Massachusetts Historical Society

Digital Initiatives

Decision-Making Guidelines for Digital Initiatives

MHS Digital Initiatives Committee, April 2020


For the MHS, the digital realm represents new possibilities to reach and engage a broader audience with our institution’s holdings, via projects that seek to emphasize and make accessible our materials.

The goal of this document, the MHS Digital Initiatives Committee Digital Decision-Making Guidelines for Digital Initiatives, is to provide pointers to allow the Society to strategically evaluate potential future digital initiatives. It is important for the evaluation and selection process of new digital initiatives to take into account the Society’s Mission, Vision, and Values.

The desire to deliver reliable content and context to the public allows for a range in the types of digital initiatives the Society could undertake and produce. The centrality of the collections to the MHS mission gives a weight to those initiatives that reflect the holdings, in one form or another.

The Society is committed to undertaking those digital initiatives that achieve a high standard of reliability and presentation. Digital projects offer a chance to reach many more people and we embrace that opportunity with an understanding that our standards must apply to initiatives aimed at general audiences as well as those designed for scholarly use.

Decisions about what digital initiatives the MHS will produce may also be made with an eye to anticipated annual themes, in order to contribute to the greater overall coherence of the institution’s public outreach.

Digital initiatives should focus on one or more of the following:

When considering new digital initiatives, MHS will evaluate the following:

Synopsis of the initiative

Summarize the intended format, MHS staff involved, relationship to MHS holdings, and scope of work.

Historical significance

Will this project add value to MHS digital initiatives? How will the initiative encourage a richer understanding of the past?

Audience analysis

Who are the proposed audience(s) and how will the initiative serve or engage that demographic? If the initiative is aimed at an educational audience, which level—K-5, 6-12, or undergraduate?

Environmental scan

What digital initiatives already exist on this topic/in this field? How will the new effort add to the knowledge base on the relevant topic(s)/field(s)?

Overview of materials to be incorporated into the digital initiative

Identify A) the collections/items/objects that will comprise the initiative; B) review the condition of manuscripts and artifacts, the granularity of metadata, the ease of creating contextual information; and C) identify the research and digital processes needed to create the initiative.

Support for the initiative

How will the MHS support this work (in-house support, public and private grant funds, other financial awards, etc.)? Does MHS have adequate staff resources to undertake the work?

Sustainability and institutional commitment

What kind of effort will be required to maintain the digital content or digital initiative or expand it as other materials become available for inclusion? Is MHS comfortable committing to this digital initiative on a long-term basis? Or, can MHS predict a probable time to retire the digital initiative?

Partnership opportunities

Does the project allow for MHS to work with others to envision, develop, create, deliver and/or maintain the digital initiative? Does the partnership help MHS fulfill its mission, realize its vision, and/or demonstrate its commitment to its values?


Is the MHS the right organization to undertake this initiative, or is there another organization to whom we suggest this opportunity?

Logistical components relating to digital initiatives

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