Thursday, June 28, 2007

Climate Change and Museums

Fiona Cameron asked me about audience research we have done on the topic of climate change. We conducted several studies as part of a larger research project investigating future exhibition topics.

The first study in 2006 consisted of two quantitative surveys — one with an online sample of 538 respondents from the greater Sydney region (mix of visitors and non-visitors to museums and galleries); and one with 319 visitors to the Australian Museum. Climate Change was chosen as the preferred exhibiton topic by 21% of online respondents and by 22% of the onsite sample. It was of high interest to 39% of Australian Museum visitors and 26% of online respondents.

Why is this topic so appealing? A range of reasons were given by respondents:

* It’s an important subject that we all need to know about:
“I think climate change should be of interest to everybody because it is our future. Will we survive?”
“I think we need to know more about climate change as it’s already happening.”
“Topical and at the forefront of everyone’s attention. Will foster necessary public debate. Is of great interest to all ages and backgrounds.”

* It’s a topic that children need to be educated about:
“Climate change is an important issue and one that I could take my children to see and discuss.”
“Educating the community and my kids about this pressing issue so we can make immediate changes.

* There is a lot of misinformation around and we can trust the Museum to give us the real facts:
“I think we need to know more unbiased reasonably proven facts regarding climate change.”
“Climate change is very current and something that the whole world, and even more, needs more in-depth study, shown and interpreted for us normal people out here.”

* We need to know what we can do:
“… we all need to be made aware, with tangible examples, of what’s happening and how we can help.”
“Climate’s a very good indicator of the environment, must learn so we can save the planet before things go very wrong.”

The second study in 2007 consisted of focus groups with a range of target audiences to unpack the issues further. Again, climate change was clearly the most popular exhibition topic across all groups because:

* It’s an issue that’s become personal
* In the past 12 months, the issue has moved beyond the realm of science into the mainstream
* The sense of personal responsibility has started to hit home
* People are confused and overwhelmed – can’t trust politicians, industry or lobby groups
* With all the media coverage and THAT MOVIE, there is significant background knowledge, but much of it is contradictory, making the issue even more confusing!
* With so much conflicting information regarding climate change, audiences are craving an authority on the issue to clear things up once and for all, and assist them in adopting a stance

We found that participants felt the Museum was in a perfect position to be that authority, as audiences see us as:
* A trusted source of scientific information and not aligned to a political party, lobby group or big business partner:
"It’s a perfect fit for the Museum, it’s science!"
"I think the Museum has a great chance to be the authority on this issue, people trust the Museum and its science."

Some questions people wanted an exhibition to help them with were:
What are acceptable levels of warming?
What are the possible outcomes, at varying degrees of warming?
Are these changes due to emissions or part of normal cycles?
What is our ability to reverse the effects?
What can I personally do?
What is renewable energy and what is its role in beating climate change?
How does my everyday existence contribute now?
Is there a tipping point, and have we passed it?

So, the interest is there, what are museums and like institutions doing about it??

Monday, June 25, 2007

Logging On: Culture, participation and the web

Reading this interesting report at the moment - Logging On: Culture, participation and the web. Published on the Demos website and written by John Holden, it is a fascinating account of a major online initiative funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the UK. Some of the key points I picked up [my comments in square brackets]:
* Trends in internet developments show move from passive --> active; unidirectional --> interactive and from few --> many
* Early use of internet in museums was to digitise content
* 2007 use of internet was transformed in the UK through uptake of broadband with the net becoming the primary way that people access information. As well online commerce has transformed the music and film industries [who have had to respond to the illegal use of downloading to making it easy to do and minimal cost]
* “Rather than people using technology to adapt to their own needs, they are now using the capacity and functionality of technology to create and shape new potential.” (p.17)
* “... new web tools, greater computing power, better connectivity and increased uptake have changed the perception of the cultural possibilities of the internet from being a passive pool of digital information to being a vibrant fourth dimensions of life with limitless opportunities for interaction.” (p.17)
* Museums need strategy of user-generated content – this was why culture online was successful in actively engaging young people and adults in generating their own content
* The organisations in the pilot learned, as well as users developing their own IT skills and deeper understanding of the content
* [lessons for us – share resources such as developer expertise and project management; build projects across institutions and content areas. Is climate change/sustainability one we could do in Sydney?? Indigenous/Pacific stories are another]
* Lessons section (p.33 on):
# Need an external broker to bring partners together
# Clear project plan, roles and responsibilities
# Some institutions not used to rigorous project management systems – through the commissioning process gave them contractual obligations to deliver
# Need absolute clarity about who creates, controls [and signs off on] content
# IP needs to be sorted
# Need a recognised and established lead partner (i.e. the big museums) who can bring organisational resources to the project
# Start small-scale and move up from there
* Challenges:
# Bureaucracy often want control – therefore be clear on goals and responsibilities up-front
# Focus on user means that child protection is a big issue
# Sustainability needs to be factored in
# Need specialists in both the technology and the content [and the audience??]
* Useful section on moderation pp.39-40
* The Tate considers its website as the 5th gallery
* People don’t want to abandon the physical object, just want to find new ways to communicate about it
* “New web tools enable users collectively to express their preferences through their actions, without having to be asked.” (p.44)
* All the tools that Web 2.0 offers "... extend beyond simply the digitisation of data to models of linking and sharing information." (p.45)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Using visuals in evaluation

