Local Voices focus on digital for organisational development

Profile photo of Steve Byrne By Steve Byrne
30 September 2014

Local Voices is a Community Interest Company formed in 2013 seeking to connect communities with their local traditions, primarily through songs and the use of archive resources. The company’s two co-directors are experienced folklorists, as well as singers and performers that have carried out workshops with schoolchildren in the Dundee and Angus areas with around 900 children to date across numerous schools.

What we wanted to do:

  • take traditional songs back to the areas in which they were recorded by folklorists who collected material across Scotland from the 1950s onwards.
  • combine digitised archive resources – including sound recordings – which have started to become available online in recent years, along with maps and other digitised print resources.
  • resolve the need to jump between such resources on multiple websites when carrying out our community workshops

Why we wanted to do it:

  • Many existing archive resources (even newly digitised collections) tend to veer towards catalogue-style listings more akin to libraries and academic indexes
  • Current format of existing resources can be an obstacle to engagement and access by local communities
  • Existing databases are often “item” led, e.g. in a listing or as an arterfact, rather than by place

Our solution

  • our principle: to look at the material from the perspective of place, and start first and foremost with a tool that would be map-led
  • create a single online “engine” to be employed in our workshops
  • use the engine to provide a legacy interface for local communities to explore and plot their own local song heritage in future projects

The concept: Square Mile Songs 

An interface combining maps, listings, audio recordings and the potential for other information such as photographs and links to digitised printed resources to provide context for the material to:

  • Allow schools and community groups to explore their local song heritage within their immediate surroundings.
  • Demonstrate the fact that many traditional songs exist in local variants all across Scotland and elsewhere, so communities would be able to see where versions of the same songs (albeit with local differences, e.g. in place name) exist across the country and further afield.

You can get a sense of the interface and its functionality in the extended video at the bottom of this page (the prototype website is not currently live).

 PROJECT REPORT – learning from our experience

In this section we want to share the process and some of the challenges with other organisations with an eye to sharing learning with the members of the AmbITion Scotland community. The original project brief was scaled back to the creation of a working prototype tailored to provide proof-of-concept, and in the process of this change several issues arose with the external development team which provide a useful test case for other small arts and cultural organisations.

What was the idea again? Make sure you revisit your brief on a regular basis with the developer.  We discovered a major issue in the product late on in the process which challenged the project.

Personnel changes The original developer employed a sub-contractor. The new members of the team, charged with large parts of the development were ultimately not as fully aware of the context and background to our project as the initial team. There was a missed opportunity to brief the new development team, set expectations on both sides and open effective lines of communication. Remote working created additional communication challenges.

Clear responsibilities It was at times not clear who was taking the lead on key decision making, and inconsistencies in communication cropped up.

Different ways of working We were two partners going at different speeds and with different expectations. This unfortunately contributed to misunderstandings.

Hosting plans Make sure that hosting charges and timings are agreed from the outset. This became a point of contention and an unexpectedly large expense for the project. In our experience, early discussion of the site-build approach and the choice of platform versus related ongoing costs would have been preferable and would have stopped later misunderstandings around the scope and approach of the project.

What can the AmbITion Scotland learn from our experience? Our top five lessons for best practice on a digital project with a third party:

  1. Explore and agree practical considerations like the technical and hosting requirements up front
  2. Clear minute-taking of meetings with agreed action points and outcomes
  3. Build regular in-person updates cost into your budget
  4. Keep revisiting the brief, especially where team members change
  5. Think long term about the project right from the start

Future of  Square Mile Songs 

We will explore possibilities with other partners to develop Square Mile Songs in the medium term as part of practical community projects, including the Traditional Music Forum (TMF), TRACS (Traditional Arts & Culture Scotland) and Museums Galleries Scotland, through their Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) remit.

Square Mile Songs :: Local Voices from Steve Byrne on Vimeo.

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