Category Archives: Museum Communication

“Reimagining the Museum” Conference, BsAs, September 2-4

Reimagining the Museum: Conference of the Americas

Reimagining the Museum in Buenos Aires, Argentina on September 2-4 will focus on institutional change and leadership transformation that encourages and sustains visitor-centered museums relevant to their communities.

The conference will feature three keynote presentations by influential thought leaders who will share insights into the 21st-century museum and the influence of globalization on audience engagement. Keynotes include Marcelo Araujo, Secretary of Culture, San Pablo State (Brazil), Lonnie Bunch, Director, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (US) and José Nun, former Secretary of Culture (Argentina).

Visit the conference website for more program details and to register by July 31

4 Values: A European Perspective on the Essential Qualities of Museums

Europeans museums face many of the same opportunities and challenges as American museums: connecting with diverse audiences, providing access to collections and innovating museum practices will sound like familiar goals to Alliance Weekly readers. Like their American counterparts, European museums are creatively and successfully meeting these challenges. The Network of European Museum Organizations (NEMO) recently published Museums’ 4 Values – Values 4 Museums. The report explores the social, educational, economic and collection value of museums through short case studies of institutions of different sizes, disciplines and geographic location.

An excerpt by David Vuillaume, chairman of NEMO, explains the thesis:

Museums are not a luxury: they play an essential role in European life. They preserve and disseminate core values on behalf of society as a whole, using their collections as a basis to achieve reflective and social outcomes. They understand the importance of their role in the creation of knowledge and lifelong learning. Finally, they make a substantial and sometimes underrated contribution to the economic sector . . .

This publication gives you an overview of exemplary museum projects from all over Europe, many of which differ greatly in terms of geography, structure and theme. But whether in Greece or Finland, France  or Russia, in museums of art, ethnography or natural sciences, in international networks, large institutions or smaller museums, the common thread that runs through all of these projects is how museums serve their visitors, in particular, and society in general . . .

After leafing through this publication, you will certainly be in no doubt that museums can, as much as their means will allow and thanks to the confidence that people have shown in them, offer society a greater sense of understanding, support and reflection on the long-term underlying trends that typify our modern world: globalization, individualization, digitalization, demographic changes, polarization, just to name a few. Museums cannot do everything, but they are able to foster discussions, encounters and ideas. At a time when the European continent is facing significant challenges, these services, resources and rooms for reflection are more vital than ever.

To read the full, free report, including the impressive projects at museums across Europe, please click here.
Reposted via the American Alliance of Museums Newsletter

Repost of an article by Mark Piesing from publishingperspectives.com

How UK Museums Use Mobile Tech to Enhance Visitor Experience

UK museums are adapting publishing technology to their needs and using mobile apps to re-invigorate the way visitors explore their spaces.

LONDON: When I stepped through the doors of the Natural History Museum in London I seemed to have travelled almost as far back in time as the exhibits.

In this land that technology had forgotten there didn’t seem to be any public Wi-Fi  and instead I had to rely on 3G to open a website only whose homepage was optimized for mobile. When I wanted to know more about the exhibits it was easier to check Wikipedia about T-Rex than fight through the crowds to see the displays or struggle with a site which seemed more interested in telling me how to get to the museum rather than about the monsters I was seeing when I was there.

When I eventually found the museum’s café there I didn’t see a single tablet or laptop as its public Wi-Fi seemed to be a closely guarded secret. In fact the Wi-Fi was actually leaking from the Treasures gallery above and I was finally able to use an app designed by the museum to start argument with my young son about whether dinosaurs had actually turned into birds.

For mobile evangelist Mathew Petrie, this is an all-too-common mobile experience for visitors to museums in the UK – museums that have perhaps in the past been more worried about the Starbucks effect of “having people with laptops filling up their cafés” if they installed free Wi-Fi, rather than interested in what their visitor’s expect. Petrie is president and founder of Fusion Research and Analytics, which has for the last year being conducting research for some of the country’s best-known museums including the Natural History Museum into how their visitors use mobile.

“Lots of people in the museum community would now like to do a lot of things, but they need to cover basics first,” he says. “Museums have to understand audience needs before starting to build systems.”

