Last spring, the VCC2 « Research and Education » of DARIAH designed a survey on digital practices in the arts and humanities. The Digital Curation Unit (DCU) of the Athena Research Centre coordinated the project, but it is above all the result of European collaboration. Agiatis Benardou, Nephelie Chatzidiakou and Costis Dallas from the DCU explain the design and the aims of the survey. Jurij Hadalin (Slovenia), Toma Tasovac (Serbia) and Ingrida Vosyliute (Lithuania) show how relevant such a survey can be in their respective countries.
The DARIAH survey has already been launched in twelve European countries since summer 2014. So far, more than 1700 European researchers have responded to the survey, which remains open in several different European languages (see table at the end of the text).
This interview has been conducted by Aurélien Berra and Anne Joly (Comité de coordination de DARIAH-FR) and has been first published in la Tribune de la lettre de l’INSHS.
Why this survey?
Costis Dallas (Greece)
The purpose of the survey is to provide a reliable account of how scholars use information and digital technology to conduct research across Europe. As part of DARIAH, the European Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities, we have high hopes for the potential of digital technology in unlocking new possibilities for arts and humanities research. But we are also concerned to make sure that the large infrastructural investments at national and European level are justified, and aligned with the needs of actual researchers.
In DARIAH Virtual Competence Centre 2 – Research and Education, an international team of experts works in complementary areas, such as in summer schools and training programmes, learning resources and materials, and research community networking, in order to ensure that the views of researchers are central to DARIAH. The survey is part of the work plan of Task 2 of VCC2, which also involves complementary research activities such as the collection of “best practice” case studies for the use of digital technology in humanities research, as well as the construction of a digital research methods ontology to help guide humanities researchers interested in “going digital”. By undertaking this work plan, we hope to achieve a better understanding of how scholars actually work, what materials and tools they use, and how, and thus gain valuable knowledge for both steering requirements of future infrastructural work, and expanding the potential of scholarly research through the use of digital methods, resources and technologies.
We seek to find out about different aspects of information and digital technology use by humanists: not just at how they search for information, but also at how they organize, manage, enrich, annotate, use and disseminate research resources, and how they use digital tools and services for that purpose. We want to enrich our understanding of the working practices of a wide spectrum of disciplines, often using wildly diverse methods and techniques. We also focus not strictly on pioneering digital humanists, but on the broader constituency of “digitally-enabled” humanists, using or exploring the use of digital infrastructures (resources, tools and services) for research. And, finally, we are interested to see how scholarly practices and needs differ, or are similar, across different European countries, generations, and research communities. This is the reason why the survey is designed to be conducted across Europe, disseminated in different languages, and hopefully run again every few years to provide a “longitudinal’ view of how things evolve across time, together with the ability to compare across different contexts.
Agiatis Benardou (Greece)
This is a good question. Following our work on Preparing DARIAH, in which we designed and implemented interviews with Arts and Humanities Researchers, we designed a web-survey for EHRI and decided to take this work forward within Europeana Cloud, in which we carried out a web-survey for Humanities and Social Sciences researchers focusing on Europeana and TEL material. The present DARIAH web survey carries and builds on all the wisdom of all our previous work.
What is its scope and target audience? (NB : We also have disseminated the announcement for the survey beyond the French people to a French speaking audience, in Belgium, Switzerland, Quebec and some countries of Africa)
Nephelie Chatzidiakou (Greece)
The DARIAH Web Survey aims, as mentioned above, at reporting on the use of digital technologies by researchers across Europe. It is thus predominantly the European community of researchers in the Arts and Humanities that we aim at, and it is very important that our sample comprises researchers from different countries across Europe, as well as from a broad spectrum of disciplines within the Arts and Humanities. On the other hand, it is clear that the research process has no strict national barriers, therefore we are open in reaching researchers from other countries as well, especially those retaining a strong connection with European countries, such as the countries du monde francophone. What is essential is to reach those researchers that are likely to benefit from DARIAH, and this means that we are not solely interested at high-tech digital humanists but also, as Costis has pointed out, at digitally enabled humanists, including those that are still learning or even those that are merely interested in using digital technologies in the course of their research. In order to reach this broad population, we followed a purposive / theoretical sampling, seeking responses by those humanists aware and connected with DARIAH, or with scholarly communities and events that address to one extent or another the use of digital technologies in research. Our dissemination strategy has been planned accordingly, by the use of online distribution lists and the distribution through national representatives from DARIAH community as well as selected physical events.
