Infrastructure is the system that supports the project which has several components including the people involved in the project (both team members and volunteers), hardware and software.

Infrastructure provides the framework, the structure to work cohesively to achieve the goals of the project. In PE projects, there need to be additional services to reach the people involved beyond your team. This involves user centred iterative design, proactively addressing and interacting with the wider project team in terms of project/interface design.

Infrastructure involves not only hardware and software, not only individuals, technical, legal, design, project management, included the ephemeral nature of contributors, and therefore the uncertainty about the outcomes of the project, and DH skills, but also those who are skilled in community outreach, mediation, moderation and ongoing cultivation of community participation over the life of the project it serves

Infrastructure for P.E. projects requires the means to reach out to the community the project aims to engage. In other words, the project requires both personnel who can liaise with the audience/users. P.E. projects also require technical requirements to store/track user activity.

Infrastructure should be able to capture the project process, document and archive the experience of the construction of the project those who participate on the project.

P.E. projects require continuous publicity; level of design and communication of the project goal requires transparency in what has already been accomplished and what is still left to achieve. There are various levels of transparency. Success breeds success. This phrase translates to orienting participants on how the project has progressed and developed. In return participants are encouraged to take part in taking the project to achieve the next goals.

Funding Resources Needed for Successful Participatory Engagement Projects

The following describes potential funding sources for the three major phases of participatory engagement digital humanities projects (planning, implementation and sustainability.)

A major source of support for participatory engagement projects are in-kind and cost-sharing contributions of an institution whose mission encompasses the goals of the project. Institutions can provide staff, overhead, technology infrastructure and the support for planning, piloting and proof of concept stages. On the downside, institutional support ties a project to that institution, which can cause problems if key staff shift to other institutions, or if institutional priorities change.

Traditional foundation support focusing on the humanities offers the advantages of supporting professional advancement of project staff while also advancing the field of humanities.  Sometimes these long-standing foundations agencies do not understand the needs of nor readily fund participatory engagement projects, although this can be expected to change as more and more such projects are undertaken.  Foundations generally support implementation projects and, sometimes, planning projects but generally do not support sustainability.

Science and technology funders (SFI, NSF) generally offer significantly larger awards, but prioritize technology aspects over humanities goals, and generally only fund implementation phases of a project.

Local organizations interested in the content of a project can be good funding sources, and their involvement is usually very relevant to the project itself and can help build support, engagement and audience although awards are usually not very large.

In the EU, large-scale funding from, for instance, H2020, provides multi-year support and prestige and professional advancement for project staff. However the application process is extensive and time-consuming and awards are few. These awards, too, fund implementation but not planning or sustainability.

Finally, individual donors, sometime through crowd-funding, can help support projects, including the sustainability phases, which can be very helpful although accountability to one or more individual donors can present challenges if donors have goals or agenda that is not the same as project developers.

A successful, sustainable project will likely need to draw from several of these sources.

Resources: Humans

Five groups of human resources were identified: funder, designers, implementers, participants, and end users. The funder agrees upon the creation of project goals and maintains a tight relationship to the designers throughout the course of the project due to their shared mission. The designers write the proposal to receive funding and are responsible for structuring and overseeing the project. The implementers have various responsibilities ranging from technological programming, communication and network facilitation with communities as well as fundraisers to ensure the successful of the implementation of the project and achievement of the stated goals. Participants contribute to furthering the process and overall output of the project. Lastly, end users are vital to ensure the sustainability and further of the project. End users are key in justifying the purpose of the project. It is important to mention that these roles are not necessarily mutually exclusive. 

Technical Resources Required for a Successful P.E. Project

What are the technical requirements of a P.E. project?

Hardware & Software

A project needs to be aware of the kinds of hardware and software it will need. At one level, a project has to consider the devices and software packages required to develop the project, but also the devices and software platforms on which the project will be used (i.e. what the intended users already own)

A project has to consider the material that it will present. If it is already digitised, it has to be uploaded to the system; if it is not, the project will require digitising systems to transform the objects.

N.B. If there is an existing service, only devices are required.

Requirements (software)

[software requirements will determine hardware]

It is important for a project to know what its requirements are. This is divided into two broad categories:

Use existing software packages/services

Open source

Financial implications

Limits of service/package (how well can they be extended/tailored?)

