Random Redhead

Where it becomes apparent to me why Scotland's digital economy is struggling/ a long way behind others - and what little chance we have of doing anything about that in the foreseeable. Long read, as it includes two of my applications to Creative Scotland.

Over a year back there was a flap in the media over Creative Scotland's sponsorship of the Glasgow Effect project. At the time I was quietly preparing an application to Creative Scotland and, as they don't make exemplars available, used the Glasgow Effect's application, (posted on Tumblr by the artist), to check I was ticking all the right boxes.

Nevertheless, I didn't get funded and I was left completely confused by the process. But I decide to have another go - largely as over the last year a number of Scotland's NGOs, including Creative Scotland, have talked much about making themselves socially and culturally relevant to more of Scotland's population.

The two applications, the first from late 2015, the second late 2016, are set out below aside from personal details and technicalities, e.g. risk assessment.

#1 - Ancient Scotland

Summary

Ancient Scotland aims to raise awareness of Scottish culture and history through a transmedia website and related social media collaborations. Within that, the project looks to build a flexible resource in support of promoting a broadly defined literacy to a variety of audiences.

The digital content blends artwork, social media and commentary to present an accessible entertainment.

Key components include:

  • Illustrated histories of primeval, ancient and early Scotland with commentary.
  • An illustrated collection of Scottish myths and mythology with commentary.
  • A digital ‘tapestry’ of historical events/ highlights focused on ‘Ancient Scotland’ but continuing to the present day. To lightly connect understandings of the past to the present.

These resources serve as a platform for a layer of challenges and reflexive experiences. E.g. Quizzes, hunts and ‘put yourself in the situation’ scenarios.

Beyond that a layer of ‘productions’, i.e. extra artwork, models and online events, seeks to ‘lead from the front’ in demonstrating options for getting involved in the topic itself and/ or the practical and creative process of developing the resource.

The content - while blogging the process as it happens - can support activities ranging from storytelling within families through to mapping the development of a range of micro-enterprises.

Artistic and Creative Quality

1.  Tell us about the artistic or creative ideas in the project, who is involved and how the project contributes to your development (600 words maximum)

A friend asked what would make the project different from a site like SCRAN. I replied in part in terms of bringing together eye-catching, original media and artwork, highly differentiated content and up-to-date approaches to online tutoring.

I then added building social media audiences to look at how existing engagement in history and related culture could present an increasingly outward facing model. Ideally, one which invites curiosity, imagination and insight to fuel wider access and depth of engagement with the overall content.

So the project is about merging overlapping skill sets to take an expressive approach to promoting and delivering cultural engagement. The differences or originality lying in the artwork itself; the condensed history; the shaping of social media promotion; and blended layers of engagement placed at visitors’ fingertips.

I’ll go into more specifics later, but on a practical level the idea involves further development/ action research on approaches to using ‘rich media’ content to deliver cultural engagement.

Some of the methods result from qualifications and experience in teaching across a range of subjects, but the nature of the proposed project lies in personal activities/ research over recent years.

I began a hobby site/ blog on various types of games and social games on an almost zero budget; that led to selling hundreds of gaming e-books to tabletop gamers; which saw me then mix that with work on social gaming and lightweight historical content.

From there I’ve broadened and experimented with approaches to social media engagement, built up goodwill across a wide range of Scottish interest online communities and - for game content - concentrated on moving to full colour titles.

Artwork developed for that work is mostly far off topic for Ancient Scotland. However, a few pieces chimed with parallel interests in history/ culture and some experiments specific to Scottish history have suggested where I could go with artwork. (With a commitment to produce 55 individual, full colour images within the project, and while aiming for a flying start, I need even more colour content to make the overall content more ‘immersive’. So though it does not count as in kind a further 10 images would be added at no cost from the outset).

As content developer I would be looking after the development of the resource.

Otherwise, I’ve built up an extensive online network through participating in online groups focused around culture, history, Scottish interest and Scottish diaspora communities.

