ESCALATOR progress report - June 2021

The ESCALATOR project kicked off in December 2020. In this blog post we’ll provide the community with an update of our progress, resources and opportunities that are available, and ways in which they can connect with the programme team and peers. This blog post will be a regular feature on the ESCALATOR site. Every month we’ll share with our community the progress we’ve made, challenges we experienced and where we plan to go next.

Brief summary

We’ve officially completed Phase I of the project, which was mostly about setting things up. We started off with revisiting the original project plan. Most importantly, we considered necessary changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic and incorporated insights we’ve gleaned over the past months based on conversations with our community and peers from all over the world.


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You can now get more information about the ESCALATOR project and activities, opportunities and resources from our community and beyond on the following platforms:

  • Twitter: Follow us or Tweet at us on @DHCSSza - We will be sharing news, resources, funding opportunities, awards, training opportunities, community showcases and more via this Twitter account. Please share useful content for us to reshare with the community.
  • Slack: Slack is a collaboration platform that’s been successfully employed in academic and non-academic settings. We’ve created a Slack workspace - DHCSSza. Anyone interested to become part of the South African Digital Humanities and Computational Social Sciences community is welcome to join. No prior knowledge of computational or digital research practices is required. We’ll be sharing information there and members can meet peers, find resources, training opportunities, ask questions, share insights, and more. To join the DHCSSza Slack workspace, please visit this link. If you are new to Slack, please reach out to us for support.
  • Our website: The website is available at We’re constantly updating information here. If you see any errors or omissions, please contact us to ensure it is updated and corrected.
  • YouTube channel: All our recordings and other relevant videos will be shared via the ESCALATOR YouTube channel and playlists. As far as possible resources will be published under open licenses to encourage reuse.
  • SADiLaR Newsletter: An article introducing ESCALATOR appeared in the latest SADiLaR Newsletter that is available in the 11 South African official languages. You can read the newsletter on SADiLaR’s website.

Project documentation

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One of the key features of the ESCALATOR programme is its focus on monitoring and evaluation. We want to make sure that the programme activities address the needs of the community and will lead to the impact we want to have: Growing an inclusive and active community of practice in Digital Humanities and Computational Social Sciences in South Africa.

To establish where we should start and how to go about it, we developed the following documents. These documents are published openly in line with our commitment to transparency and to encourage community engagement. All our documents are published under open licenses and added to our community page on Zenodo. These documents will be updated as more information becomes available about the relevance and success of various activities.

  • Theory of Change: “A theory of change is project-specific and related to evaluation. It makes the underlying rationale of a project explicit, which supports planning, implementation, and assessment of the project.” ~ Reinholz & Andrews, 2020
  • Logical Framework: The logframe is based on the Theory of Change and provides more details on the causal linkage between the activities, outputs, outcomes and long-term impact. It also includes information about how we’ll measure success and what assumptions must be fulfilled.
  • Needs assessment: One of the project outputs is a needs assessment that will be updated as our community grows.
  • Communication strategy: This document provides more information about how the programme will communicate with the community and how the community can connect with the programme team and peers.


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International Open Education Week

In March 2021, ESCALATOR participated in International Open Education Week where we briefly introduced the project. Please read our blog post which includes links to the recording and slides.

Computational Research and Open Science Community Mentorship Indaba

One of our flagship activities is the Digital Champions Initiative. This is a multi-track mentorship and networking programme that complements our other activities. Mentorship programmes have become more popular in recent years to complement formal education. In April, ESCALATOR organised and hosted the first virtual Computational Research and Open Science Community Mentorship Indaba where various existing mentorship programme developers shared their insights. The conversation was incredibly insightful and we’ll be incorporating lessons learned in the development of the Digital Champions Initiative. We’re also continuing collaborations with other mentorship initiatives. Read about the Mentorship Indaba in our blog post, which includes links to all presentations and recordings of the talks.

Outreach to universities

The SADiLaR team has been meeting with a number of stakeholders at various universities to share more information about their work, opportunities, resources and more. These presentations included a brief introduction to ESCALATOR.

DH Colloquia

SADiLaR hosts a monthly DH Colloquium to introduce and discuss various elements of Digital Humanities. Visit their website for more information as well as links to previous recorded talks.

3rd Lagos Summer School in Digital Humanities 2021

Prof Menno van Zaanen was invited as plenary speaker to the virtual edition of the Lagos Summer School in Digital Humanities that took place in May. His talk titled “Digital Humanities and its Multidisciplinary Perspective: A Case Study” included references to SADiLaR and the ESCALATOR programme.

Digital Champions Initiative

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As mentioned, the Digital Champions Initiative is one of the flagship activities of ESCALATOR. We initially planned to run a single mentorship programme, but based on the needs assessment and our various community members’ interests, we’ve expanded this initiative to include six different tracks. The tracks will be rolled out in a phased manner.

The first track to become available is the EXPLORER track, which is targeted at researchers and students who are very new to digital scholarship. The second track to launch is the EMPOWER track to encourage women in Humanities and Social Sciences to grow their digital and computational skills by joining existing communities who specifically support women in tech. Other tracks are under development and will be announced as soon as they are available.

Read more about the Digital Champions Initiative on our website and please let us know if you have any feedback or suggestions or would like to get involved in the design and development.

Next steps

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Over the next few months, we’ll continue to reach out to the community via meetings, presentations, discussion sessions, social media, direct contact and other means.

Based on first contact meetings with various universities’ faculties, we will schedule follow-up meetings to share more information about ESCALATOR and get feedback from researchers and students.

We will also continue to encourage the community’s participation on the DHCSSza Slack workspace and share information via Twitter. We realise that both of these platforms are not mainstream communication platforms for South African academics and students, and we will therefore reach out to the community via other platforms as well.

The website will be updated continuously including regular blog posts and further information that may be useful to the community. Most notably, we’d like to add showcases and demonstrations of South African Digital Humanities and Computational Social Sciences research projects and learning resources.

In June, we’ll also officially kick off a sub-project related to the mapping of the South African Digital Humanities (DH) and Computational Social Sciences (CSS) community. We’ve made a very small start on the website already, but we’ll be expanding this by bringing on board a new team member who’ll be reaching out to universities, research councils and other organisations to learn more about their specific activities and projects related to DH and CSS.

This month we’ll be presenting at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute online edition as part of the Open/Social/Digital Humanities Pedagogy, Training, and Mentorship track.

Menno van Zaanen will also be talking at “The Human in Digital Humanities” online symposium hosted by the Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences.

Please and thank you

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We are grateful to everyone who has contributed or expressed interest to get involved with ESCALATOR. This project is about you, the community. We look forward to connecting more with you and learning about your interests, needs, successes, and challenges. Together we will work on identifying ways to support you or help you to find support or solutions in the broader community.

Please reach out to the project team if you have any questions or suggestions. We welcome your feedback and input.

Anelda van der Walt
Anelda van der Walt
ESCALATOR Programme Manager