According to Petrie, the Natural History Museum has already commissioned research to understand visitor mobile device ownership, usage expectations and current behaviors. “The Museum has also used this research as a platform to assess the potential for new mobile application development for content engagement and other on-site activities.”

Petrie’s research for the UK museum sector suggests that three quarters of UK museum visitors now come equipped with mobile and tablets, “but very few museums engage with them.” Only about 13% of museums have Wi-Fi, and of those that do, “most don’t even promote it.”

The Natural History Museum's Pompeii app adds depth to the exhibition.

Mobile, though, is more than just QR codes that “few people use” or providing free Wi-Fi (although that is a good place to begin). It is more than just publishing a couple of apps that soon languish forgotten and un-updated in the app stores or the “souvenir app” for big exhibitions.

Getting Visitors to Explore the Museum in New Ways

Getting mobile is about understanding what visitors want before they visit, whether they are there from close to home or far away. It is about how what they want may differ between smartphone and tablet users and Apple and Android, as well as between young and old. It is about getting visitors to explore the museums in new ways and even to play games where security guards used to shout “No running.”

“People want to search, to effortlessly get more information more quickly, but 50% of visitors are from outside of the UK and they turn off data roaming to save money,” Petrie says. Tablet users tend to want a deeper experience of their visit but not necessarily in front of the exhibit.

Museum Explorer

“Like anything to do with technology, museums are quick to want to follow it, but adapting it to the museum space is another thing.”

For Dianne Greig these “well-documented” problems are evidence of a lack of robust visitor data to inform strategies – specifically demographic, experiential and behavioral research. Greig is associate director (digital) of Scottish digital development group Culture Sparks.

Too often, she thinks, “responsibility for ‘mobile’ can often sit across teams – marketing, technical development, digital – making collective decision-making a challenge and impacting on the museum’s responsiveness.”

Then research can easily be siloed so that “the intelligence that does exist, in large institutions can often become ‘stuck’ within departments.”

The result of this is a lack of understanding of the whole customer journey, with mobile becoming a “one size fits all” approach and a “fixation with apps” based on little more than “the fact that other museums and galleries are creating them.” When in fact, Greig argues, a website optimized for mobile would be much more cost-effective to produce.

Yet Petrie cautions that “museums are probably doing what they should be doing, being cautious and protecting their brand to avoid alienating people.”

Mid-size museums “may have a few people with the skills and the dreams but not necessarily the authority to go do it.” So better research can provide “more ammunition” for these people to get “more resources. If you have the skills you can have big impact.”

The Huntzz app allows museum-goers to

The Huntzz app allows museum-goers to create their own treasure hunts and tours.

Mobile to Play a Big Part in Future

Mathew Cock, head of Web for the British Museum, agrees with Petrie and Greig that “an increasing proportion of visitors to the museum do want to look at the museums on mobiles.” The museum will soon be publishing its digital strategy, in which “mobile is expected to play a big part.”

“We do have a very high proportion of visitors from abroad – and they have to rely on 3G as we have don’t have public Wi-Fi.” As with many Victorian museums, Wi-Fi is difficult “due to the old and huge buildings and the many galleries.” It is “something that will hopefully happen in the next three to four years.”

Within their website they are starting to do more things aimed at mobile, but beyond the home page most of the site is not designed for the mobile visitor. “In the future there are a couple of gallery projects that we might make apps for or have content designed for visitors and which might have Wi-Fi.”

At the moment the Pompei app is “still our main project,” designed by an outside agency owing to a tight timescale. The app is tied in with the museum’s 2013 blockbuster exhibition “Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum” and its Pompei Live film that was broadcast live to 250 cinemas in the UK in June almost like a “private view” and shown round the world in a recorded form.

“Apps are very difficult to keep relevant and maintain sales, so you need a presence for them outside the app story. So there are spikes in downloads when it is broadcast.”

“We have learned a lot from it as a trial for future exhibitions.” The tablet version was much more popular than the phone version – despite the phone app being cheaper. The tablet app is content-rich and the phone more useful than educational.

“It’s not a yes or no answer,” says Hugh Wallace, head of digital media, National Museums Scotland, to the question as to whether UK museums have been slow to adapt to digital.

“I saw some of the early inventive apps, and museums were actually quite ahead of the game compared to some of the big brands. However, while there are now a lot of inventive conversations happening, organizations themselves are not necessarily at the forefront of innovation.”

