DigVentures – Funding Target Reached – What Now?
The crowdfunded archaeology project has confounded its detractors by reaching the full amount of funding within the allotted time – we catch up with Managing Director Lisa Westcott Wilkins to talk about what happens next. . .
It goes without saying that you must be extremely pleased to have reached your funding goal in time, and in the full amount – did you ever have your doubts?
Of course we did – we had done our homework on the risks, but there was the great unknown of whether or not people would be interested enough to join up. The big question was: how popular is archaeology really? And would it translate into action? We are amazed and thrilled – and I think this result says very good things about the public interest in archaeology.
As far as you can tell at this stage, are the majority of contributors people already involved with heritage/archaeology, or interested members of the public backing what they see as a worthy cause?
It’s about 75% interested public, some of who already ‘consume’ archaeology in some way through Time Team, magazines or just pre-existing interest. The other 25% are students, professionals, our friends (of course!) and others who have experience. It’s ideal – and we will be evaluating this thoroughly to see what kind of impression actually doing archaeology makes on people who have never done it before.
From the very beginning there was a massive interest in the project – it was picked up on and publicised in a way that I haven’t seen for an archaeological project before – in your opinion, do you think that such an arrangement – and the following publicity – could have been possible in a pre-digital world?
Ha! The full answer is that was a huge part of the reason we thought crowdfunding would work – it’s about exposure and reach. And using the web is the cheapest way to reach new audiences, if you’re savvy and willing to engage with it. Not everyone in archaeology is fond of the way things are changing – but it is inevitable, and having a project that is taking advantage of this, pushing the envelope, and putting ourselves on the map so that we can be taken seriously alongside other professions is very important.
Paid subscriptions for a field school is not a new concept – but being able to offer another part of the experience (the online broadcasting from site) is new, and only possible because of technology. We have people coming from all over the world!
Which brings me to my next point – you’ve proven that funding and a workforce can be found rapidly and with the minimum of institutional involvement – do you think your project is going to have an impact on the future of the way non-rescue archaeology is conducted?
In a way, this project is rescue archaeology, though not in using the term ‘rescue’ to mean in advance of development. Flag Fen’s archaeology is under threat for various reasons, some of them being just the natural degradation process. But time stops for no one, and Flag Fen does not necessarily have the time to wait around while traditional avenues are explored – and it has a twofold need: the archaeology, and the life of the visitor attraction. Most field schools could not deliver on both – which is a key part of what we’re doing this summer.
I don’t think the model can fail to have an impact, if done correctly. Our major concern was how quickly others would adopt it, and whether they would really think through their offer. I can say that this project has been incredibly work-intensive, and you need to plan for that. And crowdfunding is a relationship built on trust – we have been very careful to ensure the fulfilment of everything in our offer. It will only take one project that cannot do that, or does it poorly, to give the whole concept a bad name and destroy trust.
We are already looking down the road at the many different ways to make this work alongside the traditional ways of funding archaeology. It’s a complicated picture, but we’re cautiously optimistic!
Digital Engagement and Open Access are hot themes in academia at the moment – how will you be addressing these issues?
We will be working with LP Archaeology to use their ARK system this summer, which is open-access archiving. We plan to use the digital part of our archive as well – the Site Hut footage, clips, photos, tweet archives, and collated blogs – but this still needs some thinking about.
I would also like to mention something we are doing with the IFA, which is that we are going to be the first RO-status (Registered Organisation) field school in the UK – they are trialling it with us this summer, and hopefully by next year we will be able to deliver NVQs.
HR: Thanks for your time Lisa, and congratulations on your success – we’ll be watching events unfold with great interest.
You can follow the action over the summer at the DigVentures website – http://digventures.com/