Identifying and Coping with Digital Media Wicked Problems #MCN2019

Claire Pillsbury: Four signs of a wicked problem

#1 There is no consensus on what the problem is. Different stakeholders have different descriptions of the problem.

#2 There is no agreement on the solution.

#3 Constraints are constantly changing and there are many inter-dependencies.

#4 Constraints also arise from interested parties that may come and go, change their minds, mis-communicate, or change the ‘rules’ of solving the problem.

Wicked Problems, or things I wish I knew before I put my hand up to be the digital go-to person

  1. Digital is not going away anytime soon #wickedproblems #MCN2019
  2. Any digital project is, by nature, an organisational change project. #wickedproblems #MCN2019
  3. Must take people with you, even if it’s kicking and screaming! #wickedproblems #MCN2019
  4. Everyone thinks they’re an expert in how to do digital. #wickedproblems #MCN2019
  5. “I can build a website, run a Facebook group, make a movie in a week. Why can’t you?” #wickedproblems #MCN2019
  6. The Director usually has no clue, gets seduced by the new and shiny (“Director specials”), and needs to be dealt with diplomatically… #wickedproblems #MCN2019
  7. Only the few still really ‘get’ social media, not the many. #wickedproblems #MCN2019
  8. Why does digital and marketing still remain at loggerheads and why is marketing and digital marketing / social media often still separate? #wickedproblems #MCN2019
  9. Design thinking and agile ways of working don’t necessarily fit in organisations, many of which, were essentially established on 19th century ways of working. #wickedproblems #MCN2019
  10. Dilemma! Do audiences want digital as part of their physical visit?? More here: (post)digital visitors, and I’m still hearing the same. #wickedproblems #MCN2019
  11. Framing the issues as “wicked problems” seems a good way forward for digital projects – gives everyone permission to stuff up and embrace complexity #wickedproblems #MCN2019
  12. My personal philosophy – just do it, apologise later, learn from mistakes, share and celebrate failures! An example in this post: #beaconfail #wickedproblems #MCN2019

doonside image 2

More about our session here.

Some resources:

New research in the cultural sector finds ‘invisible opportunity’ in people who already support you

media release image 2New research for the cultural and performing arts sector reveals that members/subscribers and volunteers may hold greater philanthropic value to organisations than has been previously assumed.

During 2018-2019 I worked with Deanna Varga (MBA), Director and Founder of Mayvin Global on this research project to test our hypothesis that an organisations’ existing supporters represent significant potential financial benefit, beyond their annual fee and time. We first proposed the idea for this research here.

Our report Members and Subscribers – Is it working for everyone? Is everyone working for them? confirms an untapped opportunity for organisations to reduce their fundraising effort by leveraging their existing supporter segments.

The research showed that factors originating within organisations hampered financial opportunity and reinforced the industry’s prevailing belief that members/subscribers and volunteers were a capped and limited revenue stream.

Deanna Varga:

The data suggests that organisations may be getting in the way of themselves when it comes to realising the full fundraising potential of their supporter segments. We found that internal factors, such as organisational structures and processes, and negative perceptions of value, were significant inhibitors and seemed to increase the ‘invisibility’ of members/subscribers as potential donors or philanthropists.

Changes to program mechanics, such as implementing auto-renewals, or simply asking for a donation, could have a significant impact – a surprising 63% of organisations do not offer auto-renewals and 29% do not invite members to fundraising events.

media release image 1A lack of industry specific reference data was a further challenge and obstacle to confident and informed decision making within the sector.

Lynda Kelly:

Unfortunately, consistent methodology across the sector for counting members/subscribers or collating membership data simply does not exist. This lack of consistent data makes it difficult for organisations to benchmark their programs and make informed and confident decisions about investing in the segment. In the absence of data, important decisions about member and subscriber programs seem to be run on ‘gut feel’, which only reinforces assumptions that we have found to be largely untrue.

We anticipate our research will start to challenge these assumptions and change the value perceptions of membership and subscriber options within the industry.

A summary of the research findings can be viewed here.

We are commencing phase two of our research to continue to build data around links with membership/subscribers and philanthropy. You can contribute this research by visiting this page.

Thanks to all who contributed to this research so far and we hope to reach a lot more of you in this next phase!

Meanwhile, here’s a sneaky preview of some of the findings:

media release image 3

Becoming a data-driven organisation

cleveland museum

As I’m looking into improved ways to collect and report KPI data, came across some great readings around how to better become a data-driven organisation – how to encourage staff across all levels to use data in everyday decision-making and, therefore, keeping the audience at the forefront of the museum’s work.

