First time PI!

My first formal experience of leading an academic project has started. I am principal investigator of Platform to platform: an investigation into audience engagement with digitised archives and its transformative impact across different online formats. (The link is to Hazel Hall’s description of the project.)

The project will

  • create a non-fiction narrative podcast series based on the diary of Lorna Lloyd, a young woman who lived in Malvern at the start of World War II. Contemporary news content will be added to Lorna’s diary entries at key points in the narrative.
  • evaluate audience engagement with the podcast series following its launch at a public engagement event, provisionally planned for Tuesday 24th May 2022 in Malvern.

In all of this, I am very ably assisted by co-investigators at the School of Computing at Napier: Professor Hazel Hall (leader of the Centre for Social Informatics, and Dr Iain McGregor of the Centre for Interaction Design. Other colleagues include actor Bethany Ray (who will play Lorna Lloyd in the podcasts), and people from the BBC, the British Library and the Malvern Museum of Local History. My personal, public thanks to you all!

My project colleagues and I are very grateful to the AHRC-funded Creative Informatics small research grants scheme for funding this project.

My learning so far

My learning so far is that project initiation takes a lot of work, starting quite some time before the formal start date in early 2022. So far, I’ve been

  • building relationships with and between team members.
    Hazel and I have worked together quite a few times, but before late 2021 I’d only briefly met Iain in passing at Napier’s Merchiston campus. I had met one of the ‘external’ colleagues at the RIVAL pilot event in 2018. Despite spending a lot of time in Malvern in my teens, I don’t recall visiting the museum. I’m looking forward to rectifying that in late December.
  • setting up a filing system and project-management task-tracker
    Naturally I’m not going to publish where all this is, but I’m rather glad that there are easy, Napier-based ways to make these accessible to (only) Napier colleagues. For PRINCE2 fans, we have a project initiation document, but there are a few other documents I need to create soon.
  • considering how to host podcasts
    News on technical details of how podcasts are hosted may come out after the launch event. For now, all I want to say is that the podcasts will become available via Malvern Museum‘s website in May 2022.
  • implementing ethics ‘processes’: creating a data-management plan and a privacy impact assessment screening and data protection compliance checklist. Once these are approved, I will need to update the ethics content on the project’s record in Napier’s research records.

I knew ‘poor planning has, ahem, unfortunate consequences‘ from my previous career in publishing, where my bigger projects had around £100,000 budgets, and involved around 50 ‘external’ colleagues and contributors. We didn’t work with personal data, and these projects took place long before GDPR was thought of. I have also been strongly involved with implementing of ‘ethics’ processes in previous academic projects. However, the combination of a project that will handle personal data, that is subject to GDPR, and where the buck stops with me is quite intense.

I am grateful to other Napier colleagues for guidance on ethics ‘processes’. In this context, ethics is an attitude of respecting people and protecting their data that I am happy to implement, not a plan, process or checklist. (Plans, processes and checklists help implement this attitude.)

So my advice to other new project leaders is allow plenty of time for project initiation before the formal project starts. It will save you a lot of stress!

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