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.

CHAPTER 10 ABSTRACT

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.

REFERENCE

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

MORE MUSEUMS AND CONTROVERSY READINGS

 

 

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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.

OVERVIEW

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
creamtion

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

FINDINGS

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

TO CONCLUDE

decompostion

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!

NOTES:

  • 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…

victorians

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

Data informs the ask: #CBCanberra

blog post imageAt the 2018 Culture Business conference in Canberra this week learning, meeting new folks (up to 50 as instructed by the organisers!) and giving two presentations – one with Deanna Varga (Mayvin Global) around how to work with and better utilise members in philanthropy (take our survey here) and another with Bridget Jones (Wavelength).about how to measure and use impact as a way to boost funding potential.

Rupert Myer, Director of the Myer Foundation was one (of many!) speakers I found very inspiring – humble, knowledgeable and generous in sharing his considerable insights and experience. He made an interesting (and, I feel, quite profound) observation that ‘Australians are good at giving, not good at asking.

I’d like to take this a little further and suggest that Australians are also good at data collecting, but not good at using it, especially in discussions with funders, be they government, private donors, corporates, or even our members/subscribers and volunteers – Rupert saying we often hear ‘why didn’t they ask me?’ from these various groups.

Data at its best, is a key tool that we can (and should!) be using as a matter of course when seeking funding so why aren’t we doing better? Even some data at its worse is better than nothing!

So, back to the topic of this blog post – data informs the ask, and qualitative data, or impact measures, can be a powerful tool in bringing funders across the line. Personal stories of transformational change after an interaction with our organisations, coupled with hard facts and figures combine to provide a compelling narrative around our impact on people’s lives and help develop an informed ask.

Measuring impact is not new, but is now even more important as we are all completing for the same shrinking pool of funding.

In our session Bridget and I will be sharing some of these stories and tools, and I will be drawing on the following resources on measuring impact:

I’m also touching on transformative learning, which I have written about extensively:

And, you can follow on Twitter using the hashtag #CBCanberra or @agendaparis

Exhibitions about people: what appeals to visitors?

cowan_20080209Earlier this year I conducted a study for the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) about exhibitions that have a person as their central focus. Four focus groups were held to unpack a range of ideas and issues, and as part of their homework, participants selected one person from a list of six historical figures and asked to respond to three areas:

  • All the questions they had / information they wanted about this person (before looking online or consulting Wikipedia!)
  • Imagine they were designing an exhibition about their chosen person – what themes would be in it?
  • How to make the exhibition the standout so all their friends and family want to come along

They could choose on of the following: Captain Cook; Mary McKillop; Don Bradman; Edith Cowan; Ned Kelly and Truganini.

Throughout the discussion the following general findings emerged that can be broadly applied across topics of this type.

Exhibitions about people: interests

  • Focus on their life, achievements, different life stages and pathways:
    • What motivated them?
    • How did they die?
    • Fun, fast facts
  • What was happening in Australia / the world at the time:
    • Provides context
  • How they have influenced modern day society:
    • Their legacy
  • Flow on effect of their work and how they influenced others, who else they worked with
  • Why are they famous and why should we care?
  • What their contemporaries thought of them
  • As well as some of the ‘back story’:
    • Living / social conditions at the time

Exhibitions about people: prior knowledge

  • For some, not knowing very much about the person is a key attractor:
    • Truganini – who was she? Focus on a female Aboriginal figure is different and surprising
    • Edith Cowan, OBE – why is she on the $50 note? How did she make a difference?
  • For others, being familiar with the person grabs their attention:
    • Ned Kelly – ‘I’m immediately interested’
    • Cook – what was his legacy?
    • Bradman – the man behind the ‘icon’, suggests an interactive experience
  • But, still tell me the unknown story

Exhibitions about people: how to make interesting for an audience?

  • Interactivity and immersion are key with some of their suggestions:
    • Wear Ned Kelly’s armour / helmet
    • Bowl to Bradman
    • Large displays (e.g. $50 note)
    • Holograms – ‘virtually interact’ with the person, mock interviews
    • VR
    • Live performances
    • Music / song (Truganini)
    • Touch objects
  • Seeing things from their perspective:
    • Ned Kelly’s final battle from between the eye holes of his helmet
    • Cook and life on a ship – rolling movements, cramped spaces, sounds, sea smells, food

So, overall who was the person they most chose to talk about? To my surprise it was Edith Cowan OBE – mostly as she was a figure people ‘kind of knew’ and that she must have been important to be on the $50 note. Overall, participants were surprised that she had achieved so much, especially given the time period she lived through, and being female.

