Museums and the Web 2013: Rewiring, Games and Computer Club

IMG_5443Museums and the Web was a bit of a blur and over a month later I haven’t really managed to process any of it.  I’m also recovering from over indulging in Voodoo Donuts.

I was speaking in the Rewiring the Museum, Part of the “Innovating the Museum” session thread with 2 other pretty nifty papers.

I was speaking with Carolyn Royston (IWM) about the Positives and Negatives of R&D in museums and the lessons we have learnt from the Social Interpretation Project. You can check out our paper titled ‘Visitors, Digital Innovation and a Squander Bug: Reflections on Digital R&D for Audience Engagement and Institutional Impact’

There were a massive selection of sessions, a couple of my favourites were the  ‘Let the Games Begin‘  or the Gamification smackdown session. the debate kicked off as soon as the panellists started speaking. Sharna Jackson from Tate Kids was  simply awesome on the naffness of badges for just rocking up to a museum. Visitors should be challenged before they are rewarded. Loved it.

I also really enjoyed the excellent  Professional Forum: Digital Strategy from Europe to the US which had 4 great speakers discussing the highs and lows of digital strategy.

  1. Kajsa Hartig (Nordiska museet) talked about:Communicating the Museum: From Digital Strategy to Plan of Action – Two Years Down the Road
  2. Sarah Hromack (Whitney Museum of American Art) told us about: Utopia Then, Reality Now: (Re)considering the Wiki Model in Museum Culture 
  3. Carolyn Royston (IWM) focused on Destination Success: Sustaining your digital strategy but really it was about initiating a Computer Club (with Stickers) within IWM Take the bull by the horns and make changes internally before expecting the public to understand. This created a real buss during the session, it will be great to hear if that buzz is replicated inside the museum when it launches.  I really do want me an expert sticker.
  4. John Stack (Tate) talked about embedding digital in everything the museum does. Tate Digital Strategy: Digital as a dimension of everything

They also launched a pretty nifty Institutional Strategy Digest zine.

Here are my top 3 tweets of the conference:

Danny Birchall @dannybirchall: “I want to make people uncomfortable, I want to make games about genocide” -@museumpaige #mw2013 11:27 PM – 19 Apr 13

Wil Arndt @warndt:Museums need to install a bar in every exhibit. Funding problem solved. #MW2013 11:43 PM – 20 Apr 13

sebchan @sebchan:Love that @caro_ft is setting up the Imperial War Museum’s Computer Club! Pocket protector awesomeness! #MW2013 12:28 AM – 20 Apr 13

Digital Strategy: Tatics, designing for verbs, and well basically blowing it all up

Slides of Bruce Wyman’s presentation

One of my favourite sessions during the Museums and the Web conference was all about Digital Strategies.  I like strategies, I have a background in project management and I like to have a map of where I’m headed, something to aim for.  Weird considering, I do a lot of agile and user centered design work, which admittedly is hard to produce a strategy for. So I always have a bit of an internal conflict when it comes to strategy, is it a good thing?  Or is it actually a bit of a waste of time, particularly if you are decompartmentalising strategies and not looking at the overall approach? Traditionally, I think there needs to be strategy to any project, otherwise it risks becoming a cool thing rather than having a purpose (particularly when talking about digital things), strategy shouldn’t be aimed at devices, or tech it should be aimed at experiences, and those experiences fit into the bigger institutiuonal goals. Experiences don’t date, therefore strategy shouldn’t either.

It was fascinating to hear three sides of the story about digital strategies in museums.  Firstly by Carolyn Royston and Charlotte Sexton (IWM and National Gallery) discussed the need for tactical thinking when it comes to digital strategies.  They highlighted that a digital strategy is more than just a written document to be filled away and forgotten about. A digital strategy can provide a vision and action plan that is a framework and focus for all digital activity across an organisation. They really hit home that it is a requirement to put digital at the heart of the institution. They discussed the elements that they found were key drivers for change in their respective institutions and how they could create a coherent vision for digital engagement:

  • Every strategy needs a champion:  Advocacy is key.  Engaging staff and managing the management are important factors to consider
  • Allow time for reflection: Embrace lessons learned from these past projects in order to move forwards
  • Gain confidence:  Delivering key elements of strategy, on time and on budget.
  • Strategy is a living thing: It’s a continuous process.   Not at written document which is filed away.

Ultimately they came to the conclusion that a digital strategy can provide a vision, a framework and a way of working.  Providing an incentive to deliver on time and to budget.  Developing and implementing a digital strategy can act as a catalyst for change.  It’s challenging but worth it.

Up next came Bruce Wyman, who talks at the speed of light.  I always enjoy Bruce’s presentations, not only because I envy his ability to be articulate and eloquent at speed, but because everything he says packs a punch. Bruce started with the idea that Digital strategy helps you evolve from “risk averse” to “risk aware”.  But  you need to amplify experiences.  In order to do that you need to:

  • Think beyond traditional paradigms of interaction.
  • Create frameworks, serialize experiences, concentrate on your digital presence and make that amazing
  • Design for verbs, for specific interactions you want people to have.  Because the value of the interaction is critically important.  Interaction should be the museums brand.
  • Create delightful interactions. The visitor should be made to feel special

Bruce also advised to “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”  Now I don’t really understand ice hockey, but the sentiment remains the same, aim ahead, don’t stick to the now. Bruce spoke to the permeability of place as the future of interactive media and suggested restrictive digital strategies which are designed for tech rather than experiences may be detrimental.  Museums need to evolve the things that they are good at, and design not for the device but for the visitor and their engagement. Bruce really hit home the need to trust our audiences and serialize the experience by developing content and experiences that transcends and crosses platforms.

Finally, Rob Stein came with his log fire to tell us a story.  Rob advised to make sure your digital strategy reflects the larger museum strategy and highlighted that communication is key.   It’s really easy to fall into the trap of creating a digital strategy on what technology should look like, rather than focusing on how technology can help reach institutional goals easier.   Rob also encouraged every to learn to write well, and realise that communication barriers do exist between departments and the ability to communicate ideas and perspectives adequately is a critical point to consider.  Rob suggested blowing up the expectations and stereotypes about technology can help to bridge the gap between departments and highlight a clear understanding of what really matters.  Rob thinks it is important to:

  • Be a museum expert first not a technologist.
  • Break the stereotypes
  • Learn to write
  • Change the conversation
  • Beware of technology timeframes