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!

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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.

Acknowledgements

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?

STARTS

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!

ENDS

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.”

Others:

  • 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.

CASE STUDIES

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.

RESOURCES

ACCESSIBILITY

OTHER GLAM DIGITAL STRATEGIES

#TBT The Pinterest Museum

Tooling through Facebook the other week I can across this post from my friends at Banter Group*, a marketing agency based in Bowral, NSW, detailing some Pinterest stats which piqued my interest:

  • Pinterest has more than 450 million active users
  • 89% of users are on Pinterest for purchase inspo
  • 85% of users have bought something based on pins they have seen
  • Pinterest generated nearly $1.4 billion in advertising in 2020
  • Pinterest ads are 2.3x cheaper per conversions than other social media ads

And, my favourite:

  • 91% of people say that Pinterest is a place of positivity

This reminded me of a paper written by one of our leading thinkers, Elaine Gurian, in 1995 (since undergoing many revisions), The Pinterest Museum:

What I am focusing on in this paper is the pleasurable fortuitousness and evolving expertise that Pinterest allows its users to gather and then I am trying to marry it with a long-standing museum idea – personalising the collections to facilitate individualised learning.

So, this post is not about whether your museum is on Pinterest (although there are many good examples), it’s really about introducing a Pinterest way of thinking in how your visitors navigate spaces, both online and physical, utilising the way Pinterest operates – browsing (often serendipitous), saving, curating boards, sharing (and also, based on the above, buying!) in a deeply personal and highly visual way, in a happy place that is controlled by you.

Final words from Elaine herself that sum this up neatly:

In exploring Pinterest myself, I am surprised by how many unexpected connections I am making, how much visual knowledge I am gaining and how satisfying it is. Once I start exploring I begin wandering into other people’s files. I come across previously unknown images. I make inferences and new connections. I get excited. For me this activity is akin to the browsing pleasure of finding a delightful library book sitting next to the one you originally came to find. Serendipity!  It is the best of the browsing function.

Happy “Pinterest-ing” all!

*PS, while I don’t advertise on this blog, Banter is an amazing agency and worth reaching out to if you have any digital needs!

A yarn-up about gathering

Museums are often thought of as social spaces, but is it time to think of them as platform-agnostic gathering spaces?

I will be the guest speaker in the Museums as Progress Community (MAP) for a Campfire discussion on Thursday, November 11 at 5pm ET on the theme of Gathering (for Aussies this is 7am Friday, 12 November AEST). If you’d like to attend, join the MAP Community. Registration for the MAP winter (summer!) season is available through October 31.

Read more about this in my online newsletter and consider joining the MAP community – I’ve found it really inspiring and a great way to connect with international colleagues in lieu of travelling!

Some of my earlier thinking is in this #TBT post, The Role of Narrative in Museum Exhibitions and really early work in my Alma S. Wittlin Memorial Lecture, The twenty-first century museum: the museum without walls, given at ICOM Shanghai, November 2010 which you can download below.

Hope to see you around our virtual campfire!

#TBT: The role of narrative in museum exhibitions

For this #TBT post I’m re-visiting a post I published in June, 2010 when working at the Australian Museum in response to an article, The Absent Heart, which raised some really great issues around narrative in exhibitions and how curators (and others) often get it wrong.

STARTS

In her article Lohrey laments the state of exhibition design in some of our major museums, noting that they fail to tell a story. She notes that often significant objects are presented as “design pieces” without any context or story. Lohrey concludes by stating:

‘The question remains of how to put an end to trophyism. Until their displays of social history are more imaginatively conceived, our major museums will remain lacklustre models of fragmentation and perfunctory exposition. There is a metaphorical heart missing from this frame, a manifest passion, and flair, for the telling of our history’ (2010, p.51).

What better way to reclaim this territory than through the power of narrative?

