Lessons learned

Over the course of the project, the project team leveraged feedback from Forum and Working Meeting participants and facilitators along with consultations from participant advisors to set its strategic direction. The process of facilitating two events and editing The Lighting the Way Handbook has also been informative for the project team to understand the issues facing archives and technology workers in improving archival discovery and delivery. We have identfied a set of high-level lessons learned, which have informed both our recommendations and our areas of future work to engage and sustain the efforts of the project. These lessons learned are also described in more detail in the project reports published by Lighting the Way.

Collaboration is essential between archives and technology workers and is impacted by both power relationships and the cultural norms between collaborating parties. Emerging needs for collaboration must further impact the organizational positioning for this work. Effective archival discovery and delivery, as well as transformational change, requires deep collaboration. Participants at the Forum and Working Meeting both recognized that they often faced structural challenges to collaboration. The discussion of the impact on resource allocation on tactical and strategic progress addresses a disconnect between senior leadership and administration and the day-to-day lived realities of workers responsible for improving archival discovery and delivery. Many of the contributors to the Handbook elucidated the importance of making work more transparent and have advocated for shared responsibility, but challenges remain to have this work be understood and resourced appropriately. Facilitation methods, like those used within this project, are likely helpful in achieving that. We also recognize that collaboration is essential between the wide variety of roles that support archival discovery and delivery, and this suggests the need to improve collaboration and identify new models to undertake shared responsibilities for this programmatic work, and to value the labor necessary to achieve them.

Strategic planning for archival programs is essential, and care-focused and generative methods such as those used within the Lighting the Way project are of great value to archives, library, and technology workers. Accordingly, these practitioners must undertake responsibility to apply these methods within their own institutions. Throughout the project, participants were highly appreciative to have the time and space to explore challenges and opportunities in relation to archival discovery and delivery. The innovative facilitation methods used by the project allowed participants to engage, think, and respond to the challenges of archival discovery and delivery in new ways. In particular, the exercises enabled participants to explore and draw conclusions about archival discovery and delivery that were based on their lived experiences as practitioners. Participants also remarked on the practicality and focus of the Forum and Working Meeting. Both events enabled participants to envision new possibilities, plant seeds and grow ideas, and consider what actions must be taken to ensure progress is made, outside of the day-to-day work within the institutional or organizational environment. Furthermore, although the events were highly structured, the structure fostered an environment of freedom and creativity where group and individual purpose could be explored and value was placed on the process and discussion, as much as the output or result. Unlike more traditional methods of facilitation, in which one person is the facilitator guiding the group through an exercise, Liberating Structures requires input and direction-setting from all participants.

Sharing and collaborating on early stage work is valuable for archives, library, and technology workers. Many participants underscored the importance of sharing early-stage work with a thoughtful and engaged group, rather than only reporting out when a project or initiative has been completed. Sharing emerging strategies for enhancing archival discovery and delivery earlier and more often expands the opportunities for collaboration and insight from others. Collaborative and community-developed strategies help ensure the results have a wide-ranging and useful impact across different institutional and professional settings. Throughout both events, participants recognized that the opportunity to start or continue thinking about issues that impact archival discovery and delivery, rather than a mandate to resolve them fully. The recognition that dedicating time to iterate on ideas over time and share in-progress work is a newer concept for the field overall and diverges with the typical conference or paper publication cycle of initiating and completing a project in one’s own workplaces, and then sharing the results with an audience outside of one’s institution. Lighting the Way demonstrated that it is essential to share and collaborate across different job functions and institutions, in the early stages of work, to ensure the growth of emergent futures within the archival profession and amongst information workers.