The scope and target audience is much broader than the word “target” insinuates! Humanities researchers from across Europe, using different kinds of digital and analogue research tools and material are what we are looking for. It is not secret, of course, to say that the more digitally literate individuals are our focus, but the more the merrier! The more we get to know about how these people work and interact with their material, the more likely DARIAH is to assist them.
– Emphasis to cover not just high-tech digital humanists, but digitally-enabled humanists, including those that are still learning / interested to use digital
– Also, we’re interested in different countries etc., but recognize that research has no strict barriers… so we are aware and welcome responses from outside Europe, e.g. Francophonie…)
– Target audience is the humanists likely to benefit from DARIAH
– Thus, our sampling is purposive/theoretical: we sought to get responses by those humanists aware and connected with DARIAH or with scholarly communities and events that address to one extent or another, the use of digital technologies in research
– This leads to our dissemination strategy: online distribution lists, using national representatives from DARIAH community, selected physical events etc.
Who was involved in developing the concept and protocol for the survey?
The survey is coordinated and supported by the Digital Curation Unit, Athena Research Centre (Greece). For the last five years, the DCU has been developing methodologies and conducting mixed methods research on scholarly practices and the digital environment. Our research has been driven theoretically by our Scholarly Research Activity Model (SRAM), which in its turn is based on cultural historical activity theory, on a massive amount of earlier work on scholarly information behaviour, and on expanding the notion of “scholarly primitives” introduced by John Unsworth to capture the recurrent and modular micro-activities of humanities work. It is this experience that we brought into this project. Agiatis Benardou and myself worked on the original set of questions, derived from the experience of previous surveys we developed, together with Panos Constantopoulos and Stavros Angelis, for the EHRI (European Holocaust Research Infrastructures) and Europeana Cloud projects. And, since autumn 2013, Nephelie Chatzidiakou had a major part in shaping the final set of questions, and is now managing the process of launching and disseminating the survey.
But this work is truly the outcome of broader international collaboration within DARIAH. Petra Links (Netherlands), Jurij Hadalin (Slovenia) and Ingrida Vosyliute (LIthuania) contributed to the planning and revision process from the outcome. Jane Olmeyer, Alex O’Connor (Ireland), Aurélien Berra (France) and Stef Scagliola (Netherlands), among others, joined us in workshops and offered valuable comments. Anne Joly (France), Zoe Schubert (Germany) and Toma Tasovac (Serbia) worked on translating the survey in their own language. Bente Larsen (Denmark), Walter Schoeger (Austria) and Lorna Hughes (UK) agreed to disseminate the survey in their respective countries. Our work also benefited from the experience and advice of Manfred Thaller (Germany), who joined me as Task 2 co-chair in March 2014, as well as from the support of Susan Schreibman (Ireland), Erik Champion and Marianne Huang Ping (Denmark) in their role as VCC2 coordinators.
Compared to previous surveys, how might this survey be different, in terms of scope, targets, hypotheses, expected findings?
Research on information behaviour has been going on for several decades now, and there are numerous studies on diverse aspects of scholarly information work. But digital infrastructures such as DARIAH are still a relatively recent and under-studied phenomenon. Also, only recently did the focus of research expand to cover questions beyond information seeking, such as those related to personal research information management, the curation and use of scholarly information. Since the capabilities of digital research infrastructures such as DARIAH go beyond mere information retrieval by integrating information seeking with curation, analytical, display, collaboration and dissemination capabilities, this creates a significantly different scope for our survey.
One additional dimension we seek to address is generality and comparability. Most earlier studies on scholarly information behaviour were designed to explore a hypothesis situated in a particular national or disciplinary context, while the emerging integrated European environment and the increased interdisciplinarity of humanities research presents us with a virtually opposite challenge. By seeking explicitly to make the survey relevant to the situation in different countries and disciplines, and also by focusing, where possible, to questions that may be appropriate in the medium future, we hope that we will be able to support comparative and longitudinal analysis. This will allow us to ask how things may be different in different countries or disciplines, and how things may change or remain the same as the survey is conducted again every few years.
There are, of course, similarities with our own earlier survey work in projects such as the European Holocaust Research Infrastructures (EHRI) and Europeana Cloud, but also important differences.
The EHRI survey was focused on researchers of all disciplines dealing with Holocaust-related research questions. Also, our focus was their interaction with archivists. The Europeana Cloud survey, on the other half, aimed at exploring and assessing the interaction with Europeana and TEL material.