Elina Sairanen, a 2017 intern in MOMA’s digital department, wrote a useful piece, What Does Data Have to Do with It?, noting the following:

A defining characteristic of data-driven organisations is that they predominantly base their decisions in the rigorous analysis of data rather than are guided by the human mind and instinct solely. … Erik Brynjolfsson, et al (2011) found firms that adopt a data-driven decision-making approach have output and productivity 5–6% higher than what would be expected given their other investments and information technology usage.

… an essential requirement is to install and maintain an analytic culture. … not an overnight change and requires support from both senior management and staff at all levels as well as a shared understanding of importance of data for decision-making.

She outlines a series of tips from the field (which I have slightly adapted):

  • Create an organisational culture in which data is saluted and celebrated rather than disregarded
  • Establish cross-departmental communication concerning the use of data in your decision-making
  • Approach analytics and metrics strategically and formulate a plan to guide you through the transformation
  • Have a cross-departmental dialogue about specific metrics and goals that would be useful to your museum and related to your mission and KPIs

Finally, she notes that there are “… two important points to this action: spark an interest towards data within your museum and make sure people share the same understanding of the terminology and significance of the specific metrics”.

Forbes, Becoming A Data Driven Organisation, details many of the same ideas (again adapted):

  • Start with the why
  • Remember that your issue is probably not a lack of data, but too much data, stored in many different areas by many different people and, therefore, inaccessible
  • Conduct a simple data inventory (what I’m doing!!) – simple being the operative word – trying to be too comprehensive will take you down too many rabbit holes
  • Develop the skills within the organisation to manage and report on data – but delegate one (or two) people to take overall ownership

And then, “… building a team with actual business experience is equally critical to appropriately turn the analysis into actionable insights to guide the decision-making process”.

Overall lessons in creating a dashboard or visualisation from this series of posts (referenced below) are to:

  • determine what metrics are universally useful across the organisation – and what you may already have
  • identify the audience for the report(s)
  • design a visual report using pen and paper
  • not feel you have to report every analytic
  • use readily available tools (e.g. PowerPoint) and don’t try to be too fancy
  • go for it!

Finally, there’s a new research study being conducted by @DafJames and @katiprice, looking at how cultural organisations value and measure digital impact which is relevant to this discussion. You can take their survey here.

Previous Posts:

dilbert 2

Dilbert always comes to the rescue!

More on visitor reporting: data visualisation


Image: Innovation Network

Following up from my previous blog post on dashboards, Reporting Visitor Data: are Dashboards (one) Answer?, I came across some writings about data visualisation with some handy tips around changing the way data is collected and reported on.

First, Building a Culture of Effective Data Visualisation, by Stephanie Evergreen of Evergreen Data, notes that when applying visualisation to your data, think about the following:

  • Acknowledge fears – change is hard and people are unlikely to change until their hesitations are acknowledged
  • Remember that “… people have to take time out of their busy lives to learn new skills. People are already overwhelmed with work and this would be (at least, initially) adding more to their schedules”

One tip it to make the timeline and sequence of reporting steps clear so that people could see what to expect when designing a dashboard / visualisation

And something really important – make the best of the tools you already have – this will help in managing change and acknowledging fears as they don’t really have to learn something new (well, not necessarily…).

Some online resources from Evergreen Data:

This post, 7 Tips To Get Started with Data Visualization by Sara Vaca (via the AEA365 blog), has a set of tips, with the most relevant being to play around with data and visualisation tools, to just get started and that “… your brain, paper and PowerPoint is honestly all you need to start”.

A further AEA365 blog post, Data Visualization: From Sketchbook to Reality by folks from the Innovation Network, details six steps to developing an effective visualisation:

  1. Identify your audience
  2. Select key findings – which are most relevant to you and your audience?
  3. Grab paper and pencil and start to draw the findings in different ways (probably having a look at some examples would be helpful here, also think beyond generic chart formats
  4. Gather feedback on your sketches:
    • What does this visualization tell you?
    • How long did it take you to interpret?
    • How can it be tweaked to better communicate the data?
  5. Think about layout and supporting text
  6. Now digitise the drawings: translate the initial renderings into a digital format using basic software such as PowerPoint, Word, or Excel (at least for the first attempt)

So, planning to use these ideas in a workshop this week, along with my next post, Becoming a data-driven organisation, as more background.

We’ll see how it goes!

Reporting visitor data: are dashboards (one) answer?

