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On the Transformative Power of Project Management, Livestreaming, and Zombies

Published onOct 19, 2023
On the Transformative Power of Project Management, Livestreaming, and Zombies

We write this paper from the frontlines of the ongoing apocalypse, where life has moved into new virtual and digital formats. In April 2020, as we collectively and globally experienced the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our planning committee for the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting (ZAMM) realized that our biennial event would need to be moved online for the safety and health of our community. In previous years, we hosted the event centrally on the campus of a large research university, and created an interdisciplinary conference experience for research presentations, art exhibits, and hands-on workshops. We were then faced with the challenges and opportunities inherent in moving our community of researchers and conference presenters online, and the resulting experiments with the affordances of digital modes of engagement are detailed in this article. Our team collaborated with graphic designers, film directors, and more to imagine a fictional apocalypse running parallel to our current pandemic moment—what would it look like to livestream public academic research during the end times, even as we encountered substantial changes to our ways of everyday life and work? Could we collectively engage in the “play” of the zombie apocalypse, coupling this with the understanding that our current historical moment was fraught with the everyday apocalyptic challenges of a pandemic, and generate new scholarly knowledge products?

As our students were experiencing the pressures of shifting to online learning and teaching, as our colleagues had their work arrested by the demands of childcare, as our collaborators and communities experienced grief and loss, our conference planning team transformed into a digital project team to channel those emergent challenges into the metaphorical framework of the zombie apocalypse. We launched the fictional, yet uncannily familiar, apocalyptic “television station” Channel Zed to explore issues related to zombification and the apocalypse. With its emergence came the need to rethink our methods of project communication and coordination.

Digital humanities (DH) has been shifting knowledge production into such spaces for decades and therefore is a field poised to bring to light new project management best practices for delivering well-conceptualized and streamlined virtual experiences for the general public. Concurrent with our shift to virtual was the move of the Digital Humanities 2020 conference to an online format and the emergence of projects like Animal Crossing New Digital Humanities, a virtual speaker series that streams to Twitch.1 In this article, we think through the project management model our team created and deployed for the launch and continuing production of the livestreamed Channel Zed on YouTube, which delivers short conversations with scholars around science and humanities topics related to pandemic and apocalypse readiness. By combining best practices from diverse professions and disciplines, we model a project management methodology that incorporates lessons learned from the first two years of the pandemic, such as how to manage uncertainty amidst pandemic-related disruption and centre care even as we became disconnected physically due to isolation protocols. Through the uncertainty of the early 2020 pandemic moment, our project team survived (and, perhaps, thrived) by channelling a growing movement towards care in project management and creating generative environments for connection that are sustained with an eye toward the next apocalyptic scenario.

Zombified Media and Channel Zed

Zombified Media includes the educational podcast Zombified, interactive digital programming on Channel Zed, and academic crossover events like ZAMM—all with the underlying mission to help humanity survive the zombie apocalypse (and other more immediate catastrophes). We are board members of Zombified Media, an interdisciplinary research collaboratory officially incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2021 to study the phenomenon of zombification from biological parasitism to pop culture representations, using multiple theoretical and disciplinary lenses across the sciences, humanities, and arts. Our central metaphor, the zombie, allows disciplines and professions to break down communication issues previously difficult to surmount. Zombification and zombies grant us the framework to discuss what it means to be human in a collectively shared historical moment of cultural unrest, political polarization, novel and mutating viruses, and disruptive technological innovation. Our work with Channel Zed joins a tradition of scholarship that takes up monsters generally and zombies in particular as metaphorical representations of challenges and injustices so that we might more closely perceive and understand intersecting socio-political challenges. Some examples from this tradition include Aalya Ahmad’s analysis of race and the modern zombie, Krugman’s comparison between political zombies and the fight for a better future, and Marsh et al.’s use of the zombie as a framework to analyze pandemic preparedness and risk.2 The forces of zombification can be found in the science of parasites or the idea of the extended phenotype, and yet the figure of the zombie is also deeply rooted in our cultural imaginings of the “Other” and the history of slavery and oppression in Haiti. Members of the Zombified Media collaboratory have published on the “zombie” as historical artifact and metaphorical touchpoint. For example, Mzilikazi Koné’s analysis of films such as White Zombie and Get Out explores resonances between the zombie and the continued legacy of slavery and threat of capture for Black bodies in America (“Black Zombie”). As scholars, but also as human beings, we experience the “zombie apocalypse” as a mirror to the real-life moments of fear that pandemics, misinformation, inequity, climate crises, and more bring to our daily lived experience.