As in other sectors, “there has been a tendency for shiny things rather than things that add value to visitors’ experience,” he admits. “However, there is an openness, honesty and reality-checking that you probably wouldn’t find elsewhere.”

Funds are partially an issue: “Bigger players have opportunities to test and learn more than smaller institutions who may depend on one make-or-break project a year. They also have more funding from commercial organizations who are happy to get good PR.”

Wallace believes that a “better Web presence” is the best option for many museums as “apps can be an expensive one-off” and “relatively few apps have performed at the superstar level to make it a viable proposition.”

Experimenting with Gamification

The National Museum of Scotland has three different apps, including a treasure hunt-type challenge, the highlights of the National Museum of Scotland, and Capture the Museum, which is being developed. The website is also being re-engineered for mobile.

“Capture the Castle has prototype funding. It is a fast and furious team game with each team trying to capture flags to capture different territories in the museum.”

In the future Wallace believes mobile for museums will be about “location technology, gesture-based interfaces and 3D interfaces.”

“For the first time I am seeing nice bits and pieces of affordable tech that could change my world: some augmented reality that doesn’t for once look like a PR stunt.”

Ultimately, despite the temptations, he believes that that “the museum community has to be led from the experience perspective and not because the technology is there. Museums are good at overloading due to the way interfaces have been designed.”

For Mathew Cock only a handful of national museums that have a development team will be able to do this in-house. “The app space is fast-moving so there is a risk taking it on by yourself.” Virtual technology is likely to be the future but, again, “the cost could be high.”

Third party apps like Huntzz now allow museums and visitors to create their own treasure hunts and tours.

Diane Greig argues that “More data analysts are needed in the sector to turn raw data into actionable intelligence.”

So perhaps Mathew Petrie’s dreams aren’t too far-fetched: “If in a few years’ time you could say that one in four of visitors are using Wi-Fi then that would be huge.”

This entry was posted as http://publishingperspectives.com/2013/12/how-uk-museums-use-mobile-tech-to-enhance-visitor-experience/ on December 10, 2013

Highlights of this year’s Museum Awareness Month

ART BEYOND SIGHT AWARENESS MONTH 2013

October 3-27
 The Lithuanian Library for the Blind offers a special educational program. It includes a tour of the Lithuanian Library for the Blind and a visit to the Lithuanian Blindness History Museum (a department of the Library). The Museum’s permanent collection contains exhibits and photographs revealing the 85 years of education of the blind in Lithuania (since 1927). Education became possible thanks to the war-blinded veteran Pranas Daunys, who adapted Braille alphabet to the Lithuanian language. There is a display of Braille books published by the Lithuanian Union’s Publishing House in 1963–1992, illustrated with tactile graphics by professional artists. The visitors will try to write Braille with slates and styluses, and create their own tactile drawings on a piece of a foil. Also, there Museum offers a temporary display of tactile textile books created recently by Lina Norkiene, a visually impaired folk artist and a social worker.

October 17-19
The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) presents APH InSights 2013, the annual international art competition organized by the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), will be showcased at The Hyatt Hotel (Louisville, KY) on Thursday, October 17, from 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m., Friday, October 18, from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Saturday, October 19, from 8:00 a.m. until noon during the 144th annual meeting of Ex Officio Trustees of APH. Admission to the exhibition is free and the public is also invited to meet the artists on Friday, October 18 from 4:15 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Entries cover a wide range of subjects in a variety of media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, and photography.  The exhibition includes the first, second, and third place winners chosen in each of the nine categories, along with a selection of other entries. Three judges from Louisville selected the featured works from 409 entries. Contact rwilliams@aph.org for more information including entries for the competition in 2014.

October 18
The Metropolitan Museum of Art presents a Multi-Sensory Evening– Beer and Wine Tour from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Chart your own path in the New European Paintings Galleries, 1250–1800 by embarking on a visual tasting tour along the beer route (northern countries) and the wine route (southern countries). Visit five paintings from the Netherlands, Spain, and France and talk with experts at each work of art to connect paintings with the taste and social history of wine or beer.
After exploring the galleries, head to the nearby Great Hall Balcony Bar to check out theTasting Tour Menu, which includes beer and wine flights from related countries.

