This is ‘how to use digital tools to support collaboration’ guide was produced as part of the Digital Skills for Heritage’s Connected Heritage programme.
The Archaeology Audience Network (AAN) is a project that brings together many of the UK’s leading archaeological organisations delivering archaeology for public benefit into a community of practice. Members include Archaeology Data Service (ADS), the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), DigVentures, Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), Wessex Archaeology, Oxford Archaeology, and York Archaeological Trust.
The AAN was created to:
- explore existing archaeology audience data and
- work with grassroots community organisations to develop new public and community archaeology activities that reflect the needs and interests of their audiences, as well as to deliver training in gathering and using audience data, and to produce new best practice guidance on how to collect and apply audience data in future activity.
In addressing this fundamental issue of who archaeological engagement activity reaches, the project seeks to develop wider audiences for archaeology, make organisations in the sector more resilient, and promote innovation in the delivery of archaeology.
By working collaboratively with other network members, as well as various audiences that we engaged in our workshops and pilots, the AAN was able to pool a range of experiences, learn from others, and develop more holistics and informed outputs that are capable of reaching more diverse audiences.
Outputs created through collaborative sessions include:
- PDFs that contain the thoughts, ideas, and suggestions of participants on topics discussed in online sessions
- Video content of group sessions that can be used as a learning resource for using digital platforms and engaging more diverse audiences
- A more informed understanding of barriers to, and strategies for, engaging more diverse audiences in heritage-related activities
Workshop participants included individuals from:
AAN workshops were generally open invitation, with attendees representing a range of different relationships with heritage, from those in commercial employment, to academics and researchers, to grassroots organisations and heritage volunteers. We cast a wide net in order to integrate a broad set of experiences and expertise, with the intent of creating outputs that expressed, and would serve, diverse audiences and their needs. Examples of attendees included those from:
- Commercial Archaeologists and Freelancers, with experience working within the planning system and on/in relation to development sites, as well as engaging audiences with outputs from these contexts
- Museum Staff, with experience in archiving, displaying, and interpreting archaeological materials, and engaging with a range of audiences
- Academics and Researchers Organisations, with interest and experience in exploring the impact of archaeology in communities and for diverse audiences
- Local Councils Staff, with experience in contracting archaeology and providing services to its constituents
- Grassroots Archaeology Organisation Members (e.g., local interest groups, societies), with experience in running archaeological groups and projects and engaging with volunteers
- Volunteers, with experience in engaging with archaeology as a passion and hobby
What support did we provide to enable participants to collaborate?
All workshops were hosted online and most activities hosted by the AAN drew on multiple digital platforms to support online presentations, polling, interactive discussion and resource generation. In order to enable participation, we:
- Contacted participants in advance with details on how the activities would be carried out, as well as with a pre-event survey to understand the demographic of attendees and audiences’ needs.
- Included “housekeeping” at the beginning of each session to familiarise participants with the platform(s) which we would use.
- Explained any new technology in advance (i.e., different platforms or applications), so that all participants were able to continue engaging.
- Ensured hosts were able to input any information or comments provided by participants if participants were unable to themselves, or if they offered oral contributions.
- Included regular screen breaks to enable audiences (and hosts) to refresh and return ready for further engagement.
- Sent follow up surveys and further means to contact the hosts and contributors, allowing for longer-term interactions between participants.
All of the software and tools outlined below require a good internet connection and digital access (e.g. phone, laptop, tablet, or desktop).
|Reason to use
|Considerations for use
|A video teleconferencing software allowing users to meet and collaborate online and create online events.
|Different plans available:
Free version 40 min meetings with up to 100 participants
|Free version allows users to have online events rather than face to face. Provides accessible meeting tool for diverse groups and participants.
|● Limit to meeting time for free software
● Some technical skills required (training available online)
|An online event organsing platform that allows users to create, share and manage event promotion for online and in person events
|Streamlines the process of inviting, promoting and marketing events. Provides tools to reach a wider audience, allows users to monitor attendees, contact them via email messages and send event specific notifications.
|● Must have data protection policies in place when dealing with community information
● Requires digital access
|A cloud-based collaborative web platform where users can upload, organize, and share content to a virtual bulletin board called a ‘padlet’
|Different membership packages available:
Free version = 3 boards, 20MB of data
|Allows users to collaborate in real time while undertaking online meetings and workshops. Padlets can be adapted for different purposes and to use different types of media.
