In 2010, Google.org—the philanthropic arm of Google—hatched a plan to create an online, map-based platform for the sharing of information about the world’s endangered languages. Recognizing the need to involve experts in the field of language revitalization, Google invited a number of leading linguists and Indigenous language organizations from around the globe to sit on an advisory panel that would guide the development of the site, and eventually overtake its management.
One of those organizations was the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, a Vancouver-island based organization and world-renowned leader in Indigenous language revitalization. Tasked with communications and outreach for the project, FPCC invited me to create a comprehensive outreach strategy and related marketing materials prior to the site launch.
The project was an ambitious one and posed a number of challenges right from the start. One was that the key players had different approaches to the overall goals of the project. The differing viewpoints made branding and message delivery, for example, challenging.
Another challenge was simply the scope of outreach required. There were multiple audiences around the globe and those audiences were quite diverse. First there were site users—the linguistic and Indigenous communities. Then there were potential funders, a critical audience and one that was largely unaware of this issue. And then there were secondary audiences such as the interested public, media and educators. Adding to the challenge of sheer audience diversity were a number of logistical issues: the audiences spoke multiple languages, for example, and Indigenous language speakers often don’t speak a dominant language nor have access to mainstream communications vehicles.
To kick off the planning process, I led a discovery workshop with the Governance Council at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. The workshop proved to be a critical element of developing the overall outreach strategy. With so many voices around the table, it was imperative that everyone have a chance to be heard, as well as to listen to the perspectives of their collaborators. When it came to branding and messaging, a degree of compromise was required and the face-to-face conversation was critical to decision-making. The workshop, which encompassed more than just outreach, was an important team-building exercise and helped to clarify overall expectations and objectives for the project and define roles.
The outreach strategy was based on outcomes of the planning meeting in combination with independent research. Because of the complicated nature of the audiences, the strategy relied heavily on the participation and networks of Governance Council members. The strategy went beyond a typical outreach plan, including recommended improvements to the web platform’s user experience, for example. This and other recommendations were in direct response to the need to create a safe and welcoming experience for the speakers of endangered languages, many of whom are wary of mainstream technology, corporations and the even the scientific community. Trust-building was an integral element of the plan.
Since the website launched in June 2012 endangeredlanguages.com has grown significantly. As of August 2017 there are 3,407 unique language pages, 407 of which have been added since launch. 16,913 user accounts have been created and a total of 6,600 resources (audio and video files, documents and links) have been uploaded. The First Peoples’ Cultural Council continues to oversee outreach efforts and administration for the project. (Staff at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa currently oversee the project’s technical aspects.)