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!

Museum Hack are coming to Australia!

musuem hack.jpgMuseum Hack, the New York based group who run “Museum Tours … For People Who Don’t Like Museums” are coming to town.

But, who are Museum Hack? In their words: “Our expertise is in leading private adventures at amazing Museums. The most popular comment from our customers is, I’ve never had so much fun in a Museum!” [Readings about Museum Hack’s work are below]

Dustin Growick is a keynote speaker at the Interpretation Australia National Conference, Rules of Engagement, in Canberra on October 19-21.

BUT, for the good news. Dustin is coming to Sydney for an exclusive one-off public lecture on Wednesday 26 October at the Australian National Maritime Museum from 3.30pm, followed by q&a and networking drinks in the museum. The event is free for ANMM staff and volunteers, with a nominal fee to cover costs for others.

Go here to book – hurry, tickets are limited and it will sell out quickly. This is an event NOT to be missed!

More about Museum Hack:

Audience Research 101 #museumeval


Lovely ceramic from Shoalhaven’s current show

Had a very productive day at the Shoalhaven City Arts Centre yesterday talking all things audience. Was good to get stuck back in to talking evaluation and re-visiting one of my more popular workshop topics – how to do audience research with no money?!

As I (rashly) promised to workshop participants, here are some links to get started:

And, some reports and findings:

And, How-to blog posts:

If you’re ever heading down south of Sydney check out the Shoalhaven Regional Gallery – managed by Bronwyn Coulston (@alcornb79) – it’s really great!

The “Museum Constant”: One-third plus or minus a bit


Skeletons visit the museum

That thorny question – why do people visit museums and how can we attract more of them?

Molly Hood’s work found that six concepts affect the decisions that people make about their leisure choices: being with people (social interaction); doing something worthwhile for the self or others; feeling comfortable and at ease in the surroundings; challenging new experiences; the opportunity to learn and actively participating.

The paper, The “Museum Constant”: One-third plus or minus a bit, by Rob Hall of Environmetrics, an evaluation and research consultancy that has worked across the cultural and leisure sectors for many, many years, gives further insights into the motivations for museum visits.


As well as attracting out-of-town visitors, many museums depend on the patronage of local residents and are expected to reach and serve the local population. This paper explores the question “What proportion of the local population can museums expect to attract?”, using data on museum visitation collected by means of a population-based sample survey repeated each six months from July 1991 to February 2004 in Sydney, Australia. The links between reported museum visiting and self-described personality attributes are also explored. The findings suggest that there is a limit to the audience for museums and that this limit appears to be driven by people’s preferences for conceptual cognitive activity. According to the survey data, approximately one-third of the population of Sydney visits a museum, gallery or exhibition at least once in a six month period, and two-thirds of the population claim to have visited a specific museum at least once in their lifetime.

The full paper can be downloaded here: rob-hall-2005. This post came about from presenting a workshop at the Shoalhaven Regional Gallery – more on those outcomes here: Audience Research 101.


When evaluation doesn’t “feel” like evaluation #musdigi


Artcasting: Recommendations

Last week we had a visit and a #BBL from Dr Jen Ross, University of Edinburgh, chatting all things evaluation and audience research and presenting her work on the Artcasting project – new approaches to evaluating visitor engagement with art. The underlying premise is that current evaluation methods may be a little stale and intrude on the museum experience, so why not embed the evaluation within the program itself?: ‘If a program is creative and participatory it doesn’t feel like evaluation’. The project drew on the work of Simons and McCormack (2007) who used creative art to capture and understand an evaluation story:

In a climate dominated by the language of targets, outcomes, outputs and delivery – using the creative arts can generate insight from different ways of knowing and bring us closer to capturing and understanding the evaluation’s story.

Among the key implications for practice from the project (as reported on the website), two that struck home to me were:

  • the value of asking new questions and taking inventive approaches to research collaborations between academic and cultural heritage organisations; and
  • the need for cultural heritage organisations to reflect on their evaluation agenda [considering] how evaluation practice can take better account of the value of dialogue

I’m about to run a workshop for the Shoalhaven City Arts Centre and Regional Gallery’s PD day, Know and Grow your audience, and I’ve been thinking lots about how to embed easy evaluation ideas into processes and programs, especially for small museums that may not have access to many resources.

