#MondayBlogs Stakeholder engagement in ‘Creating England’s Literary Greats’

When Paul Fillingham and me put together a large scale digital literary heritage project we spend a good couple of years building up a portfolio of interested stakeholders. There are two main reasons we do this. Firstly, if we want to secure funding from the Arts Council then it’s vital that we secure at least 10% of our budgetary costs from private investors. This can either take the form of direct investment or support-in-kind. This reassures the Arts Council that we’re serious and that other organisations believe in what we’re doing. The second motivation concerns broadening audiences and marketing. By building partnerships with a wide variety of organisations we have lots of people promoting our project through their networks. This means a more diverse range of people visit our website and these statistics can then be used to validate funding.

Stakeholder engagement is one of nine processes that underpin UX methodology. UX methodology acts as a framework that enables us to think through each stage in the production and curation of a digital project. The ultimate purpose of UX methodology is to reduce risk, work more efficiently, achieve more value and deliver a better audience experience. If we’re getting funded by an external organisation we have a responsibility to ensure our project is value for money and that it does what it sets out to do.

Stakeholder engagement is stage two in our UX methodology. It appears pretty early on in our plans as there’s no point producing something if there’s no appetite for it. One of the key theorists for explaining this process is  R. Edward Freeman of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. In the video at the top of the page he makes some very interesting points that are worth bearing in mind when putting together a project.

Firstly, he argues: “You can’t look at any one stakeholder in isolation. Their interest has to go together and the job of a manager is to figure out how the interests of customers, suppliers, communities, employees and financiers go in the same direction.” Freeman goes on to argue that business and ethics need to work in harmony. Whereas old school industrial capitalism had a faceless approach to business due to the emphasis on the pursuit of profit, Freeman believes stakeholder theory gives a ‘face’ and ‘name’ to individuals. It humanises working relationships. He even goes as far as to suggest:  “what makes capitalism work is our desire to create value for each other. Not our desire to compete. Capitalism is the greatest system of social collaboration ever invented. It’s about how we cooperate together to create value for each other.”

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These beautiful images are taken from a PPT presentation by Sandy Mahal.

With this in mind I invited Sandy Mahal, the director of UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature, to a module I am teaching at NTU that equips students with the skills to create their own digital literary projects. City of Literature are a vital stakeholder in our project not only because of the prestige and validation their association brings, but also because of the contacts they can offer, the relationships they are able to build, and the knowledge and experience they can share. We also share a common ‘value’ – we believe in Nottingham’s literary heritage. In the short spell that Sandy has been in post she has overseen some very exciting projects, including Story Smash, a collaboration with libraries and the National Video Game Arcade, and, more recently, with Visit Britain. It was this latter project that I was particularly interested in.

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The Discover England Fund, administered by Visit England, has made £40 million available to projects that can enhance England’s tourism to overseas visitors through the project ‘Creating England’s Literary Greats‘. Focusing on the US travel trade, the project aims to explore the demand for increased literary themed visits to England, introducing new ideas for itineraries and presenting them to US tour operators to sell in their programmes.

Brendan Moffett, chief executive of Visit Nottinghamshire said:

“This is fantastic news for Nottinghamshire and we’re thrilled to have been awarded this opportunity to test the market to see if there’s an appetite for US tourists to explore our literary legends and their attractions, including DH Lawrence Birthplace Museum and Newstead Abbey.

The concept behind the project is based on research from VisitBritain, which has found that more than a third of overseas visitors want to see places from film and literature, and that almost half visited museums, art galleries, castles or historic houses – demonstrating the significance of the UK’s heritage and culture.

As part of this project, additional research will be commissioned to test if there is a real market for more literary themed visits, and we plan on making the most of this opportunity for Nottinghamshire to learn from experts in this field such as the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Museum and Jane Austen’s House Museum.”

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Being aware of the principles and narratives that underpin the City of Literature team help us to think about how our project may support or enhance these aims

Given that we intend to launch our travelling Memory Theatre in 2019 to mark the hundred year anniversary since Lawrence left England and embarked on his savage pilgrimage, this is a funding opportunity that directly relates to our project on numerous levels. Therefore, inviting Sandy in gave us an opportunity to understand her aims and how our project might support or enhance them.

Historically, Nottingham has been pretty rubbish at promoting and celebrating its literary heritage. We’ve been a lot happier shouting at others rather than shouting up for ourselves. But this is changing thanks to a lot of inspirational people in Nottingham – Henry Normal, Jared Wilson, Norma Gregory, Panya Banjoko, Rob Howie Smith, Leanne Moden, Pippa Hennessy, ‘Lord’ Beestonia and Ross Bradshaw are just a few names that spring to mind. Paul and me have done our bit as well through the Sillitoe Trail, which celebrated the enduring legacy of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, as well as Dawn of the Unread, a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history, which City of Literature have supported by commissioning and publishing it as a learning resource to help improve literacy levels.

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So far we’ve not been very good at celebrating DH Lawrence’s heritage. The recent closure of Durban House – and the flippant distribution of subsequent artefacts, as well as the building of a school that obscures a view of ‘the country of my heart’ suggest we’re stripping away our heritage rather than valuing it. This recent allocation of funding might help to address the balance.

