We’re tired of online!

While conducting a heap of focus groups for several clients recently (~ ten groups / 80 people), I asked participants about how they wanted to interact with museums, galleries, etc online. Their answer? They don’t!


While many reported accessing cultural activities online during the pandemic, the majority are NOT interested in any further online engagement with cultural institutions because:

  • They are tired of screens
  • Parents, in particular, want screen-free experiences for their children
  • They much prefer to interact physically:
    • Even if chances of visiting are slim (e.g. overseas museums)
    • Pandemic reinforced importance of a physical experience
    • Hard to replicate the ‘real’ in an online setting, for museums and galleries in particular
  • Museum visiting is inherently social:
    • They don’t see online experiences as social…

What did they say?

  • After 2 years of not being able to attend things in person I would way rather see everything in real life.
  • Virtual tours are nice but not the same experience as being there.
  • The ability to touch and feel and view in person is more important to me.
  • I like a holistic experience. Like to discuss what I am viewing with my partner.
  • I guess post-COVID, everyone wants to step out and do things.
  • I’m happy to use ‘virtual’ things that are part of the exhibition but still need to be there to appreciate. Wouldn’t join from home.
  • I work on a computer for 8+ hours each day, last thing I want to do is log on for social / cultural activities.
  • Attended online comedy show in COVID. Good, but didn’t enjoy so wouldn’t rush back. Was just to support the artist.
  • I’d do anything to reduce my and my child’s time on a screen.

What about other audiences?

In a study I conducted in 2019 with teachers, they had pretty much the same feelings when comparing digital excursions to physical ones.

Although many teachers regularly access and value digital programs and resources for their classroom teaching – so maybe for them it’s a mixture of both, when they can get out of the classroom.

What now?

This is interesting to me and maybe worth asking what is best for our sector to invest in regarding in online programming? Be keen to see some stats and / or hear dissenting views…

Which leads me to my final question. Are we tired of online? Or are we just tired?!

#DSIR Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems

CRMs can be tricky and painful, but also have potential to streamline work processes, increase and diversify reach and encourage donations through better communication and engagement across all an organisation’s audiences/clients/customers.

As part of my, now third round of participation in Australia Council’s DSIR program, I’m having a little look at CRMs. yes, I do know that in the arts CRMs are somewhat vexed, being expensive, complicated to use, labour intensive, not necessarily fit-for-purpose, and the ROI may just not be worth it.

But I am persisting, for now…

So, advice I received is to FIRST ask:*

  • What are you using it for? Audience segmentation? Ticket sales? Communication? Seeking donations?
  • Are you starting from scratch or re-purposing / using what you have?
  • Think about who will be using the system and working arrangements, for example: Do you use shared workspaces? Are staff working from home? Hybrid? Part time? How easy is it to communicate between all those who need to be using the CRM? What about staff training (and buy-in!)?
  • Could you think about better utilising what you are already doing as it’s hard to move people to new tools and systems??

Some ideas:*

  • Notion: is cheap, good for setting up groups and multiple tagging, also good for CRM database for project-based work as it is between a more traditional CRM and a bit like Monday.com. At this stage is mostly used for project management. Notion has many uses, and is ‘on the rise’ so the developers are putting resources into better functionality, which means it is also sustainable (for the moment).
  • MailChimp – has a CRM function, can tag and group people and segment audiences. Can also be labour intensive, but good for newsletters if that’s what you want your CRM to do (personally I find it pretty clunky)
  • Monday.com has a CRM function
  • Asana as a CRM:

*courtesy of an interview with Sophie Penkethman-Young, Manager, Digital Culture Initiatives, Australia Council

CRM Implementation Quick Resource List (I’m sure there are many others but these came up on a quick Google):

Digital Culture Network (Arts Council UK):

The organisation I’m working with, Eastern Riverina Arts, are grappling with this very issue so we’ll keep you posted on our progress!