Who knew?

[Thanks to the ANMM for allowing me to share this research]

And, here’s more on exhibition topics generally. I’ll be doing more work in this area over the next month or two, so watch this space!

Members, Philanthropy, and Culture Business 2018

ANMM members

ANMM Members

It has long been recognised that members are an important part of any cultural and not-for-profit organisation as they are loyal supporters of the institution, they support financially through member fees, donations and bequests. They are also key advocates, often having a long-term relationship with the institution and are passionate about it. Most institutions have long had some form of membership scheme, often spanning long time periods, for example, in the UK the first recorded friends group dates from 1909 at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (Slater, 2004). Slater also noted the steady increase in membership organisations in the UK since the 1970s, with around 3.5 million memberships held in the UK in 2004.

Simon (2007) discussed the importance of graduating members to donor member, bequest, and influencer status, stating that “… museums can make the relationship between members and donors clearer by giving members an option to elect (partially) what their membership fee supports”, therefore not only transferring the ‘value’ of admission from one of experience cost into an exercise in donation, but also “… generating data about new members interests, which can then be cultivated with targeted marketing of programs and giving campaigns”.

During 2015 the Australian National Maritime Museum embarked on a large study of members, both current and lapsed, in order to identify any problems and issues and take remedial action were necessary. A subsequent paper (Kelly and Varga, 2016) published in the Museums Galleries Australia Magazine reported on findings from this study, as well as key points from the literature around membership programs in cultural institutions.

Now, in 2018 we will be presenting a session at Culture Business, Canberra around how cultural institutions and the performing arts are working with members, “friends of” or subscribers to enhance and support foundation and/or philanthropic initiatives.

In order to get a snapshot of what’s happening n the sector we have an online survey. Findings will be presented first at the conference, with feedback compiled in an Outcomes Report, and all those that complete a valid survey and provide an email address will receive a copy of the report.

So, please go ahead and complete the survey here (by COB 16 November), or feel free to share this with your colleagues.

Thanks in advance and we hope to see you at Culture Business 2018 – the program looks amazing!

References / further readings

ANMM members 2

ANMM Members – spot Deanna!

WHAT DO VISITORS WANT TO KNOW ABOUT OBJECTS? #TBT

Education

Students using iPad in My Cultural Object program AM

For this #throwbackthursday post I’m doing some research and reporting about visitor and museums / heritage sites (what’s new I hear you ask?!) and came across this Australian Museum (AM) blog post from 2009 which still very relevant so have posted here for posterity.

STARTS

Spent a few interesting days with the folks from the Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA. We spoke about the kinds of questions visitors have about objects.

Across a few studies now I have found rather consistent questions that keep arising for natural history and anthropological objects.

From natural history specimens people want to know:

  • What is it: scientific name and everyday name/description
  • Where did it come from; when was it found; distribution
  • ‘museum-y’ information: how is it preserved; why is it in a museum? what is it used for? is it real?
  • What is it related to that’s familiar to me?

From anthropology objects they want to know:

  • What is it made of?
  • How is it used?
  • What is it used for?
  • How often is it used?
  • What is the symbolism of it?
  • How old is it?
  • Is it still used today? If not, what is?
  • Who were/are the people and what are their stories?

The Harvard MUSE project

The MUSE project (Museums United with Schools in Education) suggested a framework for classifying (and therefore writing labels about) artworks which I think translate across a wide range of museums:

  • Logical – how was the object made?
  • Aesthetic – how does it work together with other objects?
  • Narrative – what are the stories surrounding the object: social, historical and personal (I would also add perhaps scientifically for natural history objects)?
  • Foundational – what are the big philosophical questions that place the object within a context?
  • Experiential – what can be created in response to looking at the object (I would also add what new information, connections and meanings can be made in response to the object)?

While all the above are useful as ways of thinking about placing objects in physical exhibitions, they also have relevance I believe to how a museum might “display” their object online via their websites or through Flickr – perhaps a set of guiding principles??

ENDS

I also refer you to this post, Accessing Natural History Collections #TBT, which has further information and links about this topic.

