Sunday, February 25, 2007

Asking people to openly criticize your program

Every year, I have my students look at Winning the Vote with a critical eye. Winning the Vote was a true demonstration project completed in 2000 and it has not been maintained. Much has changed on the Internet -- in building sites, etc. -- since 2000 and so some of the comments reflect what we have learned since then. And there are comments on broken links, of course. How we think about digitization has also change and some of the comments reflect that. What truly intrigues me are how the students think about why and how the content was select, metadata, image display and more.

Today a student asked what I would do differently if I could go back and re-do the project. Wow! This was a demonstration project which was meant to teach a broad range of people and institutions about digitization. It achieved that goal. Everyone then could take what they had learned from the project and apply it elsewhere. And given all that I have learned since 2000, there are many things I would do differently (too many to think about), while trying to stay within the budget. But there are also things I would not do differently. They are:
  • The project team
  • The focus of the project
  • The general content (text and images)
  • The teams that formed to think about aspects of the guidelines (plan). They did so not only to help create the guidelines, but also to learn more about digitization.
  • The many meetings I attended with other groups in order to tell them about the project.
  • The way we promoted the web site using discussion groups, brochures, bookmarks, and press kits. We were able to promote the site to people around the world who are interested in the suffrage movement and women's history.
If you have not asked a group to criticize your project/program, please consider doing so. Whether it is a few experts, users, or library science students. Ask them for their honest feedback -- positive and negative. If possible, do before the project goes "live" so you can act on the information, if necessary. I know you will learn from the experience.

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