Bearing in mind the principles of stakeholder theory and Freeman’s argument that ‘capitalism is the greatest system of social collaboration ever invented’ I think we can embrace these principles and attract tourism by constructing a very simple narrative that draws in a variety of relevant organisations. For example, after visiting the usual haunts in Eastwood, tourists could then be brought over to the Manuscripts and Special Collections department at the University of Nottingham and feast their eyes on the various Lawrence artefacts they’ve acquired over the years as well as Diana Thomson’s life-size bronze statue of Lawrence in the heart of the campus. They might take in a play at Lakeside while they are there as well. Or they could pop on the tram and head back into the city centre to visit the National Justice Museum for (pre-planned) talks on the Lady Chatterley Trial and its subsequent impact on freedom of expression. From here there’s the potential of a literary walk using local storytellers. We already have Chris Richardson (Chartism) and Ade Andrews (Robin Hood) offering bespoke walking tours, but Paul and me would be interested in putting together a Lawrence inspired walk in collaboration with the DH Lawrence Society. If there is a desire for this we could include details of walks in our memory theatre, or create an App…

There’s plenty of Lawrence sites in Nottingham. A good starting point is the Arkwright Building at NTU, formerly University College Nottingham. It was here – shortly after his 21st birthday in 1906 – that Lawrence trained to be a teacher, enrolling on a full-time degree course. Lawrence became disillusioned with the standard of teaching and left in 1908, deciding not to bother with a degree. His disillusionment is captured in the poem ‘Nottingham’s New University’ in Pansies (1929). He would be even more disillusioned at the level of education today on discovering the plaque commemorating his time at the college is wrong!

From here the tour could continue up the hill to Nottingham High School, situated upon a steep sandstone ridge. Founded in 1513, it’s the former school of Lawrence, Geoffrey Trease – author of 113 books, and more recently the playwright Michael Eaton. Around the High School are various locations that would inspire Lawrence’s debut novel The White Peacock. For those feeling energetic, a 30 minute walk down Mansfield Rd into Carrington will eventually lead to Private Road, where Lawrence met Frieda Weekley and convinced her to leave her husband and children and elope with him. The walk could finish at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio – a potential home for our memory theatre – where local writers could discuss issues from Lawrence’s life, such as the censorship they may feel as a result of their gender, ethnicity or world outlook.

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All of these things are possible with proper planning and consultation. Together, Nottingham can bring real ‘value’ if people and organisations are brought into the conversation. But you can only be part of a conversation if you don’t know it’s happening, which is why I invited Sandy to come and talk to students today and why I will be inviting many other people as well. And if I haven’t invited you, dear reader, please get in touch.

In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. We want to bring ‘value’ to his heritage and to do this we need as many collaborators as possible. If you have an idea you can submit ideas here.

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“Comes over one an absolute necessity to move…”

rageIn October 2016 a major cyber-attack took down high profile websites such as Paypal, Twitter and Spotify. It also took down 4 lesser known websites: Being Arthur, the Sillitoe Trail, Dawn of the Unread and Memory Theatre. These websites were all hosting digital literature projects by Paul Fillingham and I and are slowly being resuscitated.

The attacks raised an important issue regarding the future of the digital public sphere. Unless you’re a large corporation with a wealth of expert staff at your disposal, or, at the very least, a very competent and computer savvy programmer, such attacks are devastating and can completely wipe out your online presence within seconds. So much for online utopianism. So much for democracy. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

This is why this first blog post is inaccurately dated 18 February 2017. The first blog post for this D.H. Lawrence project was back around September 2015, but now we’re having to start all over again. On our official website I’m reliant on Paul Fillingham to magically restore the website so I can start blogging about our project. But as a freelancer, this is not high on his priority list. There’s the clients and the paid work. But I can’t wait any longer. Like Lawrence I’m impatient, restless, and desperate to move. So restless in fact I’m tempted to start each sentence of this blog with a verb, as Lawrence does in Sea and Sardinia. “Comes over one an absolute necessity to move. And what is more, to move in some particular direction.”

Moving we are then. At last. Not South West, as was Lawrence’s preferred direction in Twilight in Italy, nor East, when he embarked on the RMS Osterley on 26 Feb 1922 for Ceylon and the hope of “a new start.” But into the murky depths of the digital void where there is no sense of direction, no sense of beginning or end, just a kind of digital limbo. Although, technically speaking, this blog is completely fixed in time and space. It has an IPS address and so this is the first call out for visitors (or attackers) to come along.

I wonder what Lawrence would make of the hack. He was, after all, a man who preferred to throw a hand grenade into a room to see what would happen than sit down quietly in the corner. I don’t think he would appreciate the pointlessness of the hack. It would have to serve a purpose and there was no purpose served in bringing down our websites. It was too random. Undirected. But as a writer who despised the dehumanising effects of industrialisation, I think he would be appalled at our digital lives, particularly how complicit we’ve become in giving up our freedom for convenience.

The hack was successful because of our increasing reliance on the Internet of Things. Very simply this is computing devices embedded in everyday objects that are able to send and receive data via the internet. These ‘smart’ devices typically include baby monitors and thermostats, both of which can be controlled via your smartphone, down to the computer maintenance chip in your car that flashes up to tell you when you need a service. With everything increasingly being hooked up to the internet, there are more access points than ever, meaning you only need to leave one window open and boom! Game over.

No, Lawrence would have no sympathy for our plight or for anyone sucked into the glittering lights of the internet. He’d want to get as far away from the digital world as possible. “I’d wipe the machines off the face of the earth again, and end the industrial epoch absolutely, like a black mistake” he famously raged.

I hope he may forgive our “black mistake” in digitising his journey, and instead see it as another voyage of discovery, an attempt to charter unknown waters, a quest to find Rananim somewhere in the digital void before some benign force comes along and wipes us out for good.