The Dos and Don’ts of Discovering

Last week was Discovery Week at The Guardian. Four of the five fellows (Dan, Laurian, Mark and I) were in attendance. Our project is NewsQuest and a host of other great ideas arose from knocking developer heads together and giving them the time and space to create.

The BBC will be hosting similar events and hopefully more digital organisations will try and cash in on the creativity within their own institutions by downing tools and fostering a startup attitude. For those who are planning on discovering here are my dos and dont’s from my experience and The Guardian’s first Discovery Week.

Do Invite People Outside Your Institution

Two heads are better than one and if you want people to break out of paradigms you need ideas from outside your organisation. OpenNews Fellows should be on your list! Reach out to people who share your goals and ethos and be open about the challenges your organisation faces.

Don’t Give Them Preference

A Discovery Week is not an opportunity to foster ties for commercial purposes. All ideas are equal and besides organising travel and accommodation for guests, they should work with the same setup as everyone within the institution. Everyone should be allowed to pitch an idea equally and have the same resources.

Do Get Audience Feedback

Pitching your idea to an audience early on is a great way to decide where to concentrate your resources. Game-changing ideas cannot be built in a week. Feedback from future users really helps shape your core idea and focus your efforts so that the end result has clout. Knowing that you will have to present your idea to the audience also helps focus your project towards the needs of the news organisation.

Don’t Micro-Manage Everything

With a lot of developers working on lots of ideas things can get chaotic. The whole point of a Discovery Week is to build for the future and that will require some organising. However, tying up people’s time with meetings, form-filling and emails will only stifle creativity. Teams need to be aware of each other so that mergers and collaborations can form but let there be open work spaces and  a call-out board for those who need it rather than making everyone report everyday.

Do Make Sure The Ideas Have Reach

This means getting more than the people working involved. An entire news organisation cannot all down tools. But you should make sure that journalists, editors, board members, etc all have a chance to see what is going on and find out what people are working on. Use Discovery Week to foster ties between the newsroom and developers.

Don’t Have One Lengthy Presentation

A Discovery Week never ends. It is meant to build momentum and for that the whole organisation needs to be on board for change. In that sense, presentations serve little purpose. Momentum needs to be built throughout the week and a science fair exhibition setup would best suit the purpose.

Crossing the digital divide between journalist and developer has many challenges but a gem in the data journalism crown is the hack day. I really wish editorial would adopt this and have a day where one person from each team works together on a story idea (preferable investigative). To create wonderful, powerful and imaginative stories and ways of telling them involves unshackling oneself from paradigms and the daily grind. I hope that discovering becomes the norm and not the privilege of organisations with many developers. Whatever is needed to make it happen, whatever form it has to take, it will be worth it.


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