How to create and run a 26 project

Projects are the lifeblood of 26, a visceral expression of our DNA. But have you ever considered leading one of our projects yourself? You might be wondering what that would involve, how to get started… Well, look no further.

We’re keen to encourage more people to come up with ideas for potential projects. You don’t have to be on the management board to do so. You don’t need to be an old timer. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve just joined.

So, how do you go about it?

First, have a good idea that’s relevant to 26. One you can pitch over the phone in a few short sentences. Test it on your friends in the pub – preferably at closing time when you’re at your least articulate. Think about collaborations. In the past we’ve partnered with photographers, filmmakers and designers. Your project needn’t revolve around 26 participants, but doing this helps to build our identity and keep the numbers at a manageable level.

Second, write a one-page summary of your idea and, send it in an email to Rachel Marshall. Rachel will share this with us on Slack – the online space we use to run 26 projects. The one-page summary should include: your idea, how this will work in practice, what form it might take, how much it might cost, and a idea of timescales.

We’ll review this, and if we think it’s a goer, we’ll get in touch with you and ask more questions or simply give you the thumbs up. If we’re not sure, we’ll let you know why.

Once you have approval, and we agree a budget (tip – most are run for next to nothing), you can get started. We promote new projects in the 26 newsletter, at our events, and via all-member emails. You’ll need a core team. This will include you as the project manager/curator/editor/dogsbody, a member of the board as project sponsor/editor and usually two other people who will also act as editors.

You’ll need to sort out who’s going to take part. Make it random. Give everyone a sporting chance. Make sure they can commit to your deadlines and will promote the project on their own social networks. Go back to your timeplan and share it with everyone. Make sure everyone can hit to your deadlines and looks on this as if it was a proper paid job. Suggest drinks – this should be as much about enjoying the journey as the final result.

Then get cracking. Keep your sense of humour: People will miss deadlines, forget the brief, and drop out. Some will do all three. Keep the momentum going. You’ll be chasing work at 11pm on a Sunday, writing email updates over lunch, and waking up at in the middle of the night wondering why the hell you ever unleashed this monster.

But stick with it. It’s tremendous fun, very rewarding, and you’ll make some great friends along the way.

– Andy Hayes

Need more convincing? Here’s Michelle Nicol’s take on it:

“My first project was 26 Under A Northern Sky, an idea cooked up via Twitter with fellow writer Sandy Wilkie during a train journey. At the time I felt like my ideas weren’t being heard at work, so when a group of writers joined us on another train journey to read some of the pieces we created, it gave me the confidence to keep speaking up and putting forward creative ideas.”

And, lastly, a prompt sheet to bear in mind if you choose to embark on a 26 project:

Project sponsor

All projects should have a Board member as sponsor and co-lead. This person may or may not be the person running the project, but should be the one who stays in the loop with the project’s progress in order to report back to the Board.

Project team and management

One person should be named as project manager and to take overall ownership and responsibility for the project. This could be the Board member who sponsors it or someone else – ideally a member of 26 or the partner organisation that we’re working with. There should be at least three people picked to help run the project, so that the workload can be shared.

Project partners

When collaborating with people outside of 26 we should make it clear what everyone’s role is, including giving a clear brief to everyone taking part. For example, when working with designers, both the writers and designers should be briefed on the project’s background, objectives and final output. Each group should know what the other is doing.

Costs

What costs will be involved in the project and who will bear these: 26, the project partners or both equally? Keep in mind that we have limited funds, so need to watch costs carefully. 26 does not normally pay anyone from outside the organisation to take part in projects and everyone gives their time voluntarily.

Equal opportunities

Any exhibition partners or venues will need to take account of 26’s Equal Opportunity policy, which is available on our website.

Eligibility for taking part

Are projects open only to members of 26 or can anyone outside of the organisation take part? What’s the criteria for taking part? For example, will priority be given to certain people based on where they live, as with 26 Under a Northern Sky. Or will priority be given to people who haven’t taken part in a 26 project?

Brief

The purpose of the project should be clear, including what the objective is and what needs to be done to achieve that.

If the project requires the writer to visit someone/a place then that should be stated. If writers need to work collaboratively with other people then both groups need to be aware of that and understand what they each have to do.

The style of writing must be clearly stated. For example, a poem, sestude, article, fixed word count, etc. Likewise, if a writing style is to be specifically avoided, such as copywriting or journalism, then that should be made clear too.

Word counts. We should always state whether these include/exclude a title, so that writers know what they are working to.

Editors. We should aim to have five editors on each project. They should be clearly briefed on what they are to do.

Blog posts. Will we ask writers to write a blog post or article for the newsletter and/or the 26 main website or a micro site set up for the project?

Deadlines. For each version of the written piece there should be a clear deadline for both the writers and editors, so that everyone knows how much time they have and when they have to complete their part. And there needs to be enough time allowed for the editor to read/edit the pieces and return to the writer with enough time for the writer to then work on their second draft. For example, is a week long enough for the editor to do their bit, send back to the writer and then the writer to do the next draft? Perhaps not if they’re having to fit in the project around other commitments.

Designers/partners. What do they need to provide as part of the project? Has this been made clear, including their deadlines, if any?

Strength-testing a brief. Inevitably, every brief will raise questions from the people who take part. It may be helpful to pass the draft brief to other people on the Board so that we can use our experience from other projects to catch as many of these questions as possible before briefing the writers and any other people involved.

Final output

What will be the result of the project? Publication on a website; in print; as an ebook or digital file; displayed at a gallery, museum or other venue; turned into an artwork by someone else; illustrated or somehow modified for publication; recorded on video or audio; presented live; performed by actors; or something else? This should be clearly stated on the brief.

If there is a physical output, such as a book, magazine or pamphlet, will each writer (and editor, designer and partner, etc) be given a free copy in return for their participation? If so, this should be made clear as part of the brief. If not, this should also be made clear.

If there’s a ticketed event will the entire project team (writers, editors and partners) be allowed to attend for free?

Design. If the writing is to be transformed, illustrated or designed in some way, then it should be clear what this entails and the writers should know what to expect from the designers’ brief.

Proofing

This should always be done and, where possible, writers/designers should be able to check a proof copy of their final piece before it’s published.

Credits

What credits will we give the writers and editors? Name only? Name and link to their website and Twitter handle, etc? We should make sure that everyone involved is credited, not just the writers.

Permissions

Where anyone (writer/designer/partner) supplies photos or artwork we should make sure that we have permission to publish them before doing so, together with giving credit/links where needed.

Social media

We should connect with all writers, editors and partners on Twitter and LinkedIn, both as 26 and through our own accounts. This will help everyone to promote the project.

Communication

It’s important that project updates be shared amongst everyone who takes part. For example, if there’s a change to the writers’ brief then everyone involved should be aware of it (ie designers and partners) so that there are no misunderstandings later on. Regular updates help to keep the momentum and foster the collaborative spirit of projects.

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