Planning a history #1: People
This three-part post provides some strategies and tips to help you embark on writing a history of your organisation.
The posts are based on my experience of managing large projects for a variety of clients from associations and corporates to not-for-profits and government departments. The posts are not intended to be an exhaustive examination, but to provide some top-level guidance that I hope will help get your project underway.
The three posts will cover:
- Staffing your project so that you have the best chance of achieving your milestones
- The structure of the history and writing, and
- Sourcing and scanning images to a suitable quality for printing
The most important element when planning, researching, and writing your history is to establish a project management structure and hierarchy. At the centre of this is an editorial committee.
The purpose of the editorial committee is to make editorial decisions while the book is being researched and written and to ensure the original objectives of the book are achieved.
Members of the committee are invited because of their position in the organisation, professional experience, judgement, insight, expertise, or their ability to assist with aspects of strategy, research, or promotion of the book.
The editorial committee usually has a hierarchical structure, comprising various roles to ensure that the required work can be delivered on time and in the planned formats. From experience I have found that a useful structure for the committee is as follows:
- The editorial or project manager. One person must be appointed to drive the project and be ultimately responsible for its delivery.
- The editorial committee. Where there are several divisions, it’s advisable to have an editorial team of at least two people in each division. One of these people will be chosen to represent that division on the editorial committee. This structure has two benefits:
- if one person is unable to continue working on the project for any reason, then the work done to date will not be lost, and second,
- you will not have a singular perspective of the project and its priorities, which may result in a biased result.
These committee members should liaise to discuss the overall progress at regular editorial meetings to ensure that each research group or division remains on track. I would suggest monthly meetings is ideal. That way, anyone that is falling behind can be assisted or additional resources provided where required.
Resourcing the project
There are several types of research steps and resources required for the research and writing which include:
- Researching and collating stories and photographs from disparate archival materials within the organisation
- Compiling lists of events and personnel to be covered or acknowledged in the work
- Interviews with past members to elaborate on stories of events and activities
- Calling on past members, friends of the organisation, and the media for stories and photos
Whether you are a volunteer-based organisation or have salaried employees, you need to be aware of how much work you are asking each member of the editorial committee to contribute because it is most-likely work that will have to be undertaken on top of their existing role.
Volunteers or employees may be enthusiastic, but when it comes down to the work required to deliver research and editorial do they have the time available? Writing a history is a large undertaking and people may not have quite understood – or been realistic – about how many hours are required for researching editorial, photographs, speaking to contacts, and then collating research and putting it online.
Think about what companies or other organisations could benefit from being associated with your book and invite them to sponsor the publication in return for their logo inside and a quantity of books to give away to their customers or members.
Think also about your members and readers. Do you have enough members or friends to create a Sponsorship Package? These people could be listed in the book as, for example, Gold, Silver, or Bronze, Supporters of the history, based on how much they contributed.
Think about what skills and resources you will need to produce your book. For example, if external library resources will be required, invite an historian with useful archival contacts at the major libraries from which you will source materials.
As a general editorial note, it can be of great value to include a professional historian on your editorial committee, not necessarily to write, but to advise on content, research, and to help you gain access to historical resources.