Monday, 15 December 2008

A cautionary presentation for JISC IE and eResearch Call bidders

Quick link: Download the powerpoint presentation from here and look at slides 5 to 21.

While tracking the live blog (nice work, Andy Powell), it is noticeable how many of the concepts and phrases are still as relevant now as they were in the eLib programme of the mid and late 1990s. I'm probably not the only person who twitches when the phrase "Cultural Change" appears. And I suddenly remembered Project Lanes. I had an odd role in eLib in that I was the web editor of Ariadne for the first 10 issues (which often meant hassling other projects for content and updates), as well as being the UKOLN end of the eLib dissemination chain. Consequently I had some kind of contact with many, if not all, of the eLib projects for a while, and in the space of 2 years attended over a hundred events in various roles.

This gave me ample opportunity to track and observe how projects were doing. As in most programmes, many eLib projects met or fulfilled their criteria. Overall, it is easy to see the effects of the eLib programme still today. It didn't solve every problem and issue - electronic publishers, for example, still largely have UK academic libraries over a fiscal barrel. But it massively raised the profile of things digital in UK academia, did (I personally feel) change the culture in several ways, and trained a generation of people who are influential in UK academia and libraries to this day. Not bad for 15 million pounds of funding.

However, some projects fell short or went wrong. This wasn't a great issue overall (as Chris said, "Let a hundred flowers bloom", or something like that, and the community should learn from things that went wrong).

On the orders of Chris, the brilliant, no-nonsense but fair director of eLib, I created a presentation about "Project Lanes". This was a distillation of things that went wrong in various projects and consortium, and I spent some afterwards taking questions a la "Were you referring to us on this slide?" Two people still won't speak to me as they think I didn't disguise their project failings (in reality, their own failings) enough. (Shrug).

Project Lanes has re-emerged on the JISC website, embedded in a presentation by Greg Newton-Ingham, another ex-eLibber who is self-employed - Greg is now doing interesting things in data mining. The re-emergence of Project Lanes is bad as I get no attribution (not a problem, seriously), but good as it means Greg can take any awkward questions :-) It is downloadable from here, and the Project Lanes part is from slides 5 to 21. Gosh, that was a memory trip. The rest of the slides, by Greg, are also well worth a read. "Not part of the coffee room set." - yes, that will bring back a few "Them and us" memories to eLib project staff working in universities.

Why am I blogging this? Because many of the things that went wrong are still possible in projects, especially consortium-based projects. Not all of them, as JISC have been very astute over the last decade in learning, and upgrading their proposal and funding requirements. It is much more difficult for projects to fail in the same way(s) that Project Lanes "failed". However, it is still a cautionary tale, and some things in there are as relevant now as they were then. If you are putting a proposal together for a digital library, repository or some other IE or eResearch bid, it may be worth a quick read.

[Update] To answer email just had, yes everything in Project Lanes happened to projects. Names have been changed for obvious reasons.


  1. John,Sorry about the lack of attribution, it was there in the original context but not on the slides and the original context seems to have been lost...The project lessons are universally true across time. The romans could have learnt from Project Lanes and I expect in 100 years the lessons for some will be exactly the same...

  2. Some projects are still making very similar mistakes.