IMA dashboard

The classic IMA dashboard

Doing some research at the moment on better ways to gather and report on audience data. One area I’m looking at are dashboards – how useful are they? Who’s doing good things with dashboards? Are they the (one?) answer for busy and overstretched staff that don’t have the time (or the inclination) to trawl through large reports?

Kati Price (V&A) and Chris Unitt (One Further) gave a presentation about dashboards at MuseumNext 2014, with the following useful set of tips (with my commentary):

  1. First ask – do you really need a dashboard? (and maybe before that ask “What data do we need to be collecting?”)
  2. “Pragmatism beats idealism” – you could waste huge amounts of time developing a tool that may be unusable, just do something and see how it goes
  3. “Narrative is the spoonful of sugar” – informed, short commentary of key points will ensure the report is read
  4. “The first bite is with the eye” – visual representations win out every time
  5. “Behaviour beats demographics” – not sure I totally agree, demogs have many uses
  6. “Context is key” – say no more
  7. “Strategy for some, tactics for others” – reminder that the same data may be used in different ways by different people with different needs
  8. “Dashboards can’t do everything” – an important reminder that there (probably) isn’t a one size fits all solution (go to point 1!)
  9. The dashboard made a difference at the V&A in several ways – two that stood out for me were “happy trustee” and “More conversations about this”

Following from this, in The laws of shitty dashboards blogpost, Paul Cothenet notes:

I don’t have the data to prove it, but I bet a lot of shitty dashboard started with the sentence “we need to add a dashboard”. They are built without the users in mind because the product team has a bunch of numbers that they think could be useful. Or because the exec team somehow thinks “we need a dashboard”.

I’m keen to hear your dashboard story – feel free to add in comments or tweet me @lyndakelly61.

Have gathered a set of resources to share (below) and will keep adding as I find out more.

Museum dashboards

Non-profits and dashboards:


dilbert dashboards

What’s a data blogpost without Dilbert?!

Strategic Planning in small museums … the usual stuff plus some new thinking

WW EntryNext week I’ll be running a strategic planning workshop for a small, totally volunteer-run museum in the Lake Macquarie region of NSW.

An exciting time for this organisation as we plan for the collection move to a new facility, with associated spaces for exhibitions, programs, interpretation and (potentially) an open storage area.

In preparation I have gathered a range of resources I’ve found useful in planning this project (detailed in the Readings list below).

In addition to the ‘usual’ planning processes, two areas I’m thinking of introducing are:

Inclusive practices – how to adapt some of the strategies from the just-released AMaGA Indigenous Roadmap and reflections from my (intermittent) participation in the #MassActionReadingGroup.

Self-care – this idea has been gaining lots of coverage lately, and, in my opinion, is particularly relevant for a volunteer-run museum to maintain motivation, avoid burn-out and (potential) exploitation.

It will be interesting to see if we can develop a plan that is achievable, flexible, useful and incorporates some of this thinking – wish us luck!


Huge thanks to MGNSW for providing the grant for this project and to the dedicated volunteers for their time and enthusiasm.

Readings and references

Strategic Planning for small organisations

Collection management / policies

Volunteer Management / Issues

Inclusive practices


We have never been asked before: Giving voice to the voiceless #VRF19

SLNSW 1Presentation to the 2019 Visitor Research Forum by Prof. Susan Groundwater-Smith, Honorary Professor, SSESW, University of Sydney and Dr Lynda Kelly, LyndaKellyNetworks, with Pauline Fitzgerald, State Library of NSW.


This presentation will draw upon recent literature that encourages the voices of children and young people in both providing testimony and engaging in research in relation to audience experiences in learning sites outside the classroom (Groundwater-Smith, Dockett and Bottrell, 2015; Mockler and Groundwater-Smith, 2015). It recognises the special nature of learning in cultural sites and the opportunities for those students who are rarely consulted to have a voice (Blunden and Fitzgerald, 2019).

We make the case that the improvement of learning organisations can be enhanced by listening to and respecting the voices of young people, including those who are marginalised (Hill, 2019) by providing examples including the State Library of NSW, Sydney Living Museums and the work of Kids’ College at the Australian Museum.

Our paper concludes with reference to the range of ethical concerns that require attention when working in this space (Alderson and Morrow, 2019). It will argue that attention to ethics is, effectively, an attention to quality in this area of research.


