3 steps to better digital projects

#MATech2018 a Digital Festival organised by Museums Association

I attended the MA Tech 2018 event last week (check out the twitter feed #MATech2018). An interesting day of presentations on projects (and processes) that were adopting new technologies around digital, chaired by Museum of London’s Alec Ward. This is not meant to be a full in-depth expose of the whole day — but more a light summary and three takeaways I felt were of most value to a team considering a project (with or without) digital elements.

Mark Cridge from MySociety kicked off the day with an insightful look at how big data is captured and used across a whole range of projects from Norse place names to Council audits and Freedom of Information requests. It was a fascinating look at the depth and breadth of data they had captured in a variety of projects and how that information can be used to form models and insights to aid future projects and decision making.

Tonya Nelson from UCL Museums and Collections provided an overview of findings from the Culture is Digital Report — with ‘digital’ encompassing every part of an organisation from front end visitor experiences to back office systems, the report examines opportunities for ’Using technology to drive audience engagement, boosting the digital capability of cultural organisations and unleashing the creative potential of technology.’

Culture is Digital Report summary of findings

Alyson Webb from Frankly Green & Webb, gave an honest summary of some reasons why projects fail, regardless of size of organisation or level of budgets, there were some invaluable lessons to take away. I nodded a lot during this one.

Step one: find the need and motivation of your audience

Robin Christopherson’s (and Archie’s) talk was one of my personal highlights — preaching the benefits of an inclusive design approach to creating experiences that are accessible for all visitors. Great examples included:

· Tap Tap See app using camera image recognition to provide voice descriptions of what is captured. Very smart.

· Google Translate — part of this comprehensive translation app includes text recognition and live translation using the camera.

· Wayfindr an open standard for developing indoor navigation technologies.

The afternoon sessions included project case studies, from the astonishing and ground breaking Sky’s David Attenborough VR experience to Tate’s Modigliani exhibition featuring a VR experience through to Traces, an audio app experience at St Fagan’s that delivered ‘feels’ not information through a more established ‘app’ method.

Whatever you build, you need to promote it — if you (just) build it, they will not come!

The technology adopted across these projects ranged from simple well-crafted audio, to big data solutions to bleeding edge VR, I was impressed by them all and each for different reasons. But what underpinned and was shared with the audience by many these projects (regardless of size or budget) was well crafted content and the processes adopted in order to pick the most effective technology to deliver the most effective experience. I’ve distilled the process into 3 steps:

1) Understand your audiences, not with more research, but better research.

Clarity from the start — understand your audience first

Ensure you focus on discovering specific needs of your visitors and most importantly avoid entering into the process with a preconceived idea of what the solution may be. A good analogy for this is with the Henry Ford quote — “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” The actual need is for people to get from A-B faster, the preconceived idea of the solution is a faster horse.

2) Set clear measurable objectives from the top of the organisation.

Clear objectives from the organisation are essential

Without a clear mandate from higher up the organisation, buy-in and collaboration is more difficult. Plus, you need a clear set of objectives to measure the success of the project (such as footfall, dwell time, engagement, income, audience reach, onsite or offsite experiences).

3) Now begin to understand the technology.

Choose the right tech to meet audience and organisations objectives, Alec Ward echoing Allie from Yellobrick’s sentiment — don’t do ‘tech for tech’s sake’.

Once you have a clear understanding of your visitor needs, behaviours and motivations, and the organisation’s objectives, now is the time to explore the tools available to meet them. Be careful not to be romanticised or distracted with the latest technology, the technology chosen should enhance and enrich the experience, NOT be the experience. if you are clear on the first two points, this should guide your evaluation and choices and increase the chances of success.

Some of the panels and presenters very much worth a follow:

https://twitter.com/thatmuseumguy

https://twitter.com/MairiLafferty

https://twitter.com/cowbite

https://twitter.com/sara_huws https://twitter.com/StFagans_Museum

https://twitter.com/aly_webb

https://twitter.com/AbilityNet

https://twitter.com/museumhunter

https://twitter.com/USA2DAY

https://twitter.com/markcridge https://twitter.com/mySociety