Can also be accessed with a phone or tablet by putting a QR code on the main slide.
|● Requires users to set up padlet prior to meeting
● May be useful to provide prompts (questions, headings) for your collaborators to guide discussion.
|A survey tool that makes it quick and easy to design your own surveys. It is a useful software for creating both research surveys and general purpose surveys.
|Allows users to create bespoke forms to suit their specific needs. Useful for creating surveys to evaluate the success of events.
|● Proprietary software (may want to use open source version, i.e. Google Forms)
● Requires some technical skills.
|A cloud-based collaborative web platform where users can upload, organize, and share content to a virtual whiteboard.
|Different subscription options available.
Free plan includes one workspace with 3 editable boards.
|Allows users to collaborate in real time while undertaking online meetings and workshops.
|● Requires users to set up Miro board prior to meeting
● May be useful to provide prompts (questions, headings) for your collaborators to guide discussion.
|Web-based interactive tool for real-time surveys polling, word clouds and Q&A
|Enables real-time interactivity to gauge knowledge and mood from virtual participants; also enables Q&A and chat function outwith the workshop software being used
|Requires pre-set-up and monitoring to prevent trolling
Can easily be cast to the workshop screen
Participants need to have another window open in addition to the workshop screen in order to participate
|YouTube is an online video sharing service.Users can like, comment, and upload their own videos.
|Free, with options for advert free subscriptions.
|Allows users to watch content, such as recordings of workshops and talks, on demand. A good way to reach a wider audience beyond the session participants.
|● Account required to upload content
● Some video editing skills may be useful to edit material before upload.
|An online meeting scheduling tool.
|Free for basic group polls. Subscription options for additional functionality.
|Allows users to give availability for a series of pre-selected dates and times.
|● Requires site registration.
|Online survey tool with very easy-to-use surveys, quizzes, polls and evaluation capabilities.
|Different membership levels
Starting at £25/m
|Very easy way to gather feedback before or after an event, and to provide evidence of participation and engagement in activities.
|Requires digital access (eg phone, laptop, tablet or desktop), and some level of digital skills to understand the functions.
- Identify participants for your digital session. Consider targeting people who have a wide range of experience and knowledge that you want to include in your collaborative output and to create the outcome that you want from your session.
- Develop a session plan that sets the scene for the focus of the conversation and exercises and activities that enable to participants to make a useful contribution.
- Determine in advance the digital platform and technology that will:Allow you and your participants to interact in real time. Work with the size of the audience you’ve invited. And be accessible for all attendees.
- Set up an Eventbrite to register participants
- Send invitations to your participants or promote the event on a web page or social media
- If you promote your event to the public
- Determine a limit for the number of attendees you’ll allow via the Eventbrite platform
- Create QR codes so people can easily sign up from their mobile phones.
- Used trusted anchor organisations, which represent wider groups of interested citizens, to play key roles in bringing participants into the activities, supporting them in understanding the intent, and in contributing on their own terms.
- Several days before the event send an email to participants that provides information about:
- The upcoming session
- Any resources they may need to bring along to participate
- Any permissions you may want for them to provide,, and
- Any instructions for accessing technology and joining the session
- Prior to your session, test technology to make sure it is working properly
- Identify how to use some basic functions. For example, if you are using Zoom, you will want to know how to:
- Record your session
- Mute guests if you’re hosting a large group
- Enable automated captions (live transciption)
- Share your screen
- Link to any other technology or resources you might want to use during the session
- Enlist one other person to help answer questions and attend to any other technical problems
- When you start your session, enable automatic captions (live transcription) for those guests who are unable to listen via audio. Also remember to record your session if this is something you want to do.
- Describe to your participants how to interact with you, whether that’s using a chat function, raising their hands, or other means.
- Use products like Miro and Padlet to create a document that participants can write directly onto. These are like virtual whiteboards and bulletin boards.
- Create headings for sections on the boards where participants can respond to certain questions or contribute to specific ideas or streams of conversation.
- Allow time for participants to think, add their thoughts, and also respond to the ideas of others.
- Include polls, which are in Zoom, or applications like SurveyMonkey, Vevox, Doodle, and Qualtrics. Doing this allows you to collect real time data to learn more about your participants or to have them answer questions for you. It also allows people who may be shy to participate, as it’s a more anonymous way of interacting than speaking up or writing something that the group might see.
- Follow up with participants in an email. You can include things like: dates and times of future sessions/activities, assignments or additional materials to explore, links of interest, and feedback/evaluation requests.
