UpStage is one of four case studies in the Digital Manual research project at Edinburgh University. At the beginning of July, Helen attended a two-day focus group and workshop session along with representatives from the other case studies and the wider networking group; Vicki would have also participated, but as she is in New Zealand the 12-hour time difference meant she would have had to stay up all night to do so. Here, Helen reports on the meeting.

The current phase of the Digital Manual project is a scoping study looking at the “digital manual” in its broadest sense – as a multi-authored resource that could manifest in many and various digital forms. Taking UpStage as an example, our “digital manual” is much more than the user manual and technical documentation – it is also the open walk-throughs (online training sessions), videos, tutorials, related research, the mailing lists, the SourceForge site and any other materials and resources that support and document the UpStage community.

The first day of the meeting in Edinburgh was a focus group with representatives from the four case study groups and the researchers, Penny Travlou and Smita Kheria. We discussed our own projects within the scope of the research, and points of commonality and difference between the projects. As well as myself from UpStage there was Mick Fuzz from FLOSS Manuals, Oriana Persico and Salvatore Iaconesi from Fake Press and (via Skype) Eugenio Tisselli of Sauti ya Wakulima – all offering quite different perspectives on what “The Digital Manual” might constitute. Penny and Smita had previously interviewed us separately about our definitions of “The Digital Manual” – you can see video excerpts of these interviews here – and the focus group meeting enabled us to explore these ideas further, together. We talked about authorship, authority & voice; about community, trust & translation; and about the digital manual as a living document which evolves along with a project. I am pictured above with Oriana and (on the screen) Eugenio.

The second day brought together a much larger group, comprising the research network for the project. It was very interesting to meet the diverse group of academics and others, such as Margreet Riphagen from the Institute of Network Cultures, Chris Meade from the Institute for the Future of the Book and Franco Iacomella from the P2P Foundation. Marc Garrett from Furtherfield was there as were many others … the day was a flurry of post-it notes and diagrams, with many new ideas springing forth from the meeting of minds. However, as some of us noted, there is a need for the case study groups in particular to stay focused on useful, practical outcomes: both FLOSS Manuals and UpStage are volunteer-run communities without any institutional support and little funding, so we must ensure that our involvement in such research projects supports our own goals as well as those of the research project, rather than diverting precious time and energy into theorising – however fascinating and enjoyable that may be. We shared our findings from the first day, talked about the difference between “The Digital Manual” and “The Book”, and at the end of the day we were invited to come up with ideas for collaborative projects that could be part of the larger research project proposal that will be the outcome of this scoping study. I proposed a book sprint to rewrite the UpStage user manual, which would allow investigation into two of the case study groups at the same time as well as the book sprint process, with positive benefits for everyone; there were also a number of other new collaborations proposed across the different groups represented, so it remains to be seen what will be appropriate for the research proposal.

For Penny and Smita’s report of the meeting see the posts on the Digital Manual blog (day 1 and day 2), and the links there to other participants’ reports on the event. We now wait to see the results of the scoping study and what form the research proposal might take. Thanks very much to Penny and Smita for a stimulating and thought-provoking two days!