Both this event and Jen’s talk have got me thinking and gathering creative ways to undertake evaluation and audience research, as shown in the photo gallery below, which include:

  • Postcards answering a key question
  • Unsolicited letters / feedback to the museum
  • Drawing activities for children
  • Workshops and posters answering a key question (in the image below are teenagers’ responses to a potential exhibition on evil…)
  • Instagram and Twitter feedback / posts
  • Social media for front-end evaluation (see Jensen and Kelly, 2009)
  • Interesting small spaces in museums for visitors to provide feedback (#ROMBeta)
  • Journals, mood boards, Post-it note feedback boards
  • Our work with the Coalition of Knowledge Building Schools also generated a whole range of interesting evaluation ideas

And the list could go on…

I will be exploring these, as well as more traditional evaluation methods, at the workshop this week, so please shout if you’ve come across other interesting ideas we can use!








Seamless social media #TBT

@DoctorKarl – he now has 300k twitter followers…

The year 2016. The 27th annual Australian Museum Eureka Prizes. A push from our eminent hosts to trend on Twitter, invade Instagram and flood Facebook. #Eureka16.

The year 2008. The 19th annual Australian Museum Eureka Prizes. A blog post that shows how new Twitter was (and how little understood), what a novelty Facebook was and how Flickr was the forerunner to Instagram (well, kinda). Back then museums were asking “what’s the point of social media” and questioning the time taken to do social media “it takes too long”. And, people were saying (just like the famous scientist in the photo!): “Twitter? That’s stupid”.

Me and a certain someone at the 2008 Eureka Awards

How far we have come. How far we have to go. Attending the awards dinner this week (and a brilliant event it was too) caused me to reminisce and reflect on those times long ago where everything was so hard yet we kept plugging away. Thanks to all those who persisted – while we still have ways to go we have achieved a lot.

So, here’s to the great Australian scientists and science recognised at the awards over the years, and here’s to us – the digital pioneers. And, here’s to the social platforms of the future. Let’s hope those pathways are easier, more accepted and provide just as much fun and laughter!

[re-post] Developing rich media for museums: a way forward?


Image: Michael Hugill c. Australian Museum

Rich media (i.e. video) is fast becoming a key way to present museum content both onsite, online and via mobile. How can this work in a manageable and structured way? 


This post was original published on the Australian Museum blog in January 2012. Given some other work I’m doing thought be good to re-post (with some updated data).


The amount of traffic generated by YouTube is phenomenal. According to this infographic, in 2011 YouTube had 490,000,000 unique visitors generating 92,000,000,000 visits each month! So, certainly rich media is something we cannot ignore. [the latest 2013 infographic is here and YouTube – 14,400,000 Unique Australian Visitors on YouTube in July – from SocialMediaNews.com.au]

Now that I have taken over responsibility for exhibition editing, working with my new team I have been thinking about how we can both develop and manage rich, digital content across all of our sites (that is online, physical and mobile), as well as meeting expectations of a range of internal stakeholders.

I’ve been thinking that there are three levels of or approaches to rich content: the quick; rapid response and the high-level. Think of the quick as akin to an iPad / smartphone movie – capturing a quick moment, event or visitor feedback. – for example this launch of one of our programs. The quick should take no longer than five minutes from capture to update, need little (if any) editing and minimal (if any) branding. Here‘s an example of a quick movie at the 2011 launch of Science in the City.

The rapid response idea is a piece that needs a little more editing work, but should only require a maximum shoot of around 10-15 minutes. These videos should be turned around in 24 hours or less and include a response to what’s in the news that day (for example this video on a sperm whale) or something interesting behind the scenes (for example this video on framing up an exhibition).

The high-level is a full-blown production – needing a storyboard, higher production values, budget as well as time and access to decent editing software. It would be akin to developing movies for a physical exhibition or a promotion, such as this fantastic Genghis Khan promo from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

We know that watching the moving image has always held a fascination for humans. Now, in the YouTube age, anyone can be a writer, director, producer as well as star. Reflecting on 2011’s top ten videos viewed on YouTube is rather depressing. Rebecca Black, a talking dog, and something called cone-ing made the Australian top ten. Museums can do so much better! The trick is to manage expectations and accept that some content may not be as polished as we’re used to, but at least it’s out there.

I’m hoping the the three-tiered system outlined above can help us manage this complex and fascinating area. Be interested to hear other approaches to developing rich media across your museum sites.


So, in 2016 my hopes about a three-tiered system are still top of mind, and now, with super-amazing smart phone cameras available, are even more achievable. Watch this space for some future smart phone film-making fun (Hint: think sf3…)!