Friday, January 15, 2010

Musings about IMLS Reviewer's Feedback

Looking through the extensive feedback that our proposal got from the reviewers, it seemed like a good idea to extract some of their suggestions, and respond to them as we move forward into this first phase of the grant. We made some decisions in the kickoff meeting that I think speak to some of the suggestions our reviewers made -- those are noted below. There are also a few suggestions from reviewers that we did not discuss, but which still might be important to consider.

1. "reassess their partners to include a technology partner"

Response: it would seem that we didn't make it clear enough how much a 'technology partner' Robin at Cambridge is. We are planning to hire an Argus consultant/specialist, and I think that between Robin and that person, we'll have plenty of assistance on the technology side.

2. "a pilot phase using a free wiki service that would enable them to step through the process and workflow of how this resource will work when it is delivered. It may be that they do not need to build anything - that they would get 80-90% of the way there with an existing tool"

Response: Again, we may not have framed what we are doing correctly, since I think they misunderstood us. The main thing that we are building is not a tool-to-create-a-catalog (since as far as I know we're using a customized Filemaker Pro interface -- in this case the tool already exists). What we're building, ie. where there is no existing tool, is the tool that will connect the catalogs together and allow them to share information and update as changes are made -- which Robin thinks can be done with Web Hooks. Building a test catalog via a wiki seems (to me at least) like it will a lot of work, without much benefit to building what we hope to build.

3. "I would like to see a much more detailed functional spec of the architecture they are proposing because I don't feel that they have thought this through. I don't doubt they can custom-build the application but it would be better to use existing software and put more focus on process and workflow for the delivered system. I'd rather see something in the proposal that talks about selecting or building a solution based on functional requirements. There is no description of any standards they would use, except XML- it would be helpful to know that they are proposing an interoperable system. I'd like to see the applicants provide a risk assessment, a plan for sustainability and backup/archive."

Response: I think that we're coming closer to figuring out the architecture of what we're proposing -- we did a great job of starting on that during the kickoff meeting. However, I'm not sure I understand the functional requirements part -- in some respects we are still figuring those out. Comments, anyone?

4. "The proposal is close to meeting the needs of the program, however there's no indication of how standard and interoperable this will be and how applicable it would be outside of the defined ethnic group. It would be good to see some addressing of how this might create a model for a broad array of ethnic groups."

Response: I'll leave the standards issue for someone else to comment on (Robin?), but I think that our emphasis on the leadership workshop towards the end of the grant term addresses his/her concern about the applicability of this to other ethnic groups besides the Zuni. Besides showing off what we've done, our goal in hosting a workshop like that is to work out ways to apply what we've done to other situations, and hopefully create other collaborations between other museums and source communities.

5. "Should this grant be awarded, I would like to make the suggestion that some thought is given to even wider applicability of the collaborative catalog idea, possibly making such a framework widely usable/applicable to a broad spectrum of cultural artifacts."

Response: See above. Although I'm not sure what he/she means by a 'broad spectrum' of cultural artifacts.

6. "Sustainability: Extensibility might be the more interesting question here - adding more content, including more repositories, broadening the reach to other tribal communities. I think the first is probably and the latter two more challenging. Again, it's not clear how the application will work with other collections management systems than Argus. And I don't know how broadly applicable the best practices will be."

Response: The fact that several of our partners use the Argus system was a coincidence, but one that we can hopefully take advantage of. And just to clarify, not every content partner uses Argus -- the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has their own custom-built collections management system. I'm hoping that this is where the advantage of using a tool that is as adaptable as WebHooks will be to our advantage.

Also, extensibility is certainly our goal, although I think an important shift is not to develop this into one large repository that covers multiple tribes, but rather to empower other tribes and museums to establish other collaborative catalogs, that are themselves situated in the hands of the tribes (and subject to their own intellectual property protections). I think that this might highlight the differences between our approach, and the approach that many other museum consortiums are taking. Our goal is not to create some massive, aggregated dataset about objects, but rather to think carefully about what collections will be the most interesting to the Zuni people (obviously Zuni objects will be at the top of that list), and develop a system that gives them more control over how knowledge and understanding is established around those objects. Adding more tribes & more museum partners isn't exactly in line with this vision. However, working to develop other collaborative catalogs with other tribal and museum partners is certainly one of our goals in hosting the Leadership Workshop, sometime towards the end of 2011, we hope!

7. "I'm also wondering about the wider applicability of the protocols for working with other communities. There might be a gap between what is appropriate for collaboration with the Zunis and with some other tribe. The applicant might also consider the reception of the protocols for dealing with Native American records that the Society of American Archivists is discussing. The archival community is divided over the implications - it's entirely possible that what results from this project could be met with a variety of questions that the museum profession will want to discuss."

Response: I quite agree! It is critically important for knowledge institutions (like museums, libraries, and archives) to consider the importance of the kind of protocols we are trying to establish within our project. From the beginning, approaching our research in a culturally-appropriate manner has been a key part of for the success of our project. Allowing tribes to control what we believe is their intellectual property reflects a much-needed philosophical shift in creating collaborations with source communities. Perhaps not all museums are as prepared to regard their collections information in this way, but (in my opinion, at least) unless museums start to approach source communities with this kind of willingess to protect traditional knowledge, they will have a much more challenging time building meaningful collaborations with those communities.

(I've written lots more on this issue of intellectual property protocols in our project in this article: Becvar, Katherine M., and Ramesh Srinivasan. 2009. Indigenous knowledge and culturally-responsive methods in information research. Library Quarterly 79(4): 421-442.)

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