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Outreach & Assessment for Emerging Digital Projects: Reflections from Project Vox

Published onJul 21, 2022
Outreach & Assessment for Emerging Digital Projects: Reflections from Project Vox
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Learn how creating and sustaining outreach and assessment practices can be invaluable for your own digital project. The following details the Project Vox team’s experience in maintaining their manual on the topic, shared in the hope that it will be a useful tool for readers. View and download the full manual here:

Table of Contents

Introduction

Outreach

Assessment

What is the Outreach and Assessment Manual?

Introduction

Developing a digital humanities project from start to finish can be daunting, especially if the responsibilities are shared by a select few. While many scholars embarking on interdisciplinary projects are fluent in speaking across fields to engage with broad audiences, there are areas of project management that may remain elusive. For example: have you ever constructed a social media campaign? Have you used an analytics software to collect data? Can you engage with a future audience to receive feedback on content and user experience?

Incorporating “Outreach & Assessment” (O&A) team models in the early stages of digital project design is an essential, yet often overlooked, strategy to ensure a successful launch. O&A can also showcase institutional diversity on a humanities-centered project; undergraduate students in social science and STEM programs can incorporate already-learned software into workflows while contributing meaningfully alongside other students and faculty who specialize in humanities and library science discourses. Perhaps most importantly, an O&A team can compile data, analyze user metrics, and deploy social media campaigns to best serve an audience’s needs at the most critical and vulnerable stage of a project’s tenure.

Project Vox’s “Outreach & Assessment Manual” can help prospective digital humanities projects with tools and workflows we have honed over years of development. We encourage those interested in digital publishing to consider students’ engagement within classroom-based, digital humanities projects. In this article we contextualize our “Outreach” and “Assessment” strategies in broad strokes before discussing best uses of the manual in your own projects.

​​Outreach 

Project Vox is a digital publishing platform focused on creating encyclopedic scholarship on women philosophers throughout the early modern world. In so doing, Vox seeks to cultivate meaningful change within the philosophy canon by publishing a philosophy “entry” every year. Outreach, a position focused on communicating with a project’s audience, is a critical part of the project’s ability to scale; since 2016 we have had at least one team member dedicated to outreach each year. It is a basic form of sharing information with audiences in accessible spaces. For Project Vox, we engage with audiences through our website, as well as through social media campaigns on Twitter (mostly English-speaking philosophers), Facebook (philosophers on a global scale), and LinkedIn (our career-oriented audience). Our outreach objectives include, but are not limited to:

  1. engaging with audiences to showcase newly published entries on the site,

  2. using social media to announce activities carried out by Vox’s team members, and

  3. sharing teamwork strategies and broad mission statements through our site’s blog.  

When we create consistent messaging in these spaces, we can broadly identify our audience across the whole of the site (e.g. scholars and instructors in early modern philosophy) while remaining transparent in showing how the project works as a team (e.g. this very article).

By consistently sharing stories about the project and our audience, we are demonstrating that our project is constantly updating. It also allows us to grow beyond the original audience we envisioned, that of early modern scholars in philosophy; since 2015 we have reached a global audience from almost 200 countries of over 120,000 unique users. In this outreach process we gain:

  1. an understanding of readers’ engagement with philosopher entries and the site as a whole,

  2. more activity on our website,

  3. the opportunity to expand the narrative around the Project and its audience.

Our outreach process is ever evolving, though, in order to capture readers presently interested in the site. We can learn who is engaging meaningfully with Vox through this kind of outreach communication, whether that occurs when an individual or institution likes or comments on our posts, or when audience members offer to contribute to our blog. In 2021, for instance, we published an entry on the Mexican philosopher Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648–1695). After gathering data from social media campaigns for an entry published in 2020, we were able to determine that our audience showed an interest in entries on non-European philosophers. We were then able to internally assess these results and think more about educating our audience to grow beyond the original European scope of our project while maintaining  focus on elevating marginalized voices.   

Assessment

Assessment is the backbone of product development: collecting user data provides information about a project’s outreach, showcases general interests in content, and exposes areas in need of improvement. Compiling data via web analytics (Google Analytics) and user surveys (Qualtrics) are the two main outlets for assessment research at Project Vox.

Google Analytics offers a glimpse into our audience and their habits on the Vox site. The free-to-use service not only collects user information in real time, but it also provides complex filter layering that can help us to see how each site page is used from any period of time since launching this service in 2014. If, for example, we want to compare the use of Anna Maria van Schurman’s philosopher entry during 2020 with the same page during 2021, we can view the total number of page views, how long sessions lasted, and whether or not users then navigated to another page or left the site entirely. Analyzing this data is crucial to understanding how Vox can improve the site and its entries over time, as well as responding to our audience’s needs (e.g. suggestions for future philosopher entries, teaching resources, blog posts). This kind of data analysis, often used to improve site performance, is practiced theoretically in statistics, science, and history courses, among others. Employing students from a myriad of disciplines and experiences not only exposes young, digitally-focused minds to the role of analytical models in humanities research projects, but also leads to diverse, imaginative interpretations of audience engagement and product improvement. Project Vox has only benefited from this kind of university engagement, and it is through an Assessment team that this can take place.

Project Vox, since 2015, has employed a student each year to focus on gathering information on a particular user demographic. While analytics studies reveal a significant amount of data about site users, statistics like user location and institutional affiliation are triangulated rather than pinpointed. Surveys necessarily fill those gaps; advertising annual surveys to our audience through social media and site navigation provides a chance for users to offer specific feedback about

  1. their academic interests,

  2. how they use the site, and

  3. how they share Project Vox with students and colleagues.

Focusing on particular groups of users from year to year (e.g. early-career faculty, undergraduate students, non-academic scholars) allows for our team to consider possible developments relating to philosopher entries, site tools (e.g. timeline, photo gallery) and blog posts. Assessment is most effective when analytics data and user surveys converge, and thus offers a holistic interpretation of our audience and what they want most from Vox

What is the Outreach and Assessment Manual?

In 2017 the first Outreach & Assessment Team took the form of an internal “manual” as a rubric; Project Vox typically turns over team members  each academic year. Having a new group of students on the O&A team each year allows the returning members to train undergraduate and graduate students in aspects of digital publishing, humanities research methods, information analysis and interpretation, archival research, and public writing and communications. Within our public version of this manual, there are sections about the basics of our work:

  1. About the Outreach & Assessment Team,

  2. Proposed Actions for the Outreach & Assessment Team,

  3. Social Media Resources & Workflow,

  4. Assessment Workflow,

  5. Newsletter Workflow,

  6. Blogging on WordPress, and

  7. Annual Timeline.

As demonstrated in the section headings, this is primarily a resource for developing an O&A resource, focusing on the ways in which any digital humanities project could incorporate this type of work.  

The framing of this manual is based on the flexibility of the team members and the areas of focus that change each year. For example, when we define the roles of each team member (pp. 3–4), we also include a section on how to think through one’s own priorities of outreach and assessment (p. 5). The workflows and blogging guide are designed to exemplify our processes for completing each of these tasks and the amount of work that goes into each one. Our one deciding factor in adding something new to our outreach and assessment workflows is sustainability; consistency is crucial to the incorporation of any new social media platform, blog, or newsletter.

This “Outreach & Assessment Manual” can be an excellent place to start a conversation around the voice of a digital project and the most effective modes of communication. Work in outreach and assessment is a place for students to learn about public humanities, digital publishing, and creative strategies for reaching a project’s audience.

Banner image: Islas, Andrés de. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. 1772. Oil on canvas, 105 x 84 cm. Museo de América, Madrid. More information.

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