The term Tiny Use Case, or TUC for short, was coined by the diggr (Databased Infrastructure for Global Games Culture Research) research project team. A detailed description of this workflow methodology can be found in their paper With small steps to the big picture: A method and tool negotiation workflow (Freybe, Rämisch and Hoffmann 2019).
Taking their inspiration from agile software development principles, the Tiny Use Case workflow was created to handle the needs of a complex research project that required the meshing of expertise from very different disciplinary backgrounds and involved a high level of uncertainty regarding the types of challenges that would emerge in the course of the project. By working through a series of three to four month long Tiny Use Cases the diggr team was able to leverage a similar cycle of continuous incremental innovations and assessments that is one of the main strengths of agile approaches.
In their description of the TUC workflow, the diggr project identified three key phases:
- Mediation of the research interest/object
- Exploring software solutions
As they themselves put it: “The basic idea of our approach is that D [the digital expert] and H [the humanities scholar] educate each other about the respective domain specific blind spots which leads to a common understanding and a shared technical terminology.” (p. 15) Thus, in the first phase the humanities scholar provides a research question that needs to be explained to the digital expert, so that they can translate the requirements of the project into technical terms together. And then in the next phase the digital expert works together with the humanities scholar to find an appropriate technical solution that can deliver the right type of data for the question at hand. Finally, the evaluation step is where the successes/short-comings of the TUC are identified, and takeaways for further TUCs are abstracted from the process.
The Tiny Use Case workflow methodology was adopted in the JVMG project precisely because of the similarities in the challenges faced by the two undertakings. Most importantly, the JVMG project also involves bridging disciplinary boundaries and developing an understanding between library and computer science on the one hand, and humanities and social science on the other. The fact that the TUC approach had already been developed and tested in a previous project was a huge help going forward for the JVMG project. It is important to emphasize, however, that this did not mean that our project was spared the same kind of difficulties that the diggr project encountered. Rather, it meant that we were more prepared for the types of problems that would inadvertently arise, and had a clear idea that these challenges were not to be automatically taken as signs of something going wrong, quite the opposite, they are the necessary steps through which each such project needs to develop.