Audiences

Increasingly at JISC we are asking projects to look at who their audiences are and what the audience would like from the project.  I thought I’d write a post to explain what it is we are looking for as I realise it can be quite a confusing area.  I’d also welcome comments from those who are grappling with this at the moment so we can improve the advice we give and hopefully make it a positive experience for all concerned.

To set the background, looking in much more detail at audiences has recently become important for JISC.  Back in the ‘Thousand Flowers’ days we knew broadly who the audience was for projects and it was sufficient to broadly outline who the key stakeholders were (which, note, could be a larger group than the audience).  What was important was to get small projects out there experimenting with the technology and passing those lessons on to quite a broad audience who would pick up what was of interest to them.  Some projects would fail as a result of not quite connecting with their audience or simply not having an audience but that was all part of the risk-taking we did for the sector.  Fast forward to today and we are commissioning some very large projects and we are getting some of those to go along what we call the Development to Service route.  What this means is that we are interested in how they go from being a good idea to being something that can be used by others.  Unfortunately JISC can’t support all of those projects so we have to know which ones are of particular interest and for the others we’d like to help them find funding from other sources.   This is where knowing who could use the service and who would be interested in funding it proves to be vital.

So, how do you go about doing that?  I’ve tried to combine some do’s and don’ts below from projects that have been both successful and unsuccessful in finding audiences to use them.

DO:

– Get engaged with your community through events, mailing lists, blogs, etc and find out what they think about your idea and who they think would find it useful.  They are also likely to have some useful input into what you need to do.  A good recent example is my last post that I did on OpenID; the JISC-SHIB list are actively discussing its conclusions and helping suggest how we can take it forward;

– Identify named communities, institutions, companies and organisations who would be interested in your project.  It is so much easier if you can name members of your audience.   So, for example, my NAMES project is working very closely with the British Library.  That is so much better than saying the audience is ‘those in the academic community who would be interested in an authoritative registry of academic names’;

– Work with those named entities to establish their interest in your project.  They could well help with testing intial demos and prototypes or be able to offer some financial asssistance or resources in other areas such as connections to other similar initiatives or those who could help you;

– Talk with your programme manager who may be able to suggest useful people to get in touch with or audiences it may be useful to engage with;

– Put the work in on your project plan to identify key named audiences, record who those are and come back and revisit these, changing them as necessary;

– Get a demo or prototype out early so your potential audiences can see what it is you are doing and get to grips with it;

– Come along to JISC organised events such as Andy McGregor’s Developer Happiness Days  or the JISC Conference as they provide a good opportunity to talk about what you are doing and find more potential named interested parties for your audience;

DON’T:

– Define your audience so widely that it will be impossible to take practical action to engage with them.  If you’re aiming at ‘the UK academic community’ or ‘those interested in repositories’ then you need to be doing some more work;

– Skimp on engaging with your audience and getting their feedback.  You need their interest even if JISC are doing the funding as it provides evidence that what you are doing is useful;

– Use surveys as a substitute for engaging with your audience or finding it.  Surveys are useful but they can’t be used on their own;

Hopefully that is helpful and if you have something to add to the above then please post a comment.

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