- Review and, if necessary, organise your collaboratively-generated documents (e.g., Miro, Padlet).
- Analyse the results of your online polls (e.g., Vevox, SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics, Doodle).
- Use the above resources as your collaborative learning outputs, or go further and synthesize the results to create a more holistic output.
Share you learning and archive
You can share your collaborative outputs in a number of ways.
- Share the recorded session with your participants via email.
- Upload your recorded session to YouTube.
- Create pdfs of your Padlet or Miro sessions, and create reports of your polls or surveys, so that participants can see and benefit from the results of your collective work.
What were the wider outcomes?
- A better understanding of the current state of experience and confidence levels of practitioners and grassroots organisations in engaging more diverse audiences
- An increase in knowledge and confidence for participants in engaging more diverse audiences
- A more holistic view of heritage-based engagement activities, incorporating perspectives from a range of practitioners, from commercial archaeologists, to academics and researchers, to members of local societies and volunteers.
- The creation of a community of practice amongst some of the largest archaeological organisations in the UK
When choosing technology…
- Determine in advance the technology that works well for your size of group. If you have a small cohort, you may decide to chat over Zoom, or you may need to integrate additional digital tools, particularly if you’re collecting insight and information from larger groups of participants.
- It is important to think about the digital skills of your audiences at the outset to help you choose the most appropriate tools. Remember to also think about any associated guidance or training you may need to provide beforehand (e.g., in an email or information pack) to enable people to feel confident about participating.
- Be aware of what permissions you may need to get if you are going to record information that identifies participants (faces, names, etc.).
- Be aware of access and language needs. Ask participants what additional support they may need in advance so you can plan for this.
When creating content…
- If you’re offering more than one session, then consider developing a programme outline and materials in advance, and think about how you can integrate digital tools to create an engaging experience for your audience throughout. If you pre-prepare, then a partner can always lead the session if you experience any technical issues, or if you are unable to lead the session.
- Also, think about what other people may have offered before, and what you can offer that might supplement or complement that rather than duplicate it or you might miss the opportunity to try a new approach. Think to yourself: do you have all the angles covered? What are your breadth/depth/niche/general offers?
For recruiting a wide range of participants…
- Have a basic communications plan in place to ensure the content you are creating is targeted appropriately to your audience (e.g., in terms of reading levels, dynamic vs. static imagery, audio and captioning for those who are visually impaired)
- Be specific in who the event is for (is it for specific individuals, grassroots organisations, anyone?) and advertise the event accordingly.
- If you want to stand out, you can think about developing illustrations and a brand to give your session(s) a distinct identity. However, do aim to use accessible colours and fonts in your promotional (and course content) material.
- Start promoting your event at least a month in advance to allow time for word to spread and to diminish the chances that people will have conflicts in their schedules
- Use marketing resources that best meet the needs of your audience – e.g., flyers and posters may prove more important for recruiting a local audience than social or web media
- Provide incentives for participation, including clarity on the outcomes and outputs that audiences may benefit from, and vouchers, food and/or other incentives for those who might not otherwise have the time or means to participate
- Deliver activities at times that suit people with caring responsibilities or paid work.
- Be clear about what your participants’ time commitment will be up-front. This ensures they are fully committed to the whole of the programme, making them less likely to drop out.
To understand your audience…
- Partner from the outset with trusted community-based organisations that represent and understand the needs of your primary audiences. These organisations can support in designing for your audience and in recruiting and facilitating participation with the audience. Sufficient time must be built into the work from the beginning to allow meaningful partnerships to flourish.
- Send out a participant survey ahead of any training and pilot projects to better understand who has registered – for example, the type of organisation they represent, how confident they are in your topic of interest, what needs they may have to engage digitally, etc..
- In your sessions, can also use polls using Zoom,Doodle, Vevox, Survey Monkey, or Qualtrics to see what your audience makeup is like, what their skill levels are, how much they know and how much they’ve learned after attending your event, etc. This helps you understand your audience better and can be used afterward to demonstrate the impact of your session. And by including various types of activities, it means not everyone had to speak up in front of everyone else in order to participate. This is useful for people who may feel shy, or nervous about speaking up in groups.
When conducting an online session…
- Be sure to share an agenda for the session in advance so that everyone knows what to expect
- From the beginning, create a welcoming atmosphere – ensure participants know that if there is stuff going on in the background (because of their home situation, for example), that that’s ok.