Couch potatoes, television consumption and museum visitation

couch-potato-saying-cartoon-vector-1830668Just when I was thinking about a workshop I’m running next week, up pops another gem from Colleen Dilenschneider’s blog, A Growing Competitor for Attendance: The Couch, that is very relevant to what I was preparing to present.

The argument here and, as per usual, backed up by data is:

The top reason why likely visitors do not attend cultural organisations [in the last two years] is because they prefer an alternative activity. Simply, there are several, other things competing for their precious time, and time is more valuable to people than money. While going to a historic site may be something that interests someone, they may be more interested in having a picnic in the park, going to a sporting event, or meeting friends for a long lunch.

If I received one dollar for every time I was asked what is the main competitor for museums I’d be rich by now! Put simply, as Colleen states above, we are competing for people’s time and attention in what she calls a “super-connected world”, and the couch potato syndrome is a manifestation of this.

Watching the Emmys this week (and yes, my secret addiction is Awards shows!) brought to mind how much the small screen world has changed, even in the past twelve months. New and expanded players in the market (Amazon, Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Stan) and the tendency to repeat free-to-air shows in a binge format on the weekend (certainly in Australia) coupled with (free) on-demand services such as ABC iview and SBS On Demand means that television is truly now consumer-led, watched in their own time and space, not beholden to network schedules. UK research found that watching live TV declined by 3% to 67% in the last 12 months, yet at the same time we are watching more:

The total media consumption across TV, radio, social networking, cinema, online and more was totalled at eight hours and 11 minutes per day, growing by 3% year-on-year, with 94% said to be consuming two or more forms of media in the same half an hour at some stage of the week.

Interestingly, this article says that the biggest competitor to television viewing is sleep…

But what does this mean for museum visitation?

Back to Colleen’s article and some relevant (US) statistics:

  • The preference to “stay home” during a week has increased 19.7% for the US composite market, and 20.3% for likely visitors to cultural organizations.
  • The preference to “stay home” over the weekend has increased 24.4% for the US composite market, and 24.5% for likely visitors to cultural organizations. This growth represents a big shift in how Americans prefer to spend their time.

Much of this is put down to not needing to leave the house – we can shop online for almost everything, we have non-stop entertainment at our fingertips, Google to help us find information we need, Twitter for breaking news, and a range of social platforms to connect with our family and friends, as Colleen states: “Though more people are spending time at home, they are still interacting with the world.”

Now to museums and, more specifically, local museums

I’m continually drawn back to an article written by Rob Hall many years ago that still holds up now – The “Museum Constant”: One-third plus or minus a bit, which explored the question What proportion of the local population can museums expect to attract? The abstract and downloadable paper is here.

Rob and I have updated this data via work we undertook recently for Transport Heritage NSW. This again found that “… on average, a little more than one third of the population is disposed to choose a museum for a casual inspection” (even relatively specialised museums such as transport museums – the focus of this particular study) and that visiting a venue involves trade-off between appeal of the venue and associated costs – including not just dollars but a mix of time, energy and money.

Is this news all bad?

Colleen suggests that we need to be cleverer in our marketing spend and advertising to couch potatoes (you’ll have to read the article for more about that), and I would argue also in how we engage with visitors and provide content digitally, given that we know the huge amounts of time people spend online.

I also think we need, to some extent, to downgrade our expectations around visitor numbers and attracting new audiences (and indeed about how many museums we actually have, or need, in the marketplace), and think about specific audiences we’d like to ‘serve’ and telling stories of most interest and relevance to them. Getting to the heart of our communities is something many are currently thinking about in museums (for example, this series of blog posts being written by Mike Murawski, Towards a More Community-Centred Museum), and I think this will be a salient point for next week’s workshop.

More on that to come.

Writing a conference abstract #TBT

TL group 1

ASTEN 2017, Canberra

Just when you thought you couldn’t find anything older, up pops this gem from the past – tips about how to write a conference abstract. This was published as a resource when we used to run UNCOVER – the conference for graduate and post-graduate students to give them a platform to present their work in a supportive space. Many fond memories there.

So for today’s #throwbackthursday post thought I’d publish this warts and all as, although rather quaint, is still pretty relevant.

STARTS

When answering a call for papers a number of factors need to be kept in mind to ensure that your abstract has a good chance of being accepted.

Ensure that your ideas are well thought out and follow a logical, coherent flow:

  • state the issue to be discussed
  • give a brief background to the issue
  • brief description of what you are doing about it
  • implications/outcomes: why is what you’ve done important?

