Monday, May 26, 2008

Beth Kanter talk @ PHM 23 May 2008

Went to this talk today by hosted by Seb Chan at the Powerhouse Museum. Beth runs a blog How NonProfits can use social media among many, many other things.

My notes from the talk and discussion:

Web enables connections with people around topics they are interested in.

Talked us through an interesting example of using Twitter to get some responses to a specific question about travelling to Oz and what phones to use

Also talked about video blogging

It's all about connectedness and the global brain – a 50 years transition that we're in the middle of

Here comes everybody book: talks about implications for social change and renegotiating social contracts

We are all still experimenting – no secret formula yet, sooner you get on and learn and experiment the further ahead you'll be

People are making decisions through their social networks (their friends) – this is how many in younger generations are making their decisions

It's not about the list, it's about the networks – you have a network and everyone n your network has a network and so on

Neilsenbuzzmetrics report looked at where the trust factor is – recommendations from consumers were the number one source people trust (this includes things like writing on your Facebook wall!)

Younger people have reference for communicating through social networks – and they don't necessarily see that work colleagues and the way they talk to their friends is any different

Information comes to me, I don't go and find it (Russ also talked about this as pushing content to people not pulling them in)

Read rates of e-newsletters are pretty low at around 30% - it's all about pushing through, need to find other methods

Need to think about audiences as fans – need to cultivate your fans who don't see one show but will come to you again and again

Beth talked though a fundraising example using social networks – question was how can I use a range of social media tools to raise money? For the Sharing Foundation campaign sought opinions for audience/readers as well as identifying those who were evangelists for the cause and could take it up.

Strategy – make it personal (psychology of influence) not institutional

What about being just one person? Look at the ladder of engagement of givers – instigators, evangelists, donors, spreaders, happy bystanders (each of these varies by participation type and involvement)

The personal fundraiser does the network weaving

Tell a personalised story rather than statistics about an anonymous many

Relationship building using those people that you already know and their networks

Rewards and reciprocity (people will treat you as they have been treated)

Need to give your fans the viral tools to spread the message

Birthday Flickr project remix example – used as a test for people on Flickr to remix fotos and prize was $50 donated to cause of their choice

There will be a special interest group out there about you and your content that you can leverage

Timing is critical – make it close to the opening of the exhibit for example

Important message – let go, you lose control but you gain a lot

Takes time – don't get immediate results, might take several experiments before you leverage a network

How do we gather our evangelists? Museums are still using traditional methods to broadcast to them

Brought up Nina Simon's blog post about how much time Web 2.0 takes which was worth revisiting

Showed David Wilcox changing power relationships slide – a change from top down to bottom up

The long tail of Facebook post – donation base small but reach is very large, frogloop care2 as an example of how to optimise online fundraising

Groundswell by Li and Bernoff – Seb has reviewed this book on fresh+new(er)

Overall, a really worthwhile session – Beth posted an interview with me to her blog too (umm, don't look at the foto!!). Also interesting to see that the PHM staff have the same questions and worries that Australian Museum staff have too – more work for Seb and I to do I fear!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Challenging topics

I got this request via the VSG discussion list: Dear Colleagues, We have just put up the Hard Rain exhibition in the zoo. The exhibition is a United Nations Environment Programme partnered exhibition that graphically illustrates our collision with nature and defines the major environmental issues of the 21st Century. Some of the images may be disturbing for our visitors and this is quite a departure for zoo culture. We really feel we should do some audience research on this and wondered if anyone in VSG could recommend a tried and trusted methodology, other than questionnaires which we don't want to do. We'd prefer unobtrusive observations and recording reactions, including conversations. But how to reliably classify and analyse? Many thanks, Maggie Esson.

Hi Maggie and congrats on what looks like an interesting exhibition. You're not alone in putting up controversial issues in an exhibition and certainly our research for the Exhibitions as Contested Sites project has found that visitors want to engage with museums on difficult and controversial topics. I don't think you should discount doing a survey/questionnaire – we have done several for quite disturbing exhibitions, for example death – the last taboo and Body Art, and got fantastic and thoughtful responses, and visitors were glad to be asked. For the Body Art exhibition we also had a large comments book where visitors posted their reactions which worked really well and we got some stunning answers. The power of this, of course, is that visitors also responded to others' comments.