  • Alderson, P. and Morrow, V. (2019) The ethics of research with children and young people. (3rd edition). London: Sage.
  • Blunden, J. and Fitzgerald, P. (2019) Beyond the classroom: Museum visits and resources. In H. de Silva Joyce & S. Feez (Eds.) Multi modality across classrooms. London: Routledge, pp. 194 – 206.
  • Groundwater-Smith, S., Dockett, S. and Bottrell, D. (2015) Participatory research with children and young people. London: Sage.
  • Mockler, N. and Groundwater-Smith, S. (2011) Weaving a web of professional practice: The Coalition of Knowledge Building Schools. In B. Lingard, P. Thomson & T. Wrigley (Eds.) Changing Schools: Alternative Models. London: Routledge pp. 294 – 322.

Download our paper here: We have never been asked before



Visitor Research Forum 2019 / MuseumNext Sydney

conf logoIt’s on again – the annual Visitor Research Forum (VRF) on Wednesday 3 April (to follow MuseumNext Sydney).


  • The VRF  brings together industry and academic thought leaders working
    and researching in the area of visitor research across Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the world


How much?

  • The VRF is free but  you need to register for catering purposes and to advise of any dietary requirements

How can I get involved?

  • If you are interested in giving a presentation on completed or current case studies
    and research please send a 250 word abstract by 4 March 2019 to
    Dr Naomi Dale:

What now?

  • Register! Go here to register and we hope to see you there.
    (PS It’s a great chance to get to see the Zoo for free – it’s amazing!)

What else is on?

  • And, while you’re planning to be in Sydney anyway why not book for MuseumNext? There are still a few tickets available and the program looks fantastic. Go here for more info

Engaging Museum Visitors in Difficult Topics Through Socio-cultural Learning and Narrative

For those of you who read my previous post, Learning from a project team’s experience: what works??, I promised to provide the chapter that detailed findings from the front-end and summative evaluations of death, the last taboo exhibition held at the Australian Museum in 2003. And below you shall find it!

hot topics coverBOOK ABSTRACT

Hot Topics, Public Culture, Museums engages the highly problematic and increasingly important issue of museums, science centres, their roles in contemporary societies, their engagement with “hot” topics and their part in wider conversations in a networked public culture. Hot topics such as homosexuality, sexual, and racial violence, massacres, drugs, terrorism, GMO foods and climate change are now all part of museological culture. The authors in this collection situate cultural institutions in an increasingly interconnected, complex, globalising and uncertain world and engage the why and how institutions might form part of, activate conversations and action through discussions that theorise institutions in new ways to the very practical means in which institutions might engage their constituencies.


This chapter considers socio-cultural theory as a conduit for engaging visitors with difficult topics as well as assessing their physical museum experiences. A socio-cultural approach to identifying visitor learning is applied through analysing summative evaluation of visitors to an Australian Museum exhibition that tackled the difficult topic of death. The role of narrative is also considered through examining visitor responses to the more confronting aspects of the exhibition and considering how they felt about death within the context of their personal experience.


Kelly, L. (2010). Engaging Museum Visitors in Difficult Topics Through Socio-cultural Learning and Narrative. In F. Cameron and L. Kelly (Eds) Hot Topics, Public Culture, Museums. (pp. 194-210). Cambridge Scholars Publishing: London.

Download the chapter here: KELLY Chapter 10 FINAL

This work also drew on the substantial literature review around museum learning from my thesis Chapter 2, and a re-visit of this literature in Chapter 7 (Conclusion) which can be downloaded here: KELLY THESIS CHAPTER 2 AND 7




Learning from a project team’s experience: what works??

front textThere’s been a lot going down on Twitter in the past few days around project teams, language, power and how to get the develop the best experiences for the end-user – whether an exhibition, a program, a digital project, etc, etc.

Much of the discussion has been focussed around the best way/s to approach these projects. Reading the (huge) number of tweets I was reminded of a project team evaluation we conducted back in 2003 at the Australian Museum. During the 1990s-2000s the Museum was pretty progressive in how project teams were structured – no curatorial dominance, a chairperson selected by the team (and usually not the exhibition project manager), and always an educator, marketing/comms person, programs person, subject expert, maybe a designer, often someone from the Finance or HR department (for PD reasons, as much as for their expertise), and (almost) always informed by audience research.

For one particular exhibition, death: the last taboo, we wanted to see how a (kind of) different approach to running an exhibition project worked from the perspective of the team themselves. I’m posting this study as I think it helps inform what has been discussed on Twitter this week.


