Prior to this project, nothing practical had been done from the point of view of incorporating user practices and perspectives into resource design and, whilst it is hinted at in the literature, a lack of user involvement in design has not been directly linked to the uptake or neglect of digital resources. By gaining an understanding of actual user practice we hope to facilitate ongoing collaboration between end user and content provider in producing a resource that is intuitive and effective, namely that it works the way you expect and you can get what you want out of it easily. One of the key research and design problematic is that what may be intuitive to one person may not be to another – and hence how can you design an overall search process that can be personalised and adapted to specific user and search contexts? Can an approach of consistent user participation in the design and development of digital resources create tools to accommodate a wider range of users? To explore these questions, we have worked with academics from different disciplines and at different research career stages to incorporate their knowledge, experience and practices throughout the development of a digital resource.

As previously explained in ‘About the project’, we are attempting to improve the impact of and engagement with online research resources, such as those produced by the Humanities Research Institute, through a better understanding of research needs from the outset and throughout. It is about people with different knowledge and expertise working together to produce something intuitive and effective that will be used by the people it is developed for. Our user-driven approach, innovative in terms of Digital Humanities, is called Participatory Design [PD]. It places users at the centre of the design of a digital resource, working from their actual research practices. PD was born in Scandinavia in the 60s and 70s in response to new technologies in the workplace and attempting to involve all stakeholders in the design process.1

In terms of Phase One, we first conducted a landscape survey of academic research practices. Secondly, we conducted a pilot focus group followed by three sessions in different locations. Thirdly, we contacted and interviewed a variety of content providers, both public and private, to find out about current processes and policies. The findings from these data gathering exercises will be presented in the following sections.