating new feedback and ideas.
And so one of the ways that we do this is, of course, to sort of come up with our larger initiatives, campaigns and priorities, and then group the technical tasks and the community engagement and management tasks that relate to those things under under that larger project, or goal or whatever it may be. And then we can more efficiently and effectively track that work, inform each other’s decisions, provide feedback on each other’s work and progress.
And then also, of course, incorporate those that community feedback that’s so essential to actually making our develop technical development and functionality better. We also meet weekly with our larger OCIO team, and with just the three of us, to go over our weekly status reports, track campaign and initiative progress, adjust timelines and tasks, and check in on our successes and challenges. We’ve also begun documenting and tracking our work collaboratively, through platforms like Airtable and Jira that create and share content and allow us to capture those new ideas and comment on each other’s work.
This also ensures that we can more easily maintain not only consistent and transparent communication with each other, which was definitely needed. And we’ve improved because of it, but also with our internal and external communities. Because we can easily pull updates, information stats and content for the reports that we put out monthly to our internal user communities. And then also that we can use for social media blasts and campaigns for e-newsletters, and for website content, like blogs, etc.
So, one example of this, without completely pulling back the curtain and letting you guys see every little aspect of our dirty laundry here. The transcription center is one of the biggest things that we noticed with these sort of massive changes to our user community here and the transcription center was that we were getting a lot of direct feedback from users about sort of confusion with our process, and questions about instructions. And then we also were beginning to see an uptick in errors and in the accuracy of completed transcriptions, because again, a lot of the new users we were seeing were high school students, or individuals just participating for one event, like a corporate engagement transcribe-a-thon.
That’s not to say that these students or these corporate partners were not super motivated and engaged and dedicated to the work, but transcribing 19th century and 18th century handwriting is hard, even for those of us who’ve been doing it for a long time. So we started to notice an uptick in errors. And also, you know, just sort of those little difficulties in navigating the site or getting overwhelmed with instructions were kind of amplified with all of these new users coming on.
So we decided that this was a problem, obviously, that would best be solved, not only by making this idea of addressing new user needs and challenges its own initiative, and prioritizing it in our workflow, but also dividing up what are the individual tasks that we need to do that kind of bring together both the technical and community engagement perspective. So this is something that’s ongoing right now, we’re still working on this, we’ve completed some of these tasks, we haven’t others, but we have them sketched out in timelines that we can shift as needed, based on feedback from volunteers on testing that we’re doing.
So we are looking at the user experience that our users are having, we are working with some of our internal units here in the Smithsonian to conduct a volunteer survey that we’ll be putting out hopefully, in the next few months, we have developed sort of ways to do targeted outreach and engagement, a lot of which has been informed by new technical functionality that our lead developer came up with to sort of make us we get a little message internally in transcription center, if participants are completing pages like really, really, really, really quickly.
And that way, our community coordinator can sort of directly reach out to users and say, like, “Hey, is everything going, okay? You just reviewed 1000 pages in an hour. ” And sort of checking in with users more directly. We’ve also come up with a number of different ways to engage our users in person. So by launching new virtual engagements, like our online office hours, which we launched a few months ago, and we have those each month, new kinds of collections, deep dives and webinars that we’ve been hosting.
We’ve been sketching out new web content, revising our instructions on our processes, a lot of which, again, has been informed by our internal community who has been continuously providing feedback, as well as sort of drawing upon the strengths of some of our longest serving volunteers, and who are open and willing to communicate with us and sort of test things out for us to say like, “oh, like, yeah, I’d love to read through these new instructions and tell you if they’re terrible or wonderful,” and they don’t hold back, which is actually perfect, and super, super appreciated.
And in how we are able to actually develop and implement things. So this is just one example of how we’re sort of grouping this stuff together in a way that we weren’t before. And we are really kind of sketching that out, again, in Airtable and on Jira, and sort of making sure that things are on a timeline, but are also iterative enough and flexible enough that we can incorporate user feedback when it comes through. Because oftentimes, that is really what is leading us to the most success in developing these new fill in the blank instructions, content, engagements, etc.
So overall, we’ve learned a lot of lessons. And some that we knew before the pandemic, and of course, some that have been more intensively reaffirmed. And then, of course, new lessons with all of these drastic changes that have come about.