  • Explore The Annunciation, painted in the fifteenth century by Netherlandish artist Hans Memling, with educator David Bowles and learn about the role of wine in liturgy.
  • Join educator Joseph Loh and historian and beer aficionado George Schwartz for a conversation about Dutch beer and Merrymakers at Shrovetide by Frans Hals.
  • Step into the chaos of a seventeenth-century Dutch home by investigating Jan Steen’s The Dissolute Household with educator Alice Schwarz.
  • Enjoy The Afternoon Meal (La Merienda) by Spanish painter Luis Meléndez with educator and art historian Inés Powell in conversation with wine consultant and journalist Chris Fleming.
  • Travel back in time to the moment champagne was invented during a conversation about The Picnic after the Hunt by Carle Vanloo with educator and art historian Kathyrn Calley Galitz and Andrew F. Bell, President of American Sommelier.

The gallery portion of this event is free with Museum admission. The Balcony Bar menu is available for purchase.

October 26
deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum,  Lincoln, MA invites you to experience selected works of art in the Sculpture Park through touch.  These specialized tours led by deCordova’s experienced Museum Guides provide unique access to selected sculptures through a tactile tour designed for the visually impaired and other multisensory learners. Touch tours start at 1:00 p.m. and are free with Museum admission. Visitors who are blind or visually impaired are welcome at deCordova throughout the year.  Please contact dberube@decordova.org  to schedule a specialized tour. Service animals are welcome. Visit www.decordova.org.

October 26
The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, WI
is offering a multisensory gallery tour and hands-on art experience for individuals with low vision and blindness from 10:30 a.m. – 12.00 p.m. Join Paul Rhymer, artist in residence, as he successfully melds his work as a taxidermist and bronze sculptor. A second-generation Smithsonian taxidermist, Paul worked for twenty-five years as a model maker and taxidermist at the National Museum of Natural History. He recently served as a judge on the AMC TV series “Immortalized,” a competitive taxidermy reality show. Rhymer also is an avid birder and bird hunter, pursuits that inform his mounts and his sculpture. During his residency, Rhymer shares insights from his dual careers, including lost-wax bronze casting demonstrations, taxidermy tips, and programs for a range of all ages. Call (715) 845-7010 to register or email jhintz@lywam.org for more information.

October 28
The  Lighthouse Club for the Blind visits the University of Cape Town Irma Stern Museum
Visitiors will enter through the Zanzibar Doors, usually closed to visitors, and discuss Irma, the woman, the collector and the artist with verbal imaging of selected works. There will be opportunities to touch Zanzibar carvings, African masks, some of Irma’s furniture as well as one of her palettes and several brushes. Flower arrangements to extend our discussions will allow for multi sensory appreciation. Each participant will be able to catch something of Irma’s energy in small individual arrangements of flowers from her garden. For more information, please contact Sandra Eastwood at saneast@iafrica.com.

Full Program: http://www.artbeyondsight.org/change/aw-calendar.shtml

Participating Organizations: http://www.artbeyondsight.org/change/aw-participants.shtml

Include Asia Conference 2013 Proceedings online

Include-logos-+chinese-for-webThe proceedings of “Include Asia 2013”, held 2-3 July 2013, at the Hong Kong Design Centre, in Hong Kong, China, under the theme “Global Challenges and Local Solutions in Inclusive Design” is now online.

The confrerence was organised by the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Hong Kong Design Centre and the School of Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University Papers include Helping Visually Impaired Visitor ‘See’ Exhibits in Hong Kong Museums by Meng Kheong Chan, Kin Wai Michael Siu;

Museum For All Project in Japan – Co-creating ‘My Kind of Museum’ by Yasuyuki Hirai, Hiroyasu Ota, Tomomi Okazaki, Kozue Handa, Ayumi Umeda, Noboru Matsuura, Laila Cassim, Tomoko Takei;

Vocal and Tangible Interaction Crossing Borders by Anders-Petter Andersson, Birgitta Cappelen … among many others.

Thank you to our Japanese friends from Museum For All Project for this hint!