One aspect worth noting: that the survey has now behavioural questions (e.g. how often you did this or that) vis-a-vis attitudinal questions in the previous work (“how important…”).
How have you planned to analyse the findings of the survey?
Most of the questions included in the DARIAH Web Survey are closed, measurable questions on a nominal or ordinal scale. It is thus mainly through descriptive and basic inferential statistics that the results are going to be analysed. Descriptives will give us an idea of central tendency and dispersion – what is the profile of the “average” digitally-enabled humanist, in terms of a particular question. Since this is a multiregional survey we will be able to filter the results according to country and language. This makes our work more interesting. Moreover, when planning the survey we foresaw the need for a number of demographic questions that will allow us to cross-tabulate and examine the results according to age, digital experience, career status, and other factors. Cross-tabulations and potential significance testing, or seeking to measure associations, vis-a–vis country of residence, discipline, professional status etc. will allow us to test hypotheses and identify relationships between these factors and aspects of scholarly behaviour and needs. More refined statistical tests will allow us to understand if there is any association between these factors and the answers provided by the respondents. We are thus planning to run a wide range of statistical tests on the data and attempt to discover relations between the data.
I should add that the methods of analysis have not yet been finalized yet. So far we agreed to run descriptive statistics and cross-tabulations. But these analyses are based on the assumption that there is an “average” digital humanist worth finding out about, while in reality there may be very different types of digital humanists with regard to their pattern of work and digital needs. One complementary path is to focus not on the variables, but on the cases. I am not ready yet to discuss specifics, but, depending on the quality and number of total responses we receive, we may be able to suggest some potentially fruitful additional methods of analysis, using classification and multivariate statistics approaches, to try to identify different profiles of humanists based on their information practices and digital needs.
One additional thing regards publication of results: The survey team will also need to decide on the structure of the report that will be produced, as well as when the survey will be repeated after 2014. As regards structure, apart from the section introducing the protocol, the sampling strategy and the like, there could be also separate chapters presenting national results, hopefully authored by working group members from each country. The DCU will be happy to undertake the responsibility of writing up the chapters on the comparative and consolidated results, and to edit the full report, hopefully for dissemination in the spring of 2015. But all this will need to be discussed and decided by the working group and agreed by the VCC2 management structure.
Viewed from the perspective of digital humanities and digital infrastructures in your country, what do you think this survey might contribute?
Ingrida Vosyliute (Lithuania)
This is the first digital humanities survey focused on scholars and scholarly research which has been carried out in Lithuania. It addresses questions that have not been yet addressed yet within our national digital humanities community. When discussing about Digital Humanities in our country, we usually focus on digital content, metadata, digitization projects, etc. and do not pay much attention to scholarly work, which nevertheless plays an essential part in all digital humanities activities. Thus we tend to lose sight of what scholarly research is and what it generally means. The survey, on the contrary, draws attention to scholars and the importance of the research process. I believe that the results of the survey will provide insight about the current status of national scholarly work, as well as the needs and expectations of our scholars.
The survey is also the first international digital humanities survey that includes Lithuania, and an important step towards Lithuanian integration into DARIAH. It will hopefully increase awareness of international research possibilities and will promote DARIAH activities within the national digital humanities community. The international dimension of the survey will allow us to compare data from different European countries and to have a broader picture of pan-European digital humanities research. Thus Lithuanian participation may be a decisive factor in helping to shed light of the current situation of digital research in Eastern Europe, and to encourage regional research co-operation in the future. I strongly believe that the results of the survey will enable DARIAH-EU to shape its future strategy in order to empower scholars and enhance scholarly research across Europe.
Toma Tasovac (Serbia)
It would be extremely naive to think that the field of digital humanities is immune to economic and ideological tensions that characterize information capitalism. It would be even more naive to think that we can build expensive, transnational digital research infrastructures that will function in some abstract networked space unburdened by the politics and the economics of our day-to-day existence. This survey — because of its ambitious scope and its comparative character — will not only help us get a better sense of how Serbian scholars actually use digital technologies for research, resource discovery, collaboration and dissemination of scientific output, but also to what extent and in what aspects are the practices of Serbian scholars similar to or different from those of their colleagues in other parts of Europe. I very much hope that the results of the survey will help us assess and, if needed, reformulate our own priorities in the work we do as DARIAH-RS: are we moving in the right direction? What services and tools should we focus our development on? In other words, we need this survey because we want to have a more complete and better informed picture of our different scholarly communities; and, also, because a digital infrastructure exclusively based on limited anecdotal evidence or ad hoc self-observation would be an exercise in futility.
