Sunday, September 16, 2007

Museum & gallery services QLD State Conference 2007

Am attending the M&GSQ conference, 3Cs: Contemporary Collecting & Communication, over the weekend and thought I would post some impressions. Yesterday I gave a Masterclass called Using visitor research to plan quality public programs. Seemed to go well and got some very positive feedback. My PowerPoint presentation can be downloaded on my wiki - audience-research » Audience Research Articles (go to the bottom of the page). I have also added some links about measuring impact of museums and some projects I was involved with plus some papers I pulled off the web.

On Saturday there was a plenary session on the theme of cities and museums featuring D Lynn McRainey, from the Chicago History Museum (who incidentally was at my Masterclass yesterday!). Lynn's paper was titled Creating connections to the city: its stories, people and places. She talked about how museums should be thinking strategically about their missions and creating new relationships between museums and their audiences. Lynn's presentation was fantastic and very thought-provoking. She outlined the process that the Chicago Historical Museum (CHM) took as part of its redevelopment which was completed just on a year ago. There were four major areas of focus:

  1. A strategic direction for education
  2. Conversations with professionals
  3. Detailed audience research
  4. Experiment with new programs

The CHM also developed a set of guiding principles that underpinned all they did:

  • History is about everyone and takes place everywhere
  • CHM is about the entire city of Chicago
  • Finding a personal connection leads an individual to value history and seek it throughout their life
  • Purpose of CHM is to turn to the past to understand the present and envision the future
  • Offerings provide access for many audiences through a rich array of approaches
  • CHM shares responsibility with other civic leaders for health and well-being of the city and residents

The CHM program was reactive and not looking at possibilities – having a quarterly calendar made them too reactive and static. It prevented innovation and they realised they needed to have a core offering but also build in flexibility.

From the audience research and other consultations they also developed some traits for good learning experiences at CHM:

  • Be fiercely Chicago
  • Let audiences into the historical process and tools historians use – they really want to know this and engage with it
  • Make it special
  • Be nimble and flexible

Final thought – provide engaging experiences and flexible formats.

From the session called Beyond visitor numbers I got the following:

  • Need to develop a common, public language of what value is and how to describe it
  • Intrinsic values (such as joy, discovery, absorption, etc) are hard to measure and report on but are highly valued by audiences
  • Contingent evaluation is maybe the way to go – look broadly at stakeholders, users and non-users
  • Call ourselves more-than-profits, not just non-profits?
  • Use personas (or the digital stories I'm doing) as ways to demonstrate value?
  • Perhaps the appropriate language of value may be that of the visitors themselves??

Seb's talk on Day Two, Highlights of digital media in museum and gallery communication, was also great and very comprehensive. Have just posted some quick points and links.

Why do it? To increase reach, improve access, listen to users, see knowledge as process not product.

People are already out there talking about museums. Why? 'De-professionlisation' of product development coupled with broadband getting cheaper and faster. They are "museum fans". This will mean decentralisation of our content and our brand. People don't start at the front page of a website, 84% begin an information search with a search engine.

What are museums doing?

  • Exploring new media platforms, examples of MOMA and Walker Art Center, TATE online portal
  • Colonising networking sites – MOCA has set up a MySpace page to connect directly with music fans; museums and museum professionals are on Facebook, also the ExhibitFiles example as way to share information
  • Utilising existing content communities, e.g.Brooklyn Museum: Community photos on Flickr and YouTube of their events and set up a Flickr group
  • Building official replicas in virtual worlds
  • Blogging for more non-formal ways of communicating
  • Community contributed content, e.g. of I like museums (a great site by the way!), NZ example of community-created wiki to connect to each other and the institution
  • Work with audiences to better classify collections – example here, McCord Museum games to encourage tagging
  • Exploring atomised content – making a site our of content from other sites, e.g. Rijksmuseum widget
  • About improving digital collection access – went through the development of OPAC 2.0 as an example of bridging a 'semantic gap' between how museums describe and classify collections and how our audiences describe them

Future directions: People becoming location sensitive, increased use of GPS and mapping, new ways of exploring and experiencing data. People will increasingly be using maps as a search tool (e.g., what does the PHM have in its' collection that comes from my suburb?)


  • Need to develop ways of working ethically
  • Problematises the old models of ownership and copyright
  • Trust and the decentralised brand
  • Search and access and other technologies not publicly owned
  • Only 16% of globe are online, there is a rural/urban divide (but I'm wondering how this will change??)

For more information go to the fresh+new blog. Also a useful post with relevant links here - museums and web 2.0 blog post