Let’s talk about failure (a public engagement/ digital engagement blog carnival)
We learn from our mistakes, don’t we? Pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and chalk that one up to experience etc etc. We should learn from each others’ mistakes too. Especially when, for many of us, public engagement and digital engagement are new territories where it can (still) feel like we’re easily lost. I recently wrote a very short piece about evaluation. Formative evaluation, I said, was
…designed to improve future activities based on past experience. Carrying out an evaluation provides evidence of how successful your activity was, and provides a learning resource that can be shared with others.
which is great in principle. I don’t know if other people share this experience (Terry Brock and I discussed this recently though), but I don’t recall hearing about the failures. Sure, a paper presented at a conference about a project might be a bit self-reflective (academic sessions on public/digital engagement should never be mere show and tell), but surely there are complete abject failures out there that the rest of us can learn from? Or perhaps I’m just really bad at this.
I’ve made some errors. Did I tell you about the augmented reality information boards I made for a site I had never visited in rural Powys, south Wales? I used the (very straightforward) Layar app, consulted the local Historic Environment Record (via the excellent Archwillio) and wrote some summary text for various archaeological features in the landscape (an Iron Age hillfort, a couple of Bronze Age standing stones, the remains of a neolithic chambered tomb, and some amazing 19th century architecture), which would magically appear on a users’ smartphone screen when they followed the associated map and then pointed their phone cameras at the monument. I ran my text past an archaeologist who had been digging in the area for decades, who made some invaluable improvements. It wasn’t much, but I was quite pleased. The project went live at a music festival held in the area, as part of a wider suite of archaeological engagement events (which went quite well). Of course, not having visited the site previously, I was unaware that none of the UK mobile phone networks had reliable signal there. Nobody could use the augmented reality, because nobody could access the internet on their phones.
That particular example fell down essentially due to thoughtlessness on my part, which isn’t something I’m delighted to admit. Other engagement failures may be due to unforeseeable variables though – just because it went wrong, it doesn’t mean you did something wrong, but it’s likely there’s something we can learn from it. So, what I would like to try, if you’re willing, is to coax some of these learning experiences out of you via a blog carnival. If you’d like to take part, write a blog post on your own blog (or a comment below if you don’t have a blog), prefixing the title with [Let's talk about failure], and then post a link to your post in the comments section below. You can link back to this post to give your readers some context. Let’s set a deadline of Saturday, March 9th, after which I will post a summary with links to your posts.
Update: Polly Heffer has suggested we use the hashtag #letstalkaboutfailure on twitter, so let’s!