Channel Zed is our fictitious online television station broadcasting through the apocalypse, with approximately 152 videos produced at the time of this article submission. Channel Zed embraces the way in which the figure of the zombie reflects long-standing cultural narratives about ourselves and how the spectre of a deadening and dehumanizing apocalypse captures simultaneously our collective sense of vulnerability and responsibility for our own demise. Channel Zed enlivens this tradition of exploration through digital media and interactive collaboration across ten different shows broadcasting regularly on the YouTube channel for Zombified Media. Channel Zed shows include:

  • Undead Live!—Apocalyptic news, commentary, and analysis to keep you informed and entertained in the end of times.

  • The Dr. Zed Show—Emergency physicians deliver advice on the science of pandemics and survival strategies for the Zombie Apocalypse.

  • Eat Prey Run—Where slow food in the apocalypse does not mean you are ending up on the menu. We discuss food and culture to help maintain your humanity when the end is nigh.

  • Brain Dead Theater—This show focuses on discussions with movie directors and film scholars about how zombies, horror, and sci-fi can help us survive the apocalypse.

  • Go Bag Challenge—Bug out, bug in, and learn what you need to survive the zombie apocalypse in a game show format.

  • Zombie History—Where we unearth, unpack, and unsettle history with stories of race, power, resilience, resistance, and joy. The forces of systemic inequity seek to zombify us but exhuming buried histories of resistance and healing can sustain and reanimate us.

  • The Other Side—A spirited debate show about current controversial topics with experts. We have friends on the other side.

  • Unreal World—A dance company moves through middle America in a Winnebago, donning protective gear against the Zombie Apocalypse. When that fails, they regroup and Bodystorm.

  • This Old Apocalyptic House—We bought a shack in the desert but have no renovation skills. Will we survive? Tune in and learn how to fortify your own home.

  • Late Nite Brains—Hosts debrief with past Undead Live guests in a more humorous and less scripted late night show format.

Each show features interviews, experiments, and/or generative conversations with experts across various disciplines and professions in the style of “apocalypse improv” to maintain the narrative suspension of disbelief that allows our audience to sink into the production. We have also created underlying narrative throughlines with our hosts and guests on Channel Zed as an experiment in integrating narrative and storytelling with scholastic communication. We encourage our audience to engage in the narrative in real time, and we regularly spotlight questions asked in the chat to directly interact with and engage our expert guests in relating interdisciplinary research approaches to the complex problems of the present and future.

Interdisciplinarity and Disruption

In order to speak to project management and coordination in the apocalypse, it is necessary to acknowledge the productive and disruptive forces of change the apocalypse brings. Channel Zed and Zombified Media are built on interdisciplinary foundations to explore new forms of knowledge production that disrupt disciplinary boundaries. Zombified Media brings collaborators from diverse disciplines, institutions, backgrounds, and perspectives into conversation using an accessible and democratic vocabulary: the language of zombies and the apocalypse. While most of the core team are affiliated with a university as staff, students, adjuncts, contingent labourers, or tenure track faculty, we also regularly work with artists, dancers, directors, and more. We are also radically interdisciplinary: our core team contains those that study psychology, evolutionary biology, emergency medicine, literature, history, anthropology, and political science.

Our collaborative consists of both content and process specialists. Our content specialists range from theorizers to activists, public scholars to practitioners, and research scientists to undergraduate students; our process specialists include the evaluators, designers, producers, technicians, and facilitators that help to sustain our project. The interaction and flow of knowledge between these groups helps to reify the strengths of interdisciplinary work to achieve more significant outcomes than would otherwise be possible.

