Report of the Steering Committee Chair (November 2015 – July 2016)

John Nerbonne was elected chair of the Steering Committee of ADHO at DH2014 in Lausanne (July 2014) for a two-year term. Due to regrettable circumstances he had to resign in November 2015. I was asked to take over for the remainder of his term and was elected interim chair on November 20.
My report on my activities is perhaps more detailed than usual for a chair’s report. ADHO has been going through a very difficult time, and I think it is useful if both current SC members and incoming members can refer to this report as background information when they are considering new approaches for the future. This document can be freely shared outside the SC.
Main issue: diversity
On November 24, I sent out a message to the SC (also published on the ADHO news page) which described the first things I planned to do. As I wrote: ‘we found out the hard way that we deal with significant cultural differences in our ever-growing world-wide organization. Communication strategies that work well in one culture can be harmful and counterproductive in others. The good thing is that we have representatives of many different cultures in our midst, who can help in finding out the best ways to go forward. The first thing I have asked the Steering Committee to do, is to establish a protocol or a set of rules/guidelines for dealing with these fundamental cultural issues.’ This lead to a lot of very useful documents both from inside and outside the SC.
Discussion in the SC became heated again just before the winter holidays and continued after the break in January. To help me facilitate the ongoing dicsussion I established a small sounding board on diversity issues, consisting of Diane Jakacki, Deb Verhoeven, and Barbara Bordalejo. They have greatly helped me in the preparation of the discussions through sharing their ideas and insights based on my own questions and worries. I am happy I can count on them to refer me to useful information and to relay questions and worries of the wider DH world to me.
With the sounding board in place, I proposed a more structured discussion about diversity issues, which is also described in my message on the ADHO website of February 5, 2016. I quote from this: ‘We are now continuing the discussion, focusing on diversity issues. We will deal with such issues as: What is the ideal situation we as ADHO would want? How does it relate to the ADHO mission (…)? By what means can we establish how far away we now are from our aim? In what ways do different constituant organizations (CO's) try to bridge the gap between the current situation and our aim and which of these approaches could be workable for ADHO as a whole? This discussion should lead to a list of possible approaches that will be discussed at the meeting of the SC in Krakow in July, just before DH2016.’
Discussing such fundamental issues over e-mail proved to be very difficult – for a long time, hardly any contributions were made. So I decided to set up separate skype meetings with the representatives of the Constituent Organizations. In these, I hoped to get to know the representatives and the situation in their respective COs better. I have had meetings with all but one of the COs during the months of May and June, and have learned quite a lot about the COs, their organizational structure, and about the role diversity issues are playing at the moment. Based on what I learned during these talks I drew up the agenda for our meetings in Krakow.
My most important conclusion is that indeed it must be seen as impossible to get any agreement on ADHO level about how to deal with diversity issues – the cultural differences are too fundamental for that. ADHO can do no more than put the issue on the agenda so that it is clear to everyone that ADHO considers it very important. However, it should be left to each CO how exactly to address it (or not). Therefore, on the Sunday meeting (July 10, 2016), the agenda has an informative round in which each CO presents what it has done during the last year to address diversity issues and is thinking of doing next year, followed by an informative discussion addressing diversity issues on ADHO level. To further raise awareness a one-hour Mini-workshop on diversity is scheduled in the second part of the SC Meeting, on Tuesday 12 July 2016 in the morning, which is open for outgoing and incoming SC members.
Other issues
The diversity issue has taken most of my time, but several other things have happened that need to be mentioned.

  • On November 4-5 2015, by invitation of the then-chair John Nerbonne, I was part of a small group that convened in London to discuss governance issues. Reports and discussions about this issue had to wait during the ongoing diversity discussions. Only quite recently the reports have been finalized and shared with the SC for discussion at the Krakow meeting. Thanks are due to Neil Fraistat, Harold Short, and Chris Meister.
  • A fruitful discussion about the Convalidator tool (for conference abstracts in TEI-format) has taken place between the CCC and the Infrastructure Committee. The new chair of the ISC Christof Schöch has done great work here.
  • I have closely followed the disccussions in the Conference Coordinating Committee (CCC), which has done an enormous amount of work in preparing new versions of the conference protocol and related documents. I greatly admire the speed and efficiency of chair Claire Clivaz and vice-chair James Smithies.
  • I have been in close contact with the Local Organizers and the Program Chair of DH2016 – Maciej Eder, Jan Rybicki, Manfred Thaller - and have seen how very efficient and creative they have been. During my inspection visit to Krakow in January 2016 I have met the deans of both organizing universities and seen how proud they are to host the conference. It has been a pleasure to be part of this.
  • Hannah Jacobs has led the ADHO communication and communications fellows with swift efficiency, for which I’m grateful.
  • In the Program Committee 2016, Diane Jakacki has greatly extended the role of vice-chair and moved forward several important issues, such as developing a new strategy for expanding the pool of reviewers. She has also started her work as PC Chair for DH2017, and took care of the PC for DH2018 until the PC Chair for that conference was selected.
  • The ADHO Secretariat has been a pleasure to work with. Julia Flanders has generously shared her wisdom even after she left the secretariat. Glen Worthey and Elena Gonzáles-Blanco not only have done a lot of work in the preparation of the SC meetings but also in making all dealings of  ADHO in general run smoothly.
  • Many thanks to all who contributed to the difficult and ongoing discussions. All of these contributions have helped to think about how an ever-growing ADHO can fulfill its mission to promote and support digital research and teaching across all arts and humanities disciplines, acting as a community-based advisory force, and supporting excellence in research, publication, collaboration and training in an efficient and inclusive way.

Karina van Dalen-Oskam, July 4, 2016