Working 1:1

Initial relational working structure: mental health recovery archive

Initial relational working structure: mental health recovery archive

Initially when establishing the digital archive, I met and worked with each of the four contributors on a one to one basis.  The approach that I took followed a similar pattern to best practice advocated within oral history frameworks where the co-production of a historical record is built on the basis of informed consent, the establishment of trust, and a two way process of open discussion.   This initial period of relationship building took around six months, through a combination of face to face meetings and email.  I was learning all the time from each of the individuals details about their personal mental health experiences; what recovery meant to them; what they saw as the purpose of their involvement; what they hoped their involvement would achieve; what type of narrative they were interested in creating; what process of creation would work for them.  At the same time I was sharing why I wanted to create the mental health recovery archive; the nature of my PhD research and the academic frame sitting around what we were doing; and the institutional context of archives and manuscripts at the Wellcome Library as I understood it. My journal records indicate that we discussed a whole range of issues at this time to find and reach a common understanding between our different frames of reference.  

On a conceptual level, I see this time of relationship building as a time in which we constructed from our different positionalities a shared frame of reference and a shared discourse that enabled us to work together.  This involved talking through our preconceptions; sharing contextual information; and sharing personal information about our lives, backgrounds, philosophies, and goals both in general and then specifically in connection to how we would work together.  Through the reflective process embedded within action research I journaled throughout this time and reading over my notes I was trying to ensure that we had discussed as many aspects of relevant context as possible to ensure that we had established a proper basis for the contributor's informed consent.  For example, in talking about the institutional context at the Wellcome Library I was concerned to be transparent over the former link that the Wellcome Trust had (through its founder Henry Wellcome) to the pharmaceutical industry, to ensure that the contributors were aware of this important piece of contextual knowledge; and had time to reflect upon whether this was a barrier to participation for them.  In that particular case, it wasn't a barrier for any of the contributors but the importance of sharing these aspects of context and having time to discuss and question issues like this was part of the establishment of trust. Through this process that has gone on throughout the development of the mental health recovery archive, I feel more and more, that what we were doing was establishing a friendship which is something more than just a working relationship.

Once the contributors were up and running on Omeka, I began to reflect more deeply on the power dynamics within the relational working structure that had emerged within our practice (represented in the diagram above).  I realised that even though I could legitimately claim that the 1:1 relationship established between me and each contributor was a genuinely two way process through which we shaped and mediated each others understandings; the overall structure of the system actually meant I had placed myself in the position of authority and control.  In Omeka, I am the owner - I can see and do everything on the site; each of the contributors have a more limited set of permissions that allows them control over their sections but no other editing rights.  Both practically and conceptually, I was central.  In developing this model of co-production,  I had also (somewhat unconsciously at the time) shut off the possibility of interaction between the contributors and between the contributors and the institutional host.  

While acknowledging my underlying centrality, and the major role I played initially in shaping the framework and system around the project; when it came to the process of actively creating content, my aim from the outset was for each of the contributor's to take as much ownership and control over the development of their stories as possible.  In the case of Dolly, Andrew and Stuart's narratives I have certainly taken a back seat  -they came up with the structure for their pages; the themes they would write around; the digital objects they would use and the metadata they would apply to describe these objects; as well as the narrative content in itself. As they worked on their pages we would have ongoing discussions at regular face to face meetings and conversations over email in relation to the issues around handling sensitive aspects of their stories and the immediate openess of the archive.  I felt I was there as a sounding board but the editorial decisions; including how and where to self censure were taken by the contributors.  There was in fact only one instance where having read something on the site I proactively suggested a minor alteration to protect the rights of a named third party.  The development of Peter's narrative was very different.  Due to Peter's heavy work schedule we agreed that his sections would be based around oral history interviews with me as interviewer and Peter as interviewee and that I would transcribe, edit and load his story onto Omeka and be responsible for uploading his digital objects and creating metadata.  A fuller description of this process can be found on 'About Peter's Pages'.