Here, we propose that our collaboratory has engaged in “disruption,” as explored by Meg Worley and applied to the field of digital humanities, where highlighting the strengths and differences of interdisciplinary collaborators enhances collective understanding, instead of detracting from it. Worley adapted that definition from Hugh Cott, a biologist describing how microscopy benefits from “disruptive coloration,” a practice by which dyes are applied to contrast differences in the cellular sample and allow for a more united understanding of the organism as a whole. Worley proposes that disruptive coloration is a form of generative difference. By acknowledging our differences, especially in times of crisis, we can intentionally choose to communicate across boundaries. In the production of Channel Zed across multiple interdisciplinary perspectives, the underlying commitment of our collective emerged: we are rooted in storytelling, resilience, and community, both in the programming we produce and the project management principles that inform production, wherein “production” means the communication of knowledge via digital means.3

In an apocalyptic moment, working within the technological constraints enforced by the pandemic, our core team of collaborators worked to actively acknowledge difference. In doing so, we created an environment that allowed team members to share and acknowledge individual experiences and thus find support. This cultivated an environment based on an ethic of creativity and care that pushed us beyond apocalyptic survival into a mode of hope and joy. It also consciously accounted for much of the unseen labour that many faced during the pandemic, as elder and child care became more present within the home, schooling moved online, and maintaining relationships was conducted through a screen.

The disruption of the world due to the pandemic starkly highlighted our differences, but rather than creating generative space for the co-creation of new norms and ways of being in the world, many attempted to replicate the experience of in-person activities in online spaces. This is also true of project management, which was forced to pivot due to pressures unprecedented in our lifetimes. In our experience, projects that embraced difference and restructured their products and processes to adapt to digital modalities tended to fare better than those that sought to recreate traditional collaboration in online spaces unsuited to cultivating a sense of togetherness. We all experienced, for example, the traditional academic conference hosted virtually from a laptop propped up on the kitchen table, which oftentimes resulted in glazed-over eyes and disengagement.

In reimagining the ZAMM, we embraced the unprecedented opportunity afforded by digital means of connectivity to produce an experience that allowed our intended audience(s) to embrace creativity and human connection through storytelling and improvisation—while still delivering high-quality scholastic materials. We created a new model for academic project labour and design in the wake of COVID-19 by adopting the basic principles of film production, immersive branding, DH project management (Rueker and Radzikowska; Siemens) and the tenets of design justice (Costanza-Chock). While disruption still exists as a negative force in our daily lives, it can also create opportunities to reshape, reimagine, and re-engage with our research communities. Amidst uncertainty and precarity, Channel Zed created an opportunity to cultivate a community oriented towards positivity as an antidote to the sense of doom—far before widespread vaccination was possible.

Managing Uncertainty

As we began to create the project management infrastructure around Channel Zed, it became apparent that central to our model was a project team focused on care and generative productivity. As we write this retrospective, we now realize that this early focus on care was a direct response to what was lacking in the world around us. While we will not belabour the changes to work brought on by the pandemic, as we collectively lived and continue to live in that moment, the uncertainty pervading the world allowed us to create a project that mirrored what we felt was missing. Creativity, grounded in our passion for scholarship, nurtured our minds and souls. The metaphor of zombification allowed for a degree of escapism when confronting harsh realities, and the pause on traditional rhythms of academic work during this shift made space and time to think deeply with others. It is also important to note that shifting modes of collaboration and engagement allowed us to include a geographically diverse cohort of talent previously unaffiliated with the project.

Our project management ethos and approach builds on and is shaped in conversation with existing literature on care, compassion, and “radical empathy” in the academy (Caswell and Cifor 23–43). We are particularly attuned to considerations of positionality and labour as we engage with others, as well as an understanding that in moving toward empathy, we need to also grasp the institutionalization of that term and seek to move beyond empathy toward what Jade Davis describes as mutual recognition and compassion (The Other Side of Empathy). We are also deeply indebted to those working in and writing on the hidden labour of diversity work in DH, mutual aid, design justice and DH, and, most importantly, to Bethany Nowviskie’s call to an ethic of care that is “active, outward-facing, interdisciplinary, and expansive, sufficient to our daunting futures and broadened scope” (Nowviskie 426; Risam; Spade; Grumbach and Keralis,). It is these “daunting futures” so aptly described by Nowviskie that called our project team to turn to care. On the ground level, we managed this uncertainty with weekly check-ins at the beginning of each meeting that allowed collaborators to debrief on their personal apocalyptic circumstances before moving on to project-related updates. Creating this space for personal reflections recognized our shared humanity and pandemic struggles. While the specifics of our experiences differed, the commonality of sharing a bizarre, suspended moment in time mid-pandemic allowed us to commiserate and empathize in equal measure. The practice began as a means of offering space for checking in on one another, but it also provided an opportunity to level the hierarchical nature of many top-down power dynamics inherent to academic projects. In centring the voices of the collective at the beginning of our weekly meetings, it decentralized the project director and allowed space for all voices to be heard, in both personal and professional matters.