Art Beyond Sight Interviews Michelle Lopez (Queens Museum)

INTERVIEW WITH MICHELLE LOPEZ

published by Art Beyond Sight, Oct, 2013

Michelle Lopez is the senior program coordinator of Queens Museum of Art. Having served children and families on the autism spectrum as an ABA Instructor, counselor and trainer, she is now working with Queens Museum of Art’s ArtAccess library programs and coordinates the Autism Initiatives program, which is a multi-year partnership with the Queens Library. Through this program, families can access bilingual studio art classes held at the various Queens Library branches. Programs have included classes such as Photography Class, Beautiful Oops, and The Magic Tree House series. The Magic Tree House, a 6-week series, provided students of all reading levels with the chance to make art inspired by the themes in books 1-4 of the book series.

 

ART BEYOND SIGHT: Why did you become involved with ArtAccess/Autism Initiatives? MICHELLE LOPEZ: Art access is the part of our education department that focuses on special needs, so I was interested in working with it because of my art therapy background. In terms of Autism Initiatives, back when I was in school I gained experience from working at a preschool with children on the autism spectrum. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do at the time but that’s when I became interested in autism. When I started working at the Queens Museum of Art, we had a grant for the new New Yorkers program, which is a program for adults and the immigrant community. So at the time, most of the programs were for adults but the coordinator wanted to make programs for families as well, including programs for early childhood. It just so happened that one of the families of the program had a child on the autism spectrum – this family invited other friends and family of the autism community and the number of classmates increased therea􀅌er. The coordinator of this new program wasn’t familiar with working with those on the autism spectrum. That’s when I came to help out – it ended up becoming a popular and successful class. And at the same time, the Queens Library was looking to gain training for working with families and children with special needs – that’s when I decided to focus more on autism and became involved with Autism Initiatives.

ABS: What is the goal of Autism Initiatives?

ML: The goal overall is to create more inviting institutions for families on the autism spectrum. Thankfully, looking at how things are now, it looks like a lot of the museums have gone on that journey, starting their own au- tism initiatives. I think now, were really thinking about the relationship of community spaces for individuals on the autism spectrum so that they can develop relationships with these institutions. Another goal is to offer prac- tical tools to help families understand how to use a museum. These families can then pass these tools onto others. Last but not least, another goal would be teaching these families to use this cultural network to their advantage. The focus of Autism Initiatives has shi􀅌ed from children to families in recent years. Due to this, our main focus is socialization because sometimes educators can feel intimidated and vice versa. So a primary goal is socialization.

ABS: What are some programs that have been created through Autism Initiatives?

ML: We first started with photography classes, then DJ classes, to traditional art making classes and art-making classes inspired by books. We’ve also done composing, lighting classes – whatever is of interest of the educators. Programs are o􀅌en educator driven so it usually comes down to the educator. If the educator is passionate about a specific topic, the participants are more willing to learn about it because it is presented to them in an exciting way. Because every child is interested in having a positive experience, we will really initiate any program that an educator is willing to teach as long as they are open to opening up their curriculum in this manner.

ABS: What kind of skills do you focus on enriching in the classroom? Through programs such like the Magic Tree House series?

ML: A series like the Magic Tree House series happens over 6 weeks, so we start with socialization skills. Children learn to greet each other and to reinforce the action of acknowledging their peers. For the Magic Tree House series in particular, we were also trying to wean children off of picture books. Since many children are visual learners, they tend to need that . The great thing about the Magic Tree House series is that there is a set beginning, middle, and end to the story line, and they always focus on science or social study based needs – subjects part of a school’s core curriculum. One thing I’d like to emphasize is that it’s not that children can’t learn, it’s that you want to get them to learn. The idea is to introduce them to themes that will come up in the book and get them interested in those themes. If the theme is mummies, we will introduce them to the idea of Egypt so when they read the books in class or with their parents, they begin to see certain words come to life because of the previous reenactments in class. This applies to children whether they can read or not. We want children to be eventually able to do this on their own. We show parents that the vocabulary of a visual thinker can be built by adding images to words – and images can be added to words by playing around with material found at home. The ultimate goal is to help them be independent in their reading and get them interested in topics.

