Visitor Research Forum: Just do it #VRF17

Yes, it’s on again. The annual Visitor Research Forum, this year with the theme JUST DO IT – The Changing Face of Visitor Research, presented by the Centre for Tourism Research, University of Canberra, in collaboration with the University of Queensland Business School, and supported by Museums Victoria. This one-day conference will be held at the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne, on Tuesday 14 February.

There are a great range of topics to be covered:

  • Consulting with youth audiences
  • Visitor offerings at military sites
  • Games and gaming (some early work here)
  • Visitor tracking and segmentation
  • Chinese tourism
  • Student engagement
  • Narrative enquiry as an evaluation tool
  • Visitor interest in zoos and aquaria

The program can be downloaded here: vrf-2017-final-program

But hurry and book – the event is free but you do need to register online.

Hope to see you there (and then at MuseumNextAU which starts the next day).

Follow the tweets: #VRF17 / #museumeval and #MuseumNext

What an exciting week we have ahead of us!

Speak out or be silent? Which sounds louder?

#museumhour is a weekly Twitter chat for people working in the museum and heritage sector. This week organisers had planned to talk about capital projects but the topic was changed at the last minute to discuss how museums respond to political events, neutrality, activism, protests and should we take a stand as a sector?

Many interesting ideas were shared and you can catch up on them here: How do museums respond to political events – institutionally & individually?

However you feel about the important world events currently unfolding there is an acknowledgement that they will be significant historically as highlighted in the chat:

Protest sign reads 'History has its eyes on you': taken at the Edinburgh march against #MuslimBan from the Royal Academy to Scottish Parliament #museumhour 31/01/2017

Edinburgh march against #MuslimBan from the Royal Academy to Scottish Parliament by @eloquentpeasant

When history is happening right before our eyes there are current and future considerations Continue reading

Museums as places for who? And what?


A visitor’s “museum” mindmap

For my first (real) post of 2017 I have been keenly following the turn of events across the globe, and while I’m not making any political statements, I wanted to capture some of the discussions around what roles should museums play in this strange new world. Are we activists? Fact providers / checkers? Sites of neutrality? Places for comfort and safety? Welcoming to all, or catering to the well-educated and already well-disposed? Places for debate? Great places for visitors to satisfy their curiosity and engage with content on their own terms? Or all of the above?

It has long been recognised that museums are political places – the very nature of their collections, their funding models or the audiences they serve all combine to project their values to the world, usually captured within their goals, values and mission statements (and sometimes not – often what’s left unsaid makes the loudest statement…)

So, having participated just today in a very interesting #museumhour tweet chat (thanks to the UK Museums Association folks for this), tooling around the web (and particularly my Facebook feed) I feel the best contribution I can make is to gather some resources that I think will help us inform discussions and form responses below. If you have any more please feel free to add in the comments.

Plus a few from the vaults:

And, a final word from my Hot Topics, Public Culture, Museums co-editor Dr Fiona Cameron, which I think resonates today:

The curator [or museum professional] no longer desires the status of remote, knowledgeable autodidact but increasingly wants to be regarded as an imaginative, ‘cluey’ and approachable communicator: someone who can engage in meaningful and insightful ways with both the historical and contemporary scene. There is also a strong need to delve beneath surfaces, to overturn comfortable mythologies, to supply contextual depth to popular phenomena understood superficially, to decode and trace genealogies of signs to their root, to restore marginalised voices to contemporary debates and with this, to create contemplative environments for the taboo, hot topic or contentious subject, to be inspected at close quarters. (Cameron, 2010, p.22).

Oh, another final word – the #dayoffacts Twitter event to be held on February 17 is one way those of us working in the sector can participate, even in a small way, and I encourage you to follow along – more on the event is on their website.

We certainly are living interesting times!

Welcome to 2017!

2017Another year, another new set of challenges. This year will be rather different for me. After almost 30 years of working across the cultural sector in various government jobs I’ve now moved to the country (to a property called Abbeydore) and started my own consultancy, LyndaKellyNetworks, specialising in audience research, digital production and learning/education.

But, that doesn’t mean I’ll be out of sight – I’ll still be actively blogging (along with my co-authors!) and sharing links and other articles that take my fancy, so continue following the blog, or on Twitter where we use the hashtag #musdigi.