As to recording and analysing conversations there is a whole book dedicated to this very subject (Leinhardt, Crowley and Knutson, 2002). I did a review of this in Chapter 3 of my thesis which can be found on my wiki (p.104-107), along with a section on observations (p.107-110). There has been some work using video-capture technology recording visitors' reactions to an exhibition on slavery which were subsequently published on YouTube, as well as in the exhibition. We had a discussion about this a long time ago on my blog which has various links to the project.

Good luck Maggie. My advice is to not worry at all about asking visitors to respond –you'll find, not only that they really want to do so, but that their responses will amaze and inspire.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Museum I’d Like

From Brenda Siemers: Hello! I am a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (U.S.) and am completing a thesis on teen programs in museums. I came across a blog that mentions the project called "The Museum I'd Like to Know". Is this a published study, and if so, how can I obtain a copy of it? It sounds very interesting! Thanks for your help!

Hi Brenda. The Museum I'd like study was conducted by Professor Susan Groundwater Smith for the Australian Museum in 2003 with a range of school students who were let loose in the Museum with disposable cameras. They were asked to take photographs of things that helped and hindered their learning, make a poster out of their images and present to the Museum. We wrote a paper for the British Educational Research Association conference and since I get so many requests for this have uploaded the conference paper to my audience research wiki and the presentation slides to my SlideShare site. Images of the students' boards are also online at my Flickr site, although they're a bit hard to see you get the gist of what they were saying, especially when read in conjunction with the paper.

Good luck with your thesis Brenda, feel free to share any findings with our community who are keenly interested in this topic.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Museums Australia Futures Forum May 2008

Quite a morning with the six provocative papers and some comments from Frank regarding his attendance at the 2020 Summit and recent travels. Some points across the board that I took away:

  • People will make decisions based on the information they have available now – not on what could be made available (i.e. people don't know what it is we don't have)
  • Museums need to be more innovative and look at government departments that have problems our collections could help solve/add value to (e.g. climate change; genetic resources; potential in cultural collections in mapping cultural landscapes across Australia)
  • We need to use our own websites but travel across the web – using the already available places where people already visit online (Flickr, YouTube, etc). Made the point that we tour our exhibitions to physical sites – we also need to tour the web
  • We aren't in the innovation landscape
  • 'We have a broader attention span and a shorter absorption time'
  • 'Gymnastic minds of today's audiences – we can and do jump around!
  • Rip, mix and burn experiences

    rip – take your favourite stuff

    mix – mix them up

    burn – publish!

  • How do we devise systematic strategies to engender creativity?
  • Practice-led research?
  • Research methods are needed that can cope with complexity and mess

In the afternoon I joined the Learning for Life group which had an interesting discussions about how we link learning and museums in people's minds and what we would ask Minister Garrett for. They liked some of the points I made in my provocative paper about unsexy audiences and moving beyond the entertainment/learning/education debate, as well as catering for people in their own place and time.

I then went to the Digitisation group and got hold of Seb's final points about the challenges for museums in this area:

  • Not a technical issue
  • Need to prioritise digitisation for high volume public access
  • Obtaining maximal rights and permissions
  • Letting go of sole ownership, embracing connectedness
  • Aligning strategies with audiences
  • Asserting brand value as interpretation and engagement, not raw content
  • The web as centre, not peripheral to the organisation

[BTW these points are ©Seb Chan under strict copyright orders from him!! Right you are there Seb!]

This was followed by a rather spirited discussion... and then the ICOM Australia AGM, including the launch of our new website.

Friday, May 16, 2008

What does lifelong learning mean for museums in a Web 2.0 world?

Here's background to the provocative paper I'm giving at the Museum Australia Futures Forum event in Canberra next week as part of the Learning for Life group.

In 1918 Benjamin Gilman's work, Museum Ideals of Purpose and Method, was published by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. In one essay first published in 1916 Gilman Writes: '... an inordinate amount of physical effort is demanded of the ideal visitor by the present methods in which we offer most objects to his inspection. ... Indeed, we may even go further and claim that in some proportion of the objects put on public view in every museum the qualities for which they are shown are rendered wholly invisible by the way they are shown. They are so placed and in such lighting that it is a physical impossibility by any exertion of limb or eye to descry the particular characteristics to which they owe their selection for show.' (p.252).