Develop own software

Need for GOOD documentation

Sticking to standards

Data model that suits the requirements of the project

Software (and data) should be reusable

Software should be scalable (adding new features/handling increasing content/handling traffic)

Shared development language



Resources – Project Goals

Project Goals (Susan, Efi, Lincoln)

The project goal sets the direction of the project: without it those that work on it — from project staff to volunteers — may find their work does not have a stated, demonstrable end goal. Goals can be manifold, from bringing individuals nearer to heritage and the past, to improving digital literacy, to promoting ways for the public to collaborate with us, choosing to use their creative capital on heritage and research projects.

Volunteers should be made aware from the beginning how their contribution will be used. If part of the goal is to ‘transform’ the content into data so that further insights can be had in the aggregate, this in itself can be a project goal in creating knowledge and knowledge resources. This knowledge can be reused within the project itself, to secure the sustainability of the project, to further develop or expand it, or to provide opportunities for others to build on it (be it the content or the technologies used).

Project goals for participatory projects change more the project evolves through different phases. Sometimes there is reuse of what the volunteers have contributed to and the project goals are hence redefined. Sometimes this repurposing is planned before the project begins. In this sense the life of a participatory project can be quite different from the more traditional digital projects.

Projects also provide opportunities to the public to learn the technology and to be involved in academic/heritage research. In terms of experiencing the technology, there is a real difference between participating in the project and merely looking at the project outcomes, such as a project website. Participatory engagement in digital projects gives a much richer experience of the technology to the volunteers.

Group 1: Disadvantages


    • Struggles with getting credited for the nature of participatory engagement work – to be recognized as scholarly output
    • Lack of training to organize a participatory engagement project, managing and mediating focus groups
    • Experts and Specialists feel threatened by being placed at the same level as the “non-academic”; undermining of authority, quality of competencies (i.e Wikipedia → expert participation was low at the beginning. Not the case so much today)

Cultural Institutions:

    • Curators, Experts, and Specialists feel threatened by being placed at the same level as the “non-academic”; undermining of authority, quality of competencies


  • Role: a carrier of knowledge and communication; the medium in which we work
    • Example: Letters 1916 – interactive visualizations for a large corpus. Difficult to do the visualizations in real time. The visualizations takes time (90 second lag), resource heavy. Ideal goal: Use the visualization for discovery
    • Vandalism/Abuse/Desecration within the project (considerable risk factor) → contributing users writing malicious content, hacking with nefarious intentions. Question of management and project design. Natural Language Processing to combat internet trolls  

Research Infrastructures:

  • How does the RI get accredited for the participatory work they do (i.e. bringing people together and facilitating knowledge exchange)?
  • If there is no participation how can RI exist and survive?

Group 3 | Content

Content for Participatory Engagement projects needs to be appealing. Depending on the nature of the project (be it curating a digital collection, enhancing data, refining the content into a digital form, or engaging the public) it might be more important for the content to represent a discrete topic, event, or be a cohesive whole. With that being said, some projects would benefit from content that is less cohesive or more diversified.  The content should be meaningful to the variety of agents will interact with it. Entry points to the content should be simple, and well telegraphed. Different means should be provided for delivering content to agents. With that being said, decisions need to be made about editorial levels of control and provide appropriate tutorials for these different agents.

Group 4 Summary of Agents: Challenges

Data Visualizers

  • standards
  • output ends up in different location (not necessarily connected to participatory engagement activity)
  • source collection and volunteers aren’t always credited within presentation of data visualization output
  • “wow factor” of data visualization can overshadow the original participatory engagement activity

Web developers

  • understanding needs of project
  • communication
  • slightly different goal (focusing on coding of tool, not overall goal of the project)
  • host institution might not have opportunity to revisit design/code
  • continuity might not be possible if web development is project funded (not supported by ongoing in-house team)
  • data loss (software and tools become obsolete)

Expert in semantic technologies

  • data quality gap (whether content from volunteers meets starting/baseline standards)
  • data wrangling required to meet standards of semantic technologies


Dialect speakers

  • Linguistic
  • Very focused group (host institution might have to put in significant effort on tools)
  • Difficulty or disconnect between finding and matching the content for the dialect speakers

Digital natives, millennials

  • Does the content match with their interests
  • Does the activity work well on a phone ?  (Devices)
  • Project might be pulled to devote resources on user interface for millennials
  • Possibility of over-estimating the skills of digital natives

Small archives

  • Limited resources to implement, supervise and sustain the project
  • For this institution, possibly difficult to find active volunteers for participatory engagement

