Inbound communications as a catalyst for organisational change

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A presentation I gave at the iSay "Shape of Things" seminar at the University of Leicester in February 2013 (http://isayevents.wordpress.com/shapeofthings/program/).
The paper talks about the Imperial War Museums' experience of receiving communications through various different digital channels, and in particular comments on collection items, and the problem of dealing with them given current organisational structures and workflows - as well as the immense opportunity they present. Things have moved on, but I still find our categorisation of comment types to be useful.

The notes are hard to see in SlideShare but you need 'em! Scroll down the page. They fizzle out towards the end...

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  • 2010: IWM planning infrastructure to tie together its on- and off-site digital activities, both technically and as an experience. UGC and crowdsourcing are all the rage.The Vapourware Roadmap includes a “UGC repository”, whatever that is.2011: Tom Grinsted wanted to bring commenting into the gallery and spotted the change to tie this into a research project and my cherished aim of a UGC repo, paid for by the Nesta funding stream. For IWM, this means a chance to understand the what we’re offering and get to the bottom of some sensitive questions, but also cash to build stuff! 3 universities were involved with formal research questions too.
  • Key people: Tom Grinsted, Claire Ross, partners (K-int, University Of Salford, U Exeter) and Nesta.Aims: understand social moderation - how do users regulate their own space? Do we have to intervene?explore cross-platform interactions – can we create a natural flow of users between platforms (kiosk, app, desktop web)?build some infrastructure – back-end for commenting and collecting, front end for integrating into core websitesWhat we did: kiosks, app, websiteback-end technologycommenting, sharing & collectingResearchFor this talk, the important aspect of SI is that it helped to make it possible to comment about our collections directly on the website, and allowed us to lay the foundations for the “UGC repository” on the 2010 roadmap. Although web commenting was within the ambit of SI, the research focus was not really upon the comments left on items unless they were also in the galleries. But whilst this sort of thing is not exactly novel it was new for IWM, and one of the most gratifying outcomes of from the investment for us was the quality and diversity of these comments, even if the quantities are still fairly small. I’m not sure why we ever expected anything else: perhaps the whole focus on social moderation had put us on the alert for lots of rubbish to come in. Our problem with the website comments, in truth, is about how to make the most of them with the resources available to us. We could probably, in fact, just amble on as we do right now, but this would be a wasted opportunity and a neglect of our responsibilities to our stakeholders. It would also be ignoring the changes that are planned or required elsewhere in what IWM does. Let’s look at a few examples of what comes through that particular avenue.
  • Here’s an example with a typical bit of insider knowledge of the people depicted and the circumstances of the photograph. According to the commenter (and we have to include that caveat...) the local defence volunteer on the left is Private William OxbrowClaydon, a foundry worker, and his trousers look too baggy because they’re a borrowed pair, Private Claydon having ripped his own pair that morning.
  • Here’s a (so far unique) example of more than one person coming in on the act (not counting IWM staff). A set of pictures of Imphal (now in India, then in Burma) were getting shared on Facebook and this brought in a few comments on the dress of people in the photos and the location depicted.
  • The website comments pose us a set of challenges, but it’s actually wider than that: there are many ways in which inbound communication reaches IWM through digital channels, and these missives from The Public vary hugely in the nature of their content, and there are many ways in which responding to them can contribute to the museum’s overall goals. In a nutshell, these challenges are the diversity of the “content”, ownership & responsibility of/for the process of dealing with it, and resources, and we’ll look at these shortly. First a step back
  • Two departments deal with the bulk of these inbound or one-to-one communications with members of the public. There are others, but these two illustrate the nub of the problem
  • The Collections Access department, a team composed primarily of librarians, is responsible for giving the public a route to our collections other than exhibitions (or our main web offer). They arrange visits, staff the research rooms, run the library and document collections, and answer inquiries about the collections. They have long been the main channel through which the public can talk to the IWM about what we hold; in a way they are gatekeepers that enable the curators to focus on their work without needless distraction. The digital route to this department is a system we talk about as Collections Inquiries, which has forms for arranging a visit, offering a donation, making an inquiry about our collections or suggesting improvements to our information. At present they average something like 70 submissions a day through this mechanism, and allow themselves about 15 minutes to respond to each. They feel desperately overstretched and that they are not serving the public as well as they should
  • The DM department run a pretty standard suite of social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube. All act as a way of getting material and messages out, but of course any of them can and do also result in stuff coming our way: tweets, questions, tags etc. On occasion, as with the Facebook event you can see here, we actively use a very social channel for a more consciously crowd-source-y activity.