The potential of narrative approaches to learning have been explored more recently by museums. It is recognised that humans are natural storytellers—since ancient times humans have been using stories that represent an event or series of events as ways to learn (Abbott, 2002). Bruner (1986) suggested that humans employed two modes of thought—paradigmatic (or logico-scientific) and narrative. He described imaginative narrative as leading to:

‘… good stories, gripping drama, believable (though not necessarily “true”) historical accounts. It deals in human or human-like intention and action and the vicissitudes and consequences that mark their course. It strives to put its timeless miracles into the particulars of experience, and to locate the experience in time and place’ (p.13).

Museums are ideal places where stories can be told that encourage visitors to make their own meanings. Bedford (2001) noted that:

‘Stories are the most fundamental way we learn. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They teach without preaching, encouraging both personal reflection and public discussion. Stories inspire wonder and awe; they allow a listener to imagine another time and place, to find the universal in the particular, and to feel empathy for others. They preserve individual and collective memory and speak to both the adult and the child’ (p.33).

Ideas about narratives have been developed and applied to museums by a range of writers and researchers. Allen (2004b) researched the use of narrative tools as ways for visitors to make meanings about science. Allen defined narrative in a museum context as taking the personal perspective; involving a series of events; containing emotional content and authentic in origin, with someone telling the story. Allen (2004a) also drew attention to the problem that the museum sector still does not clearly understand how the power of narrative could be used to enhance visitor learning, specifically about scientific principles. McLean (2003) described the ways visitor experiences could be constructed in different types of learning environments, using the analogy of “the campfire, the cave and the well”.

Bedford (2001; 2004) and Rounds (2002) considered that narrative was a powerful way that cultural and social history museums, in particular, engaged visitors, with Bedford even proposing that storytelling was the “real work” of museums. Bedford argued that stories aided humans in defining their values and beliefs and allowed the listener to project their own thoughts, feelings and memories onto the story and ‘… make connections between museum artifacts and images and visitors’ lives and memories’ (Bedford, 2001, p.30). Roberts (1997) used the framework of narrative to explain the shifts in museum education theory over time, and suggested a narrative approach to educational practices as a way to enhance the ways visitors engaged with museums.

In research conducted with visitors to the Indigenous Australians exhibition (Australian Museum, c.1999), I found that stories coupled with the use of Indigenous voice was an important way visitors learned about these issues and they appreciated this approach to the content. In the death: the last taboo exhibition (Australian Museum, c.2003) visitors were profoundly moved by the last section which contained a series of showcases containing personal stories surrounding the death of loved ones. Again, visitors could relate to the content and objects through the power of the human story (Kelly, 2010).

ENDS

REFERENCES

NOTE: A version of this blog post was also published in my thesis (Kelly, 2007).

2021 CODA

Reflecting on this post I have the following to add:

  • Many of the museum spaces Lohrey refers to have now been re-designed, and I believe these institutions were (and still are) more audience-focussed than Lohrey suggested…
  • I still really love McLean’s analogy of “the campfire, the cave and the well” – and I have re-imagined this in 2021 to read:
    • In the cave, around the campfire, at the well. And on the screen.

This post relates to a session I’m facilitating for the MAP Community this November around the theme of “gathering” – follow @SuperHelpful on Twitter for updates and I’ll post details when I know more.

What is “digital maturity”? #DSIR

Following from my previous post looking at the Digital Culture Compass Tracker Tool, our next activity is to … assess the digital elements of an activity by considering five levels of ‘digital maturity’, both currently and in 12 months’ time. The five levels are outlined below:

1. Initial – “We have digital elements happening in this activity or we can when we need to.”

2. Managed – “We plan and periodically review the digital elements in this activity, and they are appropriate for our organisation.”

3. Integrated – “The way we use digital elements in this activity is effective in delivering our strategy. Our processes and systems are standardised and, where appropriate, aligned with digital and non-digital activities in this and other areas.”