Ensure that the abstract relates to the conference theme:

  • in a ‘real’ and not contrived way: if it doesn’t fit then don’t submit
  • an interesting and catchy title helps:
    • but make sure it’s not too ‘clever’ or obscure.

Ensure that practical aspects of the abstract comply with requirements:

  • it meets or is under the specified word length
  • is typed in the specified font type, size
  • spacing and setting out are correct
  • if no guidelines are given then a standard format is usually:
    • 200-250 words
    • Times 12pt font
    • 5 line spacing and centred on the page.

Limit amount of references cited in abstract:

  • use only if essential to support your argument
  • detailed references can be covered in the resulting presentation/paper.

Look at past abstracts/conference papers to pick up the tone and style of that particular organisation’s conferences.

Run your abstract past someone familiar with both the topic you wish to present and the conference style: such as a university lecturer, work colleague, member of professional society, someone who has presented before at the conference.

Submit on or before the due date and in the required way:

  • electronically, via e-mail, is usually preferred
  • ensure computer compatibility of documents (especially in converting Macintosh to IBM formats
  • saving in ‘Rich Text Format’ in Word is better (*.rtf)
  • not all are able to access documents in html formats easily – stick to established word processing programs such as Word.

Ensure you include your name, title, organisation and contact details, including phone, fax, street address and e-mail.

Finally, remember that your abstract serves two purposes:

  • to interest and intrigue the committee so they will select it
  • to introduce/outline your topic for the conference handbook – so it needs to standalone as a record of your presentation.

Lynda Kelly, Head, Australian Museum Audience Research Centre, 1 February, 2002

ENDS

There you have it – except, no fax number required! But, for more up-to-date tips and ideas check these out:

And, keep an eye out for the MGA2019 Conference call for papers, coming soon!

Are we asking the right question(s)? #COMPASSconference Day One reflections

COMPASS_WebBanner_960x380_v1Attending the NSF-funded Conference on Mobile Position Awareness Systems and Solutions (COMPASS) at the Exploratorium. Yesterday was jam-packed with presentations from a range of digital folks, researchers, industry-types and various others.

There were a few take-away highlights for me:

  • Research is showing the visitors don’t necessarily want a mobile app, yet almost 100% of them will bring their mobile device with them (refer research by Frankly Green and Webb, via @davepatten), and my own synthesis of data prepared last year for Explo: Kelly apps presso for Explo
  • We have been doing this for a long time (via the terrific timeline prepared by Claire and added to by delegates), but have we really learned and moved on from these past experiences? [And here’s my rather poor attempt at capturing the timeline, ignore the last bit where I couldn’t figure out how to stop filming!]
  • “Takeaway from day 1 of #COMPASSconference: Museums need a mind shift from location-aware tech (dynamic wayfinding, etc) to *context-aware* solutions. Context is more than physical position; involves affective, sensory, cognitive factors. ✅human-centered, not tech-centered, design” @meowius (Annelisa Stephan)
  • ‘I want a mobile app that does everything’, but have you asked your visitors what they want from their museum experience? Or read any research?
  • “Mass personalisation can also mean mass isolation” @hburgund, and mass overload
  • Why not think about developing museum mobile apps more along the lines of conference apps, which are particularly great at scheduling, tagging content / areas of interest, program updates, floor plans, social / networking?
  • Geometric fingerprinting application to tracking and timing studies has real potential, but as Theano Moussouri alluded to there are many subtleties of the visit that the human eye will pick up that technology won’t, such as social behaviour, non-verbal communication. Lesson here? Triangulation.

The break-out question we looked at was How does mobile enhance the visitor experience? Despite some great discussions I came away feeling that we couldn’t really give any new or exciting applications of the technology, apart from the obvious (wayfinding, enhanced content, making connections, recommendations, deeper engagement, etc etc). Except for accessibility. Loved the work presented by @desigonz around turn-by-turn navigation for the blind at the Cognitive Assistance Lab (NavCog), and the Warhol Museum’s Out Loud project, specifically:

We are committed to building an audio guide experience not just for community members with visual impairments, but with them as well. In our design process, we’ve worked closely with consultants with varying degrees of blindness. We talked to our partners even before we drew a single wireframe, exploring what makes a great museum experience and how they use technology.

