Overall Project Findings
Developing Digital Projects
We have developed a guide to developing digital projects based on our experiences. Some of the lessons learned are listed below. The complete guide is available as a pdf, with details of each individual pilot project.
Download guide [pdf 2.5Mb]
Just using technology for technology’s sake is generally not a good idea. Equally, relying entirely on technology for your interpretive activities may alienate some of your audience. However, getting it right and using the appropriate tool for the job can enhance other kinds of interpretation and open up numerous possibilities for further development. The important thing is to decide first what you are trying to do.
- You may have a lot of existing ‘content’ (e.g. text / images / video) that you wish to make available in new ways
- You may wish to use technology to interpret something completely new
- You may wish to provide an interactive forum which allows you to share information and to get information and feedback in return
Generally project funding is dependent on a project being about more than just a product. It usually requires an element of education, community involvement and social or economic benefit. These aspects should be built into your aims and taken account of when deciding on your digital media.
As with any interpretive project you need to be aware of your audience in terms of the information you present, but when working with new technologies there is an added consideration in terms of whether the audience you are aiming at will be comfortable engaging with the technology you are using.
- You may be seeking to target information at a specific audience
- You may be seeking to enhance the information available to your existing audience
- You may be seeking to make information easily available to a wider audience
Knowing your audience will help you to choose the most appropriate digital tools. It may be a good idea to engage in some market research among your desired audience to discover what works for them.
If you are thinking digital, there are a range of different options to consider for example:
- Web based
- Mobile apps
- Location specific devices
- Social Media
If you wish to provide people with information about a place or site before they visit then you might consider something web-based or a mobile app. If you want to develop a tool to help people explore a region then a mobile app that makes us of GPS positioning is a good option. If you want something to provide information at a single location you could consider location specific hand held devices that people can borrow or hire, or provide QR codes linked to further information that people can access using their mobile phone (although this does depend on having reception at that location). If you want to engage a young audience then using interactive touchscreen technology could be appropriate. If you want to try to engage with an audience and elicit some kind of response or future action then you could work through social media.
One of the advantages of developing digital interpretation is that there are options to suit almost any budget.
- You can use free online tools for creating maps, virtual trails, images etc. (see ‘Free online resources’),
- You can buy low cost ‘off the shelf’ software packages and customize them to meet your needs
- You can work with a developer to create a tailor made product.
It is a good idea to look around. If you are starting from scratch then the easiest way to begin is an online search using terms like ‘software developer’, ‘create an app’, ‘off-the shelf software’, ‘digital heritage interpretation’ and see what comes up. Since technology is constantly developing this is a good way to find out about recent developments. It also helps to discuss your aims with a developer to see what is possible within your budget or to find out what budget you will need for a particular proposal.
When planning your project you need to consider what resources / expertise you possess.
- Software: If you are going for a custom made option it is likely that you will rely on an external provider to create your software.
- Content development: It may be that you are able to develop interpretive content in the necessary media (text, image, film). However, it may be that you will need to ‘buy in’ this expertise – particularly if you wish to make use of graphics / animations.
- Communication: As well as developing a product you need to ensure that your audience is aware of it and how to use it. It is important to publicise what you are doing and to test things with your desired audience to find out from them what works and what doesn’t.
Many projects are constrained by a period of funding so it is vital to set a working timeline of the project from start to completion and ensure that everyone is clear on the final deadline.However, within that timeframe you must be ready to be flexible.
Technology can throw up unexpected challenges and opportunities. You need to be able to manage the former and take advantage of the latter. The more you understand the possibilities and constraints of your technology before you begin the better.
If change becomes necessary, stand back and look at the big picture so you can see how this can be accommodated within the timescale you have. Revise your timeline and make sure that everyone (including your funders) is aware of the new plan.
It may be best to pilot a small amount of content early in the project to test your approach. This is your opportunity to see if your product functions as intended and achieves what you wanted. It is also a chance to ensure that you are producing the right kind of content. You may want to trial it with a range of volunteers to see if it is pitched at the right level for your target audience and to get their feedback on the design of the product and how intuitive it is to use. You will also be able to ascertain the best format for content – for example the correct filetype and appropriate resolution for image files. If you do not have a pre-existing brand you will need to spend some time yourself or with a designer getting the ‘look’ of your project right. If you need to make changes to your approach it is best that this should happen as early in the project as possible, to avoid producing content that ultimately is not useable.
Working with developers
It is important to develop a good relationship with your software developer if you choose to employ one. Most people work in heritage interpretation because they have a passion for heritage and are good at communicating it to the public. Most heritage professionals are not experts in coding! Equally, your software developer is unlikely to have a particular interest in or understanding of your subject matter.
- You know what works and doesn’t work in terms of interpretation.
- They know what is and isn’t possible in terms of technology.
It is not always easy for your developer to visualize what you want to achieve, and it is not always possible for you to visualize the concepts they come up with. It helps to meet in person as much as possible so you can discuss things face to face, look at the work in progress and revise your plans together if things aren’t working.
Useful development tools
If you intend to develop a lot of your own project content there are a number of useful digital tools, some of which can dramatically reduce the time you need to spend on a particular task. Some software is freely available – known as ‘open source’. Just search for what you want in your browser. For example ‘open source graphics software’ or ‘open source batch image resizer’. For many programmes you can find tutorials on Youtube to show you how to get started.
One great advantage of digital interpretation is that it has an inbuilt flexibility. You can change or add to content using a content management system which allows you to keep your interpretation fresh (and also to correct any small mistakes!). However this does require time and it requires someone with an understanding of how to do it. Most content management systems are fairly simple to use but they can require a bit of getting used to.
It is a good idea to build in a mechanism for gaining feedback about your product and revising it at set periods, since it is essential that content continues to develop. This requires and ongoing commitment of time and resources to ensure that things are kept up to date.
Cutting edge v tried and tested
The purpose of the HINT project was to explore new possibilities in heritage interpretation and to share the lessons learned, so the partners opted to be experimental and cutting edge within the context of their different situations.
However, if you are making a long term investment it may be wise to opt for ‘tried-and tested’. Technology can do amazing things but they do not always prove popular, and things go in and out of fashion very quickly. Take some time to look at the trends around you. Smartphones, touchscreen technology and social media look set to be with us for the foreseeable future. Contact others in your field to find out what they have done and how it has been received.
Project Specific Findings
- Geopark Shetland Findings
- North Pennines AONB Findings
- Chablais Geopark Findings
- Aspiring Geopark de Hondsrug Findings
The information within this website and our guide to developing digital projects is illustrative of our experience and should not be seen as and endorsement of any particular company or product. We accept no liability for an problems experienced through use of the companies or software mentioned.