The Circus Oz Living Archive is a three-year Australian Research Council Linkage Project that aims to create and analyse an experimental prototype for an online participatory ‘living archive’, built upon the Circus Oz collection of performance and rehearsal video documentation, to drive innovations in repertoire development, performance research and audience interaction. The project began officially in 2011, with preliminary work beginning in late 2010. Circus Oz is an internationally recognized innovator in contemporary circus. The unique Circus Oz performance aesthetic encourages a sense of shared community, of sometimes anarchic, carnivalesque participation. The aim of the project was to investigate how the experience of Circus Oz can be augmented through expansion into the digital networked environment. The outcome of the project has been the development and deployment of a rich media archive that has the capacity to enable creative participation of diverse users. This includes Circus Oz, peers, fans, scholars and the general public. The prototype is now live on the Internet. With this the ambitions of the project – and the trials that have been undertaken along the way – will finally be truly tested.
This transition to real use, as opposed to prototype development exposes the real challenges of designing for participation. Laurene Vaughan, one of the design researchers on the project, is reflecting on the archive and its life in the world. She notes that when we design such platforms we develop a range of tools and metrics to measure and evaluate success, and the typical expectation is that more traffic translates into more use which equals success. A rationale for many institutional collections to go online is to increase public engagement with them which is desirable. With this comes the expectation that once released from the shackles of physical location more people will be able to attend and/or use such collections or even contribute to their value. But Laurene Vaughan asks why would this be the case? Perhaps this is too simplistic an expectation of an outcome no matter how participatory or inclusive a design process.
In her presentation at the DRHA 2014 conference in Greenwich, Laurene posed a series of questions for further consideration: “what if we reframe our expectations and measures of success from a lot, to some?”, “what if we were to explore levels of meaningful engagement, rather than online visits registered as clicks?”, and lastly, “what if we were in less of a hurry for things to have life, and allowed for a slower uptake rather than an immediate onslaught?” For those of us engaged in exploring new directions in engagement with cultural heritage or any communication platform online, these are the challenges that may assist us in exploring truly innovative ways of enhancing public participation in collections – whether online or in physical spaces. If you wish to learn more about Laurene’s work, you can get in touch here. Laurene is Associate Professor in Design and Communication in the School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. She has a diverse research and teaching practice covering the areas of design, communication, fashion and embedded research in diverse industry sectors. Laurene currently also contributes to the University research community through being a Research Leader in the RMIT Design Research Institute.