#DSIR: Marketing and Communication Plans

Round two, week three and we’re off and running in the Australia Council’s Digital Strategist-in-Residence program (background here).

One area of investigation that has emerged from the Digital Culture Compass Tracker process with Eastern Riverina Arts is to develop a Marketing and Comms plan that focuses on digital and social media. I have done a bit of tooling around the web and found the following resources which will be helpful in the weeks to come.

Research & Planning for Museum Marketing Success, MuseumNext:

  • Highlights important role of research and data
  • Suggests undertaking a SWOT (I always love a good SWOT, such a useful starting point, often overlooked) and a competitor analysis
  • Lists a range of useful starting questions around your marketing goals. What are they? Bring in more visitors? Attract different audiences? Increase revenue? Partnerships and fundraising?
  • Identify target audiences
  • Budget and implementation

Overall, a good starting point.

Marketing for Museums, MGNSW:

MGNSW has an amazing number of resources on their website. This downloadable Fact Sheet sets out similar areas to the above, with a reminder to think about your brand.

Building Digital Strategies & Interpreting Social Media Analytics, Museum Learning Hub (US)

An online video from a workshop which (while long!) does give a thorough overview of digital strategy, analytics and marketing. The video is also well laid out so you can skip to the bits you need. The topics covered are below:

Marketing planning – where to start, Museums Galleries Scotland:

A useful overview with checklists and a good resources section.

Developing a Marketing Plan, Te Papa National Services (NZ):

Again, another useful template with an easy-to-read set of tables that guide you though the process of planning and marketing, and a worked example to help you along the way.

Marketing and Promotion Resources, Arts Queensland:

Some good links, but note the link to the Australia Council’s guide to developing a marketing plan for arts organisations is broken, but I managed to find a downloadable version of the document here. It is a tad old but still very comprehensive. The site also contains resources for social media, public relations and audience development.

And, for those of you going ‘old-school book’ there’s also the classic, Museum Strategy and Marketing: Designing Missions, Building Audiences, Generating Revenue and Resources, by Neil and Philip Kotler (1998, Jossey-Bass). When I had a quick re-read this text still has some relevant information as well as, for the time, an interesting focus on audiences and research, and worth a look if your local library can source it for you.

Accessible Arts (NSW) have a great Resources page for all things accessibility, including a downloadable Marketing and Communications checklist, which I have uploaded here:

Finally, an oldie but a goodie! My work at the Australian Museum back in 2009 when social media was still shiny and new (and probably a lot nicer space to work in!), The Museum’s Social Media Strategy. This was also around the time where two, now famous, phrases were first coined that I still use today:

  • Write once, publish many times across a range of platforms
  • Work 20% differently, not 20% more

Good advice for all!

If you have any go-to resources, especially related to digital marketing, feel free to add to the comments.

Being a #DSIR in 2022. Take 2!

Co3 Archives of Humanity. Image: Chris Symes

Another year and not one, but two rounds of the Australia Council’s Digital Strategist in Residence Program.

From February to May I was lucky enough to work with Co3, Western Australia’s leading contemporary dance company. We developed a strategy that focussed on consolidating their already fantastic digital programs, many of them developed pre-, during and post-pandemic. It reinforced the idea that a digital strategy doesn’t need to focus on the next new and shiny tech, but in many cases it’s about:

  • recognition from an external person that an organisation is already doing cool digital things, and
  • that these just need to be documented in a planned way, relating to the Corporate Strategic Plan and identifying KPIs, timelines and resources

My reflections on the first 2022 intake was that we all face a number of shared challenges implementing digital in the arts sector across the following areas:

  • Communication and marketing strategies, including digital marketing/social media
  • CRMs: what are the best for small arts organisations? Best value for money + ability to make data-driven decisions
  • Project Management systems: ditto. What can work well for small organisations + being cost-effective? (See also this post from the 2021 program about Project Management Systems )
  • Accessibility in the digital space
  • Organisation structures and roles: what is best for enabling a digitally-led organisation?
  • Upskilling staff / digital literacy

And, specifically for performing arts, how to balance live performances with digital programming, specifically when thinking about reach and accessibility? A question I’d never really thought about before, but a good one to consider.