Whole community

  • Communicate with the whole community
  • Prioritize all the needs of the whole community
  • Serve needs of different components of the community
  • Customization of sources and projects to different members of the whole community


Group 4 Agents and issues

Data visualizers

  • Interested in quantity
  • More data the better
  • Metadata about conditions under which data was produced (they could clean up but want to know how transparency
  • Ultimately their project is different–their projects will have life of their own
  • The output might stand on its own, how could it connect back?  Publicity yet, but other links back might be logistically hard.  Potential for fresh view on source; might inspire or inform revisiting the data.  
  • Prompt new visitors

Web developers

  • Infrastructure is core interest; probably less interested in content
  • If built on open source tools, then that culture (sharing and improving code)
  • Cater for communities, but challenge of sustainability
  • Bridging the gap between experts and community/users
  • Bridging the gap between experts and web developers  (communication issues between developers and digital humanists needs to be smooth); DH community needs to frame needs clearly


Expert in semantic technologies

  • Data quality and transparency issues are important; might have stricter view of wanting to start with cleaner data
  • Output might require compliance with Semantic web (or RDF?)

Dialect speakers

  • Experts in their own (almost like there is a hierarchy)
  • Fostering community
  • Starting from a specific identity
  • Might require more tailored tool  (handle different scripts? Older spellings)


Digital natives, millennials

  • Different expectations about usability
  • Might be more selective choosing content/project that is meaningful
  • Different user patterns
  • Potentially different user patterns
  • (Audience has different needs)


Small archives

  • Benefit streamlined technological infrastructure  (perhaps “off-the-shelf”)
  • Need clearly stated best practices
  • Visibility
  • Staff time is very, very limited (maybe not as much opportunity for dialog with volunteers)

Whole community

  • Opportunities for team building (or acknowledging/
  • Rewards/status levels
  • Feature accomplishments of individuals to whole community
  • Need to respect boundaries of volunteers (find out if they are comfortable being in spotlight)

Group 3: Challenges

Software Development Companies

  • Negotiating permissions to access and reuse data (including time investment)
  • Ethics of using public data for profit
  • In the humanities, attributing information is an iterative process. Data in the humanities is not ‘certain’ or ‘perfect.’ Finding value in data which is not concrete.
  • Compatibility of business model
  • Different standards of data, different formats of artefacts; adjusting to them within a business model

Aggregating institutions

  • No common standards between institutions
  • Negotiating copyright laws
  • Ethical issues of collection
  • Sustainability (technical, economic, human)
  • Acknowledging contributions of the public


  • Working knowledge of subject and technology
  • Level of expertise might be barrier to participation
  • Design for student participation
  • Assess students’ learning
  • Assess quality of work

Disadvantaged communities

  • Access to technology
  • Awareness and reach
  • Understanding value in P.E. projects
  • No good examples of Universal Design in databases

Institutional mediators

  • Management of all stakeholders
  • Mediating heavily conflicting opinions (specifically through technology)
  • For the mediator, managing time; constantly monitoring work
  • Managing quality and authority of the work

Group 2 | The Challenges for Funding Bodies , Content Owners, Schools, Institutions and Volunteers

Funding Bodies:

  • No guarantees of success – risky thing to fund as there’s no guarantee that the public will interact
  • There are many external factors that could influence public participation
  • Can be very difficult to know how much money to award
  • Funding a project relies upon a deliverable, one that is sustainable

Content/story owners/originators:

  • Potential breach of privacy
  • Uncertainly over how content may be used or appropriated by a project
  • Loss of ownership  – the importance of the brand, that their contribution will be rewarded and appropriately acknowledged

School, educational institutes:

  • Unpredictability – for teachers who depend on a digital project for lesson planning, unforeseen consequences such as server outages, lack of new data, or breakdown in communication with the project staff, can have a dire impact
  • Anonymity for younger participants must take precedence over participant acknowledgment
  • Data protection – making the data protection officer aware of the information stored by the project
  • Where is the data stored and is it safe?
  • Access to the required technology – eg. pcs, laptops, etc
  • Shared resources – subscription or paywall issues in Third Level

Collecting institutions / repositories:

  • Issue of control, ownership
    • Issue of duplicates and copies, copyright control
    • Dissemination of legal copies without appropriate attribution
  • Challenge for institutions to engage with the wider public rather than a controlled group / challenges of dealing with the public as a partner in making your material available


