During autumn and winter 2019, I created the webinar series “Open GLAM now” for the Swedish National Heritage Board. The aim was to support a network of museums and other cultural heritage institutions in opening up their digital collections. I learnt some lessons in the process, which I would like to share with everyone interested.
Context: I work within the sector of open cultural heritage data and institutions, mostly on a national level in Sweden with links to international organisations such as Europeana and Wikimedia. I am a cultural anthropologist specialised in digital cultural heritage and open GLAM.
This article reflects my views and experiences as a private individual; it does not represent the Swedish National Heritage Board or its view in any sense. If I name products or organisations, I do not gain any benefits because of this.
Choosing the right medium
In summer 2019, I started working at the Swedish National Heritage Board on a project called Europeana Common Culture. Since then, my colleagues and I work among others on improving their data quality according to the Europeana Publishing Framework. This definition includes, for example, high-resolution images and open, standardised licenses.
Creating webinars was not a goal in itself. It emerged because of the ideas we had to achieve the project’s goals, its time frame (one year) and the available resources (staff and finances). To make the medium’s choice transparent, this is a list of some of the aspects I wanted the communication format to fulfill:
- SOCH, the product we are working with, has a network of more than 70 partners all across Sweden. Among them are a whole range of large to very small institutions, volunteer-run and national museums, having digital collections of a few hundred to several 100.000 objects, new beginners in the digital realms and best practice examples. Hence, the format had to allow for institutions and staff to step in at different stages of the process of opening up their digital collections, according to their interests and needs.
- Not all of our partners have the resources to travel and attend conferences, workshops or other physical meetings. How can we make sure to include them all?
- The process of going open takes years in cultural heritage institutions. So if we developed a format about different topics of open cultural heritage data, it would have to be sustainable. We wanted the information to be findable, usable and accessible for longer than the project’s duration. We wished that not only our current partners could use it, but every cultural heritage institution wondering about these questions — because maybe they could become future partners, too, or join the open GLAM movement.
- The open cultural heritage movement is a global one. There are two ways to include people from all over the world to include their perspective and skills: You can organise a physical event, which costs a lot of money and has a large C02 footprint but might allow for deeper personal connections, or you decide for everyone to join the meeting remotely thanks to digital technology. That is less expensive, includes those unable or unwilling to travel, but might exclude others with missing digital literacy. We did not have the resources to fly in a lot of people to Sweden but still wanted to make sure to include people from other parts of the world.
- I wanted to design a program that starts with beginner-level topics on open cultural heritage data and goes all the way to an advanced level. The format should allow participants to take part in the whole program or just the parts they are interested in.
- Participants should be able to take part during their working hours. The amount of time needed for participation had to take into consideration part-time work and people engaged in care work.
- To include as many people as possible, it had to be free of charge and openly licensed.
Finally, I decided in favour of a webinar series with live and recorded sessions and single presentations uploaded to Youtube under CC BY. The advantages were the comparatively low costs (actually only my working hours), the possibility to include as many of our partners and possible international speakers as possible, the flexible participation options and the comparable small ecological impact.
Finding the right tools
There have been a few technical hurdles on the way — and I did not find a lot of open resources about which solutions others used in similar projects. I needed an online meeting platform, where speakers could both share slides and talk to the audience and where people could ask questions live. Furthermore, I needed to record the sessions. So here’s a list what I used:
- Smart Meeting. The advantages of Smart Meeting were that my institution has a license for it, our rooms are equipped accordingly, it allows sharing a link to join the meeting and the interface for users is comparatively easy if you are used to online meeting software. Two alternatives would have been Skype (Pro) or Google Hangouts.
- Unfortunately, there are some issues with recording meetings. One is GDPR and data protection. It can be difficult for example to record a member of the audience asking questions if they don’t agree. The second was that we did not have access to the feature of Smart Meeting allowing for recording the meeting directly. My solution was Cleanfeed, a free online tool for remote conversations and audio recording (for example used in podcast production). During the sessions, the participants only had to join the Smart Meeting session — the speakers and I were additionally connected via Cleanfeed and I recorded only their voices during the presentation (for everyone trying this: Some speakers experienced echoes — I needed some preparation and exercise to manage that). In general, the best result in audio quality is achieved when speakers use headphones with microphones.
- During the session, I had a microphone to record myself while moderating the meeting and headphones to control the sound in Cleanfeed.
- After the meeting, I collected the questions from the chat in Smart Meeting to get an overview of what participants have been curious about. Then, I combined the audio file of the voice recording with the presentation slides using iMovie. I clipped the audio files, did some editing on the volume and tried to reduce ambient noises. I saved the whole session as well as the single presentations as different video files and uploaded all of them to Youtube (using the CC BY license) in a dedicated playlist on the account of my employer.
Before starting the series of eight sessions, I recorded a video to share online (our website, social media) as marketing material. I used a camera, a microphone and two laptops (one as a teleprompter, one for the slides). This is what that looked like in my case.
Recommendations for preparing and organising
There are a few things I learned and I would like to share them — I started this without a lot of prior knowledge about producing webinars, so these will probably seem very basic to many others. But maybe others appreciate reading my learnings.
- Don’t take the digital literacy of the audience or the speakers for granted. Try to describe every step of joining the meeting as clearly as possible to make it as easy to join as possible. After the series, I got the feedback that screenshots as instructions would have helped, and if I produced a similar format again, I would definitely include visual material.
- Have a pre-meeting with the speakers in the online meeting room of your choice and walk them through the process of joining and presenting.
- We had more registrations than active participants in the live sessions. Mondays, Fridays and early mornings performed worse in terms of participant numbers. That is also why the upload of recorded sessions is so important, because even the participants who tried to take part in every session, had to miss one or two because of conflicting appointments. Still, the people watching the recorded sessions online are not less valuable as those in live sessions. We wanted to design a program that is flexibly available however people want to use it — and that includes unfortunately not knowing as much about the audience on Youtube as about the live audience.
- There are webinar series or MOOCs where participants get certificates who took part in all or a certain number of sessions. This can be valuable: It confirms that people are interested in the subject and could help to persuade employers to give them the time to take part. Furthermore, it can lead to a positive feeling of success. I decided not to do this, because I wanted participants to feel free to take part in as many (or few) sessions as they wanted to, according to their (or their institutions’) needs. Additionally, I would have had to track attendance, handle issues when people were not able to join the meeting because of technical reasons, and it would have created a hierarchy between participants in live sessions and those watching recorded sessions.
- Think about different ways to engage with the participants. Besides the live sessions, the recorded presentations and meetings on Youtube, I was in touch with participants via e-mail before and after every session and created a hashtag on Twitter. Hence, people who wanted to join the conversation there could do so. A hashtag also helps speakers to share their presentations etc. and people can find the discussions around it easier.
- Accessibility is a crucial topic. Think about different ways how your material and program is excluding people. Steps could include to add subtitles to your video material (Youtube has an automatic feature for English language videos, and you can edit them there, too) and share transcripts of the spoken content. (If you have more information on the topic, please comment on this article or leave a response.)
- What comes after the last episode of your webinar? Create some kind of follow-up and help people get on track with working with your material. Provide further resources or point them to other institutions or agents in the sector where they can dive deeper into the topic. I am currently working on articles that summarise all the sessions and presentations, include links to the recorded sessions and more information.
What happens next?
I am looking for feedback: Have you participated in webinars ? What do you think about them as a medium for learning and communicating? Or have you organised webinars? What have been your learnings? Please share your findings as comments here or get in touch via Twitter.