Effective digital research in the humanities requires not only technical expertise but also a strong grasp of disciplinary and a commitment to intellectual rigour.
The KDL team has a broad base of experience in the humanities and computer science, including team members who regularly conduct original research.
KDL is fortunate enough to work with partners with strong vision, and a desire to reshape thinking in their fields. We try to develop a close synergy with our partners to encourage ambitious outputs and a clear understanding of both the potentials and the limitations of digital methods. You can read more about our working philosophy here.
By its very nature digital humanities research breaks new ground, meaning world class academic projects often have no precedent to show the 'right way'. Because of this the team developing the technical solution must also understand and appreciate the particular intellectual issues and challenges that each project brings.
The major research funding bodies and institutions have exacting, and sometimes idiosyncratic, standards for the technical aspects of funding proposals. KDL can help to build a robust proposal. We have worked with all the main funding bodies operating in the U.K., and several in Europe and the United States.
Our projects can range from an effective and simple website solution to communicate with your target audience, be they colleagues or members of the public, to complex research that can last for several years, providing new tools and insights in your field. Regardless of the scale of the project we employ an industry proven management model.
The first conversation is critical when a developing an approach to digital research. A KDL analyst will meet with you to ensure we fully understand the requirements, and can become immersed in the subject matter. Each project is unique and presents us with new opportunities to test the limits of what can be achieved by applying digital methodologies to problems, old and new.
Our analyst will create a Terms of Reference document and we will use this work to check that the vision of the Lab aligns with your research rationale. We will also guide you in discussing the many options and approaches to the central question in your research.
From this series of conversations, we create a Feasibility report. This will contain a roadmap of what is considered to be the best way forward to meet your requirements and an estimation of the costs involved.
The KDL reports are designed with the application process in mind so you will be able to reuse the content concerning technical solutions and development strategies in your grant application. KDL will also help you to refine the technical section to create a viable and convincing application.
When funding has been approved and the project work commences, you will work closely with the KDL analyst to define detailed technical requirements for your project. Project objectives often evolve rapidly, but we will help you to keep focused on your project goals without becoming bogged down in the technical aspects of the work. Our goal is to produce a prioritised list of requirements that can be worked through as technical development proceeds.
Archiving and sustainability
Developing digital research carries the special responsibility that the work be accessible and retrievable for many years after the project finishes. Even if the project is eventually retired, the core research output is an important record in its own right.
KDL has developed an archiving strategy to make sure that research outputs can be retrieved beyond the project lifespan, and in a form that mitigates any risk of obsolesence of hardware or software.
KDL’s rates provide an affordable and self contained solution for long term hosting of any website and database content. Our infrastructure is robust and responsive, with multiple redundancy layers ensuring maximum uptime and availability. All our servers are monitored for performance issues and are backed up nightly.
Completed projects are routinely audited to assess security and performance risks and our infrastructure is maintained to make sure any pressing concerns are addressed quickly with minimal interruption to service levels.
If the output is an online resource and either KDL hosting is not required or the resource has reached end-of-life, KDL will discuss available archiving options with the project partners during the requirements gathering phase. Such options might include, for example, generating a static site from the resource or packaging the resource in a suitable contained for transferral to another host. KDL will contact the project owner before the SLA expires, to remind them of their options, help them seek additional funding, or scope their chosen archiving option. When an option is chosen, then KDL will draw up a Statement of Work specifying the requirements and costings for the work involved to be agreed and signed-off by the partner, and discuss funding options with the partner. Note that code created as part of the project will also be accessible on the Github-based repository that KDL will set up as part of the development process.
KDL can - if required - host the resource on KDL’s server infrastructure under a Service Level Agreement (SLA). If the work being quoted for is carried out under a grant from a major funding agency, the costings will include a five-year post-funded-period SLA for KDL hosting and maintenance by default.
At its inception, KDL inherited just under 100 digital research projects and websites. Aware of the intellectual and cultural value of many of these projects, with the support of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at King’s College London, KDL took on its responsibility to the community to steward them in a responsible manner. When the options of setting up a Service Level Agreement for further hosting and maintenance with KDL and/or undertaking migration to IT Services at King’s or other institutions were deemed infeasible or inappropriate, the archiving process was initiated.
Research leads, the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at King’s College London, and partner institutions, played a crucial role in supporting this process.
For further information on KDL archiving and sustainability process see:
- Smithies, J., Sichani, A.M., & Westling, C. (2017). Preserving 30 years of Digital Humanities Work: The Experience of King’s College London Digital Lab. Presented at the DPASSH: Digital Preservation for Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Sussex.
- Smithies, J., P. Caton, G. Ferraro, L. Figueira, E. Hall, N. Jakeman, P. Mellen, A.M. Sicani, M. Vieira, T. Watts, Carina Westling. (2017). Mechanizing the Humanities? King’s Digital Lab as Critical Experiment. Presented at the DH2017, McGill University, Montreal.
Research Data Management
As a major research institution King’s College London (KCL) treats preserving and promulgating research data as a high priority. It has an official Research Data Management Policy and to support the policy the KCL library service has established a comprehensive Research Data Management service (RDMS) including facilities for depositing project-generated data and metadata. If outputs from the work quoted for here include digital data appropriate for deposit in the KCL RDMS and the partner wishes to use that service, then KDL can provide help and advice with respect to preparing and depositing the data. Please note that if the work quoted for here is to be carried out under a grant from a major funding agency, then the costings include one day of KDL assistance with RDMS work by default.
Impact - Statistics and reporting
Being able to demonstrate impact and connecting with the audience is very important not only for grant applications but also for feeding into the Research Excellence Framework (REF) for your institution if the project is academic in nature.
In addition to using Google Analytics to characterise your website users, KDL use server logs to produce detailed metrics about website usage.
We use an Agile DSDM project methodology due its proven success in delivering viable products in software development. This approach helps to manage priorities and acknowledges the fluid nature many research projects exhibit as they evolve. Our process requires continuous testing of the proposed solutions and packages delivery into milestones and increments.
Our Analysts will help to consolidate the research approach and technical requirements, fully cost the work and then assist with the application process.
The core team working on projects is kept stable and consistent but we utilise the full skill sets and specialities of our wider development team. Development is punctuated with regular updates and meetings teams and the researchers are kept close to the process throughout.