So, a big thanks to all our blog readers (4,700 visitors and 7,900 views for 2016) and our loyal followers (all 120 of you), a very happy New Year and here’s to a great year ahead!

We’re making movies!

film-workshopYesterday we had the privilege to have Angela Blake from SmartFone Flick Fest run a workshop for a bunch of keen museum staff who all had stories to tell, but just needed an easy and accessible way to make them. Why? In the words of the Flick Fest folks:

These days you don’t need expensive cameras and huge budgets to make a great film. You don’t even need big crews, special effects or lots of time. All you need is your smartphone and/or tablet, a great idea and away you go.

Smartphones and tablets are equipped with high-quality cameras and recording equipment and it’s time we utilise these to create beautiful and professional quality films, and that’s what we here at SF3 are all about.

Angela was joined by Christopher Stollery, the winner of the S3F festival with his film, No Budget, which was exciting as he brought lots of experience and ideas to the table (and his film is terrific!).

I have posted before about ways to create visual content in museums and was inspired by work we did at the Australian Museum on a research grant, New Literacies, New Audiences (2005-2008), where staff made a series of short films, called Australian Museum Stories, which were also evaluated with audiences. Back then we used numerous digital cameras, complicated editing systems and lots of batteries to make these films (although they were done in two days!), but now we can do all this with our mobile devices, a few apps and some good ideas, as we discovered at the workshop (and instead of batteries we have numerous charging bits and pieces…).

Angela and Chris gave us lots of tips and ideas which can be found on Flick Fest’s website, and here are my quick notes and tips:

  • Where is the story being set?
  • Think about the character/s, their goals, and conflicts
  • Show, don’t tell, remember this is a visual medium
  • What engages viewers at the beginning is a question – what is this?? What is this about??
  • Find the hook that will keep people watching
  • When you know the answer to the question that’s the end of the story… (think Twin Peaks!)
  • Engage the audience with questions, then change it up – there needs to be twists and turns in the story
  • When holding the camera use the “pinch and pull” with your elbows tucked in
  • Shoot in landscape – that’s how your film will be viewed (usually)
  • Remember to turn recording on!
  • Use a second phone for sound
  • If doing a voiceover record directly into iMovie
  • Play sound back with headphones, keep checking the sound
  • Have an “atmos track”: record 15-30 seconds of nothing in the area you’re shooting (didn’t quite get this but seemed important…)
  • Don’t use zoom on your device if possible, be the zoom yourself, step in to the subject using the “pinch and pull”
  • If you see it, shoot it. Shoot as much as you can!
  • Remember the rule of thirds: imagine the screen is cut into three, meaning you don’t need to put the subject in middle, put them in first or last third
  • Don’t put people’s eyes in middle of the frame
  • Mix up your shot sizes
  • Visually map out the story or just sketch out a bunch of frames, helps you think about the viewer and what shots you need in order to tell the story – you can use a storyboard app (but I reckon a piece of paper and a bunch of Post-it notes will do just fine!)

While we didn’t get too far into the thorny topic of copyright, Angela suggested the following resources from the Tropfest Australia website as useful guidelines and tools:

We are having a screening next week so will upload some of our efforts after that. I know we’ll be continuing along this path, and from the Australian Museum Stories evaluation we also know that audiences like museum movies:

We really loved the idea of getting behind-the-scenes of the [Australian] museum. Who’d have thought that marine biologists worked there? It’s so interesting to find out how the museum puts an exhibition together. We want more, more, more!

And, if you want to run a workshop yourself contact Angela – I highly recommend it and you won’t be disappointed!

Measuring the impact of museums and galleries #TBT



OK, it’s a late #TBT but I know it’s still Thursday somewhere… In a meeting talking about the work of museums and galleries and the impact they have on (and in) their communities, and was reminded of work that has gone before, for example:

Museums; their missions; their civic, social responsibilities; and their modes of engagement with communities are in a constant process of transformation in response to social and economic imperatives at local, national and global levels. There is a need for museums to stay relevant and be responsive to pressing social and environmental issues such as population and sustainability, social justice and Indigenous rights. Funding bodies and stakeholders now acknowledge that museums and programs need to demonstrate impact and value within their local communities in order to attract further funding and ongoing support. Several models of impact have been developed in Europe and the United States, and a number of benefits are claimed for participation in museum programs and museum visitation. (Kelly, 2006).

