Expedition Sprint Process

By Andrew Gryf Paterson (SCO/FI)

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Pre-expedition

In the pre-expedition research period, SERDE made research about what type of information and materials could be found about plants. It was found that there were many books and references about wild, useful plants and recipes, but little practical information about how to do and apply within the cultural context. Also importantly, there were few stories about the people themselves who used herbal remedies and nourishments.

SERDE also identified people locally who still gather herbs for themselves, especially in Aizpute where the organisation is based. SERDE found that the most active people are from historical Suitu region, who’s traditions have been recognised by UNESCO for their intangible cultural heritage value. Contacts with the folklore and heritage organisations in Alsunga were approached.

Local news reports (in radio and articles) about the project were made both in Aizpute and Alsunga, so that local people would know that a group of international people might turn up asking about their use of herbs, plants or berries.

The international list of expedition participants were mostly ‘hand-picked’ by Signe Pucena and Andrew Paterson, or recommended by a few contacts, as was case with Lithuanian participants. Several of the participants were related to the Pixelache Festival events in Helsinki earlier in the year, and several others were met at previous Renewable Network gatherings organised by RIXC Centre for New Media Culture in Riga. The group was cross-disciplinary, included several local and guest plant experts or herbalists, and many present were familar with documentation and recording events for artistic, cultural or ethnographic purposes. Although a call for participation was made for the expedition, only several persons attended due to this means. Fortunately a handful of the participants were already friends or knew each other through networks, but also the new persons where very amiable. It was encouraged and supported if people wished to bring their family along, as was especially the case over midsummer holiday.

Interviews

The interviews were arranged by Signe Pucena, and often these were scheduled on an ad-hoc basis, depending upon when the interviewee could meet a group. Some were arranged in advance, and some ‘blind’ or via ‘cold call’.

In advance of any interview, it was necessary to arrange the interview group, which consisted of at least: interviewer, interpretator/live translator, photographer, audio-recorder (sometimes also the interviewer), and in some occasions a video-grapher. Often there was also 1 or 2 guests (without defined role) also attending the interview. Each role was self-nominated, according to what each person wished to do, had equipment or skills to do. We tried to keep 5-6 persons as maximum number attending each person, although with the different language issues it was necessary always to have at least 1 local Latvian translator. Signe Pucena had prepared a sheet of example questions in English and Latvian which would yield practical answers about the use of herbs.

Temporary Media Lab

A temporary media lab was set up by Andrew Paterson at a desk and on the shelf of a piano, to handle the media and file materials generated during the process. Only the equipment brought by participants was the resources available to them and others. Hence many worked on their own laptop, although some had to borrow. A ‘Commons hard-disk’ was taped down onto a strip of paper attached to the piano shelf, with upload instructions surrounding. This disk was both archive of everyone’s materials and ideally a repository for participants to use. Unfortunately only a few copied the files of others. Large sheets of paper attached to walls, and marker pens placed in view schedules, group lists and roles, ideas and concepts for assemblage of materials.

Following the interview sessions, and before the group split on return to base, Andrew Paterson asked for an event name to use as a label on filenames submitted to Commons harddisk, related to each interview. This aimed to facilitate easy file search post-production, and create common file-naming standards. Each file had to include the date (yyyy-mm-dd), event, or name of person interviewed, and the author of the file submitted. Ideally each author had to submit and upload their files each day to the Commons hard-disk, which acted as archive and repository. In reflection, it would have saved trouble individually if there was also in each interview group, a designated person who would handle the filenames & uploading process.

Post-Interview

Following the interviews, each day, the audio-files from the interviews had to be passed on, and a group of local Latvian youth (7 helped in total) to transcribe the spoken-word from the interview. The audio-files were listened to by Latvian ethnographic/plant experts in the expedition, to highlight interesting parts of the conversations. When the conversations where highlighted, they were transcribed, and then translated.

In the pre-expediton publicity and planning, the second half of the schedule was dedicated and inspired by an iterative production method from agile software development called a ’sprint’, exemplified in book form by FLOSS Manuals and the alpha Booki platform. We had planned to work towards making a best-possible draft of text, images and video materials, in different languages used by the participants. However, this ideal proved to be too ambitious in the time period we had allocated. The work to make accessible the materials, both photography, video from what was witnessed, and of course, comprehension about what was spoken about in the interviews, proved to take a lot of time.

Towards the end of the 10 days it was possible to have discussions about how to order and categorise content, where would be an appropriate place to put the media, which website to host the materials, and also importantly to look at the media together and get an approximately collective appreciation for what was there, and what was good. However, the period a working group was meant to do online uploading and infrastructural platform work, including the use of collaborative writing tools such as Booki.cc, the Internet was down. Indeed, the Internet was off for four days, at a time when participants were slowly decreasing, and international guests were heading home.

For the Latvians transcribing and translating the spoken-word, and those processing images, video and audio materials, the expedition period proved to be, not a book-sprint, but an expedition-sprint. Cross-disciplinary, trans-lingual ethnographic work usually does not happen this fast. What might have been 3-6 months part- or full-time work for a couple people, was substantially compressed into 10 days.

Reflection

The ambition to prepare a draft of a booklet, or a webpage did not happen within the time imagined. This work had to become task of several individuals working together, but remotely over a longer period.

On the basis of this experience and learning, a second attempt at an expedition-sprint would ideally have the following characteristics and schedule: Maximum 10-12 persons, to split into 2-3 groups, with a similar multi-/cross-disciplinary skill set, and language or cultural diversity. Don’t let anyone leave until the end of the whole process. If there were to be 3 days of interviews, then it should be followed by 4-5 days of holiday for those interviewers: take the expedition participants on holiday, to the beach, woods etc. Meanwhile the transcription group (and translation if necessary) sprint-work for those 4-5 days preparing materials for the others’ return. Let the transcribers and translators then go on holiday for 4-5 days. Regather the expedition participants, and spend a day going over the materials together, finding relations with and to the materials. Lastly spent last 3-5 days sprinting towards a draft or publishable document (depends on ambition and harmony), to complete the process.

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Metadata

Date: 2010-08-06

Author: Andrew Gryf Paterson (SCO/FI)

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