Then, after just one week to dust off the keyboard we were raring to go for the next intake! This round I’m working with Eastern Riverina Arts, who “… deliver core sector development programs for regional creatives in the Riverina region of Southern NSW”.

In our initial session we started to talk about their key digital challenges and opportunities, with some exciting ideas in the works, so watch this space…

While the DSIR program has changed and evolved, these posts I published in 2021 are still useful background for this round:

And, I’ll be tweeting any useful links and resources with the hashtag #DSIR2022 if you want to follow along! (I also created a Wakelet for the 2021 program, again as a reference point).

Are Museums Trusted??

Answer = Yes!

Gratuitous ‘selfie’, Newcastle Museum, NSW

There have been a raft of studies looking into museums as trusted institutions. My own work in 2006 unpacked the idea of museums as trusted sources and where they fitted within a range of organisations when Australians were looking for information particularly related to controversial topics. The resulting paper, Museums as Trusted Sources of Information and Learning: The Decision Making Process, can be downloaded here.

The AAM worked with Wilkening Consulting, asking Americans whether and why they trust US museums, especially given the challenges of the past two years. The main results are summarised in the report Museums and Trust 2021.

In the UK, a survey of adults found that 86% of Britons would trust museum curators, behind nurses (94%), librarians (93%) and doctors (91%), and alongside teachers (86%). More on this study can be found on the Museums Association (UK) website.

More recently in 2021, the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD) commissioned a survey that found public trust in museums has risen to 78%.

Key findings (quoted directly from CAMD’s website):

  • Museums received one of the highest ratings of the 17 included organisations, with around 8 in 10 people placing a great deal of trust in museums.
  • At a time when trust in most sources of information is declining, museums have retained their status as reliable sources of information and expertise.
  • 87% trusted museums because as experts they are highly credible sources of information.
  • 87% trusted museums because they are experienced public educators.
  • 60% trusted museums because they personally connect to the content and experience.
  • 58% trusted museums because they share their values.
  • 89% agreed museums can care for and hold collections and mount displays.
  • The most common responses for how trust could be improved include: through provision of more proof, facts and information to demonstrate artefacts are genuine, increased honesty about the sourcing and collection of artefacts and more transparency, openness or willingness to take part in open debates.
  • Generation Z had the strongest focus on trust and transparency, desiring unbiased exhibitions with honest explanations around how artefacts were acquired.
  • The most commonly cited loss if museums were to close was a loss of history, historical records and an understanding of how we, as humans, came to be. This was followed by a loss of heritage, a link to the past and a sense of belonging. Knowledge, information, education and learning were also perceived losses if museums closed.

Taken together, all these findings paint a great picture for museums in the public sphere, and maybe could assist with better funding in the future??

Let’s hope our politicians and funders take notice…

2022 Digital Trends and Museums

A new year and another digital trends post. Were things much different to this post I did in 2021? Well yes, and no…

In the interests of time (i.e. laziness!) I’ve collated a bunch of sources below that I’m referencing for some client work:

Plus, these posts via Ed Rodley from The Experience Alchemists’ workshops held with the Texas Association of Museums:

And, as to the “what was different?” question, my take is:

  • Looking into what NFTs can do / might mean for our sector
  • Increased availability of tools to aid accessibility
  • AR / VR and AI
  • Increased emphasis on sustainability for digital programming – being able to keep a project going internally with tools that can be managed in-house
  • Continuing importance of digital literacy
  • Increase in immersive experiences (and whatever we think about them, visitors generally love them!)
  • A focus on personal health and wellbeing

Thanks to all the authors above for sharing their great work.

