Workshop on Documentation Strategy and Practice for TEH network

I was asked by Adam from Floss Manuals, if I could facilitate a workshop on Documentation for the TEH network in Bordeaux in late Oct 2011. I was keen to do it, partly because I was travelling through that part of the world in a small camper van and was happy for a break in a hotel, and partly because the idea of teaching a day long workshop on distributed and collaborative documentation was a good incentive in itself.

I inherited a lesson plan from a workshop leader that dropped out. The idea was to discuss strategy and experiences of documentation in the morning and then create a FANZINE in an online format in the afternoon. This seemed a good balance between theory, sharing experiences and practice so I just adapted some of the timings and tools and kept the same plan essentially.

The workshop was happening in the TNT theatre in Bordeaux, an old shoe factory, and the workshop participants chose to document that as part of the day. They also created 5 minute Manifestos as part of a fun way of learning the publishing toolset (mobile devices to record and then uploading to WordPress). The results can be seen here PDF publication -

The participants were at different levels and coming from different places when it came to the approach they and their organisations took to documentation. For some it was a matter of having too much documentation and not knowing how to best present, curate and archive the material. Issue of formats and redundant technology were important here. Some were moving away from multimedia documentation back to text and images to increase the interoperability of their work.

Others often found that they did no documentation for their project and were interested in ‘crowd sourcing’ documentation of their projects from social media sites like facebook and Flickr.

In choosing WordPress and a ‘five filters’ web service to take an RSS feed and render it into a PDF publication,  as our toolbase for this afternoon there were many practical reasons which made it suitable.

  • The intuitive user interface of WordPress lowered the barriers to publishing
  • Over 50% of participants had already used WordPress so they could skill share in groups
  • Participants could embed media from different social media sites easily in the Blog
  • Good manual available for WordPress from

The final goal of the workshop was to create a FANZINE, as this was a way of exploring how we could engage with a real subject and bring a more informal, collaborative and fun feeling to documentation. A tool develloped at the Five Filters website took the RSS feed of our FANZINE website and converted it (or parts of it) into a PDF which was printed and distributed almost immediately, giving the participants very quick feedback and allowing them to promote the process about output with a physical object at the gathering.

This process was in a way a good quick introduction to the concepts of book sprinting and remote  collaboration on publishing.

Introducing Booki and

As part of the Workshop I gave a 5 minute presentation on Booki from a slideshow that had been used at a recent Flossmanuals meeting in Berlin. This outlined the features of the online Booki software and also the vision of Federated Publishing.

This was only a small part of the day but it did mirror some of the experiences that members of the TEH network had been taking about. Also the Engine Room project of the TEH aims to create Documentation in the form of a TEH Resource, of different practical how tos, and case studies. While this is centrally co-ordinated there is a desire to invite contributions.

Here is some audio from Sandy Fitzgerald and Birgitta Persson taking about the TEH Resource project and a previous project called Changing Rooms which didn’t meet expectations as a community lead resource.

TEH Resource

Changing Rooms Evaluation

Booki and the example of book sprints can be inspirational in this situation when a network is bound together by regular physical meeting but not much interaction inbetween. In some ways the network functions in a series of sprints of physical and information interaction but suffers from a lack of output from these meetings.

A book sprint based around these meetings could give a printed output which could be re-used, remixed and re-purposed in many ways. It is a way of focusing community effort within a short time span and creating a concrete output. A lot of the work of creating this resource may be to collate exising resources but even this work can really benefit hugely from the experience of having 6 or more heads in the same space at the same time.