  • We have a HistoryPin channel too, which is perhaps the most obviously crowd-source-focused of them all.
  • You can characterise what comes through these channels to the two departments in this way (if you like): Personal responses, which are very much to do with engagement, emotion, the sharing of experience and individual connections. Informational content Requests and questionsOnly the last is a specific call for us to do something, but we may be letting ourselves down if we limit ourselves to that.Frequently a single interaction will contain elements of more than one of these, and this seems to be especially so with comments on the website. It makes it harder to know just who should deal with them, because they are often a bit like what CA deal with and a bit like what DM do. [show aspects of comments, venn diagram] Lead to some more examples
  • I’ve made a stab at characterising what comes through these channels to the two departments: Personal responses, which are very much to do with engagement, emotion and opinion, the sharing of experience and individual connections. Informational content that we receive from outside Requests and questionsOnly the last is a specific call for us to do something, but we may be letting ourselves down if we limit ourselves to only acting when an interaction has one of these qualities.Frequently a single interaction will contain elements of more than one of these, and this seems to be especially so with comments on the website. It makes it harder to know just who should deal with them, because they are often a bit like what CA deal with and a bit like what DM do. [Lead to some more examples]
  • The Collections Inquiries forms that have channelled digital users to CA limit what people will ask – both by obliging people to decide what they want to contact us about, and also by the deterrent effect of their being a pain in the arse.Nevertheless they get asked quite a variety of stuff, but many questions get a stock reply: it isn’t really our core purpose to answer general history questions, but CA staff do what they can in a few minutes to point people at useful resources. This usually applies to family history questions too. We don’t do valuations, of course, and digitisation questions or changes to information get redirected to other departments.
  • The main channels that keep DM busy haven’t generally thrown up questions we cannot deal with, although it happens. It’s much more about practical issues or emotional engagement – engagement being the key word here: these are social channels and not broadcast, and the value to our audience is in part building a connection with us. Therefore we see that as valuable to us too. Measuring it is another matter...
  • The comments on the website are different, or rather, all-encompassing. The personal information and anecdotes are really a new category, which to my knowledge we’ve not really seen much of before. No doubt it’s always been in our audience’s minds, but there’s been no obvious avenue to let it out. The nature of our collections means that pretty much every family has a story to tell that could involve our collections, and on the collection pages seems a natural place for some of them to be told
  • The comments on the website are different in their character, or rather, they’re all-encompassing. The personal information and anecdotes are to a large extent a new category, which to my knowledge we’ve not seen much of before. No doubt it’s always been in our audience’s minds, but there’s been no obvious avenue to let it out. The scale and nature of our collections – social history collections about life- and world-changing events - means that pretty much every family has a story to tell that could involve our collections, and on the collection pages seems a natural place for some of them to be told.