ABS: Who do you think adults benefit from participating in programs like the Open Studio program? (The Open Studio is a program for adults only)

ML: First and foremost, the adults come on Sunday and they register for every class individually. We don’t want a large group to book during that time because we want adults to live independently. For instance, there might not be enough space for an adult to register due to group booking. We want adults to feel like a􀆩ending this class is entirely up to them – they book the class and they a􀆩end. We also charge a dollar in order to help them understand money management. Usually, 2-4 participants come to each class. The adults choose what they want to do because, they’re adults. If they want to make cards, have a conversation, whatever it is they want to do, it is up to them. We have participants that come every week and work on one art piece for a long period of time with their own materials. The idea here is not to teach them to make artwork but allow them to ask for what materials they want in making it. If they want to make the sky look more profound, Mitra, the art therapist, can make suggestions. The direction these adults want to take is ultimately up to them. We want to provide them with a studio space where they can make decisions. Adults can also benefit from Open Studio because it provides a social community. The adults look forward to seeing each other, sharing new sketches, and interacting with one another.

ABS: Can you describe the process of collaborating with teaching artists and/or art therapists in developing new programs/How do you go about developing a program together to successfully help those with autism?

ML: We collaborate and develop a program by teaching art therapists how to incorporate more entry points into their lessons. For instance, just talking to the kids won’t suffice because children of the autism spectrum are usually visual learners. At the same time, some of them are not entirely visual – some need to take action and do. So throughout the process of developing a program, we make it clear that the communication to the kids needs to be clear, which includes giving participants space and/or more time. We enjoy adapting to the different personalities and teaching styles of art therapists and teaching artists, but we also make sure to let them know to pace each lesson.

MuseumNext Conference Call for Papers

MuseumNext is Europe’s big conference on innovation in museums. The event brings together delegates from around the world to discuss ‘what’s next?’ for the museum sector; how can we adapt to changing audience expectations and how is technology changing the museum?

We are now seeking proposals for presentations on four key trends for our 2014 conference:

Happiness: What role does the museum have in improving the well-being of their audiences and society as a whole? What are museums doing to deliver happiness?

Access Anywhere: Our audiences increasingly expect access to information anywhere. How are institutions taking their experiences beyond their walls and what role does technology play in this?

Datashaped: Museums and their audiences are creating more and more data. How can this be used to create better experiences and shape the museum of the future both online and offline?

The museum of me: Our audiences increasingly expect experiences which are tailored to them. How are museums moving beyond one size fits all to accommodate the different needs of individuals.

For more information about our call for papers and MuseumNext, please visit http://www.museumnext.org

MuseumNext will take place in NewcastleGateshead, UK on 18 – 20 June 2014.

http://www.museumnext.org

MuseumNext
71 Westgate Road
Newcastle Upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear NE1 1SG
United Kingdom

Report on Technology Use in Cultural Heritage

eCultValue has published a Summary Report of Interviews with Cultural Heritage stakeholders and technology providers in Europe

 The main aim of the eCultValue project is to encourage the use of new technologies that have the potential to revolutionise the way we are dealing with and accessing Cultural Heritage (CH) in Europe. For doing this, it is important to capture the points of view and the needs of the stakeholders working in Cultural Heritage institutions, in relation to the use of ICT. In the context of the “Interview Summary Report”, the eCultValue partners have, therefore, performed a number of interviews with CH stakeholders and technology providers from several European countries. Some of the main outcomes of this activity are presented in this report.

Multisensory Encounters in Brazilian Museums

Luis Marcelo Mendes, who I met at the MuseumNext Conference in Amsterdam last week, made me aware of Luiz Vergara and Jessica Gogan’s brilliant work at Núcleo Experimental de Educação e Arte in the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro.

Multisensory Encounter

Under the category encontros-multissensoriais-2 you will find the documentation of the past Multisensory Encounters in the museum.

Great job!

Moritz

Museum evaluation (Repost from the Guardian)

Museum evaluation: we have nothing to fear but fear itself

Evaluation counts, says Nicky Boyd, but we need to stop asking the same questions and start sharing our data with others

woman looking at an exhibit at the V&A museum

Should more museums follow the V&A’s example and publish their audience research online. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

For more than 12 years now I’ve worked within the museum and heritage sector in the field of evaluation and audience research, and I’m reasonably confident the sector can now see the benefits of evaluation. However, I often feel frustrated at the barriers that we, as museum professionals, collectively raise, which often prevent us from sharing what we find out from the evaluation process.

We are still reticent about telling others what hasn’t worked, we still ask the same old questions, and we don’t look internally or externally as much as we could for useful data. We just don’t seem to learn as well as we potentially could from the experiences of our peers.