And, this image below is feedback from an evaluation I did where immersion was spontaneously mentioned by participants … some food for thought!

How, and why do we count visitors to our museums and other attractions? And, Happy New Year!

A new year and a new beginning – let’s hope! I’m very excited for 2022 with a raft of new clients including the Newcastle Museum, Museums and Galleries of the Northern Territory, Northern Midlands Council (Tasmania), the Museum Shops Association of Australia and New Zealand, as well as returning clients, the Australia Council as a Digital Strategist-in-Residence and Women in Gaming & Hospitality Australasia.

One of my tasks was to undertake a quick review into visitor counting systems. Came up with some useful information that I thought I’d share.

Visitor counts are used to calculate:

  • how many visitors to an attraction for reporting and management purposes
  • how many convert into an activity
  • how many make it into a space such as a café or shop
  • data that provides a foundation to predict and analyse visitor behaviour, including more advanced purposes such as queue and capacity management

General findings:

  • Use a variety of systems / methodologies to map against each other and make educated estimates of numbers
  • Numbers will always be estimates so there is a need to document how the figures were calculated
  • Wi-Fi tracking has positive and negative aspects, but is pretty cost-effective
  • Manual counting is usually pretty consistent, but resource-intensive
  • No method is perfect, however automated sensors usually provide around a 20% improvement in count accuracy from manual clicking
  • What is important for footfall counters is for onsite hardware devices to transmit data in near real time

Dexibit have an awesome online report into counting visitors, with the summary reproduced here:

  1. Select a counting solution that can provide a high accuracy footfall count – we recommend camera counting technology to future proof your venue.
  2. Pick hardware accessories that work with your spatial environment – ensuring that devices can work effectively, be installed easily and blend into your venue’s aesthetic.
  3. Ensure your technology solution can transmit data in near real time (via Ethernet, Wi-Fi or cellular), allowing you to analyse data quickly and efficiently through a big data solution.
  4. Install devices at every entrance, areas of significance, commercial zones, high profile queues and key activity conversion areas (e.g., entrances to roller coasters or exhibitions).
  5. Manage your devices by recording their location or give a group of devices an alias name for easy data analysis.
  6. Make sure your devices are working – test them for accuracy and add a scaling factor if needed.
  7. Conduct hardware inspections and accuracy tests annually to avoid misreporting over time.
  8. Footfall is just one of the important metrics you can capture and analyse at your attraction. You might be surprised at what types of data your attraction is already collecting – if you think your organisation isn’t collecting much, look again.

In Conclusion:

Overall, choose a solution that suits the aims of counting, the institutional environment (including considering indoor and/or outdoor settings), is easy to collect and report on data and is cost-effective within budget and staffing resources.


Shout out to the team at Dexibit (their website is a very useful resource for all things big data) and to my Canberra colleagues at the Australian War Memorial and National Museum of Australia who generously shared their insights and experiences.

Happy 2022 all, let’s hope it’s better than previous…

Agile Development for Museums #TBT #DSIR

For this #throwbackthursday post I’m revising some work at the Australian Museum I blogged about in 2011 around agile development, specifically, what is it and what does it mean for museums?


Are museums ready for agile?

Museums are strange beasts. Often slow to respond, working within a model of exhibition development based on large project teams, long timelines and (sometimes) big budgets. This has resulted, I believe, in a mindset that is not attuned to the idea of agile / rapid development of projects, where an iterative process is the key, resulting in releasing a product that may only be half-finished. Again, this is often anathema to museum folk brought up on the exhibition development model. Even though we often talk about the exhibition not being finished the day it opens, how often do we make changes and updates, as well as accepting that not everything has to be “perfect” on opening day?

So, how to do it?

Of course, Wikipedia was first port of call, with their article about agile software development, demonstrating that the process of agility is strategy, release, iteration, daily, continuous.

