Friday, August 19, 2011

Further thoughts on collaboration

This summer, I interned at the Pasadena Library, working specifically with the Pasadena Digital History Collaboration (PDHC). The PDHC consists of (currently) four organizations that are digitizing their historical Pasadena materials and putting them online in a shared database to allow for easier research by the general public. My main task was creating an online policy manual to describe their mission, goals, policies, procedures, and standards. Since they were getting to the point where they were large enough to start seeking grants and adding new partners, they wanted everything described very clearly. They also wanted to narrow their focus so they would not scatter their limited energy and resources on activities that would not help them further their long-term goals.

This meant a lot of collaboration, communication, and compromise. I was working closely with about eight different people from three different institutions, and all of them were doing work for the PDHC on top of their full-time or part-time jobs. The biggest difficulty was just waiting to hear back from people. This taught me very quickly to only send out e-mails concerning questions I really needed answers to and give deadlines (usually of about a week, given the complexities of scheduling), but also indicate whether those deadlines were flexible or not. Most of the time, they were, but sometimes I needed a particular piece of information in order to be prepared for a meeting or before it was my last day at the internship. I felt more confident and assertive (and got better responses) after the first meeting, where I got to meet everyone and make a short presentation on my progress.

All of this work came together in the final meeting I facilitated in August. It was exhausting, but a really rewarding experience.

On the whole, I learned that collaboration can work very well, but it's messy, and everyone has to have the same overall goals. It helps when the goals are a larger extension of what they are doing anyway, and they have special skills and interests they can explore within the project.

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