Unsurprisingly, those personal check-ins during a time of global precarity also provided ripe conversation and a reflective opportunity to develop apocalypse-relevant programming that assisted us in identifying the commonalities across our diverse struggles. Every new variant and shift in CDC recommendations was addressed by our resident emergency room physician Joe Alcock, or “Dr. Zed,” both as he decompressed by detailing his experiences as an essential worker and conversed on The Dr. Zed Show with other pandemic first responders and virus researchers. The collective frustration with online K–12 education led to an episode of The Other Side which explored alternatives to traditional systems of compulsory education. The rush to return to pre-pandemic “normal” led to an episode on dismantling capitalism and recognizing the extractive labour of “essential workers.” These more serious engagements with the apocalypse ran alongside feel-good conversations, research reports, and programming such as zombie movie recommendations, how to ferment food, and what we need in our “go bag” to ensure we are never without toilet paper again.

These personal check-ins also served another purpose: defining the explicit positionality of each collaborator to provide concrete practices for inclusivity and compassion. The team took a strengths-based and humanity-centred approach to defining the expectations and degree of participation from each member. Weekly check-ins let us know who would be less available to contribute time week-to-week, and asking members to self-identify their areas of strength let the project grow organically, from a place of abundance, to reflect the best of each collaborator. That focus on strengths also allowed us to see where our weaknesses were, and recruit individuals to the project to offer either project management or content-area expertise.

From a practical perspective, the boom in enterprise-level investment at our university in virtual conferencing software also allowed us to recruit project collaborators from across the United States in a way previously unimaginable. The strengths of having a film director volunteering for the project as a content area specialist allowed us to make the best of our home lighting and sound circumstances, both for hosts and guests livestreaming from across the country. The circumstances of the pandemic allowed us to reach people at a time of shifting and reimagined priorities, as compared to the pre-pandemic daily grind of work–life demands. The grace of our guests in offering up their time extended beyond their expertise in a tight, half-hour show. It also fostered an atmosphere of experimentation and iteration as we optimized our project management and weekly workflows, specifically as it related to the delegation of centralized versus distributed project management tasks. In addition, we have acknowledged that volunteering time and labour cannot be a long-term solution for this project, and while we have written and submitted grants to begin the process of compensating people for their work and hired our director as an adjunct instructor and contractor, we are still seeking more sustainable solutions beyond these measures. Otherwise, we run the risk of perpetuating an extractive model of engagement in direct opposition to the care-based approach we advocate.

Broadcasting during the Apocalypse

In shifting ZAMM online in the form of a livestreamed broadcast, we merged the logistical challenges of a conference with the production challenges of a livestreamed show and the labour structures of a DH project. In October 2020, after over six months of producing apocalypse media for Channel Zed, our team went live with several days of ten-hour programming blocks on YouTube, in lieu of the in-person 2020 Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting. The months prior had allowed our team to test workflows, create a community of previous guests and conference registrants as our audience, and solidify the structure of work necessary to mimic a television station’s worth of academic apocalypse programming.

Production tasks and conference planning happened simultaneously as we ran weekly livestream shows to solidify workflows and smooth out the logistics of running a three-day, online, conference-like event. These workflows and logistics seemed both familiar and new at once. Practically, as we sorted through conference abstracts, certain thematic concentrations began to arise that aligned with topically specific shows, just as conference organizers align tracks, panels, etc., and yet, for ZAMM 2020, our team had to engage with television programming skills and best practices. The weekly livestream shows became the cyclical process by which we solidified production schedules and scholarly content development, and where we tested our technologies and platforms. This iterative, weekly development was followed by team post-production meetings where we discussed what to carry forward to the next week, and what to change.

This slow, yet generative development process prepared us for the work of structuring the ZAMM 2020 program. For example, abstracts that related to the conference theme were well suited to Undead Live’s news-style format, health-related topics fit more naturally into The Dr. Zed Show, research that examined culture and society was showcased in Brain Dead Theatre, and food and culture were under the purview of Eat Prey Run. We also had an amazing digital illustrator, Neil Smith, who polished and branded the project, with illustrations specific to each show, as well as a TV guide–style conference agenda that married playfulness with professionalism.

