How the Impact Playbook is empowering libraries - a user perspective
Since our Impact Playbook was launched in October 2017 it has been downloaded over 1,500 times by cultural heritage professionals. We hear from Dafydd Tudur, Head of Digital Access at the National Library of Wales on his experience using the Playbook.
‘Libraries gave us power’ were the opening lyrics of a favourite song when I was in my teenage years (‘A Design for Life’ by Manic Street Preachers’). Having been an avid reader from an early age, I had never questioned the transformative power of knowledge, and the importance of libraries’ role in providing access to information. But these days I would ask (provocatively) whether the Manics, if challenged, would have been able to prove the validity of their statement? Could this empowerment they had experienced be demonstrated and directly attributed to the role of libraries?
It is the need for a robust methodology for demonstrating the ‘impact’ of cultural organisations that led to the development of Europeana’s Impact Playbook. The Playbook defines ‘impact’ as ‘changes that occur for stakeholders or in society as a result of activities (for which the organization is accountable)’. Demonstrating the impact of the cultural sector is therefore about proving that cultural organisations such as The National Library of Wales are making a direct contribution in areas such as wellbeing, learning, social cohesion, entrepreneurship, cultural diplomacy, innovation and identity.
About two weeks before the launch of the Impact Playbook, I had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by the EU Presidency in Tallinn, Estonia, where we were guided through the new resource using presentations and practical workshops. I returned to the National Library of Wales eager to test the process on one of our own projects.
Once I had selected a project - a crowdsourcing workshop that was to be held with a local family history society the following week - I had brief, informal conversations with colleagues who were involved in its delivery to explain the concept behind the Playbook, and then began to put arrangements in place for the pilot workshop.
With other demands on time, I wasn’t going to be able to commit the recommended number of hours either for preparation or for the workshop, but I could remember being encouraged to think of the Playbook as a modern cookbook, as a source of inspiration rather than a step-by-step set of instructions, and so I did. I organised a half day session a few days later, sent them a copy of the Playbook encouraging them to read the introductory sections, and translated the presentation and printouts (the Empathy Map and Change Pathway) into Welsh. On the morning of the meeting, I read through the Playbook again, put my PowerPoint presentation on the screen, and got my sticky-notes, pens and print-outs ready. We were ready to go!
1. Defining the Project
As our selected project was part of a larger externally-funded project, we already had a definition to hand. We spent a few minutes discussing the key aspects of the project so that we had a common understanding of the wider context of the project that we had selected. In fact, this turned out to be one of the several benefits gained from the entire session: the Playbook gave us an opportunity to take a step back and discuss both the strategic and operational aspects of the project. Everyone left the room with a better understanding, both individually and collectively, of what we were doing, why we were doing it, and what we hoped to achieve.
2. Identifying stakeholders
Identifying stakeholders seemed an easy task. I prefer to call these beneficiaries (even though its important to identify the whole range of project stakeholders too) as it keeps the focus on the ‘participant’ or ‘end users’ who benefit from the project. The project manager had already organised the workshop with the local family history society, but could also see potential to work with groups of participants in other social and demographic segments in the future.
I had facilitated similar workshops for projects such as Welsh Journals (now in Beta) and the Dictionary of Welsh Biography (ongoing) as a step towards developing ‘User Stories’ (as part of our implementation of Agile project management). In those previous workshops, we had identified and grouped potential users, and then develop personas in order to explore different ways they would engage with our product or service. As I was putting the Playbook into practice, I could see that there was an opportunity to integrate the impact design into this project planning process.
3. The Empathy Map
The Empathy Map was a great tool for putting ourselves in the shoes of our participants. I’ve seen the map being used in two ways: to empathise with potential participants and identify the ‘pain point’ or ‘problem’ that we could solve, in order to come up with an idea for a suitable project; or, as we did in this workshop, to try and envision and empathise with them as they participate in our proposed activity.
This Empathy Map stimulated discussion between us on the participants’ level of confidence with technology, what would really engage them in the activity, what could potentially intimidate them, and how we could ensure that the activity responded to their needs and expectations.
We found some gaps, or at least opportunities that could be missed, in our planning. We also found that we could promote the project in a way that would focus more on addressing the needs of the stakeholder as well as the opportunity to help the Library achieve its own goals (e.g. enriching and improving the discoverability of information in our collections through transcription).
4. The Change Pathway
We then progressed to the Change Pathway, which allows us to see the relationship between our projects based on stakeholders, our input in terms of resources and activities, the outputs, outcomes and impact. We had already established who our stakeholders would be, our activity and the resources required to deliver it. We found that our discussion focussed on the difference between outputs and outcomes, which proved to be the most useful aspect of this exercise. We also considered where the accountability line would be placed to separate the outcomes that were directly attributable to our project, and the ones that weren’t.
The workshop helped us prepare the way to demonstrate the impact of our project, but also helped us in other ways I hadn’t perhaps expected at the start of the process. These were:
the Playbook helps to focus on the participant/beneficiary and the impact, rather than the collection and the outputs;
the Playbook is a very useful tool for planning projects in general: it creates a space for discussing fundamental aspects of a project so that a common understanding of its aims and activities are established from the outset; and
it’s great for team-building!
With the Design Phase of the Playbook available to download, Europeana are now working on the next Phases: Assess, Narrate and Evaluate. There’s much more to come, but, from my initial experience of using the Playbook, I can already see how it can offer a rationale and methodology for demonstrating how libraries ‘give people power’. And by doing so, Europeana’s Impact Playbook is also empowering libraries.