Actually, the first point of call was Twitter and the very wonderful #mtogo group to the rescue. This 2008 Museums and the Web paper Agile Methods for Project Management by Ellis, Jenkins, Lee and Stein is a must-read. They state: “… agile methods directly address the roles of the customer in the planning and development process, as well as the probability of changes in assumptions and requirements that will undoubtedly occur in most projects.” They quote the agile software development manifesto which states that they value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Ellis, et al describe their collaboration around developing steve.museum, detailing the following ideas:

  • Set and focus on milestones
  • Use epics: “Epics are useful in walking the team through the things that occur when a user follows the steps required to make something happen”
  • Break epics down into stories
  • Estimating timeframes: “One of the most difficult parts of successfully managing complex projects involves the estimation of how long any particular set of work will take. Agile project methods address this difficulty by working in short development cycles that result in usable software at each iteration of the cycle”
  • Take baby steps, commit to producing a workable product at the end of each cycle
  • Test, test and test
  • Take regular ‘sanity checks’ – ensure the product really meets your needs and if not be agile and change it!
  • Take time to reflect [this is critical and we don’t do this enuf!] – they used a series of exercises. Me? I’d just take good notes and blog them

One thing that struck me was this comment: “… adhering to such a structured method of working together requires discipline and persistence from the team” – this suggest that while you need to be agile, you also need a set of underlying processes and structures in order to do this.

What could we do?

We’re going through a deep-thinking process, with a final approach that might look something like this:

  • Focus on a small achievable product
  • Find a small dedicated, key audience, work with them, then expand outwards
  • Use only 5% of budget to launch, then another 5% to update, then another etc etc
  • Test often, iterate as needed
  • Bring in an external critical friend to help guide, critique and keep you on-target

What has to change?

This does mean however, that the traditional exhibitions model described above won’t work in the agile approach, but what we need to remember is to:

  • downgrade our expectations of what is produced
  • realise that the first release (and second and third, and so on…) is a prototype and will change
  • be incredibly audience-focused
  • be more open-minded and willing to celebrate and learn from failure (and successes of course!)
  • be willing to not worry about getting a large sample to test on, but getting the right sample
  • be willing to focus on this for a set time period with no other interruptions (well, this may not be realistic but is a good target to have – it’s all hands-on deck a few weeks out from an exhibition opening, why not for an app?)

I also think this model can be used across a broader range of museum processes and am keen to get started!


2021 CODA

Being a Digital Strategist-in-Residence #DSIR: Thinking about Project Management Systems

We’re on the home stretch now for the Australia Council’s DSIR program, with the ANAT team and I now finalising the digital strategy, setting targets, timelines and allocating resources. A ‘must-do-now’ activity we identified was looking into Project Management (PM) systems.

While I consider myself pretty tech-savvy I must say I haven’t been inclined to use a digital PM tool in my business as I quite like the physicality of a large spreadsheet, calendar, diary and a myriad of post-it notes (in a kind of Kanban-board approach) which seems to work for me.

But, in the interests of being a good #DSIR (!) I offered to look into PM systems that others use and recommend that ANAT could trial.

Before you start!

When discussing PM’s with the awesome group of strategists, they provided some really great general advice:

  • Think about why you need a PM tool
  • Review what you are already using maybe a few tweaks will make current systems better (for example supplementing the system with Slack)
  • Once chosen stick to it! Must get everyone to commit otherwise it will fall by the wayside
  • Need an internal champion to push people (i.e., nag them!) to use it consistently, and for all projects
  • Look at your existing workflows needs to fit with how your organisation works – for example are you task-assigning or work in a more agile way? Do you do annual / biannual planning or more frequent work plans, changing programs, shifting priorities, uncertain funding etc?