  • Approximate translation: I am the daughter of Bill Spira and I am very proud of my father. Above all he wanted to protect his children and he never said anything about his suffering during the warThis comment is about one in a series of 13 cartoons of which we have digitised only 2 (the comments were on an undigitised on). Our record explains that the artist, Bill Spira, was a Jewish prisoner in Blechhammer camp who exchanged the cartoons for a packet of cigarettes with a British POW in the same complex, and it says that Bill’s fate is unknown. Now we have the answer to that, and from someone to whom discovering these cartoons must mean a huge amount. The comment came early on when we were like rabbits in the headlights: we had nothing in place even to decide how to deal with it. For me it was an opportunity lost, although perhaps it can still be recovered. I’ve included “digitisation” in there because, although it was not requested, the comment is a clear call to action to us to scan the rest of those cartoons. We could give the commenter great pleasure but also potentially use this as the germ of a story to create something wonderful on our website. That we didn’t illustrates the gap in our processes.[Here’s our label for the cartoon:‘Bill’ was a Jewish prisoner who was held at Blechhammer camp. Known only as ‘Bill’ from the signature on the cartoons, his fate remains unknown to us. In 1944 Blechhammer, originally founded as a forced labour camp for Jews, became part of the Auschwitz complex. The camp provided labourers for a number of industries in Upper Silesia. Slave labourers included Jews, Russian prisoners of war and inmates of an Arbeitserziehungslager (Labour Education Camp). French and British POWs, accommodated separately from the slave labourers, also worked in the complex but lived under far better conditions than the slave labourers. In addition to several thousand male prisoners, some 200 Jewish women were held at Blechhammer. AEL = Arbeitserziehungslager (Labour Education Camp) SU = Soviet Union (Russian POW) Kgf = Kriegsgefangner (POW) The series of 13 cartoons made by ‘Bill’ was gifted to the Imperial War Museum by the family of a British soldier who was captured by the Germans in North Africa. He was then moved through Italy and Poland, ending up in Blechhammer camp in 1944, where he acquired the set of drawings from the Jewish artist in exchange for some cigarettes.]
  • With their mixture of content and unconventional route, it has proven hard to figure out how to act on the website comments. CA are not keen to actively participate in the commenting: they want the auditing of their activity through their existing mechanisms and don’t want the workload of reviewing comments too, or of replying to people on the website and somehow evidencing their work in their existing system On the other hand, we in DM can respond to aspects of what people say but cannot answer many of their questions. In December we agreed a temporary mechanism whereby we would perform the triage activity of figuring out what needed a response, responding to those that we can, directing some inquiries to CI and then essentially creating a CI request for anything that needed something different. All corrections and new information go here as well as certain questions. There is a backlog working through the system now and this week I heard from a curator who was trying to follow up some of the new information we have about family history and personal stories, so I know it’s working.But this is a dumb and inefficient way of doing things, and it highlights how the habits and priorities of individual departments don’t necessarily allow them to work together for the greatest overall good of the museum. Why? Their priorities – the things they value – are different, at least in the near term, even if we share an overall belief in what a the museum is for (quite a big “if”, perhaps)
  • I tend to think about three categories of value to an organisation structured mandated to deliver a public service and “public value”, although there’s always the risk of getting sucked into a vortex of discussion about the reality of “intrinsic value”. There is the delivery of that mission and service directly to the public, its perception by the public: the end-point of what we do. In this discussion, I’m talking about people becoming better informed or more engaged with IWM’s subject matter and collections, whether through their own participation or consumption of others’ contributions.Then there’s “internal mission value”, which (at risk of double-accounting) means reinforcing the assets of the museum internally that themselves may deliver public value. Here we might talk about better records, new objects accessioned, contextual material, but also the ability to deliver better mission-relevant services by planning digitisation better. Thirdly, there’s operational value: also internal but at one further remove from the mission. Revenue raising, cost reduction or labour-saving efficiencies might apply here.The point is that Collections Access and Digital Media emphasise these differently. DM have a strong interest in engagement, in helping people to have an emotional response and form a bond with IWM and the matters it deals with; we also place a strong emphasis on the educational part of our mission. We’re more remote from revenue raising, although of course we serve many departments for whom this is central. CA’s values are probably weighted differently, although I wouldn’t presume to say what they are.
  • All of this leaves us with the challenge of developing a workflow for dealing with website comments, one that is shaped to what people seek from us and what they offer us, that is consistent, high quality, and ideally serves the full range of the IWM’s priorities (including those of other departments – I’ve not even mentioned what the curators think of this material). We need to make it work for each department, but we suspect that some big changes are needed. IWM’s senior management recognise the need to reshape the inquiries service, and we foresee a massive influx of various forms of UGC over the coming years. The website comments are but a warning of what we will face in terms of dealing with this. We don’t have the answers yet, but we dimly perceive a need to be able to reconcile what comes to us through all these different channels, from our Centenary crowd-sourcing projects through HistoryPin and Flickr, Your Paintings Tagger, our web comments and on to Twitter and Facebook – the whole spectrum – and have a way of managing both relationships with users of many stripes and the richness they can bring us
  • The wider picture of crowd-sourcing and of user input directly strengthening the IWM’s own knowledge currently includes a couple of small-scale activities that could provide valuable new information, and IWM needs to have a workflow established that can deal with assessing this and, where appropriate, bringing it into our core systems.HistoryPin is one, and on Flickr“Faces of the First World War” is another of these, which acts in a way as a pilot for a much larger project that will be launching for the Centenary itself, which is expected to produce information several orders of magnitude greater and demand a serious realignment of how we cope with this influx.