33:19 - The first one, and I say this a lot, and I mean, it is that the crowd is in control. And that’s really a good thing. That if you don’t kind of allow, I think every successful program, the biggest thing that I’ve learned, period, is that every successful program needs to have goals, it needs to have expectations, it needs to have priorities, but your goals and your expectations and your priorities and your strategies cannot be so cemented, that you don’t allow yourself to be flexible, and sort of take in the feedback and information that your crowd, whatever that may be, whether it’s your internal community or external community, or both, is providing you.
And being aware that they’re going to be changing all the time, especially in our sense, our community is changing all the time. And if we sort of don’t allow ourselves to be flexible, to be adaptable, and to kind of shift in response to those changes, we might miss out on some really incredible opportunities like corporate engagement that leads to more funding and resources for transcription center. We’ve also realized, of course, that success period, and anything that we’re doing from the smallest task to the largest initiative is not possible without communication, collaboration and consistency.
And I mean that across the board. So I think that pre-pandemic, we were really good about communicating with our internal units and with our volunteers, but we weren’t so great communicating with each other. And by kind of taking a step back to reassess that and to refocus efforts on doing that. We have only gotten better We’ve also learned, of course, that there’s a huge difference between maintenance and growth, obviously. And, you know, making sure that we’re targeting the right audiences, and not necessarily just building a larger one, we’re really excited about this large community that we have built, and that is continuing to rapidly grow.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we want to keep growing, growing, growing, growing, growing. What are we learning from these new sets of users that are coming into the transcription center? What are we gaining? What are they gaining from this experience? And what are the different ways that we can sort of take that information to develop our program further? You know, do we want to sort of focus on an aspect of volunteers who we don’t see as much in the transcription center that we want to? Or do we want to kind of focus attention on a new community group that is kind of ballooning, that maybe seems to be having more trouble, and really being able to take a step back and kind of strategically assess that has really, really served us well in this year.
So that is my sort of speed review of how we have changed transcription center, in response to some of the massive and drastic changes that we’ve seen in the past year, and how we’re sort of still learning to kind of go with the flow, and adapt as needed to the needs and evolving nature of our communities. So I wanted to make sure, okay, good, that we still had a ton of time for questions.
36:31 - So I will hand everything back to you, Krystal.
36:36 - Krystal Thomas: Thank you so much, Caitlin, that was so interesting. And I’m hopeful that lots of people have questions. So as we noted, when we got started, you can type your questions right into the chat, or I believe, yep, Gayle has put the message out, you can just unmute yourself and ask your question directly to Caitlin. While people are thinking, oh, is there someone? Caitlin Haynes: No pressure guys, you can also reach out to us anytime at this email address: Transcribe@SI.
edu, it comes straight to me, and our community coordinator, Emily, so please don’t hesitate to reach out, we’re always happy to share sort of more about the nuts and bolts of any aspect of transcription center. So yeah, please don’t be afraid…
37:35 - Krystal Thomas: I have a question that maybe will get people going or give people time to think ,you said something in the beginning that I think really resonates with lots of people that get involved with the project managers group. ,Aad that is that we don’t have training at being project or product managers, that’s often just something we get thrown into as part of our jobs. So a question I had for you, because we get asked this a lot is, how did you go about educating yourself and figuring out what pieces are useful to you? What? What type of style is useful to you? And yeah, let’s start there.
38:13 - Caitlin Haynes: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, that’s something that we’ve struggled with, obviously, and I think a lot of my own personal kind of challenge with all of this is just finding the time, even to stop for a second, you know, you’re sort of, I always say, like, I’m keeping so many burning plates in the air that I don’t have time to even breathe, or get any sort of training or educate myself on anything else.
38:41 - And, but I think one thing that is unique about our situation is that we do work really closely with the contracting company that employs a lot of our stuff, a lot of our team and our technical developers here in the Smithsonian. And, and unlike us, in the cultural heritage, a lot of them are professional project managers and program managers. And so, as we’ve been able to finally talk, take the time to step back. Our internal three person team has really taken advantage of that and gone to some of these co-workers inside and outside the Smithsonian and been like, show us how you do what you do.
And like, can we brainstorm some strategies? And, you know, how do we learn what any of this is? And so it’s really to the credit of a lot of those individuals who sort of laid out for us like, hey, you know, what isn’t useful? I’m approaching community management as like waterfall project management and doing like one-off tasks. Like that’s not useful. Maybe you guys should think about just like ongoing, like iterative approach to your work and you’re like, oh my god, wait, what and so, as soon as you know, we were sort of dropped that kind of lovely idea.