A colleague suggested that perhaps it’s just part of the human condition that we need to keep asking the same questions of museum audiences. Does this suggest we need reassurance or is it, fundamentally, about the fact that we believe our organisations are so unique we don’t feel we can apply what others have found out about their audiences to our own situation?

Does it feel easier to keep asking the same questions rather than spending time applying someone else’s research to our own organisation? I’ve come to the conclusion that breaking down the barriers to sharing is much more than the question of whether we publish our findings. Many museums already do this well, for example the V&A, who commission a lot of research and put reports online, and the Natural History Museum, who share evaluations of exhibitions and learning programmes. I think we need to do more.

Understanding

We know that carrying out evaluation provides evidence about how projects and programmes are meeting aims and objectives, and encourages ongoing project improvements. We know it can act as an excellent tool for telling others about the great work being done in the sector, enabling us to share lessons learned with colleagues.

Evaluation can help the project team and participants feel like they ‘own’ the project, it can develop relationships with visitors and play a really important role in developing ideas and planning future projects. We also know that if we don’t carry out any evaluation we could waste time and money, produce something that we can’t change, lose interest from our target audience, waste an opportunity to learn something useful, and lose funding.

There are a number of excellent online toolkits readily available that steer willing participants through the whole evaluation process, for example the East of England Museum Hub’s Evaluation Toolkit for Museum Practitioners. The Smithsonian Centre for Education and Museum Studies has just set up an online community of practice around evaluation, which also looks really exciting.

Fear

So we understand the benefits of evaluation and how to do it, but why are we not sharing what we find out through the evaluation process more effectively? One of the important factors may be that many of us are still reticent about telling others about what hasn’t worked so well. I really understand the fear behind this.

For many reasons we want to portray projects, programmes and events in the best light, to secure future funding or to retain professional standing, but in its purest sense evaluation should be seen as an opportunity for us to learn and improve our professional practice. It should not be done to point fingers or assign blame. Rather it should help create a culture where we’re able to take risks and share what hasn’t gone so well. Only then can we learn and move forward as a sector.

Re-packaging

I think a possible way forward is to re-package the data already held within organisations and think more strategically about how we plan evaluation. The organisations I regularly work with are often surprised with how much data they actually have once they start looking! Working with the education and interpretation teams in a heritage organisation, a colleague and I tried this as a practical exercise. After some initial hesitation, followed by discussion and deliberation, the team realised they could pull out useful audience information from their existing evaluation data which they could put to efficient use in planning future projects and programmes.

Maybe the next step would be to work with two or three similar organisations to share audience consultation and evaluation data around specific audiences. Maybe a group of museums could agree some overarching research questions so all the evaluation and audience consultation work they do individually could collectively feed into answering these questions.

Let’s be confident about what we know

As a profession we need to be confident about what we already know. I am often asked to find out the barriers secondary school teachers have in taking their students out to museums. I can safely say that I’ve asked a lot of teachers this question and I know what the answers usually are, so I encourage the organisations I work with to ask something which might be fundamentally more useful

A recent project with the National Maritime Museum (NMM) in Greenwich took this a step further when they asked secondary teachers what the NMM could do to help teachers advocate internally for a museum trip with their students. Should the NMM guarantee that the school could bring a whole year group at once or guarantee specialist input from a member of museum staff for the visit? Should they provide evidence of impact on attainment targets or information that highlights the benefits of learning outside the classroom?

The museum plans to share the results of their research with the sector. Having the confidence that they know about the barriers teachers have to visit the museum with students has enabled the NMM to find out new information which will ultimately improve their school offer.

Sharing documents is not enough

As a member of the London Museums Group, I know there are certainly more conversations we can have as to how Share London, our online forum for sharing practice, can help us to share evaluation and audience consultation findings more widely. We need to remember that posting our analysed and interpreted evaluation and audience research data might not be enough and more work and conversations need to be had about how we stop reinventing the wheel.

Ultimately, time is always precious, and if we can stop asking the same questions, use the data we already have and share our findings more efficiently we – and our audiences – can all only benefit in the longer term.

Nicky Boyd is a museum consultant for audience research and evaluation – follow LMG on Twitter @LonMuseumsGroup

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