Early in the process, we chose StreamYard as our platform, as it afforded us the ability to switch “camera angles” seamlessly, bring in media in creative ways (video, audio, and images), and allow for direct audience interaction by introducing comments and questions in real time. We recommended that guests and conference presenters stray from slides and introduce dynamic media materials to fully engage with the platform and apocalypse television conceit. StreamYard was also the ideal choice for cross-training and flexible production management; while some of our core team had experience with Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), the learning curve was too steep for all team members.

An Experiment in Distributed Project Management

Central to all of the shows are the hosts whose role is both within and far beyond the traditional role of a conference session chair or panel organizer. As shows evolved and workflows became standardized, show hosts began to provide the majority of the labour for the week’s episode. This distributed project management approach allowed the centralized project management team (production managers and coordinators) to focus on the logistics of managing the project calendar around invitations, episode creation and branding within the Streamyard platform, coordinating the work of our illustrator, supervising student workers, managing our relationships with sponsoring entities (such as the Arizona State University [ASU] Film School, the Department of Psychology, etc.), and publicizing upcoming shows across newsletters and social media. This approach also allowed the authors here to focus on further managing stakeholder and audience engagement, as well as to identify and apply for funding opportunities to continue the project’s long-term collaboration, sustainability, and labour compensation goals.

Hosts are integral to all stages of project management from inception through filming. They serve an integral role in developing the thematic flow and direction of each episode by brainstorming potential topics and guests during weekly check-ins, then following up directly with letters of inquiry and pre-production discussions with guests on their research and how it fits into the theme and format of the program. This collaborative exercise is generally accomplished through a series of virtual meetings and emails between the host and guest, although each show host follows their own timeline and workflow. Each host develops a run-of-show document (similar to a production cue sheet in television and film) specific to their program that introduces the show, the host, the topic, the guest, and planned conversation points with rough time stamps. In addition to that document, they also solicit and make note of when to show uploaded audiovisual media, generally provided by the guests, to illustrate concepts and enliven discussion. They also run pre-show tech checks with the guests in StreamYard to ensure audio and video quality, with the assistance and support of the centralized project management team.

During filming, hosts are generally responsible for handling the demands of both on-screen and off-screen logistics, requiring them to both facilitate conversation and the technical specifics of running the StreamYard platform. On screen, hosts drive the conversation by asking guests questions that allow their content area expertise to shine, redirect and/or provide context when the conversation becomes too “academic” and drifts into jargon and inaccessibility, and integrate feedback and questions from our audience watching the livestream. Behind the scenes, hosts manage the logistics of StreamYard: they trigger our intro and end credit videos; toggle on and off brand-specific overlays, banners, and chyrons; upload and display guests’ visuals and video clips; spotlight and manage how guests come into and out of the stream; and monitor the livestreamed chat to integrate viewers’ comments and questions.4

The position of show host attracts people that believe in the benefit of open access knowledge production and sharing, who are willing to take on the labour of managing a miniature digital project in the form of their own show. That said, the amount of labour the hosts take on for each episode should not be understated, and the program sinks or swims based on the labour and engagement of the host. For some shows like Unreal World, which showcases performance-based creative endeavors, the labour demands of engaging with our project as universities ramped up a return to pre-pandemic teaching, research, and engagement levels resulted in insufficient time for hosts to develop programming. In light of the heavy labour demand post-pandemic—when the transitional hybrid life seemed to sap so much more time than fully virtual engagement—our project management team helped to alleviate and redistribute some of this burden. We took on much of the behind-the-scenes logistics in StreamYard on the day of livestreaming, allowing hosts to focus on pre-production and talent management during the show. This is one brief example of the many compassion-driven interventions we rolled into project management workflows in response to iterative feedback.

By distributing project management for production across a series of hosts who have opted into the position with an understanding of the labour demands the position entails, it allows our team to focus on managing calendars and publishing schedules for communication rather than herding cats. Show hosts engage with the project in the same mould as Jason Boyd envisions project management, with the acknowledgement that management work is scholarly work, especially as it relates to the skills of bargaining, translation, scholarly exchange, and peer review (2022). This is where the language of film production becomes helpful; in addition to being hosts, managers, and content experts, these individuals ensure the successful creation of new knowledge. Hosts engage in “bargaining” in our weekly meetings as they propose and refine guests and topics of conversation. They engage in “translation” with members of the logistics team to ensure wrap-around support for the program by creating run-of-show documents to describe their vision for those operating Streamyard behind the scenes. They continually help the central project management team to iterate and refine processes through debrief and “peer review,” and often our project managers on Channel Zed are also show hosts, demonstrating their commitment to engaging with “scholarly exchange” as they model best practices.