- Plan in comfort breaks if it’s a long session (over 1 hr)
- Have a strong set of ‘Housekeeping’ points at the beginning to make sure all attendees know what the expectations are for the session. Consider drafting and sharing a digital code of conduct or behavioural guidelines that outlines what is expected of everyone involved.
- Deliver with at least a team of two. It helps to have another person to field questions and attend to any technological problems. If you have multiple people helping you deliver, its useful to assign roles so everyone knows what they’ll be doing during the session. For example, you may have one individual assigned to speak and deliver the presentation, whilst another may field questions in the chat box, and another may be in charge of technology, ensuring that the online session and digital tools run smoothly.
- Have a ‘crisis plan’ in case something goes wrong or a participant is disruptive. Plan for tech failure, trolling and Zoom-bombing. Think in advance about how you will handle it, and how you will communicate between yourselves and your participants. Consider setting up a Whatsapp group to use in real-time during each Session to discuss live issues – like timings, pivots, technical issues, etc.
- Offer options for participants and hosts to follow up with one another after the session (e.g., email addresses, a chat group, etc.), and circulate evaluation results to the full group to allow them to reflect on what you perceive to be lessons learned
- Once your session is complete, you can share and archive your learning outputs in a number of ways. Recorded sessions can continue to be learning tools for yourself and others, and these can be distributed to participants and/or uploaded to YouTube or another online platform (be sure to get participant permission if anyone can be identified!). Collaborative outputs like whiteboards and word cloudscan be converted to pdfs and distributed to participants or uploaded to your website or another online platform.
To connect effectively online…
- Focus on creating a psychologically safe environment, where hosts and participants feel able to open up, supported to reflect on challenges, aware of what is expected of them and what they are likely to confront together.
- As you deliver, remember that not everyone may be a native speaker of the language in which you deliver your session, so speak slowly and provide time for people to contribute to any collaborative exercises.
- If you use slides, always make sure that each one can stand alone so that participants who miss a session or have tech issues are not left behind. In your slides, signpost participants to other inspiring resources where they can delve into topics that interest them.
- Incorporating interactive elements like chats, polls, and breakout rooms (available in Zoom) can enable audiences to get to know one another and develop mutual understanding, decentring the host and opening up the experience to meaningful contribution from the wider group
For programmes with two or more sessions…
- Try to create a cohesive pattern to your delivery and let your audience know what you’ll be covering at the start of each session. Also review some of the highlights from the last session to remind participants of the last session’s content (and bring others who were unable to attend up to speed), and invite questions or comments from your participants about the previous session to clarify and build on their collaborative experience and learning, and it allows you as the host to adapt to feedback and demand.
- Send reminder emails to participants about the next upcoming session, any resources they may need to access and participate in the session, as well as for appropriate permissions if necessary.
To prepare for the next event…
- At the end of your session, debrief with your team to capture how things went, what feedback might have been received from participants, and whether any plans for future session may need to be adjusted. Set aside time for this (e.g., an hour) as it provides an invaluable space in which the team can reflect, brainstorm, trouble-shoot and horizon-scan, making the next collaborative activity better as a result.
A major risk that we have experienced throughout this project is the difficulty in planning effective events due to the expectations of a widely varied audience. The project intended to service/be relevant to colleagues and professionals as well as community groups and grass roots organisations, and it has become clear that it is nearly impossible to pitch something so that it works for all. This has resulted in some instances of unmet expectations, and perhaps softer attendance than might have been possible if the events and sessions were more finely targeted and therefore seen as more relevant.
Trust between hosts, between participants and hosts, and between participants themselves is critical and requires time. Being able to speak candidly and constructively about problems together, and to establish rapport to be able to work collaboratively in a productive fashion (both of which are essential to ‘connected heritage’), cannot manifest overnight or without investment. In other words, psychological safety has been paramount to the AAN, yet the short nature of the project means that we had little time to manifest. The AAN needed approximately one year’s worth of interactions through meetings, emails and co-hosting of events to develop the needed basis to trust one another, to share complex and challenging information with one another, and to learn the working patterns and styles of each organisation and of each representative of those organisations. Activities therefore have taken longer to realise than anticipated, and the nature of the activities themselves has shifted substantially as we’ve come to know our collaborators.
Project Social Media
Please attribute as: "Creating a collaboratively produced learning output using interactive digital technology (2023) by Archaeology Audience Network supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0