Actual reads of content vary by topic, but a 10 part series of largely text on medieval Scottish history distributed over three months held an audience of 5K with a peak approaching 10K. With illustration, memes and differentiation this could connect with more of the 25-50K+ organic reads in a typical week.

There is considerable potential for further organic reach through offering professional production values and broader social media connectivity.

I‘ve a range of professional skills to contribute; alongside years of experience in content development/ publishing activities, including self-hosted Wordpress blogging and extensive use of vector graphics and Photoshop to prepare content for sale. Working on such a multi-faceted project would allow me to pool those skills to develop a more polished skill set, which connects up to arrive at high production values.

The project would also allow me to further develop my use of Creative Suite and to learn from the artistic and social media presentation of the ‘models’ or productions made during the project.

As an overarching theme I would be developing skills concerning putting art and history to purposeful use in areas such as literacy and enterprise. I’ve broken that down in a relevant later section.

Reaching People

Standard social media engagement through sharing posts from a site to a range of social media sites and relevant forums can bring good results. This is likely to be boosted by good quality social media content; particularly when the project engages people through formats, artwork and cultural content that is very much geared to approaching the project from participants’ perspective.

There are so many different social media options that choices have to be made about concentrating on the best return for the content on offer.

A clear starting point lies in connections with Facebook groups related to my interests, as Facebook has allowed me to reach a wide range of Scottish interest audiences including groups on clans, civics, Gaelic, history, . . .

As a result weekly views from a single page are typically 25K-50K+. This involves sharing selected posts into appropriate groups and linking to the content rather than the page. The page itself is not directly promoted, which means most page likes involved deliberately looking for the link to the page out of the content. Content likes and comments are distributed across the forums, but get reported into my personal feed - as the sharer. Basically I deliver and point directly to the content to get more engagement with the actual material.

History is not an easy ‘sell’ compared to some topics. Nevertheless, it is accepted under many headings and gets positive feedback wherever it’s placed.

If 10K+ unique visitors were to access the core content ever month over at least six months I would consider that a basic but disappointing level of engagement. Past figures from weaker historical content have yielded comparable and higher returns. Depth of engagement - time on site and areas visited seem as important.

I don’t wish to make vague claims, but there is a wider audience on Facebook alone to connect to than those who followed the aforementioned series of posts on Scottish history. That content was knocked together a few years ago and lacks almost all of the rich media elements and further breaking down of the text proposed for the project.

The partnerships within the project are predominantly online. Social media connections can appear fragile, but when widely distributed and sustained they become increasingly self-sustaining and resilient.

By placing showcase and full content in visitors’ social media laps they’re essentially receiving invitations to opt in from a trusted source; rather than marketing or product promotion. This doesn’t rule out monetisation developing beyond the project, but within the project the focus of relatively modest funding is intended to deliver through accessibility and putting the content to the fore.

That said, beyond the resource itself a series of modest activities/ productions could easily enhance engagement. I’d like to be flexible here - as you don’t want to start off something which someone else has just posted on or around. A schedule might read like this:

  • Tasteful Horrible History/‘Guinness Book of Records’ style quiz about the horrible food at times and show making a recipe.
  • St Andrew’s Day 3D Production - Shapeways or such like to create something ‘ancient/ Scottish/ iconic’ that doesn’t cost much. Potentially make ‘prizes’.
  • Halloween - writing a short story horror e-book meets Ancient Scotland.
  • Christmas - pictures of monuments made in Lego are a web thing - an enterprise angle is there in Lego’s Ideas programme. I wouldn’t want to over-elaborate, but with the right idea some form of inexpensive modelling has quite wide appeal across the groups I connect with.
  • A passive crowdfund/ donate system to cover costs beyond the first year of the project.

