Congratulations. You’ve just been nominated for a presentation Oscar in three categories. You could sell fjords to the Norwegian jury. And of course, you’ve counted how many people turned up to watch you, haven’t you?

The SE-PS are very keen on numbers so don’t forget to do a head count. On Inch, we had sixty people at the first meeting. The island’s population is around 460, so over an eighth of the community were there. That’s a pretty good percentage as a benchmark.

That’s me explaining the project and my colleague, Niall McShane from the University of Ulster, School of Computing, taking photos.

The SE-PS also love to see photographic evidence of what you’ve been up to, and so you or your glamorous assistants have taken copious snaps of your performance. And you’ve taken that all important, EXIF data selfie. But before you take any photos, make sure you put up some GDPR compliant disclaimer notices, along the lines of…

We will be taking photos during the course of this event for documentation purposes. Please advise us if you do not wish your photograph to be taken.

The exact wording will be dependent on your purposes, your national legislation and your organisation. Just ensure you are covered.

Sign up, sign up…

At some point in the evening, you’re also going to want to get people signed up to contribute to the project, either as respondents, or simply those who are interested in hearing how the project progresses. You’ll need a clear, unambiguous, GDPR compliant sign-up sheet. Bear in mind, if your demographic are more mature, many of them will have less than perfect eyesight, so use a large font. I am in this category, anything smaller than a 10 point font and I’m lost, even with my glasses.

On Inch, we asked for their names, telephone numbers, email addresses. We also asked if they would be interested in contributing photographs, documents, artefacts or oral history. That was it. One page, large font, simple questions.

A few things to think about

Not everyone will have an email address and those that do may not check it that often.

This was the case on Inch, ask for telephone numbers, and expect to make a lot of phone calls.

Not everyone will have a mobile phone

I know it sounds odd, but once again, if your demographic is more mature, and if the rural mobile phone coverage is as appalling as it is in some parts of Donegal, that there’s little point in owning a mobile phone. Ask for a landline number as well.

Ask your respondents to use block capitals when filling out those forms

If I had a shilling for every feedback, sign-up and other hand-written forms I’ve seen that are completely illegible, I wouldn’t be writing co-production guides.

Don’t expect everyone to fill out a form

Some people will be at the meeting because there was nothing on the TV that night and it was something to do. They’ll sit happily and listen and then slip out the back door when you’ve finished. That’s OK. There is no obligation on anybody to contribute to the project.

Leave out some business cards

It’s unlikely anybody will call you but they’ll want to know they can.

Evaluating community interest

This is a co-production. You’re going to need to know what the community are interested in. You’re going to need to know where your focus lies. This is their project, not yours. They are guiding it and they are the curators of whatever output is made.

You can collect this information in any number of clever digital ways, but for the community of Inch I took inspiration from the fact we were having a general election the following week, and given Ireland uses STV proportional representation electoral system, I decided on simple preference ballot paper. The paper had one question, and space for three, one-word replies.

KISS principle ballot sheet – Keep It Simple Stupid

I took the 28 completed ballots and made a spreadsheet, and that was our initial guide. We knew what the community wanted to see in the virtual exhibition of their history and heritage, and the results contained a few surprises. That’s the joy of co-production. Expect the unexpected.

For example…

The lime kiln on Inch

The photograph above is of a 19th Century lime kiln on Inch. It’s a rare enough industrial relic, but drive past it and blink, and you’ll miss it completely. The vegetation covering it is as good a camouflage as I’ve seen. And it’s just an old kiln. You’d not think there was much to write about, not much more than…

Freestanding lime kiln, built c. 1880, no longer in use and overgrown.

But when I got chatting to Boyd Bryce, suddenly the lime kiln became the Lime Kiln, with a rich history, echoing the wider socio-economic changes of the last century and a half. Below is Boyd telling a few stories about this ivy-covered Lime Kiln.

For example…

Strahack graveyard

You’d drive through Strahack graveyard and not even know it was there. It’s owned by Boyd Bryce. He keeps his ewes and their lambs there, if they need some shelter from the elements. On one side are the Protestant graves, on the other the Catholic. It’s a tiny plot of land. Just a graveyard…

Expect the unexpected

Perspectives VIII

You’ll notice I didn’t mention the SE-PS Evaluation forms, or their Regulated Participant Profile forms, or their Socio-Economic Depravation Matrices.

I don’t know what any of this means…

The first meeting is not a good time to hand out four pages of anonymised data-collection and collation paperwork. To be honest, there is never a good time for that word-salad bureaucracy. Yes, I know we have to evaluate our projects. I’ve worked on EU PEACE III funded projects, and written endless, meaningless paragraphs to fulfil the stipulated evaluation criteria. I’ve attended evaluation workshops where evaluation handbooks were distributed as 200 page, A4 ring-binders. All of that stuff is vital for the SE-PS. but right now, this evening, when your community are relaxed and chatting away to each other, when you can hear people enthused and interested, and they’re telling you tales of pier pilings and shipwrecks, and handing you photocopies of things that might be interesting… this evening is not the time for the EU to get their evaluation data.

I’m saying all of this because of a relatively recent experience of attending a ‘first community meeting’ for another project, in which I had no involvement. Four pages. Small font. The audience were mostly farmers, and there’s one thing I know about farmers… they don’t like forms, especially European ones.

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