  • IWM is on “Your Paintings”, and the tagger there could (in theory) generate useful new metadata for us.
  • Inbound communications as a catalyst for organisational change

    1. 1. Inbound communications as a catalyst for organisational change 22 November 2012 Jeremy Ottevanger and Carolyn Royston (Imperial War Museums), Gabriella Giannachi and Peter Tolmie (University of Exeter), Gaynor Bagnall (University of Salford), Claire Ross (UCL)
    2. 2. IWM digital media in 2010 • A new Digital Media department • The start of a burst of investment in digital • First steps towards a co-ordinated approach or strategy to managing digital rights across the organisation • Planning overhaul of all our web offer • Beginnings of a social media presence • Very complex IP and copyright issues • IWM still risk-averse in approach to collections in digital space • A technical roadmap
    3. 3. The Social Interpretation project, 2011-12 Aims: understand social moderation explore cross-platform interactions build some infrastructure What we did: kiosks, app, website back-end technology commenting, sharing & collecting research
    4. 4. Interactions with the public: the wider context • Lots of avenues • ...and many types of by-product • Some channels focus explicitly on content creation, digitisation or metadata improvement • Some on engagement, sharing, social and emotional responses • Commenting on the website can be any of these
    5. 5. A tale of two departments
    6. 6. Collections Access and the Collections Inquiries service
    7. 7. Digital Media
    8. 8. Characterising contributions Informational New Corrected Object info Valuation Emotional Offer material Access Family history Digitisation, licensing Opinion History Personal Personal information, anecdotes, family history General/website Requests & queries
    9. 9. Collections Access Informational New Corrected Object info Valuation Emotional Offer material Access Family history Digitisation, licensing Opinion History Personal Personal information, anecdotes, family history General/website Requests & queries
    10. 10. Digital Media (previous channels) Informational New Corrected Object info Valuation Emotional Offer material Access Family history Digitisation, licensing Opinion History Personal Personal information, anecdotes, family history General/website Requests & queries
    11. 11. Website comments Informational New Corrected Object info Valuation Emotional Offer material Access Family history Digitisation, licensing Opinion History Personal Personal information, anecdotes, family history General/website Requests & queries
    12. 12. “This was the ship my grandfather served on during the war, as Leading Telegraphist. Unfortunately I don't have his service record so have no idea of dates but I do know that as well as the Kyle of Lochalsh he was also based at Rekjavik, Iceland. It's wonderful to see his ship as it would have been when he served on it (up 'til now I've only seen a picture of it in its original pre-war steamer guise). He often spoke fondly of it and had some fascinating stories to tell. Personal Emotional Personal information/anecdote/family history Informational New ”
    13. 13. “Je suis la fille de Bil SPIRA et suis très fière de mon père. De plus, il a toujours voulu protéger ses enfants et n’a jamais rien dit de sa souffrance due à la guerre ” Personal Emotional Personal information/family history Informational New Corrected Requests Digitisation (implicit)
    14. 14. A gap between two departments
    15. 15. More theory: sources of value External mission value - giving people what they want • Engagement through UGC contribution • Engagement through UGC consumption • Inform & educate through IWM response to requests Internal mission value - strengthening the museum's core • Improved records • Improved planning of digitisation, web content • New collections material Operational value - supporting the functions of the museum • improved revenue from better targeting of digitisation • Staffing efficiencies
    16. 16. Shaping our services
    17. 17. Thank you Contact details: Jeremy Ottevanger jottevanger@iwm.org.uk @jottevanger Carolyn Royston croyston@iwm.org.uk @caro_ft

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