Potential benefits include:

  • Raising awareness of Scottish history and culture in terms of the full human history rather than a typical focus on relatively modern snapshots.
  • Guiding visitors into deeper engagement by placing layers of interaction at their fingertips.
  • Exploring the range and types of audience accessible through distributing rich media through social media management channels.
  • Presenting models for low initial investment/ debt, self-start enterprises using manageable/ streamlined skill sets to access production-based/ self-manufactured micro-incomes.
  • Combining pedagogies, media and distribution methods which already result in positive outcomes to test how well they combine and scale.
  • Seeking to inform small business and third sector agencies on potential approaches to social media engagement among relevant demographics.
  • Demonstrating a measure of gamification centred on fostering engagement through curiosity instead of relying on the weaker motivational contexts of procedural gamification.
  • Mapping a presentation of Scottish culture where content and discussion can step outside political contexts while engaging across varied demographics.
  • Exploring artwork as practical performance in a manner that aims to place viewers/ participants into others’ perspectives.
  • Testing the delivery of content through promoting cultural engagement by the young through ‘gatekeepers’ including parents - from a variety of communities.
  • Undertaking and reporting on the tricky task of bridging the, at times, considerable gap between popular history and evidenced history - without TV broadcasts.
  • Promoting awareness of the longstanding engagement with and connections to communities outside Scotland.
  • Promoting authentic, investigative history based on current academic consensus and archaeological evidence.

How will you reach them?

Other sections cover a range of the social media options relating to working with Facebook and touch on a wider distribution by web/ blog to other social media platforms which is straightforward.

I’m looking to further explore reaching some hard to reach audiences with an (in some ways) hard to engage topic - by connecting to other interests/ concerns via compelling media. Presenting this through media and stylings which they already seem to connect with should deliver positive outcomes - i.e. engagement can be clearly demonstrated.

However, getting beyond what is on offer elsewhere, (through building up layers of engagement and encouragement within the content that invite/ tempt rather than market), invites a short list of low key ‘productions’ to act as models of potential small enterprise related to the history.

Those central to forming an entertainment would be the first priorities in terms of developing the core content and extending visit durations:

  • Straightforward ‘Easter Egg/ scavenger hunt’ (on site) - walks round content.
  • Treasure hunt (on site and social media) - codes, icons on pages, hidden links, . . .
  • Lounge (on site) - landscape images, memes and audio.

I would rather offer some form of ‘prize’/ gift/ honorarium for participation aimed at gaining added engagement in these activities than spend on online ads. Further options for extending reach on a rolling basis are mentioned in Q3A. I’m open to taking advice on suitability. Given the duration and costing of the project delivering well on the first three seem more essential than adding to a core list of seven.

#2 - Art into Enterprise

The project road tests and maps paths to widening participation in creativity and creative enterprise across Scotland. The focus of the project’s artwork and accompanying digital platform is the design, production and evaluation of the delivery of a series of creative products through digital maker skill sets.

Each project calls for a variety of design and digital enterprise skills, but remains accessible and open to replication by those developing creative skills rather than applying specialist skill sets. In keeping with that each project invites Scottish makers/ creators to compete for prizes to design or attempt a comparable project.

The ten core projects, to be completed include a sticker album, a boardgame, a toy box, a card game and a colouring book - all projects which many could attempt, but which require to be highly creative, and to offer novelty, in terms of both function and presentation to either market or monetise.

To provide a fuller mapping of applied options for those looking at venturing into creative enterprises, each project will also set out to address a specific ‘topic of concern’. That involves designing every project to deliver support/ ‘escape’ in an area such as dealing with online bullying, support for kids in care, developing maker skills or contributing to local communities. This may be more or less directly in context, in so far as a game encouraging players to combine against the game environment or to network to succeed can deliver quite widely applicable skill sets.

To engage wider more diverse audiences/ participation the core content concerning the projects is accompanied by offering more fingertip encouragement and information on developing creative businesses. This includes creating a layer of digital ‘Easter Eggs’ ‘hidden’ within the website where visitors can collect design assets for immediate download by combing the site.

The artistic or creative idea, and how you will realise this

At root the overall project uses artwork and social media engagement techniques to put tuition, choices, encouragements and rewards for developing as a creative digital makers at the fingertips of large, highly diverse audiences.