Jurij Hadalin (Slovenia)
Considering Toma’s statement that digital infrastructures base mostly on anecdotal evidence I certainly believe that such survey will show us the level of penetration of DH in national research community. It is on the one hand remarkably low when straightforward asking researchers (not the top edge community, but the digitally less mature audience, which is prevailing), but when asked the right sequence of questions, I expect a different picture.
On the other hand, I believe that results will show something different, namely it will reveal trends in different tool usage, which can, at least by my mind, differ from expectations. It could easily show that in development of some tools one should consider bread and butter software, such as MS Office, as the main vantage point. Another theme is the research practices in humanities, which would definitely show some prevailance of national sources over well-established global services. Comparative character of the survey can be used to connect these, which is by my opinion of of the main goals for whole Dariah.
Another vantage from national point of view is also gaining more information in the field on DH interested persons of groups. It would also help us to see the level of so called “Fachidiots” approach and assuming easier planning for real cross discipline DH infrastructure.
I believe that the DARIAH Web Survey will provide valuable results that will be of use both in national and european level. As far as Greece is concerned, the results of the Web Survey will be useful to DYAS, the Greek Network of Infrastructures in the Arts and Humanities and the national arm of DARIAH in Greece, for evaluation as well as for comparison with the findings of earlier studies, both quantitative and qualitative, conducted within the Greek humanities research community. The international aspect of the Web Survey, on the other hand, provides an exceptional opportunity not only to map the digitally enabled scholarly research activities in Europe but also to compare the national findings with those provided from other countries, or the overall European findings. In this sense I believe that, as Ingrida has mentioned above, the findings of the Web Survey will be central in the shaping of future DARIAH-EU strategy towards the Humanists community in Europe, and that the Web Survey will actively affect the way DARIAH will address the research community and will invite research actors to use DARIAH tools and services in their research.
Listening to people is the most valuable resource when you try to build or create or even amend things for them. Even more so, when you get to listen to people on a European level, and try to pinpoint variations in their attitudes and needs. For me, the DARIAH web survey incorporates the whole DARIAH mentality – various countries collaborate towards one end – the support of research in the Humanities.
Finally: which consequences do you think the findings of the survey will have on DARIAH projects, especially on the activities of VCC2?
The survey is not a stand-alone undertaking. As mentioned previously, the survey was based on work conducted within other DARIAH-related projects and initiatives, and, furthermore, it does complement other VCC2 tasks, such as Community Engagement, and, of course, the ontologies work conducted within T2.2.
We hope that the survey will help strengthen a researcher-driven vision for digital infrastructures, very much in the spirit of the mission of VCC2 – Research and Education of DARIAH. It will also hopefully provide useful information to those humanities researchers who are now discovering digital methods and tools, and encourage methodological reflexivity among digital humanists – to be mindful of our practice, and look critically at how we work. In addition, it may help provide useful guidance to those involved with developing the specifications, and making the argument for digital infrastructures for the arts and humanities, as well as in setting priorities for digital research content work, both at European and national level, as several national initiatives are due to take off within the ESFRI roadmap. The findings of the survey can provide arguments why infrastructures are needed, and help refine what they need to support, helping answer questions such as: What should be digitized first? Should the emphasis be on content or processing? Where should resources be directed in terms of particular services or tools? How generalized or specific to particular disciplines or fields should systems be? Monitoring the evolving scholarly practices and perceived digital needs as the situation changes with the emergence and adoption of particular digital technologies and tools, as well as with the consolidation of the European research space and the changes in the boundaries across disciplines, and most importantly also across different countries, can contribute to more effective advocacy and decision support for digital infrastructures work.
This survey is part of a broader research activity. The results of the quantitative analysis of the survey can be best understood, interpreted and used if seen together with the “life stories” of researchers as they report on their use of digital resources and tools in a case study, and with knowledge resources attached to the digital methods ontology under development, both parts of our work plan. Seen in this context, this work can contribute towards building a European digital humanities observatory and knowledge base, which will work hand-in-hand with advocacy, community networking, education and training activities planned by other DARIAH VCC2 working groups.
Serbian (Cyrillic): http://surveys.dcu.gr/index.php/293997/lang-sr
Serbian (Latin): http://surveys.dcu.gr/index.php/293997/lang-sr-Latn