Design Planning: Guidelines For The Effective Development Of A Collaborative Communication Project - RItalia
Today at RItalia we are all here inebriated by the smell of intellectual upheval...
...intoxicated by the dream that by joining together and feeling so good in seeing how many we are, we could solve just abut any problem instantly...
...flocked from all corners of Italy and beyond to show with our presence that something important is changing.
Photo credit: Andres Rodrigues
Not only we have voice, our individual voice which can speak and suggest like it had never been allowed before , but we have ideas and hands to make this happen if we now want to.
...and that's absolutely fantastic.
But now we must use our intelligence.
The fact that we have been able to create a site, a wiki, a blog and a thousand other cool things around it should not be justification for us to be distracted from the original motifs that sparked our initial action.
The great noise we have made and the attention we have gotten from mainstream media should not make us think that we have already done something useful as for now we have only announced that we will.
The many detailed reports and blog commentaries on the specifics of what went wrong with Italia.it should not make us feel as the god-like experts who can judge and dispense opinions without further questioning.
The many ideas, proposals, and the numerous signs of support and approval that we have received so far should not be interpreted as signs of victory but only as indications that we need to work harder now to convert our enthusiasm and will-to-act into something that has direction, focus and concreteness.
The beauty of seeing nearly 300 hundred people join and come to discuss on this project today, should be interpreted as a sign that we have plenty human resources willing to contribute their know-how and expertise but not yet as an evidence that we have lots of good ideas or even a plan.
Today any group that is literate enough to know how to use the internet and its related media technologies can easily aggregate and make as much noise as we did for just about any purpose.
But how many of these new, spontaneously emerging grassroots communities, can really take it in their hands the challenge of planning and designing the vision they have?
This is where the rubber meets the asphalt and it is on this very point that I think we must act intelligently and not out of emotion, democratic fundamentalism or personal greed.
If you are about to use crowdsourcing and the power of many to leverage new ideas, brainstorm at the highest levels and collaborate on devising new solutions and approaches to a problem, there are a few things that you should never forget:
a) If you want to get anywhere you better decide where is that place before you buy an airplane to get there.
b) A communication project, such as a web site or tourism portal, should be the result of the collaborative work of multiple discipline experts such as an information architect, a content strategist, a web designer, a technical director and several other ones. Unless all of the issues relative to each one of these disciplines are systematically analyzed there is no serious web site project that can be brought to life.
c) Allowing anyone to suggest and contribute in a free-style approach does not help build consensus around key issues and problems to be solved. While contribution and ideas from everyone should be promoted, the input, collection and organization of such ideas should follow a well-planned direction.
d) The main advantages of crowdsourcing are that innovative ideas can be explored with relatively little cost. Agreed. But unless such ideas converge on providing solutions to specific issues or goals they may remain just such.
e) Previous research, even when done by competitors, is of extreme value. Discarding the work done so far by others, even when in evident contrast with your own goals and beliefs, does not help you understand and anticipate the obstacles and limitations encountered by them before you.
f) Research is essential. Evaluating the matter at stake, studying existing best international projects in the field, researching competitors previous analysis and mistakes can only provide greater and more valuable information on which to base the design and development of any project.
g) Adopting an appropriate and clearly defined production pathway, which identifies critical milestones, specific objective to be reached and core management responsibilities can greatly increase the effectiveness of product development while reducing costs and production time.
One of my favourite communication strategists, Clement Mok, over ten years ago defined a production approach for complex multimedia or web-based communication projects. Since then I have applied, taught, showcased and implemented this simple but highly strategic approach innumerable times with great results.
Its key strength is to force people to think and identify first where they want to go and why, before they get too excited in thinking about the how of aesthetics or technology will realize their dreams.
The simplicity of Clement Mok's approach is summarized by the four-letter acronym DADI:
The DADI production framework:
1. Defines a project;
2. Creates an architecture that explains the process and, if necessary, the technology platform;
3. Defines who does what;
4. Defines the time frame and budget; and
5. Establishes efficient communication among all the players.
I think that a rigorous approach to this kind of project planning, particularly in the early stages of development of a complex communication project like RItalia appears to be, is very important. As much as is a serious phase of analysis and research.
Analyzing possible market opportunities, competition, specific target demographics and use cases are critical requirements to be carried before any creative brainstorming or project definition process is started.
All this should be performed as early as possible in the project and always before investing valuable energies and resources in:
1) the identification of major technical problems,
2) testing key aspects of the functionality, and
3) clarifying the overall "look and feel" of the product.
Of critical importance in the planning and design of a complex multimedia communication projects like RItalia is also a keen awareness of at least some of the following issues and potential problems:
Potential significant imbalance in the range of expertise within a team. (e.g.: we could have too many geeks and too few information architects).
Tendency toward isolation in working rather than toward the naural development of cohesive virtual teams.
Lack of close and ongoing managerial involvement in the project.
Poor working communication approaches and methods both between team members, and between team members and management.
Roles and responsibilities not clearly defined: jobs left unassigned, and job titles not always reflecting work actually performed.
Lack of clear objectives and focus.
Lack of effective success evaluation criteria.
Lack of a substantial R&D phase to anticipate and identify potential issues and problems
Lack of a clearly specified and publicly communicated production pathway.
Imbalance between attention to content and attention to technology, treatment, look and feel and interactivity.
Possible solutions and approaches for change:
Hold a series of informal internal learning opportunities. Just like the one we are spontaneously making happen today. Yes barcamps are a perfect examples of this. This not only extends our individual knowledge but it provides a forum for discussion, familiarizes each one with its possible partners, and sets the stage for identifying key leaders in the process to follow.
"Interdisciplinary collaboration is most successful when there is a sensitivity and understanding of the all other disciplines involved. This mutual understanding greatly increases the value of expert advice and allows more informed judgments to be made on the team consequences of individuals' actions."
"Whatever the level and range of expertise available to a department, successful projects are produced by teams that work and communicate together effectively." (Canale and Wills 1995).
"Project management for multimedia is a particularly complex and time consuming job due to the nature of the products, and the wide range of skills required for product development. In order to maintain focus and adequate control of each project, it may be wise to consider the appointment of a project manager for each area of expertise."
Good luck to us. We needs lots of it this time.
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Originally written by Robin Good for Master New Media and first published as: "Design Planning: Guidelines For The Effective Development Of A Collaborative Communication Project - RItalia"
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