This week I took part in Museums and the Web 2018 in Vancouver. Having attended the conference 9 times since 2007, I am more amazed than ever by the creative museum community pushing the field forward with the energy of a startup.
Though some innovative projects show excellence even far beyond the museum community, one could argue that in many ways this energy is diluted by a sector not able to fully support innovation. As Jon Pratty concludes in his paper Museum on the street: “…cultural institutions may not yet be collaborating creatively enough to build new kinds of public value from their collections or programming.” However, for those pursuing change and innovation the inspiring papers, presentations, workshops and talks at the Museums and the Web conference are at the forefront of the museum sector, and an important resource.
My biggest takeaway from this year’s conference is that the museum sector is starting to move towards the state of post digital. The focus on audience engagement, on service design and on delivering the museum experience through multiple channels and touch points made me wish for more museums sending not just digital staff to Museums and the Web but entire cross departmental teams and managers.
Here are a few of my favorite presentations from the MW18, with thematic headlines that I consider significant for the museum sector today:
The museum ecosystem
Regarding the museum experience as something that is delivered across multiple channels requires mapping the ecosystem and the touch points where the audiences engage with the museum. These two following examples from the conference discusses infrastructures, data collection and evaluation both with a standpoint that the museum experience is complex and delivered across multiple channels and touch points.
Museum On The Street: Building A Community Digital Heritage Exchange In Hastings, UK
This project explores the possibility of moving art and heritage into the streets, also as a challenge against the development of SMART Cities, often overtaken by tech companies. The ambition is to “…network our historic streets and create something interesting and particular to our urban landscape.” By building a data environment for delivering historic material it is possible to create a space for street-level live heritage or arts experiences using the network–called “Museum on the Street.” The project takes place in a small town with little resources, which makes it even more interesting:
“We are drowning in data but unable to draw meaningful insights from that data.”
In Catherine Devine’s paper she addresses the problem of handling an ecosystem of touchpoints not setting aside resources for data collection and evaluation, and not getting the bigger picture of audiences by looking at behavior across the integrated physical and digital experience or journey: https://mw18.mwconf.org/paper/the-digital-footprint/
Several sessions during the conference discussed audience engagement in different ways and with different purposes. These following two examples caught my attention as they excel in audience engagement and hybrid museum experiences.
Tasting Together: Podcasts And Meaningful Community Engagement
Throughout 2017, the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia presented The Kitchen Stories podcast series and The Chosen Food Supper Club. These programs invited community members and the general public to share family and community history within the unifying theme of food. The experience was a combination of learning, sharing stories and collecting. This paper is best practice in how to engage local communities in participatory, immersive experiences that generate new source material and build collections:
Long term collaborative relationships with communities
In both public museum experiences, and in building collections, long-term collaborative relationships with local communities need to be prioritized. In this paper Stó:lo Research and Resource Management Centre present their collaborative efforts with the Sq’éwlets First Nation that were formed in the process of conducting community-based archaeological work. The established relationships, and the principles and protocols for conducting archaeology informed and guided the new media based production of the Sq’éwlets online exhibit and related physical exhibitions. This is something I wish more museums would prepare for, scaling collaborative efforts and merge collecting with online and in gallery experiences.
Service design, design thinking and visitor experience mapping
One of the themes that should be on the agenda of every museum is the need to embrace new work methods to meet the challenges of a digital society. Therefore I was excited to attend several presentations discussing service design, design thinking and visitor experience mapping. A discussion on the conference back channel on Twitter confirmed that even though some early adopters are talking about this, and some museums are already working with these methods, it is not incorporated or mainstream in the museum sector.
I strongly believe the museum experience has to be redefined, from exhibition to something else, that is multichannel, participatory and both, or either, physical/digital. Adopting service design strategies and design thinking will help us find new forms for audience engagement and new museum experiences. Why? Because then we start by addressing audiences’ needs and how museums can be more relevant, instead of deciding on format and channelfirst.
Here are three interesting proposals, talks and paper:
Another theme that I found especially relevant and interesting this year was gaming. With a brilliant introduction to games by Rae Ostman and Sarah Chu in the workshop “Gaming In Museums: How To Level Up Your Museum’s Public Engagement” I was all set for the following papers and presentations.
Some takeaways are that ideating around games will help creating museum experiences that are participatory and facilitate learning, almost regardless of which topic or target group we wish to address. And when combining service design with games, things could start becoming really interesting. Therefore I am putting games on my top 5 list of important tools for museums.
And here is some interesting reading:
A lot of experimental work is happening around dissemination of and interaction with collections. Museum collections are invaluable resources and deserve a much more central place in the museum experience, not just as exhibited objects but as relevant sources of inspiration, learning and collective memory.
Browsing social media or Netflix videos
Three of the presentations during the conference were websites and projects that look at other sectors for inspiration on how to present museum collections. For example the Rijksmuseum app has a browsing interface that resembles Instagram or Pinterest. Both Royal Academy of Arts and Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua encourage associative browsing through collections, using AI (other museums have started doing similar things, though it is still not mainstream in the sector).
Driving traffic from social media
In this lightning talk Elena Villaespesa presented findings about audiences from Pinterest accessing The Met Online Collections, and conclusions from this study.
Last but not least, the yearly GLAMi Awards showcase excellence in the museum sector, and I can strongly recommend going through these finalists and winners as a great way to gain insight into best practice and innovation in the museum sector. One of my favorites is #LifeDrawingLive: The Drawing Class You Can Take From Home. A second favorite was the re-designed Royal Academy of Arts website, that was nominated in the category Online collections.
Edit April 22 2018
Digital skills in museums
A great resource for understanding digital literacy and skills in museums is the report One by One – Building Digitally Confident Museums: “‘One by One’ is a national research project which aims to help UK museums of any size better define, improve, measure and embed the digital literacy of their staff and volunteers in all roles and at all levels.” Report delivered by: Ross Parry, University of Leicester, UK, Doris Ruth Eikhof, CAMEo Research Institute, University of Leicester, United Kingdom , Sally-Anne Barnes, Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick, UK, Erika Kispeter, University of Warwick, United Kingdom.