The core ‘demonstrations’ look to help potential ‘makers’ bridge the conceptual and skills gaps involved in taking them further along the way to becoming involved in creative pursuits and, hopefully, creative enterprises. There is a clear focus on fun/ family/ constructive activities - the kind of thing many people might wonder about having a stab at, but can’t easily quantify or quite commit to.

They can all be tried out in the home as sketches/ outlines/ basic prototypes or taken further by people who are interested in or need flexible, creative work: the self-employed; someone considering starting a social enterprise; the unemployed; or those wishing to take novel approaches to making positive change. The principle costs are in time and thought, so people can test the creative enterprise water without committing to loans and at their own pace.

The individual projects identified at this stage include a sticker album, a boardgame, a toy box, a card deck/ game, novel colouring book/ printables and an ‘on the ground’ treasure hunt. The remaining slots would be discussed with participants and in view of how early projects went, but a 3D printing production seems important to include as the technology is so potentially ubiquitous.

Outcomes include:

  • Collecting and presenting data on participation, pedagogy and production across Scottish and Scottish interest audiences.
  • Mapping step-by-step, low risk routes to prototyping small creative enterprises and incubating enterprise skills.
  • Highlighting which approaches to creative monetisation produce which results.
  • Inviting and motivating relative digital/ design novices to place themselves in the position of evaluating their potential involvement in creative industries.
  • Developing my practice in terms of working with a variety of media and print formats.
  • A monetisation focus for each product where an avenue for monetisation is emphasised alongside standard/ on-going promotion.
  • Presenting a range of entertainments connected to applying social media management.
  • Enabling participation through putting some of the ‘picks and shovels’ of engaging digital creativity at people’s fingertips, e.g. colour templates, icon sets and prize content.
  • Completion of a high volume of original artwork and a set of completed products to commercial standards.
  • Investigation of contributions to possible solutions to socially relevant, topical concerns, including dealing with online bullying, support for kids in care, developing maker skills or contributing to local communities and mental health concerns.
  • Completion of outcome and data reports.

Reaching People

I currently have access to an existing audience, largely within Scotland, through offering support in the form of content to dozens of Scottish interest groups on social media over an extended period. The range of visitors’ interests include Scottish history, Scottish culture, Gaelic, civics, clan groups, Scottish gamers and more.

Unique visitors/ month viewing my Facebook content range from 200000 in quiet periods to substantially higher at particular times of year or when posting widely appealing content. Other social media platforms chip in and there are straightforward options for boosting those. These views are all organic and most of the sharing takes place from my Scottish Media Lab Facebook page at present.

A separate site and social media for the project can easily tap into the same network and reach a very broad range of age groups and varied demographics. I can also readily approach groups concerned with the themes attached to each production.

How will you reach them?

Through combining social media management techniques with good practice in learning and teaching to deliver an entertainment driven learning experience.

Offering competitions and straightforward social gaming as touched on earlier can be expected to significantly increase views and other deeper engagements, as the options chosen are among the pick of those applied by companies online.

The work involved in tapping into and developing from the existing base of primarily Scots is likely to meet many of the same people through simply paging for sponsored posts, so elements of fun and novelty are important to widening engagement. I envisage a number f2f engagements related to presenting outcomes and a reporting period at the end, but these would be more of the nature of a small ‘flash’ event or appropriate public placings in line with the plans to have a monetisation focus for each production. It is difficult to estimate potential engagement, but that is in top of the level of online engagement that can reasonably be anticipated.

So

And what was the outcome - not interested:

  • A claim that Creative Scotland understand the "potential" benefits of digital learning.

The proven benefits of online digital ‘learning’ have been demonstrated over two decades. I taught on the first massively online course, the Open University’s T171, from the off and every years since rows of students have gone on to gain degrees through this approach. It is of concern that those assessing the project state their expertise, only to immediately demonstrate they are over a decade off the pace and evaluate projects on the basis of a false premise.

  • The parts of the whole are said to be insufficiently detailed:

These are components of the project as a whole, so in describing the expectations for the project and detailing the overall aims applying to each project the parts appear imo well defined. The process under which monitoring and evaluation is clearly set out within the text.