A New Model for Project Management

Digital humanities and digital scholarship rely on “distributed expertise” (Reed) and on understanding structures and infrastructure as a “set of evolving relations and dependencies and not merely static resources” (McGrail et al. ix). The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to realize that this infrastructure includes people, their lives, and their livelihoods. Our profession is not free from the inequity baked into other institutional powers-that-be, and in fact DH often makes “visible the dirty gears that drive the scholarly machine” (Greenspan 94). In the past several years working to develop Zombified Media and Channel Zed, we generated a new model of project management that re-centres the human amongst these dirty gears.

Project Management as Broken World Thinking

Often in DH, our institutions ask us to innovate, to build something new, and the project manager becomes the figure that ushers in, holds, and documents that newness. Even though scholars have been theorizing these topics for over a decade, the lines between innovation and repair remain blurred, and discussions centred on graceful degradation, maintenance, and sustainability are often decentralized and deprioritized (Nowviskie and Porter; Koeser). In “Rethinking Repair,” Steven J. Jackson interrogates this tension by asking, “what happens when we take erosion, breakdown, and decay, rather than novelty, growth, and progress, as our starting points…[?]” (221). Our instinct in DH work to privilege growth and progress often results in a project management strategy that begins at the beginning: in the planning stages of a project or in the transition to a new phase of project development.

However, the pandemic helped bring this traditional project management trend into sharp contrast with the strengths of broken world thinking; as our project team found moments of shared community and generative potential amid the brokenness of social contracts, institutions, and cultural norms, we also found opportunities for reflection. And these opportunities made space for us to confront the foundational assumptions about management that are baked into our field. For the team behind Channel Zed, we found our starting point at the apocalypse, at the breakdown of traditional modes of academic networking and collaboration, and through the erosion of our (mis)conception of how projects should be managed (i.e., via top-down, hierarchical structures). By challenging the forward-momentum that centres innovation and newness, we instead work to embrace the apocalyptic conditions of uncertainty, zombification, and dissolution as the foundational principles of our project management style. We live and work in a world that, as Anna Tsing explains, is premised on precarity, which is in and of itself defined not only by structural and material decay but, more importantly, is representative of the uncertainty and vulnerability characteristic of the global age.

In creating our distributed model, we sought to address these vulnerabilities and centre our relationships to each other as the glue that united the project, rather than choosing to reinforce traditional modes of project management that centre institutions, disciplines, or research practices. In the words of Tsing, our model engages directly with “the condition of being vulnerable to others” (20). The shift was subtle. In practice, it looked like restructuring the project meeting to intentionally connect as human beings navigating diverse challenges first, and only then moving to the business of project tasks once we had allowed collaborators the space to show up authentically in whatever pandemic moment they found themselves. In doing so, we found strategies to let our lived experiences directly impact our research and modes of engagement.

While the terminology of the broken world or apocalypse may imply a pessimistic lens of interpreting the world, it also throws into sharp relief the fissures and tensions that permeate academic work and can empower project teams to mitigate imbalances in power and privilege with a pragmatic eye toward change. Broken world thinking, or apocalyptic thinking, gives us license to acknowledge the agency of our fellow collaborators, understand existing power structures within teams, and collectively work towards resilience and kinship in a visible shift from traditional structures of work towards individual relationships and compassion. For us, apocalypse thinking created space for team members to speak to the precarity of adjunct labour, the difficulties of remote work for caregivers, and the impact of technocracy on education, all of which were discussions that informed the content produced by Channel Zed. The project management of the broken world, of the apocalypse, moves beyond empathy, which is a term that has been institutionalized out of usability (Davis, The Other Side of Empathy; Johansen and Karl), as it “does not lead to collective action” and can be now understood “as the [product] of ‘customer service’” (Davis, Empathy is an Ideology). At the end of times, we need a distributed project management that takes into account the needs of the collective (project team and stakeholders) and goes beyond “customer service” to provide care in the form of flexibility, acknowledgment of difference, and the space for true collaboration based on lived experience.

