Disassembling The Compiler
In September 2015, we launched a Tumblr called The Compiler. The aim of it, as we described then:
There’s a lot of research out there on improving the use of technology in advocacy, but much of it goes unused. We want to find new, creative ways of bringing it together and making it more accessible. To kick things off, we’ve started compiling potentially useful research in a blog called, well, The Compiler.
Now, 2.5 years later, we’re retiring The Compiler – not because we think that the mission of it is any less important, but because we think it’s time to focus our energies on other ways of achieving that mission.
We learned a few things with The Compiler. Firstly – and this is (hopefully!) nothing new to those in civic tech – that building a new platform that serves particular needs does not necessarily mean an audience will show up. With The Compiler, we aimed to take the burden off civil society in needing to read long and often jargon-filled articles, by summarising their key points.
It was a fun exercise for us, too, learning how to distill key findings from papers, improving our writing skills and giving us an opportunity to read voraciously, which is never a bad thing.
Secondly: in order to keep up something like The Compiler, we need to have dedicated time for it, and to be able to see if or how it is being used. We have a lot of competing priorities for our ‘passion project’ time, and we set it up as an experiment, rather than a well-thought out user-focused mechanism.
We’ve also noticed a variety of ways that other people are sharing research in a similar way to what we were aiming for with The Compiler. Former Engine Roomer Christopher Wilson usually writes a weekly round-up of research from the civic tech space; the Communication Initiative Network writes summaries of research (including ours); and, though it’s much shorter, the extension in Twitter characters means that more thorough summaries of research can be written in tweets now, too.
So what now?
Since we originally launched The Compiler, we also set up our Library – which is where we put summaries of the research that we do (and that of others who are looking for an online home for it) in a machine-readable, accessible and lightweight site. We set it up in a way that makes it easy to update (in comparison to the PDF versions of reports, for example) – easy to add translations to; and easily readable on a mobile device, too.
We’re committing to updating our Library entries on a regular basis, so that practitioners looking to learn more about investigative web research, the use of satellite imagery in human rights, or tips on how to use microtasking platforms in their work, can get up to date information.
Since The Compiler launched, we’ve also developed other engagement methods that address, in part, our reasoning behind launching it, such as community calls, through which we try to open up a space to discuss important tech issues, and to connect people who are working on similar issues. We use our newsletter and Twitter to keep people up to date with those developments, and we’re always happy to hear feedback.