Digital Eva asks:
"I am also looking (or this is what basically my project aim) at how designer could design a tool in assisting summative evaluation by integrating drawings as the medium to reveal or gather information about audiences' experience."

I have used drawings quite successfully when evaluating exhibitions - it's a great tool for both adults and children. When I evaluated the Indigenous Australians exhibition I gave people a blank page with one question: "Draw how the exhibition made you feel". The responses were really amazing. As part of a front-end evaluation we asked children aged from 2-6 years to keep a journal of their museum experiences. The results were quite incredible as they mixed drawings with photos that they had taken thoughout the Museum. As part of our current research project, Culturally Diverse Audiences and Museums, we again used the journal method, this time to record participants' leisure activities and where museums fitted within their lives. In this study we also used photographs when interviewing people post-visit as a way to prompt memories of their experiences and as a deeper way to discuss their visit. They were photos that they had taken.

Also when doing a trawl, came across this useful resource Social Research Update published quarterly by the Department of Sociology, University of Surrey. There is an article there Visual research methods, although a tad old it has some interesting ideas. The article Using diaries in social research is also really good and relevant too.

I think that drawing and visual methods are a really good tool, especially when coupled with interviews (as you still need to get them to interpret their material). I'm wondering if there are any other examples out there??

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A suitcase of portable meaning

Lynda, thanks for inviting me to post here.

As I was writing my paper, After the Show: Making sense after the event, for the Museums Australia Conference 2007, I was ruminating on the many ways that metaphors help exhibition visitors to make sense of their visiting experience. The National Gallery of Australia exhibition, Egyptian Treasures from the Louvre: Journey to the Afterlife, used the metaphor of the journey in its title and structure. When we spoke to visitors while evaluating the exhibition, we found that they often referred to the concept of a journey when speaking about their experience of the exhibition.

This had me thinking about whether the journey metaphor might apply to any exhibition.

It also had me thinking about the power of metaphors in any kind of communication. Looking around, I could see that metaphors are recommended in various communication fields. For example, Brian Clark espouses the power of the metaphor in writing on his Copywriter blog.

Given that museum exhibitions aim for excellent communication, I suddenly see the potential for more exhibitions to be conceived and structured around a powerful metaphor that can be a convenient suitcase of portable meaning for visitors. Or a handle they can grasp when they get challenged or disoriented. (See, it's fun playing with metaphors.)

What is your experience? How useful are metaphors as shaping-points for exhibitions? What exhibitions have you seen or presented that used metaphors? What were some lost opportunities?

Gillian Savage, Environmetrics.

Museums remixed

have a look at this blog from an American Musem conference on:
visitor-authored experiences and other forms of user participation in physical museums and online. This blog now serves as both a resource and a forum for those interested in continuing the dialogue regarding visitor-authored experiences. Whether or not you attended the sessions, please contribute your thoughts to our blog!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Exploratorium Explainers

Lynda have a look at this blog - perhaps a good one to discuss for the forum, or the regular web meetings. It is put together by floor staff at the Exploratorium. Not exactly audience research, but a good slant on museum blogs.