Project Management as Care

Our care-based model of project management prioritizes the well-being and professional development of team members and redefines success as both collective and individual. To create a care-based model of project management, we implemented the following practical strategies as our management ethos.

  • Prioritize clear and open communication within our team to foster a positive, collaborative work environment and ensure that team members’ roles and responsibilities were not only clearly defined but also flexible in the face of unexpected personal challenges.

  • Encourage personal and professional development by providing opportunities, but not requirements, for team members to learn new skills, attend cross-training sessions, or participate in professional development workshops.

  • Support work–life balance by offering flexible working arrangements, providing time off for personal commitments, acknowledging that the bodies that we live in are differently abled, and modelling healthy work–life balance among team members.

  • Fostering a positive work culture through the active recognition of labour (both on Channel Zed and other projects), establishing clear definitions of collaboration and teamwork, solidifying methods of ensuring labour is credited, and providing the support and resources that team members need to succeed.5

  • Engage ongoing monitoring and evaluation via regular check-ins on Zoom, Slack, and email with team members to assess their progress and provide feedback, as well as conducting regular evaluations of the project to ensure that it is on track and aligned with co-created objectives.

  • Employ methods of collaboration that explicitly acknowledge the positionality of each collaborator in order to provide concrete practices for inclusivity and compassion by (1) activating our administrative networks to ensure credit and compensation are a priority and (2) letting emergent issues in our daily lives inform the content produced by the project team.

  • Adopt equity as a central value in all collaborations between team members and stakeholders by considering individual needs and interests, addressing potential imbalances or inequities as they arise, and actively working to ensure that all collaborators have an equal opportunity to participate and contribute to the project to the best of their ability.

  • Centre student learning experiences and professionalization by incorporating the work of Channel Zed into course design and provide mentorship for graduate and undergraduate students to take on leadership roles that “build skills in areas like project management, communication, business, and graphic design, as well as gain the opportunity to network with faculty, instructors, and staff” (Miya et al. 281). As an additional note here, our “Z-Team” of undergraduate students identified how they wished to move away from an extractive model of labour via the development of transferable skills through close collaboration with project managers on the team, who served as mentors and helped students to quantify and point to the tangible products of their engagement with the project.6

Coupled with broken world thinking and care, the generative productivity central to this work took as its foundational tenet that serious work can still feel like play. We can bring scholastic work into the world while also centring creativity, improvisation, and adaptability. We can foster a culture of experimentation and learning that takes risks, embraces uncertainty, allows for productive failure, and provides us with the flexibility to adapt in the rapidly changing environment ushered in by the pandemic.

In Conclusion: We (Might) Have the Apocalypse Covered

From 2020 to the present, Zombified Media and Channel Zed have explored our relationship to the apocalypse, to the zombifying forces of neoliberal and hierarchical ways of structuring work on digital projects, and to the challenges inherent in navigating disruption and crisis. Like the experiments in digital and hybrid engagement discussed by Buress and Symulevich, these past several years have been an exploration of how “project management principles can be used to support innovation even during times of disruption.” This retrospective details the challenges and successes of this project, and yet primarily documents a moment in time during which the academy lived and worked online. As we have moved back into our campus offices, to more in-person meeting spaces and collaborative moments, and towards the consideration of hybrid modes of engagement, the Channel Zed team will have to adapt to a new set of apocalyptic, broken world conditions. We have found that our ethic of care, and the above practical management guidelines, continue to provide us with a structure for embracing generative productivity. Yet, we acknowledge that the return to a different pace, and to institutions that have new demands of our time and ever-shifting priorities, will impact our individual and collective abilities to continue collaborating. We hope to continue broadcasting from the apocalypse now and into the future.


Works Cited

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Buress, Theresa, and Allison Symulevich. “Innovating During Times of Disruption: A Project Management Framework for Transforming a Student Research Symposium to Serve Virtual Communities during COVID-19.” IDEAH, vol. 2, no. 2, 2022,

Caswell, Michelle, and Marika Cifor. “From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical Empathy in the Archives.” Archivaria, no 81, May 2016, pp. 23–43.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Gothic Horror: A Guide for Students and Readers, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, U of Minnesota P, 2007, pp. 3–25.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Undead (A Zombie Oriented Ontology).” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, vol 23, no. 3, 2012, pp. 397–412,

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Costanza-Chock, Sasha. Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds we Need. MIT Press, 2020.

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