Gilman illustrated his work with a series of photographs depicting the "ideal visitor" interacting with a series of showcases and in quite uncomfortable physical positions. I have images of visitors to many exhibitions in exactly the same positions! What has changed?

In 1901 the then Secretary of the Smithsonian, Samuel P. Langley, appointed himself Honorary Curator of the Children's Room as he felt that museums should be doing more for children. In a letter to himself accepting the position he wrote: 'The Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution has been pleased to confer upon me the honourable but arduous duties of the care of the Children's Room. He has at his service so many men learned in natural history that I do not know why he has chosen me, who knows so little about it, unless perhaps it's because these gentlemen may possibility not be also learned in the ways of children, for whom this little room is meant. It has been my purpose to deserve his confidence, and to carry out what I believe to be his intention, by identifying myself with the interests of my young clients. Speaking, therefore, on their behalf and as one of them, I should say that we never have a fair chance in museums. We cannot see things on the top shelves, which only grown-up people are tall enough to look into, and most of the things we can see and would like to know about have Latin words on them which we cannot understand: some things we do not care for at all, and other things which look entertaining have nothing on them to tell us what they are about. ... We think there is nothing in the world more entertaining than birds, animals, and live things; and next to these is our interest in the same things, even though they are not alive; and next to this the same things, even though they are not alive; and next to this is to read about them. All of us care about them and some of us hope to care for them all our lives long. We are not very much interested in Latin names, and however much they may mean to grown-up people, we do not want to have our entertainment spoiled by it being a lesson.' (quoted in Skramstad, 1999, p.113-114).

We still hear today from museum folk who despair at having children running loose in our exhibitions, and we still have many exhibitions that are not designed for them, despite having content that they are keenly interested in.

Valerie Beer's 1987 Curator paper, Great Expectations: do museums know what visitors are doing?, found that museum staff consistently over-estimated the time visitors would spend in an exhibition and that staff don't expect visitors to read labels. She also found evidence that: 'Variety, not quantity, appears to be key.' (p.213). Beer also mentioned that often we assume that it is the visitors' behaviour that needs to be changed, and suggested that we '... examine our assumptions that visitor behaviour should be changed' (p.213). How many times have we sat in project team meetings where we talk about how we are going to direct the visitor's experience toward what we want to tell them, not what they would like to experience and know about?

Mike Ellis and Brian Kelly in their paper, Web 2.0: How to Stop Thinking and Start Doing: Addressing Organisational Barriers, stated 'Web 2.0 puts users and not the organisation at the centre of the equation. This is threatening, but also exciting in that it has the potential to lead to richer content, a more personal experience'. The lines between the web and other forms of learning are blurring and will need to be carefully considered by museums when thinking about what lifelong learning really means.

My provocative paper at the Futures Forum will address these issues and more – I'll post my notes after I give the talk otherwise no one will turn up to hear me!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Learning vs education vs entertainment??

This question popped up from Ken at lunch yesterday: What are visitors seeking from cultural attractions in terms of education and/or entertaining experiences? Can these co-exist?

Well Ken, since you don't want to read my thesis online, or even Chapter 7 which answers these questions I will summarise it for you here. Watch out for a future edition of Curator where these findings will be published in more detail.

When comparing the concepts of learning, education and entertainment four differences emerged:

  • the general language used to explain each concept differed, with more active words used to talk about learning, such as discovering, exploring, applying and experiencing and participants describing education in more concrete ways
  • previous research established that people had generally negative views of education as a passive process over which they had no control, yet in my study negative views of education expressed emanated from a perceived lack of choice
  • although there were differences in the language used to describe these concepts, there was still an appreciation of the role that education played in both acquiring facts and information, and in delivering learning, and unlike some of the studies reviewed in the literature, education was not seen as necessarily negative, just different
  • in contrast to learning and education, descriptions of entertainment included words and phrases that were based on feelings and emotions.

I suggested that the museum environment allows the concepts of learning, education and entertainment to closely overlap in positive ways as shown in the diagram below. Overall I concluded that learning, entertainment and education are not competing concepts or opposites — they are complementary. Museums should not be concerned about their entertainment value and role, as results indicated that adult visitors felt that entertainment added to learning, not detracted from it, and overall, museums should promote themselves as places for enjoyable and entertaining learning experiences.