I’m blogging this mostly so I can keep references together and keep as I come across more. Don’t worry, all will be as clear as mud later…!



Impact References


no-twitterASTEN is the Australasian Science and Technology Exhibitors Network, and they had their annual (?) meeting this week at SciTech in hot and sunny Perth, Western Australia.

A key focus of the meeting was evaluation with two really great keynote speakers, Mark McCrindle of McCrindle with great insights into audience trends and visual communication, and Dr Karen Murcia, Curtin University, discussing measuring social impact of science centres and re-visiting some fundamentals of evaluation which I enjoyed very much.

There were also interesting discussions around teacher PD and engaging with teachers, so I was somewhat surprised that there was no Twitter activity. At all! And, especially given that we know Twitter is a major platform used by teachers for communication, sharing and PD.

Anyway, we (well, Peter Mahoney and me) took it on ourselves to populate the backchannel using the hashtag #ASTEN16. I made two stories from our tweets as follows:

However, I shouldn’t be too mean as they do have a somewhat active Facebook page – so follow them there.

Also took the chance to meet with folks at the Western Australian Museum hearing all about the new museum project – very exciting and can’t wait to see it in 2020, well, sometime in 2020 anyway!

And the winning topic is …

topicsAnother month, another topic study, another way to make myself unpopular with my colleagues. Yes, it’s exhibition topic testing time again!

I have been testing out exhibition topics that would appeal to museum visitors for many, many years. While the topics are different and varied, there are a number of things I’ve gleaned from this work:

  • A topic appeals if people know just enough about it to intrigue, but not too much so they see there’s more to learn (think deep sea, and ants!)
  • A topic appeals if it makes “sense” and seems a natural fit for the organisation – think dinosaurs for a natural history museum, boats for a maritime museum and science for a science museum
  • A topic appeals to teachers if it ticks curriculum boxes, but is also of personal interest to the teacher
  • A topic appeals to families only if it is seen to engage the children – both in subject and execution
  • A topic appeals if it is in the news – in a good or bad way
  • A topic appeals if it is slight scary (spiders) or slightly kooky (tattoos, zombies…)

A topic does not appeal if it:

  • Doesn’t tick the above
  • Is seen to have been done to death – think Egypt, sometimes
  • Is too obscure – think an artist that is not well-known outside the arts community
  • Doesn’t bring a new perspective to an old subject – think historical Indigenous cultures (as visitors really want to learn about their contemporary stories)
  • Could be seen as “controversial” – think religion, politics, and even climate change for some
  • Is seen as related to “school history” – this = boring in many adults’ minds
  • Does not have a link to the curriculum for teachers (no matter how tenuous)
  • Visitors can’t visualise the topic as an exhibition, and therefore fear it will be a boring experience, even if the topic is of interest

Of course these may seem obvious, but still useful to bear in mind.

Best of luck choosing your exhibition topics! And don’t get me started on what to call them, that I leave to the MIT Random Exhibition Title Generator

Resources, How-to’s, faves #TBT #MEET16


Gallery One, Cleveland Museum of Art

Another Thursday, another #throwbackthursday post. This time I’m assisting my colleagues at the Museums Australia National Office source examples of best practices, how to guides, templates and any other resources to publish on the new website (currently in development) to help out small, regional museums. Museums Australia (MA) is our national peak membership body representing and advocating for the museums and galleries sector across Australia.

Associated with MA, we are holding our annual MEET session – a professional development day where museum educators, evaluation and technology folks get together to share ideas, programs, successes and failures and new thinking. This year’s topic is Doing Things Differently, Making a Difference, and we will be converging on the State Library of Victoria and the Arts Centre Melbourne next Wednesday. We are lucky to be joined by Adam Rozan, the Director of Audience Engagement at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, as well as the usual Aussie suspects! And, it’s not too late to book your place.

I plan to use MEET as one way to source resources but also wanted to put it out more widely. What are your go-to places when you are looking at:

  • Developing an educational program?
  • Working with students and teachers?
  • Developing, conducting and reporting on an evaluation / visitor research study?
  • Developing an exhibition or public program?
  • Developing a digital product?
  • Using social media?
  • Keeping up with trends and new thinking?
  • Organisational change?
  • Or anything else??

Please feel free to post your feedback in the comments section here, or tweet me @lyndakelly61 and use the hashtag #MEET16.