The objectives of the review were to explore the team’s experience in developing the exhibition:

  • processes that worked well
  • processes that worked less well
  • how they solved problems and how they dealt with conflict
  • the measures of success held by the team and to what extent they were met
  • evaluate the value of external inputs (audience research, community, internet)

The review started with uncovering the team’s goals, which were, in an overall sense, to talk about a subject that’s not talked about, and answer some of the questions no-one wants to ask, specifically to:

  • demystify death, especially since it’s so sanitised in Western society
  • provide an opportunity for people to consider death at a time and place removed from death
  • generate community debate
  • educate, and therefore help people

Visitors reported never seeing such an array of urns before

Importantly, team decided that rather than cover the whole topic, which they thought impractical for a number of reasons, they decided to focus on a specific aspect of death:

  • the practical aspects of what happens when you die and the choices you have

And to make it as real as possible:

  • provide full, factual detail, get the details right, make it object based, using the Museum’s collection as much as possible


By their own account, the team worked very well together because:

  • the subject matter meant there weren’t any ‘experts’
  • they got on well as people, jelled as a team and respected each other
  • between them they had a good balance of skills and therefore different strengths
  • all carried their share of the workload
  • they were able to talk through and resolve conflicts with a minimum of casualties
  • they had a relaxed approach and got on well as a team
  • they weren’t precious about content
  • they made field trips, for example mortuary, crematorium, funeral parlours, cemeteries etc to help them explore and discuss the topic and help provide the realism and authenticity they desired and acted as a bonding mechanism for the team
  • they had the use of a project room:
    • somewhere for the researcher to work
    • a place to keep everything together
    • a place to meet away from everyday distractions

They also felt that audience front-end research benefited the process:

  • helped them to focus at an early stage, by having to prepare the concept
  • allowed the team to watch potential visitors talk about death – their questions, interests, what they did and didn’t want to see / experience, and helped them decide what to focus on
  • provided them with feedback on their ideas and specific objects
  • provided some guidelines as to the boundaries of interest, good taste and appropriateness
  • gave them a ‘false deadline’ – they had to be able to explain the concept to visitors and think about the questions they wanted to ask early on in the development process

They adopted a new approach to graphics production:

  • two people rather than one
  • split roles – allowed each to focus and be more productive
  • team was happy with the output and they finished ahead of time

They also decided to have the focused services of a researcher:

  • provided the team with new skills
  • found stories and made relevant connections between these stories and the Museum’s resources (objects, images from archives)
  • allowed the team to use the collection more extensively

The team identified areas that could be improved:

  • the middle ‘dead patch’ where initial enthusiasm is lost and the pressure of the deadline hasn’t yet set in was compounded on this project by waiting for a sought-after team member to return from holidays
  • would have liked the services of a writer – better if content providers don’t have to also write for less ‘performance anxiety’
  • allows team members to operate within their area of expertise

The senior manager on the team (a member of the Museum’s Executive) claimed it was too difficult to be both a team member and a manager due to conflicting responsibilities and roles and therefore hard to be frank! They felt that in future an Executive member could act as mentor but not be part of the team, and be able to lobby on the team’s behalf.

They reported that being part of the team had unexpected benefits:

  • their attitudes to death changed as a result of being on the team – they can talk about it now and would know what to do if someone close to them died, and possibly make different choices, as well as thinking about their own choices in relation to death

How the team resolved conflict and removed barriers:

  • they wrote themselves a brief early in the process, aided by audience research and by their desire to include objects from the collection
  • then used this as a decision-making tool, to good effect, helping them to focus, saving time and provided a rationale for their approach and decision-making
  • they debated difficult areas to reach solutions, respected each other’s position, were willing to listen and be swayed, yet the team manager took control when needed, clearing difficult blockages



Decomposition section

Some salient lessons here for production teams and one of my favourite projects of all time – both personally (my father died during this project and it helped me a lot) and professionally (one of the most interesting evaluations ever in terms of how far audiences felt a museum could go with a topic of this nature, for example maggots and a decomposing pig on display was OK, a child’s coffin was not).

And, if you’ve got this far, thanks for reading!


  • The project team review was conducted by Robyn Hayes, owner of Nosey Parker, a social research agency
  • The audience research – front-end and summative – was also conducted by Robyn with my input as the Museum’s audience researcher
  • More about death the last taboo exhibition is on the Australian Museum’s website
  • A summary of the front-end and summative evaluations have been published as follows:
    • Kelly, L. (2010). Engaging Museum Visitors in Difficult Topics Through Socio-cultural Learning and Narrative. In F. Cameron and L. Kelly (Eds) Hot Topics, Public Culture, Museums. (pp. 194-210). Cambridge Scholars Publishing: London. [if you’re interested and kind to me I’ll send you a pdf of the chapter, just don’t tell…]
Audience Research

One of THE most poignant exhibits – you’ll have to read the chapter to see why…


The display of how Victorian-era folks marked death was one of the most popular areas