Creating culturally respectful digital space: Workflow Sprints and RavenSpace

Coko’s Founder and facilitator extraordinaire Adam Hyde recently visited the University of British Columbia for a Workflow Sprint related to work being done by the institution’s UBC Press team. The Sprint took place on location in downtown Vancouver, Canada. The location is on ancestral, unceded, and traditional lands of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

UBC Press, with its partners, including the University of Washington Press, recently launched RavenSpace, a new model of publishing with a platform for media-rich, interactive books, where Indigenous communities and scholars can work together in a culturally respectful digital space. They also recently published the inaugural work, As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder, which readers can navigate by theme, explore the contents through multiple access points, browse the audio and visual galleries, or make use of the instructional materials designed for teachers and students. RavenSpace is funded via a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“We chose to have a Workflow Sprint at this time to take stock of the systems and workflows that we implemented for web-based, interactive publishing in Indigenous studies, to get a vue d’ensemble and discuss what we have learned thus far,” commented Darcy Cullen, Assistant Director of Acquisitions at UBC Press, and Principal Investigator for RavenSpace. Other questions Cullen’s group wanted to answer include: How did we adapt production processes to publish multi-path, media-rich, interactive scholarly books? How does the use of the new technologies alter our editorial and production processes? How do our values and commitment to supporting collaborative authorship and Indigenous community-driven goals translate into the publishing workflow?

There are particular challenges and questions that arise in a collaborative context and a digital environment where form and content are so tightly connected. Where does content development end and book production begin? How and when do we share tools and information that empower authors to create and shape materials that will form a published interactive work? “We have learned a tremendous amount in working with the co-authors of the first publication and in building this initiative,” remarked Cullen. “It’s important that we distill and share what we’ve learned in ways that we can grow and others can learn and participate.”

Participating in the Sprint, in addition to Cullen, were individuals from across the Press and the RavenSpace production development team: Krista Bergstrom, Digital Publishing Coordinator; Crystal Chan, Digital Developmental Editor, RavenSpace; Assistant Director, Acquisitions, UBC Press; Elizabeth Edgerton, former student production assistant; Beth Fuget, Grants & Digital Projects, University of Washington Press; Meaghan McAneeley, Production Managing Editor, RavenSpace; Morgan Tunzelmann, Market and Business Development Manager, RavenSpace; Laraine Coates, Assistant Director, Marketing and Business Development; Amber Ridington, past Project Development Manager; Erik Loyer, Creative Director, ANVC (Alliance for Networking Visual Culture); Holly Keller, Assistant Director, Production and Editorial Services.

The stated goals at the outset of the sprint were: to acquire a shared understanding of the current production process, and where each of the roles fit within the spectrum of activities; to improve communication between those engaged in the process; and to make the documentation and ongoing refinements of all processes easier. “This work will ultimately benefit not only the internal publishing team,” Cullen said, “but also the authors and creators we work with and who use RavenSpace, now and in the future. I appreciated how the Sprint made room for our values and the realities of the specific contexts of Indigenous studies publishing, so that they are reflected in our production practices.”

The Workflow Sprint promises implementation, via facilitated discussion, of a shared mental model and also a visual process map. These tools are particularly useful in the context of RavenSpace as an innovative model of publishing that brings together a new combination of expertise, systems, and ways of working – scholarly publishing, software development, media production, and Indigenous cultural heritage management and intellectual property rights.

Cullen said the reason RavenSpace opted for a Workflow Sprint is because of Hyde’s reputation as an experienced facilitator. “Adam has worked with publishers in a variety of digital endeavours,” said Cullen. “We’ve reached an exciting turning point with RavenSpace, and this Workflow Sprint will help us plan for a lasting infrastructure and sustainable future for RavenSpace.”