As promised, here’s some of my go-to places:

Looking forward to hearing from you – follow us on Twitter #MEET16 next Wednesday 5 October for some productive fun!

Real fossils or fossil casts: Do visitors care? #TBT


Argentinosaurus: real, cast or a bit of both?


Been tooling around some of my old evaluation reports and came cross a 2007 study conducted at the Australian Museum, Sydney, in partnership with the Natural History Museum, London, asking the question: What did visitors feel about displaying cast vs. real fossil material?

Seventy visitors were interviewed in-depth at each institution (n=140), asked to look at a fossil skeleton and then answer some questions about it. For good measure, they were also asked how they felt about displaying human skeletons.

Research findings

The key finding from the Australian Museum (AM) study was that the clear majority of visitors surveyed:

  • understood that museums cannot always display real fossil material, AND
  • this didn’t bother them, as long as it was made clear they were seeing a cast, UNLESS
  • it was a human skeleton, then they would expect it to be real

Respondents were interested in the object (fossil skeleton) in terms of:

  • what it told them about the dinosaur (the context) AND
  • what it told them about the actual object and how it is displayed

Some comments after revealing the object was a cast:

  • Don’t mind – better to see a cast than nothing at all. Real fossils are rarely complete. (aged 35-44)
  • Still cool it’s a cast – gives the idea of exactly what it looked like (aged 25-34)
  • OK, still impressive, actually didn’t expect to see a real one … (aged 45-59)
  • OK, understand the value of displaying the real thing. It’s great that it is touchable and is more interactive than the real thing. (aged 60+)
  • It would be good to have a real fossil on display but it is rare to find intact skeletons. You can still learn from viewing a cast. (aged 17-24)
  • Would be nicer if it was real but I realise it would need protection if this was the case. (aged 45-59)
  • Waste of time seeing it – why are we here? I want to see a real one! (aged under 16)

And, on cast or real human skeletons:

  • Don’t really mind, as long as it’s a true representation. (aged 35-44)
  • No, I’d just like to see human skeletons – real or replicas! (aged 60+)
  • It would need to be real unless it was a rare type of skeleton. (aged 35-44)
  • It would be easier to get a real skeleton. (aged 35-44)
  • Real human skeletons are more sacred than animal skeletons. I would prefer them to be buried and not put on display. (aged 45-59)
  • A real skeleton would make me feel uncomfortable. … People should have a choice to see it or not. (aged 45-59)

General findings from the Natural History Museum (NHM) study were that:

  • the most common questions were about the authenticity of the skeleton (whether the skeleton was real or not) or the animal’s physical characteristics (size, weight, height, etc.)
  • half believed the skeleton to be a cast
  • over half were not bothered whether the fossil was real or cast
  • almost half of the visitors did not care whether the human bones were casts or real
  • the vast majority of the visitors mentioned that it was very important that the Museum stated whether the skeleton was a cast or not
  • most could explain why a cast was displayed – over half talked about conservation and preservation-related reasons
  • approximately two-thirds of those sampled preferred a real bone or fossil in a display case or another cast or copy that they could touch

The NHM also sought advice from staff and colleagues who gave their professional response based on experience working with visitors and collections. The overwhelming feeling from this group was that visitors would only be interested in real material, and that museums must show real objects. This is interesting given that both studies found visitors to be more accepting of displaying cast material. Could be seen as another case of staff being out of touch with visitors, as per the study reported in Great Expectations: do museums know what visitors are doing?!

What does this mean?

These results suggest to me that visitors:

  • have sophisticated understandings of both the practicalities and the logistics of displaying real fossils, knowing that fossils are hard to acquire and often too precious to exhibit
  • want to know whether they are looking at a cast or real fossil
  • still want to touch a real fossil if possible
  • are quite open-minded when it comes to displaying real human skeletons
  • seem to be more accepting of displaying cast material than are museum staff

So, real fossil or fossil casts? It doesn’t really matter – the context of the display and the accompanying explanations of the exhibit are of critical importance to visitors. I’m doing  some more work on this over the next little while, so will update if I find anything new…


Many staff at both museums worked on this project – Bliss Jensen and Trish McDonald (formerly of the AM), along with G. Gina Koutsika, formerly of NHM, who originally posed the question. Happy memories of some productive, and fun, times!