  • Fear of making a mistake or doing the wrong thing / culpability
  • Competitive element to project may put off user engagement
  • Volunteer sense of purpose may be out of focus with that of the project
    • Leads to Volunteer frustration
  • Privacy – volunteers may not know what their information will be used for
  • Volunteers need to be made aware that their contributions will be used / their work is valid
  • Clear communications must be maintained with the public to allay their fears

Group 1 | The Benefits for Researcher, Audience, Cultural Institutions, Web, and Research Infrastructures


  • Role: One who conducts scholarly research according to a certain methodology  i.e. within an archive, library
  • Role: One who has an informed background on a particular academic topic
  • Benefit: Knowledge exchange with other scholars from various academic backgrounds (interdisciplinary).


  • This term is rather too broad to identify specific benefits and roles. For example, researchers, students, funding bodies, etc. can also fall under this category,

Cultural Institutions (i.e. GLAM)

  • Role: holders of a (digitized) collection of cultural material (intangible and tangible)
  • Benefits:
    • closer relationship to the museum public (users)/community: referring to the user as an active interpreter, co-creator/co-curator
    • going beyond their physical location  
    • Community-building, generating stronger base of supports for your cultural institution


  • Role: a carrier of knowledge and communication
  • However, this term is too broad to identify a more specific role and benefit

Research Infrastructures

  • Role: facilitate knowledge exchange among scholars and create a community of scholar
  • Benefits:
    • A unified platform where users can exchange their knowledge
    • Community-building
    • Dissemination of best practices, software, etc. for the benefit of the community
    • Avoid doubling of research
    • Encourages the further use/sustainability of projects

Group 2 | The Benefits for Funding Bodies , Content Owners, Schools, Institutions and Volunteers

  • Funding bodies
    • Projects that gain participation from the public are also projects that attract publicity  – and therefore funding bodies
    • Centenaries  / anniversaries provide media coverage
  • Content/story owners/originators
    • Benefit from the anniversary program, or access to materials previously unavailable – eg. census data,  government records, gives voice to those who previously were unheard
    • Resources – gives a global platform to story owners
  • Collecting institutions
    • Online research resources based on their holdings
    • Access –
    • Scholarly communication


    • JR – volunteers benefit from personal investment in the topic
    • Sense of accomplishment
    • There is a sense of ownership in the understanding of history
      • Discovery Process
      • Empowerment
      • Direct contact with primary sources
    • Adam –
    • NR – Volunteers act as their own curator?
      • Competition
    • New skills


Benefits of ParEng in DH

The ideas listed for benefits consist of the following:

  • Content refreshment + renewal
  • Lots of fun
  • Reinforcement of the importance of the humanities in the public sphere
  • User engagement
  • Politically important: justify funding for the humanities
  • Audience development
  • Unexpected discoveries
  • It’s fun ! (or it should be !)
  • Networking beyond the “traditional” scientific community
  • Wider reach of collections
  • Social literacy of researchers
  • Scientific literacy of participants / citizens
  • Corrections between institutions and volunteers
  • Exciting to bring research to new audiences
  • Encounters with primary sources (education  across age groups (adults, too)
  • Immersion in own culture
  • Discovering less known
  • More quickly and  wider spreading of information
  • Important to provide opportunities for the public to use their creative capital
  • Spreading collaborative models and potential to tie together “our” diverse content in a meaningful way
  • Providing tools to help people create or explore their own meanings (empower public discovery)
  • Community Building
  • Create new vocation for science
  • Involve our peers (academies, teachers, archivists, etc.) in longer research projects
  • Value for money: funders, does public engagement help or hinder?

Group 3 | Benefits & Agents

Software development companies 

  • Access to new data
  • New working opportunities
  • PR
  • Ideas from experimental projects in CH and academia

Aggregating Institutions

  • Reusability of data
  • Collecting structured data
  • Fosters partnerships
  • Shared standards
  • Sharable policies and Procedures


  • Working with peers but also stakeholders
  • Using a medium they are (apparently) comfortable with
  • Valuing humanities
  • Learning from primary sources (also being critical of sources)
  • Learning methodological approaches
  • Cross disciplinary learning

Disadvantages Communities 

  • Universal design + accessibility
  • Being represented
  • Participating in their own representations (agency)
  • Social justice
  • Financial implications of access (economically disadvantaged)

Institutional mediators

  • Self organised content creation
  • Contact with new leaders
  • Space for encouraging dialogue