Um, that’s when myself and my colleague, Emily, were really able to just honestly spend a massive amount of time googling, and watching like LinkedIn learning, and YouTube courses, on what kinds of platforms are available to help you document these kinds of workflows? And what sorts of workflows do work best for agile project management? And how can we track this stuff better, and then getting together as an internal team, to brainstorm these ideas and these things that we’re learning and figuring out what is actually going to work the best for our team.
And not only from, like the actual implementation standpoint, but actually for like, what’s realistic, you know, like, I think we all get excited about documentation and platforms, and how we’re going to like, make everything work with a new workflow, but then you actually get into it, and you’re like, I actually don’t have time to be like putting this into a new spreadsheet every day. So really sort of figuring that out together. And that’s where I feel really strongly that like, meetings are not a bad thing.
We all have Zoom fatigue. And we’re all exhausted. And there’s never enough hours in the day. And I know particularly in the cultural heritage field, we’re all asked to do 15 different jobs. And it can be exhausting. And we can burn out. And I think because of that we have the tendency to be like, no, we’re not going to schedule another meeting. But I think it’s not about scheduling more meetings. It’s about scheduling the right meetings.
And it’s about being strategic about what those meetings are, and setting agendas and setting a goal for those meetings. And so we found that actually communicating more often. And meeting on a more consistent basis as an internal team has really, really helped us to not only educate ourselves on what some of these strategies are when it comes to program and project management, but to also actually do the work of implementing them and making it happen.
And making sure that at every step of this process, we’re checking in with each other, to make sure that we’re dividing this work up equitably, that we’re hearing each other’s thoughts, and opinions that we’re incorporating all of our feedback and our community’s feedback. And that we’re prioritizing the right kinds of work in the right kinds of ways, instead of just trying to do everything, helps a little bit.
42:23 - Krystal Thomas: It sounds like all good things. We do have a question in the chat. What do you think will change as we all emerge from the pandemic and the work/personal situations involved? For example, do you think you will still have such large numbers of participants in the future? Caitlin Haynes: Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s one thing that we’ve been talking a lot about internally, not only in the transcription center team, but across the Smithsonian.
And we have already started to see our numbers, I want to say decline, but not be as massive every day or every week or every month. Our numbers are still increasing every day, and every week and every month, but you know, we’re having like a couple hundred new volunteers a week instead of a couple thousand. So we’re already starting to see a little bit of a shift. I think part of that, though, is the season. So students are not necessarily in class right now.
Um, and people are taking time off or holidays. I think overall, though, the feedback that we have gotten directly from volunteers, and from our internal colleagues across the institution, primarily, our advancement teams, who are still getting requests from corporations to do virtual engagements is that, you know, even if everything tomorrow turns completely back to the way it was pre-pandemic, um, people are still interested in doing this, you know, they’ve realized, oh, I didn’t know that was a thing, or I knew that was a thing, but I didn’t know it could work so well or be so enjoyable.
And so we’re still getting these kinds of requests on an individual basis and on like, larger organization basis. And I think that that’s been really useful for us to see, we feel the same way though to like, you know, we originally thought like, when we transition to virtual transcribe-a-thons, that as soon as this was over, we would go back to in-person transcribe-a-thons. And I can tell you right now, I don’t necessarily see that that’s useful.
Because with a virtual transcribe-a-thon, you know, we can have 400 people on a Zoom call. And it’s not something we have to figure out the space for, or rearrange chairs. And we can engage with the materials in a more intimate, kind of close looking way, but we weren’t able to in person. So I think that we’re going to see not necessarily the same spike, but I do believe that we’re going to see continued engagement and participation and interest.
44:50 - Krystal Thomas: Great. Um, the next question is, do you have data on how many people are engaging with the transcription center projects using their tablets and phones? Caitlin Haynes: Yeah. Yes, it’s very little, it’s very little.
45:02 - Part of that is transcriptions center does work on a tablet or a phone. But we actually really discourage people from doing that just because you can transcribe on your phone, but it’s, like, a lot harder. And so we really discourage people from doing that. We do know a lot of people do use their tablets, though. But it is not that many, it is something we have been thinking about. kind of looking into more deeply, though. So we have kind of like overall data, but you don’t have a lot of those like sort of intricate details about user experience, or interest in mobile engagement with transcription center.
And most people don’t ask for that. Most people, if they are going to be looking at our collections, on their phone, or on their tablet, they’re going to be going to some of our other databases, they’re not going to transcribe, if that makes sense.
45:55 - But it’s definitely something that we’d like to look into further.
