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 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.