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]

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…)!

Wayfinding. The issues aren’t new…

A 1906 V&A floor plan (McIlwraith)

Been dipping in and out of Medium recently as many bloggers seem to have moved to that platform, yet another one to grapple with (*sigh*).

Anyways, came across some interesting work by Shelley Bernstein looking at traffic patterns in a new and exciting way. Wayfinding our future introduces research the Barnes Foundation is doing into visitor movements and experiences, and the second post, What pop-up ice cream can teach us about pedestrian traffic patterns, is an inspired way to test out visitor pathways and flows. For those of us with large outdoor spaces this seems like a great (and yummy!) way to conduct research.

Some of the work I’ve been doing around visitor movements and wayfinding showed that visitors use a variety of methods to move around the museum’s site, meaning that multiple tools need to be offered – maps, signs, people. A side effect of these findings is that visitors who are curious will often use no tools at all as they rush to satisfy their curiosity! A study we did of our foyer movements also found that apart from the ticket sellers, the first museum person visitors encountered were the volunteer model ship makers, leading us to ensure that these staff members were ready and engaged to talk to visitors about what the museum has in the galleries, not just about ship models.
In my quest for a suitable image, I came across this delightful post, Best laid plans: mapping the V&A by Andrew McIlwraith, an historical account of guide maps over 140 years, prepared for the V&A. A great insight into this thorny issue that museums have struggled with for centuries!

As digital tools and mobile apps are becoming more commonplace for museum wayfinding, the lessons learned from these posts – observing visitors, talking to staff and visitors, thinking outside the box – are even more important to understand their needs, desires and behaviours when visiting a physical museum. Simple advice I know, but oft-overlooked…

Attracting Chinese tertiary students to museums: what does the research (and students themselves) say?


UNSW’s winning Univative presentation

In 2015 China was Australia’s second largest inbound market, with 60% of these in New South Wales. The number of Chinese International Tertiary Students (CITS) attending university in Australia sits at around 34% of the total international student population. In 2015 there was an increase of 34,000 CITS in New South Wales, making it the state with the most enrolments in Australia (39%), growing by 17% from 2011.

The Australian National Maritime Museum is located in the heart of Darling Harbour, Sydney. While visitation is mainly from Australian-based audiences there are a significant number of tourists visiting the museum, with the Chinese market one of the strongest and fastest growing. The museum has a “China-ready” strategy in progress which includes:

  • developing educational programs specifically for Chinese school students visiting Australia
  • having key texts in most exhibitions and significant signage around the museum translated to simplified Chinese
  • Action Stations website available in Chinese
  • targeted campaigns aimed at tour operators to increase the numbers of Chinese-speaking visitors to the museum
  • research with Chinese audiences and operators
  • converting a marketing role to a tourism/marketing role

The project

While the museum reaches traditional audiences of families and adults with a specific interest in maritime heritage, as well as a substantial number of international tourists, there is a noticeable gap in attracting younger audiences to the museum, and especially Chinese tertiary students, many of who live and study within the museum’s geographic catchment area. To address this, the museum commissioned consulting work from teams of students across four universities in Sydney who were competing under the Univative program, an “… inter-university consulting competition, engaging with real organisations and working in small teams to solve actual business problems”. The task set by the museum was undertake research and provide ideas for a strategy to Attract Chinese tertiary students (aged 18-25) studying and living in the Sydney area to the museum.

Research findings

Three of the teams conducted studies with CITS (sample sizes of n=191 and 2 x n=100) finding that:

  • Trying new restaurants and eateries (21%), followed by visiting Australian landmarks/places of interest (18%) and going to the cinema (18%) were the ways they preferred to spend their leisure time
  • Conventional youth / backpacker activities (drinking, partying, clubbing, beach culture) do not appeal to CITS – more interested in sightseeing and nature
  • Avoid public transport in favour of car travel
  • 76% reported attending the Vivid Sydney festival
  • 74% attended an AFL game – this very popular activity is seen as a sport only available to go to when in Australia (find out more on the AFL here)
  • Being introduced by a friend (63%); an official website (27%) or suggestions by a social network (9%) were ways they like to find out about places to visit
  • CITS expect that their relatives and friends will visit at some time during their study period
  • More than 90% intend to travel beyond Sydney with family and/or friends
  • 61% had heard of the museum, of these 20% had visited and 40% intended to visit
  • Reasons to visit the museum are as a tourist attraction (40%); a learning activity (19%); a social outing with family and friends (18%) and involvement in a festival or event (16%). Only 7% would visit the museum to practice their English
  • CITS were most interested in food pop-up events at the museum followed by “explorative” events; historical exhibitions; special movies and social events hosted by their university societies
  • A visit to the museum was seen to be more attractive if there was a combined ticket with other attractions in the vicinity – cheap and discount tickets are very important to CITS
  • Students wanted to be able to read both English and Chinese on texts, labels and signs in the museum (72%) followed by English only (29%)
  • When visiting the museum they would prefer to eat Australian cuisine (77%)
  • 88% were interested in volunteering at the museum

Social media platforms

The key finding across all studies was the prevalence of WeChat as a platform for social engagement (26%) by CITS. Some interesting WeChat stats:

  • 468 million monthly active global users
  • 46% use WeChat more than any other app
  • 63% have 50 or more contacts
  • 57% found new friends / reconnected with old friends
  • 86% say they interact more with friends due to WeChat
  • 73% use WeChat daily
  • Over 60% of users open the app more than 10 times daily
  • 80% follow official accounts (brands) primarily to get information
  • 86% of users are aged between 18-36 years

(SOURCE: Blog)

[Addendum: Excellent piece from The Economist – WeChat’s World]

However many still use ‘traditional’ social media platforms – Facebook (26%), Twitter (23%) and Instagram (14%). Due to the majority of CITS having local friends, they find Facebook a better way to connect with their Sydney-based contacts. PokemonGO (which was all the rage at the time of the project) was acknowledged as a great way to engage with CITS, however all groups recommended giving associated discounts and offers so players didn’t just “loiter around the site”.

We will be using these findings, as well as other work we are doing, to continue being China-ready both as a museum and as a key destination in Darling Harbour.


I would like to acknowledge the hard work of the teams from the University of Sydney; University of Technology, Sydney; Macquarie University and the University of NSW (the winning team!), as well as the University of Sydney Careers Centre staff who have coordinated the museum’s involvement in Univative for the past three years. Also, the involvement of my museum colleagues Alex Gaffikin and Hyewon Chang was much appreciated.