The relationship between learning, education and entertainment

Thursday, May 08, 2008

“Classifying” physical and online visitors and reflections on ‘flow’

Gave a paper at Museums and the Web 2008 looking at some of the ways on-line users have been classified. Again, when at the Museum of the Confederacy we were talking about on-line users and I got to thinking about some of the ways we have "classified" physical visitors and could they be applied to the on-line user as well? I was reminded of something that George McDonald (I think it was) said some time ago about visitors being streakers, strollers and students, which has many resonances with both physical and on-line audiences. George Hein, in his 1998 book Learning in Museums, reported on the following ways that visitors had been grouped (which is useful to re-visit at this time):

Higgins (1884)

  • Students
  • Observers
  • Loungers
  • Emigrants

    Wolf & Tymitz (1978)

  • The commuter – use the hall to get from one entry point to the exit
  • The nomad – casual visitor
  • The cafeteria type – interested visitor who treats museum like a cafeteria as they search for objects or exhibitions of interest
  • The VIP – very interested person

    Falk (1982)

  • Serious shoppers – come with a clear predetermined notion of what want to see
  • Window shoppers – come "to do" the museum
  • Impulse shoppers – discover one or more exhibits that are interesting and become more engaged than first planned

    Veron & Lavasseur (1989)

  • Ants – move methodically from object to object
  • Butterflies – move back & forth, alight on some displays
  • Grasshoppers – chose specific objects and hop from one to the other
  • Fish – glide in and out of exhibitions with few stops

Mia Ridge in recent a blog post suggests we could help visitors lose themselves more so than we do now. While she was talking about on-line audiences, the principle is totally the same for physical visitors. I did find in my doctoral study, however, that we are all different (no surprise there!) and that some love getting lost while others want to get in and then out quickly with what they need and that these preferences are fluid. It's all related to what Csikszentmihihalyi and Hermanson suggested that if a museum visitor was both interested and engaged in an exhibition they would be ready to experience an intrinsically rewarding, optimal experience, which they called flow '... a state of mind that is spontaneous, almost automatic, like the flow of a strong current. ... In the 'flow' state, a person is unaware of fatigue and the passing of time - hours pass by in what seems like minutes. This depth of involvement is enjoyable and intrinsically rewarding.' (1995).

Reflecting on all this I still think the framework of streakers, strollers and students is something worth further thought for both the physical and online experience, coupled with an understanding of the power of the 'flow'...

Getting public response to redevelopment plans

This from Marian Steinberg, TMAG: Thanks for your earlier help. I'd send this directly to your blog, but can't figure out how! The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery are going to be putting on a small exhibition of the approved master plan for TMAG's redevelopment project. We're planning to use this as an opportunity to involve our visitors and get some feedback from them at the same time. We have in mind a very brief questionnaire (perhaps both using a computer and offering a paper version for those not comfortable with computers). The focus will be twofold: how they reacted to the Master Plan (and the physical model) and what they would like to explore at the new TMAG. Has anyone out there done anything similar?

Hi Marian and sorry it's hard to post to the blog. By sending me an email as you did I can turn it into a blog post for you – all part of the service! Now to your question. We did a small exhibition of our Master Plan about 18 months ago and left a couple of lovely big art books for visitors to use to make their responses. What we found was that they did wonderful drawings of their museum experience (which was fine) and very minimal comments (apart from some staff grunts). The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto did a similar study for their redevelopment and used comment cards in a small exhibition about their future plans. Images are below – they said it worked really well for them (this was pre-internet of course – they may do it differently now, who knows?). Other methods I know of that have worked well is using post-it notes placed directly onto the plans which is a good way to help visitors engage with the plans plus each other. You can collect them at the end or during the day to see what themes are coming out. I don't know that computers are the best way to go – they are hard to arrange and only appeal to a few – sometimes old fashioned pen and paper is the answer! I also re-purposed (J) a nice technique from the Leicester University study of school students and museums, it was merely a large bubble on a page asking visitors to draw their response to an exhbition. Maybe you could have something like that but with the prompting question – what would the TMAG of the future look like? Also, why don't you use your 159 TMAG Facebook group members? You might be able to get comments that way? This paper from the folks at the Canada Science and Technology Museum Corporation can help point the way.

Good luck Marian and keep us posted of developments.

ROM feedback room
ROM feedback comment cards
ROM feedback room plans and text
ROM feedback room - plans

African Impressions exhibition feedback form