Also, in reaching out to my Twitter buds, more tips and hints:

  • Are you working from home and across multiple people, teams and sites? May determine licenses and payment plans
  • How big is your team? Maybe a big whiteboard is the way to go?
  • Don’t discard good old paper and pen!
  • Think agile
  • Again, stressing to look at systems you already use (such as Slack and Google drives) and integrating them with any PM system

PM tools

So, here’s some recommended systems (with commentary where given):

  • Trello mixed views here, some love, others can take or leave, “they have a brainstorming template too” (@luke) “We use Trello for cross-team projects and workflows. We use a Gantt add on for the bigger projects. It has increased collaboration and transparency of team’s work and we benefit from its growing feature and integration list. And a Slack channel for each project for comms keeping as much as possible out of email.” (@lucie) “Trello is pretty easy to get your head around if you are new to it, and it is great for breaking things down into sub-tasks and getting real about how to make it happen.” (@rodney)
  • Notion an overall high rec for this from the strategists and Twitter, “More plug and play / customisable” (@bridget)
  • Monday.com also mixed views, but a comprehensive TechRadar review here
  • Asana “Is nice and easy. Integrates with Gmail and Drive, nice simple ‘list’ interface which is good for those who are new to PM systems and not into Kanban. Good tagging etc.” (@claire) “We use Asana, which has good project management capabilities even through its free option! Very good for task-based tracking.” (Museum Social Media Managers FB group)
  • Basecamp while it has been around for a long time, I do use it for several Boards I sit on and find it pretty good (although I’m unsure if this is a PM system? More for document sharing with the occasional commenting?? Maybe just me…)
  • Airtable This seems to be a favourite in the Museum Social Media Managers FB group “We use Airtable and love it – but I personally don’t use the Outlook integrations.”


  • Toggl plan
  • Smartsheet for Gantt charts
  • Camayak
  • Outlook, Teams
  • Google drive / docs/ sheets, etc (personally I’ve found this a good experience when working with ANAT)

And, here’s some articles that compare different systems:

Final thoughts

Overall I’m liking this feedback from @bridget: … the best is when we meet up and draw big Gantt charts and chat.

So, which to pick? I’d come back to thinking about purpose, how you work and who will champion the use of the tool. Best of luck with your choice(s)!

What’s a PM post without a ©Dilbert cartoon?!

Being a Digital Strategist-in-Residence #DSIR: Writing the strategy

Thought it was about time to check in about how we’re going with the #DSIR project. After a process of working on the Digital Culture Compass Tracker, then an ideation phase to brainstorm digital initiatives (and in our case, consolidate current programs and digital projects) we now turn to writing the draft strategy.

Gratuitous dog / office companion foto

When working with the Submarine Institute of Australia on their digital strategy I found the following helpful, so thought I’d share. And, also, a bit of helpful advice from our advisors at Little Owl is to think about the audience for the strategy before embarking on the writing phase.


Imperial War Museum (UK)

Imperial War Museum’s Digital and New Media Strategy focused on four key areas:

  1. Connecting digital activity across the museum to ensure that it was joining up and co-ordinating content, resource, commercial activity and technology strategically and effectively;
  2. Making the digital agenda pivotal to the IWM’s future success;
  3. Creating a new website that builds the museum’s profile and supports its brand values, and is delivered on time and to budget;
  4. Providing online and digital services to grow and develop the museum’s audiences, both at its physical sites and online.

National Gallery (UK)

Connecting: Taking Digital Engagement to The Next Level. The NG’s Digital Engagement Strategy identified eight key development themes:

  1. Remote connections: Upgrading the capacities of the Gallery’s website and broadening its content;
  2. In-gallery connections: Upgrading in-gallery digital interpretation;
  3. Scholarly connections: Extending the dedicated Research area within the website;
  4. Social connections: Extending the Gallery’s use of social media;
  5. Deeper connections: Launching a new, media channel with extensive audio-visual content;
  6. Mobile connections: Developing a diverse mobile programme;
  7. Connected learning: Launching an e-learning programme;
  8. Operational connections: Supporting the organisational needs of the Gallery.