4. Optimising – “We systematically gather and review evidence of the effectiveness of digital and non-digital elements in this activity, so we can improve our approach.”

5. Transforming – “We are using digital elements in this activity to support significant innovation or substantial strategic change.”

For each activity, the organisation decides if they have ‘Fully achieved’, ‘Partially achieved’ or ‘Not achieved’ the criteria in each level.

To assess digital maturity levels there are detailed guidelines here.

The Compass provides a number of questions to assist in defining the organisation’s digital challenges:

* What do we want or need to achieve digitally in this area of activity?

* What deficiencies currently exist?

* What new opportunities are there that could be explored?

* What new or enhanced digital elements could we feasibly implement in this area in 12 months?

* What might we be able to achieve beyond that timeframe?

* How will we know if we have succeeded?

* How will we review and evaluate our progress?

* How will we ensure that our digital enhancements in this area align and integrate with other areas of the organisation?

We’ll be starting our Tracker journey this week so am keen to see how we go!

Digital Culture Compass Tracker #DSIR

As reported in my last post, an important part of the Digital Strategist-in-Residence program is to use the Digital Culture Compass Tracker Tool which aims to:

  • Assess an organisation’s current use of digital
  • Set targets for where the organisation would like to be in 12 months
  • Record notes that explain the thinking behind the current assessment and targets
  • Share reports online with colleagues and others
  • Export content for working offline

A quick guide is here, and, as it’s a lot to take in, I’ve decided to summarise the 12 areas in this post for ease of reference.

Note that all text in this post has been reproduced from the website and tool – so just wanted to acknowledge that upfront.

Area 1: Strategy & Governance

How your organisation develops its strategy and oversees its delivery, including decision-making and prioritisation of resources. Unincorporated organisations may have less formal strategy and governance but it will still be present in some form.

Area 2: Program

The artistic, cultural or heritage program(s) of your organisation, e.g., performances, exhibitions, festivals, workshops, events or other experiences. How they are commissioned, curated, developed, produced, co-created and interpreted. How audiences, visitors or participants view, engage, experience, learn or participate in them.

Area 3: Places & Spaces

Managing, occupying, owning and leasing: building(s); performance, exhibition and event venues; monuments; heritage assets (including industrial, maritime and transport), natural and designed outdoor spaces and landscapes and other public amenities.

Area 4: Collections

Developing, caring for, documenting and using collections in museums, libraries and archives. Collections can include physical items, digital copies of them and data about both. They increasingly include ‘born-digital’ material and intangible cultural heritage, recorded in audio, video and other media that can be managed as digital assets. For interpretation of collections and public access, see Program.

Area 5: Marketing & Communications

Reaching, communicating, engaging, and building relationships with target groups, including audiences, visitors and other important stakeholders, to achieve your objectives, including income generation.

Area 6: Research & Innovation

Audience research, market research, evaluation of activities and other forms of applied research. Experimental development of new products, services, experiences or ways of working. Activities may be internal or include external academic or commercial research partners.

Area 7: Talent & Sector Development

Providing training, capacity building and development support for people outside your organisation. For similar activities for your team (e.g., staff, volunteers) see HR.

Area 8: Fundraising & Development

Raising money (e.g., grants, donations and sponsorship) and in-kind contributions to support your objectives. Managing relationships to enable this, including liaising with funders about the delivery of funded activities.

Area 9: Enterprise

Income generating activities that are not central to your artistic, cultural or heritage program, e.g., retail, hospitality, space hire, merchandising, licensing or the sale of consultancy services.

Area 10: HR

Recruitment, management, training and development of your staff, contractors, freelancers, volunteers and other members of your wider team.

Area 11: IT

Management of information technology and systems across your organisation.

Area 12: Finance & Operations

Management of finances, office/worksites, operational processes and legal affairs.

My next post will look at how to assess each are in terms of digital maturity, an area I got very interested in when attending some Museums and the Web sessions about digital transformation, so am very keen to get started this week!