46:00 - Krystal Thomas: Next question is, could you please say more about how you interact directly with volunteers about their work? In cases where you’ve contacted them, as opposed to responding to inquiries from them? Do you find they’re receptive to that contact? Curious about what you find to be successful.
46:15 - Caitlin Haynes: Yeah, um, I don’t, Emily can continue to keep herself muted and her camera off if she wants, because I don’t want to put her on the spot here. Um, but a lot of our development of targeted outreach, like I was talking about before, and communications with our volunteers who we notice might be having some challenges or maybe are struggling with transcribing, or accurately that we are directly reaching out to all of that was developed and implemented by our community coordinator, Emily Cain, and she has done an incredible job of researching some of the new user errors that we’re doing, and I think has done a much more effective and seamless and maybe patient job I would have.
So I would love to sort of hear her response to that question.
47:09 - Emily Cain: Hey, everybody. Wonderful talk, Caitlin. Nice work. Nice to see all of you, I would say that we definitely have cases where people are not receptive to us contacting them, right, especially in and I start with that not because that is the more common response. It’s not, but it does happen. I think, especially with a program like ours, where people are able to transcribe, at their leisure on their own time in their own space, it can be a very sort of independent, isolated activity, if you want it to be, we do have members of our community who, who don’t come to the project in order to be engaged in a community, right.
And so that’s something that we try to be very mindful of that everybody has their own preferences. And we’re only reaching out to people directly whenever we feel like, it’s incredibly, when we feel like it’s gotten to that point where we either need to have a conversation and improve the work or we need to discontinue the relationship probably. But in most cases, and I think, you know, in every case, your approach is the key here, I spent a lot of time writing out a form template at a time that I wasn’t feeling frustrated, and was able to just kind of take a really kind of gentle approach of kind of redirecting people and saying, hey, I noticed that this was happening.
So I’m reaching out with some helpful tips so that we can all kind of develop these skills together.
48:42 - And I spent a lot of time writing a template email that sounds kind of like that, as opposed to sort of scolding people, because it is really important that we maintain a welcoming environment where people can learn together, and that we acknowledge that this work is hard. And that if you’re coming to it from a place, you know, that this this may be the only way that people have sort of engaged on this level with museum and archival materials before, right.
And so we want to encourage that sort of behavior by being really kind of a gentle and encouraging. And in the vast majority of cases people are really receptive to that and and, you know, kind of say thank you for all of those tips, and then we notice a change in their behavior.
49:31 - Krystal Thomas: Did anyone have any other questions? You can either type in the chat or unmute yourselves.
49:41 - Caitlin Haynes: I will also say too, just to follow up on what Emily said, I’m reaching out as well like that also gives us the opportunity to check in and be like, what are your thoughts? And many times, not only are a lot of these volunteers really receptive to hearing these helpful tips but are very communicative as well back to us and saying, “oh my god, yeah.
50:06 - This was just really confusing that like, I thought this button meant that and it really meant this other thing. And I didn’t realize, and that’s really eye opening and helpful for us to then, again, incorporate back into the sort of updates and edits that we’re doing to our instructions on our content making are making the buttons more clear, you know, things that we hadn’t thought about, because we get we’re so deeply entrenched in this, right? It’s sometimes hard, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.
And so reaching out to a lot of these volunteers sort of spotlights that for us sometimes. So that’s really useful.
50:49 - Krystal Thomas: not seeing any further questions, I want to be mindful of time. So thank you, again, Caitlin, and Emily Cain for popping in there, for the great presentation. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Gayle, the program associate for DLF for setting up these Zoom links and making sure the event ran successfully and also helped us with the recording. And I want to thank you all for joining this session. Please feel free to contact the project managers group via our listserv, if you have any questions or if watching this has inspired you and you want to share work that you are doing in the project management fields.
We’re always looking for other people to to host with talks like this. And then I will also just plug the project managers group right now is looking for its next cohort for our mentoring program. So if you are interested in being a mentor, that call actually closes at the end of the day tomorrow, and then we will next send out the call for mentees starting next week. So hopefully some of you will also be interested in participating in that and all of those details have gone out to the listserv, but I will pop into the chat he form to sign up to be a m ntor.
And then the mentee i formation will go out next w ek. But I’m just seeing lots o thanks. This was great. E eryone was really interested. S thank you again, Caitlin. It w s super interesting. And with t at, I will let you all go off i to your days. Thank you all so m ch. This was great. .