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4.2 Running the experiment

In order to evaluate the potential of the experimental format to achieve the goal of closing the distances between subject, archaeologist and audience, it was deemed imperative that the 'audience' of participants represent a range of disciplines and levels of education. A meaningful result was considered to be one where levels of engagement that closed these distances were achieved across the widest possible range of participants. It was therefore essential that the experiment be designed in a way that avoided oversimplification for the specialist audience and yet did not exclude the non-specialist audience. In order to achieve this, the first ten participants were used to provide feedback on the format of the experiment as a 'work in progress'. These individuals represented a range of age groups, genders, and a mixture of academic and non-academic disciplines. They included an architect, a gardener, an engineer, postgraduate students from philosophy and archaeology and several individuals with an average high school education, ranging in age from nineteen to ninety-one. The contribution of these individuals was primarily to assist in setting the tone of the article such that it would be accessible to the broadest possible audience, with feedback also recorded to feed into conclusions drawn later. Their participation was solicited individually on the grounds that, as a group, they would offer a unique challenge. The end product had to communicate effectively to all of them, maintain everyone's interest, and allow everyone to participate without feeling that it was either too technical or too simple to engage with.

For the experiment proper, a further fifteen individuals participated, again representing a broad range. Crucially, this group also included individuals from outside Scotland, as it was determined during the initial testing stage that there may be some difference in the degree of experienced participation for those who felt that the subject matter was 'their' history, compared with those who did not. This second group consisted of 50% archaeology graduates/postgraduates and 50% non-archaeologists, representing a mixture of undergraduates, graduates and postgraduates in other disciplines. Participants in the second group were self-selecting, volunteering in response to advertisements on campus, recommendations by word of mouth, and through the Glasgow University postgraduate journal network. Participation required a significant time commitment on the part of these volunteers (with no incentive offered but the experience itself).

It must be acknowledged that this method of soliciting participants would undoubtedly mean that individuals already sympathetic to alternative and interdisciplinary projects would constitute most of the volunteers. However, as the aim of the project was not to achieve a scientifically absolute result, but rather the opposite — to encourage creativity, imagination and participation — the potential existence of a degree of inherent bias in the test group was considered of low importance at this stage. It was also countered by the fact that the archaeologists in the group tended to be more attracted by the archaeological content than by the format of the study itself. Participants from other subject areas may have been predisposed to alternative format studies or interdisciplinary research. However, with each discipline having its own criteria about what ought to constitute such studies, it was considered that, overall, the participants' variety of biases may prove a better test of the experimental format than would a randomly selected test group. If everyone, despite their disciplinary predilections and prejudices, could see potential in the project, or lack thereof, this would be considered a meaningful result, as any patterns emerging (whether positive or negative) could be interrogated so that the experiences of users could be better understood, the value (if any) they placed on participation, and the potential of the hyperlinked media as a tool for disseminating knowledge.

To achieve this end, each participant was offered the chance to take part remotely from home, or in an IT laboratory at the university, depending on where they felt most comfortable. In either case they were provided with an electronic instruction sheet, and an electronic folder labelled The Experiment, and Images. Participants were asked to complete the tasks indicated on the instruction sheet in their own time.

Initially, they were asked to read the material provided in Part I, which was designed to provide some theoretical and historical background, and to introduce the narrative that would constitute the 'performance' element of church discipline. This task was accompanied by images labelled Collage Pack A, in order to allow participants to familiarise themselves with the artefacts forming the backbone of the study.

The second participatory act took the form of Part II, the use of which was accompanied by images from Collage Pack A and Collage Pack B. Participants were asked to read these chapters in any order they chose, and to record both the order of reading and the images that they felt best illustrated those chapters.

Finally, each reader was invited to add text to the document by answering a series of questions, followed by an interview to discuss their conclusions and the experience of participation in general. It was anticipated that collecting both written and oral responses from readers would allow greater communication between archaeologist and audience, as some participants would prefer one mode of response over another. These elements were explicitly designed to meet project objectives by providing opportunities to evaluate audience participation and perceptions of that participation.

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