It is unclear how, without a framework of their own and while rejecting the skill sets of those qualified in teaching and learning, anyone could hope to arrive at clearer measures of efficacy in ‘learning’. Given my experience in assessment, curriculum development and delivery of learning in HE, it is difficult to image who Creative Scotland imagine developing more flexible and concrete evaluations . . . one of the expressed stated purposes of the project.

  • There is said to be no description of the audience or their experience.

The users’ experiences are very clearly defined within the text in terms of participative engagement in meeting clearly set out criteria. The broad range of the audiences is detailed in the application.

  • Market research is required for possible participants and platforms.

The application clearly identifies a wide range of groups and visitors already engaged in related content. The primary platform of Facebook is clearly identified and focused . . . because Facebook retains 50% of social media use and offers a widely accessible platform. It's also the platform that's shrinking least at present.

Arriving with an existing six figure monthly audience and mapping how to build on that seems inconsistent with claiming there has been no market research. Other projects which have been funded demonstrate no signs of arriving with either a significant audience or documented/ formal market research.

  • Social media views need to be shown to convert to web pages views and web site visitors need to be proven to have become learners.

The range of evidence offered within the application is as or more complete than that collected under any of the other Creative Scotland Open Funding projects available to review online. Some of their projects are learning and technology focused - and evaluated in terms of number of participants and sometimes comments taken after the event. Any measurement of the delivery of ‘learning’ is not mentioned or defined by Creative Scotland, in contrast to the proposals I put forward to explore new options using the skill sets required to do so.

In addition it's unclear why the project would be required to convert social media to web page visits - or how this relates to demonstrating 'learning' . . . in  a project designed first and foremost to explore the effects of model micro-business processes.

It is entirely common for small enterprises to skip site cost and run directly off Facebook. Which returns to the question of expertise, as Creative Scotland's "experts" in education, social media and gaming don't appear very up to date in these areas. Perhaps they are, but that's not what I'm getting from them.

Busted Flush

The simple fact is Creative Scotland could run an entirely transparent project evaluation system using nothing more than a basic Wordpress database. The only reason I've heard why they can't do this is to protect private data on application forms. Except any Wordpress forms package will readily separate out two versions allowing only the one on public display . . . with the actual details.

Alternatively, how hard would it to be to issue the forms in two parts and keep the personal data separate that way. Imagine we could see both the applications and the project outcomes - democratic accountability . . .

Creative Scotland don't seem to get technology or social media and as part of that there appears to be this gap between 'proper art', (where a picture is hung on a wall and people come round to see it with visitor numbers recorded and comments sometimes offered or solicited). I thought I'd have a quick go at delivering the same 'experience' online using traditional art brushes . . . the 'random redhead'.

I painted her up over part of Thursday evening and stuck the pic online as soon as I was done. Here's a bit of the feedback , , , comparable to the visitors and comments feedback collected at the few Creative Scotland evaluations I can get at.

3.jpg

Not bad for an isolated pic and resulting in 80 Likes to the page itself so far, which would have cost in the region of £100 by paying for Facebook to do the work for you.

Yet, somehow, the measurement of an online 'event' or 'exhibition' with comparable evaluation and outcomes to traditional approaches is deemed mere 'potential' - despite including the expressed intention to develop new insights/ 'evaluations'.

Clearly, when misconceptions and fresh hurdles, not applied to other approaches, are thrown in the way of developing online entertainment/ activities/ 'learning' . . . and the skill sets of professional educators count as nothing against nebulous definitions of 'learning' within an inaccessible process . . . Scotland is going to have to get by without the digital opportunities driving innovation and creativity in advanced economies.

The Sting in the Tail

A conversation from within the last week concerning Scottish Enterprise, which seems to give the impression they're not sure what to do, but are interested in engaging with . . . let's not go there . . . heard it somewhere before and I'm all done filling out forms. Tend to myself ta v much and get on with making content. 

. . . if you've made it this far . . . the Portfolio gallery now has a fuller sized version of the redheaded lady than shows here or on Facebook :)