I’m always drawn to the tweet that has the most traction (i.e. likes and comments). This one, I wrote right at the end of the day seemed to have resonance:

Tweet 1

I especially liked this reply from @RichardHGerrad, Toronto:

Tweet 2

So, I’m now beginning to think that we are asking the wrong question. Rather than how could mobile enhance the visitor experience, try asking ourselves:

What are the elements of a great visitor experience across all aspects of the visit (including pre- and post-), and then where is mobile (or more broadly, digital) best placed to enhance experiences / meet visitors needs in conjunction with other modes of interpretation (including the human element)?

And instead of trying to ‘curate’ an experience via a mobile app, encourage more activity on social and leave it up to visitors as to how they want to use their devices onsite, especially as the research Dave reported found that visitors mostly used their phones to “… record and share via photos and social media and to keep up with unrelated information such as emails”?

Here’s the Day One tweets on Wakelet (mostly me I’m afraid!), and feel free to follow along today #COMPASSconference.

Digital labels reboot #TBT (and the #COMPASSConference too!)

sarah angus

Framework for Digital Label Evaluation c. Sarah Angus

Yes, it’s been a long time between #throwbackthursday posts, but was inspired this week by some twitter flurry about some fascinating work undertaken at the National Museums of Scotland (NMS): Data-led design: using visitor behaviour to inform touchscreen content (and, anything with data-led in the title is bound to grab my attention!).

Their findings are complementary to some work at Te Papa (New Zealand) who published a nice and useful set of findings from their study How your behaviour has changed the way we make digital exhibition labels:

  • Larger objects on the screen more likely to be read
  • Not all visitors will use a touchscreen
  • Visitors use the touchscreen for up to two minutes
  • Use the technology for what’s it’s good for – for example zooming in
  • Visitors will choose their own pathways, so don’t try and be too prescriptive or linear, although the NMS data did show that visitors follow a linear path to some degree

These findings complement years of research around how important choice is in learning, for example:

Key factors that support an individual’s learning are being able to choose both what they want to do and how they access information, especially in informal settings such as museums. Dewey (1916) recognised that education was not about ‘being told’ or ‘telling others’, but an active construction by the learner. Park (1994) found that 89% of those surveyed in the United Kingdom agreed with the statement People get more out of learning that they have chosen to do than they get from learning they are made to do. Griffin (1998) demonstrated that school children visiting a museum were well-able to be self-directed learners, and consistently declared their satisfaction with museum visits that provided them with choices (Kelly, 2006).

On a slightly different note is a paper given at the Human Computer Interaction conference, asked the question Digital Exhibit Labels: Enhancement or Distraction for Museum Visitors?, where a “team of learning scientists and computer scientists collaborated with museum curators to analyse the role of digital display technology in visitor learning in a collections-based exhibit”. The resulting paper can be downloaded here: Digital Exhibit Labels in Museums: Promoting Visitor Engagement with Cultural Artifacts.

There’s also some interesting work and literature reviews from work undertaken by Sarah Angus for the Australian National Maritime Museum: Digital labels: case studies, research, implementation.

Finally, the idea around checking in with floor staff about findings (NMS) is a great one – but comes with some caution, as this earlier #TBT demonstrates: Great Expectations: Do Museums Know What Visitors Are Doing? The lesson here being that a wide range of data sets need to be used in order to draw conclusions  but I guess we all know that…

This topic is particularly relevant as we prepare to launch into the COMPASS conference at the Exploratorium – two days of insights and learning about mobile, location-based technology, looking at the current state of play and where are we headed. Follow along on Twitter #COMPASSconference.

Oh, and while it’s Wednesday here in San Fran, it’s technically Thursday in Australia so I think I can get away with it!

References:

  • Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan.
  • Griffin, J. (1998). School-Museum Integrated Learning Experiences in Science: A Learning Journey. Unpublished PhD, University of Technology, Sydney.
  • Kelly, L. 2006. Understanding Museum Learning from the Visitor’s Perspective. Unpublished PhD, University of Technology, Sydney.
  • Park, A. (1994). Individual commitment to lifelong learning: individuals’ attitudes: report on the quantitative phase. Research series No. 32. Sheffield: Employment Department.
  • Roberts, J., Banerjee, A., Hong, A., McGee, S., Horn, M. and Matcuk, M. (2018). Digital Exhibit Labels in Museums: Promoting Visitor Engagement with Cultural Artifacts. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Paper No. 623.