Friday, October 24, 2008

What I’m up to...

Susan Tonkin, Convenor of the Museums Australia Evaluation and Visitor Research Special Interest Group, has emailed me to ask what I'm up to. Well, thought I may as well post it for all to see.

This year have been flat out focusing on evaluation a number of different activities. We did an awesome project with the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, comprised of a sponsor evaluation, survey of past prize winners and survey of voters in the People's Choice Awards. This culminated in a series of workshops to have a good look at the program and see where it could go. I experimented with a new way of presenting some of the findings and you can view the video I made here (yes, it's a bit lame but I did say it was an experiment!). Actually have been doing lots of online experimentation and you can read about some of my efforts on a social networking site I have established called Museum 3.0 – it's a wonderful place to meet others, ask questions and generally hang out. Look forward to seeing some of you there.

The Museum has finally opened its two new exhibitions Dinosaurs and Surviving Australia. Have been deep in summative evaluation mode for these and again have tried using online methods to engage visitors and get their feedback (as well as usual surveys, focus groups and observations). For those of you on Facebook you could have a look at the fan pages for the exhibitions to get an idea of what I'm up to. One of the lessons I've been learning is that online methods of documenting feedback have changed the dynamic between visitor and researcher through giving them an equal voice. An example of this is our work with NOVA Employment. NOVA is a Disability Employment Agency, funded by the Australian Government. They are a supported employment program offering specialist job seeking assistance and post-placement support, primarily working with young people who have an Intellectual Disability and are likely to require on-going help to stay in work. A group of trainees aged 16-21 years and their job coaches have made four visits to the Museum since 2005. The purposes of the visits were to:

  • give feedback to the Museum on specific exhibitions (Whodunit; How to Make a Monster and Dinosaur Unearthed, Dinosaurs) from the perspective of those with intellectual disabilities
  • develop skills in the young people to feel confident in visiting a museum and in giving their feedback and advice
  • provide both the young people and their job coaches an enjoyable, social experience that will encourage them to return.

In May of this year 28 trainees and six job coaches visited the Museum to provide feedback about Dinosaurs. This was a new intake of trainees, so the idea was to meet and introduce them to the Museum overall, as well as visit the exhibition and build a new relationship. Members of the Museum's Project Team also attended the visit and debrief session. The difference this time was that during the debrief I had the Museum's Dinosaurs fan page on screen and posted their feedback live to it. What I found was that they wanted me to attribute their comments to them by using their name. They found it exciting that not only was I posting their feedback live to the internet, I even posted the things that they didn't like about the exhibition for all the world to see. As mentioned before this is an empowering process for visitors, and one that I have been repeating with similar results with other audiences. Will keep you posted.

On another note have been working really hard with Fiona Cameron and assorted folks at the University of Western Sydney on the Hot Science Global Citizens ARC Linkage grant. It's very exciting and more will be revealed as we get further into the project. It's been great to work again with Carolyn Meehan from Museum Victoria on this too and I was reminded about how her skills in survey development are truly outstanding. Fiona and I also got some good news – we received a book contract for an edited work called Hot Topics, Public Culture, Museums so that will also keep us busy.

Finally, I now have a wonderful new temporary twelve month role here and a fancy new title: Head of Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, Web and Audience Research. My focus will be on steering the Eureka prizes through their 20th Anniversary next year, overseeing the rebuild of the Museum's new website (we're pretty much starting from scratch so it's a massive project) plus doing the usual suite of audience research stuff for a range of planned exhibitions and programs. I've been blessed with an awesome team of managers and staff in each of these areas and look forward to working together with them in the months ahead.

I'll also be hitting the road visiting colleagues in Taipei and attending the INTERCOM conference in Rotorua in November so my blog posting may be a tad slow over the next few months (well, maybe not as bad as it has been so far). I realise I have a bit of a backlog of posts to do but rest assured they will be done.

Look forward to seeing you assorted evaluation and museum folks in Newcastle next year and catching up with you all then. I'll be bringing Karen Knutson with me, and I'm hoping she has a better sense of direction than I do so that we actually arrive on time and at the right venue!

Best wishes everyone and don't forget to register for the Transformations in Cultural and Scientific Communication conference.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

If the Museum was a person ...

This year we have been working with a group of Year 7 boys (aged 12-13) from an inner city high school who have been working with the Museum as part of an Australian Quality Teaching Grant to trial cross-curriculum units of work. They have also been giving us feedback about our new exhibitions. In the project wrap-up they were asked to imagine the type of person the Museum is and this is what they said:

  • If the Museum were a person, it would have been around 200 years old. Also it would have huge brain containing all of the evidence about dinosaurs and animals. This person would have a huge heart because it also helps people discover or learn something they haven't seen or heard before. It is a female, because not everything smart can be a man. It tells us about things we didn't know existed.
  • It would be an historian because it's mainly about things from many years ago.
  • It would be a very nice person and smart to tell people about the world and it is very old.
  • If the Museum were a person it would be wise and know a lot about the past. It would be an outgoing person because it always lets people in.
  • It will be a famous kind because the museum is famous and it is a bit like a castle because of its shape. He is a good actor because the museum has a lot of different things. He knows a lot of information because the Museum is full of information.
  • I think if the museum was a person he/she would be old and full of knowledge. I think this, because of all the exhibits in the museum are full of the knowledge and the museum looks very old.
  • If the Museum was a person it would be a palaeontologist because the museum is full of dinosaurs.
  • Old Grandpa. Knows a lot about history and what happened around the world. Nice, funny and smart.
  • Smart, interesting, lots of stories to tell. Funny, bad at sport. Nice
  • It would be a very knowledgeable person, because it has loads of information about the past.
  • I think it would be a massive brick monster because it is huge and has a lot of bricks in the building. But it tells a lot of stories.

Don't know about you but I find this rather inspiring!