There are a million possible questions to answer when it comes to designing, managing and learning from a collaboration. It can be a little daunting to start. This is the second of a 3-part series on some of the big questions to address that will make the process a little clearer. These questions are the collaborative effort of Heather Bryant, Stefanie Murray and Nasr ul Hadi.
If you’re at the point where you have a project, partners and a rough idea of how to proceed, it’s time to think about the day-to-day logistics of working collaboratively. Here are 10 big picture details to think about.
1. How will you manage publishing workflows and timing?
Few collaborative projects have devised the perfect workflow for collaborative storytelling and even fewer have toolchains to facilitate the work. (That’s why Project Facet is working to address the lack of infrastructure for collaboration.) But putting a plan in place for where you will work and what the steps are in the workflow is a vital part of collaborating. The workflow is largely dependent on the style of collaboration.
Here are two of the main styles:
Co-creating: When partners are actively creating content together, co-producing stories and everyone needs to be informed about the status of the content. This requires being able to communicate about the editing process, final reviews and publishing.
Coordinated: This is a bit simpler as your editing process is likely more contained within your team and your responsibilities to your partners are more about communicating what you’re doing and your timeline.
Establishing and clearly communicating the timetable for a project and ensuring everyone has access is an important part of ensuring a seamless rollout of a project.
2. How will you deal with turnover in assigned teams at any of the partners?
People move around and in journalism, people move around a lot. It’s important to think about the roles that are essential to keeping the collaboration moving forward and what you can do to document things so that a project’s momentum is not derailed by an exiting team member. If you’re the person supplying the energy to keep things on the rails, seek out another team member that would make a good deputy and include them in conversations and decision-making so that they are up to speed should someone need to step up for that role.
While it’s great to have rockstars, a well designed project (much like a successful business) should be able to survive a changing team.
3. How can you help partners use agreed-upon shared language when referring to the project and give proper credit to other partners?
Details about which logos each partner would like to be used, the tagline that identifies the project and how partners will be identified are straightforward decisions that should be made before publishing starts. It’s also important for it to be an equitable recognition of all the partners’s efforts. Creating a style guide for logos, tagline and links will give everyone the assets to work with and will ensure consistency in branding for audiences.
4. How will you ensure people in your own organization know you are collaborating? (left hand vs right hand)
When organizations reach a certain size it’s not uncommon for participation in collaborative projects to be news to some folks. What can you do to ensure the folks that need to know about the project know and what opportunities are there to celebrate the successes of the project with the larger organization?
5. How will you handle the situation if a partner goes rogue?
Even with the best of intentions, whether it’s a mistake, miscommunication or just misbehavior sometimes partners will publish earlier than expected, fail to properly credit partners or not properly communicate or participate in the process of the collaboration. Having mutually established parameters for the partnership make it easier to identify and talk about such missteps and can also help when talking about whether an action means a partner leaving a project.
6. How can you plan for breaking news interrupting one or more partners’ participation in the project?
News is always happening, and there’s no telling when something could happen — from hurricanes to a public tragedy — that will divert teams from a collaborative project. If the project time-sensitive and you have partners that play an essential role it can help to talk about what can be done for them to have the resources needed to maintain their participation and attend to other demands or if another partner can step up and fill that role. Less time-sensitive projects have the flexibility to be more accommodating of these kinds of interruptions.
7. How will communication be managed?
Communication is the lynchpin of every collaboration and ensuring there’s a plan, platform and expectations set around how the team communicates is an important component to keeping the project moving forward. Redundant communication such as emails that recap phone calls, shared minutes and slack updates and links can help ensure that everyone receives relevant information. If folks disappear from the conversation, check in to ensure that they’re getting the support they need.
8. What can be documented to ensure everyone has the information they need?
Everything you write down is one less thing that you will have to repeat to someone later. What should you be documenting?
- Tools and how to use them
- Workflows and any specific processes
- Important links
- The people on the team and what they do/are responsible for
- Attribution and links for attribution
- Social media language and hashtags
- Any shared branding materials
9. If the project expands to new partners, who is responsible for on-boarding?
If you’ve been attentive to documentation, much of your work will already be done in terms of on-boarding new partners. But it’s still good to have a point person who can answer questions, get people set up on whatever platforms are necessary and point them to the relevant portions of documentation.
10. How can you use the collaboration as an engagement opportunity?
Collaborating on a project is an excellent opportunity to also be collaborating with audiences, community groups and more. Collaboration can also be a way to improve audience understanding of the process of journalism and trust in the final product. Consider ways you can bring the audience along in the process.
Each of these questions can be explored further depending on how much detail your organization needs to establish for the project. However, even short answers to these questions can help keep the day to day moving smoothly. Have a suggestion for additional details for this part? Feel free to jump in the comments below.
About the Authors:
Heather Bryant is a journalist, software developer and the founder and director of Project Facet, an open source infrastructure project that supports newsrooms in managing the logistics of creating, editing and distributing content, managing projects and facilitating collaborative relationships. She spent her last year studying collaboration between newsrooms as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford. Prior to that, she worked in public media in Alaska.
Stefanie Murray is the Director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents.
Nasr Ul Hadi works with the Int’l Center for Journalists (ICFJ) as a Knight Fellow in India. He leads a team of editorial, multimedia, product and engineering consultants, driving innovation experiments in story, product, workflow and/or business models, across print, broadcast and digital news media. He also teaches digital storytelling at a few graduate schools, and co-manages the local chapters of Hacks/Hackers.