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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Project appraisal: What we learned

Midway through the project, the WW2 People's War online team looked at some of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the project. From these findings, a list of recommendations was devised.

Identify your audience and make the site for them
Research who your users will be, understand what will bring them to your site and focus on their needs. Development for WW2 People's War involved groups of the target audience - non web savvy people in their mid-60s came into the BBC to advise on all aspects of the site such as design, functionality and archive structure.

Time your project carefully
Too short and your story gathering partners may not have time to co-ordinate sufficient support; too long and your call to action will become tired and repetitive. The outreach partnerships were managed by the BBC's regional learning project managers, who recruited and supported the associate centres throughout the project.

In many cases, the project was able to dovetail with local partners' activity - eg many local museums and volunteer groups were looking for ways to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the war's end, and running an event where veterans added their stories to the website was a productive way to do this.

Make promotion count
Ongoing or just around significant anniversaries? WW2 People's War did a mixture of both - TV / radio promotion took place with wartime commemorative programming; associate centres ran events throughout 2004 and 2005, although many of these were concentrated around key anniversary periods, eg Dunkirk evacuation, D-Day, VE Day, VJ Day.

Team up with external organisations
Your partners can bring expertise, experience and regional connections. Organisations such as the Museums, Libraries and Archive Council, the British Legion, the Imperial War Museum, Age Concern and volunteering agencies offered effective and consistent support to the project throughout its duration.

Focus on one call to action
There were several directions the project could have taken - as a way for wartime veterans to contact each other, a history of the military units or as an archive of personal recollections. The response to the latter was overwhelming, and hundreds of stories were added within weeks of the site launching. Concentrating on a single course of action led to clearer marketing, a means whereby partners and contributors could concentrate their efforts on a single rather than multiple activities, and a clearly defined outcome - ie the creation of an online archive of wartime memories.

Be aware of 'project pitfalls'
Hopefully you can anticipate where misinterpretations or problems with perception of the project will occur. There was much debate on the site over whether or not the BBC should fact-check this content. The wartime generation in particular saw the BBC as a trusted supplier of 'the truth', ie authenticated content that can stand up to scrutiny. However, the BBC was keen to gather wartime memories precisely because it represented the user's perception, rather than received historical opinion. The latter, it was felt, could be found on any bookshelf or encyclopaedia. What this site demanded was a record of how the wartime generation remembered those years; testimony in their own words; subjective interpretations that described 'what it was like', not what had happened.

There were frequent and heated debates on the subject on the site, but no change in policy. Many of the Recommended read stories chosen by the team and site members were given a light edit to aid consistency and readability - but no content or facts were changed in this process.

Make it very clear what you intend to do with the content
With a project like People's War, the users were very clear about their motive in getting involved - to add their story 'before it was too late' as a legacy for future generations to appreciate what they had gone through and the part they had played.

An exit strategy was devised to ensure that the archive of stories remained in the public domain, where the public could access them, for perpetuity. There was no guarantee at the time of writing how long the BBC would be able to host the archive and to mitigate the risk of it being made unavailable to the public at any time in the future, an agreement was reached with the United Kingdom Web Archiving Consortium, (a group of national libraries and archives overseen by The British Library) whereby the stories would be hosted longterm.

Give the project time to develop
Where user generated content is concerned, it can take a while for the idea to catch on. There were several reasons why the rate of stories being added to the site could have taken time:

Most of the wartime generation did not have computer access or the skills to use a computer. They were thus dependent on partners and associate centres to organise staffing and events where they could get help adding their stories to the site.

Contributing a story was not just a big demand on the participants from a technical point of view - it was also demanding psychologically. It takes time to piece together events that took place 60 years earlier. However, once users cast their minds back to add one story, they often found that their memories began to flow.

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