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Wise Technology and the Creative Business of Museums


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This presentation will focus on how technology planning can lead to benefits in the creative and practical realms of interpretive and strategic planning, as well as play a critical role in the ability of museums to advocate in their best interests.
Many organizations find themselves saddled with expensive or inappropriate technological solutions that fail to deliver desired outcomes. Often this is because the ‘bells and whistles’ of technology have driven the ideas – and not the other way around.
Whether planning for new technology to enhance visitor experience or improve marketing or business practices, much of the concept-driven process is similar, including the use of effective planning steps to ensure a successful outcome.
This presentation will also address how technology can be a powerful tool – not just to engage or market to audiences but to extract information to help organizations evaluate strengths and weaknesses and make better decisions for the future.
How does all this relate to advocacy? Creating meaningful and engaging learning experiences can transform visitors into stakeholders. Being able to evaluate the success of interpretive and strategic plans can furnish proof that museums matter profoundly, as catalysts of learning, civic pride and economic development.
(Karen Hengerer, Anne Thwaits, and Emily Duwel)

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Wise Technology and the Creative Business of Museums

  1. 2. Preparation for making a technology leap or change <ul><li>Know your business Process </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Business flow </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Data inputs/outputs </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Think about maximizing your data </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Get from data to ‘wisdom’ </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Establish requirements </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Software </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hardware </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Maximize your resources </li></ul>
  2. 3. Understand your Business Process Visitor arrives Member? Purchases? yes no Update Mailing List & Attendance List Update Attendance Store Data Store Data Update financials and Inventory Store Data Done yes Done no
  3. 4. Data Inputs & Outputs – Sample ‘Gift Shop’ Input System Output Employee Timesheets (define format) Personnel/HR Financial Employee cost by activity Payroll Guest Book/Ticket, etc. (define format) Mailing List Attendance Record Attendance Data Communications Gift Shop Receipts (define format) Financial Purchasing Update Inventory Sales Heat/light by department (define format) Financial Operating Costs Postage, printing Financial Mailing Costs (combine with employee cost by activity) Etc, etc., etc., …
  4. 5. Move from Data to Information <ul><li>What is Data? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Can be numbers (as in a simple spreadsheet) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can be lists (as in lists of names) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Data must be processed to be useful </li></ul><ul><li>Processed data becomes ‘information’ </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The processed spreadsheet – monthly receipts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The processed list – membership information </li></ul></ul><ul><li>From information you can now begin to ask/answer important (wisdom) questions. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Who, what, when, where, why, how </li></ul></ul>
  5. 6. The Move from Information to Wisdom <ul><li>Information/knowledge are about the past. </li></ul><ul><li>Wisdom is about the future. </li></ul><ul><li>You can now begin to ask questions which may lead to new decisions. </li></ul><ul><li>Information systems can be paper based: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Manually maintained member/user lists </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Manually updated inventory or financial spreadsheets </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Technology can take you to the next level. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Ease of data entry and maintenance </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Processing data from multiple areas (or systems) in order to gain additional insight (wisdom) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Greater use of historical information </li></ul></ul>
  6. 7. Simple Walk-through <ul><li>You have the following data: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mailing list </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Membership list </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sign-in book, tickets or attendance </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Financials for printing/postage </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Office Staffing, timesheets, cost per hour </li></ul></ul><ul><li>You can ask the following questions (information): </li></ul><ul><ul><li>How many members & non-members have visited? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How many are return visits? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How many times have we communicated via mailing list? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How much does the average communication cost? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is the average cost of communication per household? </li></ul></ul>
  7. 8. Simple Walk-through, Continued <ul><li>The ‘wisdom’ question: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Our communications cost x% of our membership fee; our members are visiting only once per hear on average. Are we getting enough business from our current communications? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>A next ‘wisdom’ loop will follow this first question. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>How much per visit does an average person spend? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>You need to determine the data and systems from which you can gain the information to answer this question. </li></ul><ul><li>What other questions can you ask? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>How many of our visitors are out of state? Do we need to include them on our mailing list? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How can we get ‘satisfaction’ information from our visitors? </li></ul></ul>
  8. 9. Technology supporting the quest for Wisdom <ul><li>Plan for technology BEFORE investing. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Your technologist should be part of all planning activities. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Plan for gathering your information. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What do you want your information to look like? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Where/how will you collect your data? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Plan for moving from data to wisdom. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>How/where will you store your data? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How will you merge multiple data sources? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How will you maintain your data/information? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Will you be able to add or change your information format if new questions arise? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>How will you communicate your ‘wisdom’ </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Board/policy, clients, associations. </li></ul></ul>
  9. 10. You must remember this! <ul><li>Technology is more expensive to maintain than to buy. </li></ul><ul><li>Multiple systems need to ‘talk to’ each other. </li></ul><ul><li>Flexibility in data is important for future planning. </li></ul><ul><li>Information systems need to be designed BEFORE they are purchased or implemented. </li></ul><ul><li>Do not depend on an external product to define your requirements. </li></ul><ul><li>Be mindful of internet pitfalls: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>24 by 7 support required; downtime if frustrating to clients. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Do not use for internal communications – they can be ‘mined’. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Security of client information is paramount. </li></ul></ul>
  10. 11. You must remember this!, Continued <ul><li>Be careful of using multiple or proprietary databases. Your data needs to be accessible across functional areas. </li></ul><ul><li>Stick with the tried and true … new start-ups or new products are often not long-lasting. </li></ul><ul><li>Maximize external resources for evaluation. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Reference accounts, colleagues, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>On-line sources for specific evaluation of nonprofit software </li></ul></ul>
  11. 12. Your Technology Support Staff <ul><li>Even with technology, human error is likely. </li></ul><ul><li>Volunteers bring unique considerations. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Volunteers supporting technology need training and a formalized commitment … things do go bump in the night! </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Purchase/maintenance agreements are important. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>need to be thought out and maintained for maximum efficiency. This should be part of a technology job description. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Document, document, document … </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Processes, tools, software need to be documented </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ease of change/support </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Training of new employees/volunteers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ease of automation! </li></ul></ul>
  12. 13. Technology Support Staff, Continued <ul><li>Be careful of the ‘Lone Ranger’ in a key position. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What if he/she leaves suddenly? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Beware of the ‘hot shot’ who doesn’t like structure. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A responsible leader must know/understand what is going on … </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Someone on the technology staff must be accountable. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>along with someone on the business staff must understand your systems (business and technology) end-to-end. </li></ul></ul>
  13. 14. The ‘Big Rules’ for Changing Systems <ul><li>Do not make a change unless you know how to back it out. </li></ul><ul><li>Both the installation and the back-out must be tested. </li></ul><ul><li>Changes need to be documented and communicated/agreed in advance. </li></ul><ul><li>If you don’t understand the risks, … don’t make the change. </li></ul><ul><li>Keep track of your changes/approvals/success/failures. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Essential for trouble-shooting problems. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Historical problem patterns must be corrected. </li></ul></ul>
  14. 15. Additional Resources <ul><li>Arizona Humanities Council, ‘Cultural Tourism Study’: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Food for thought regarding wisdom questions. </li></ul></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Great article on nonprofit business software </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Idealware, 501C specifically for nonprofits </li></ul><ul><ul><li>[email_address] … ‘Candid Information about Nonprofit Software’: Software Costs and Usage: Findings of a nonprofit Sector Survey, September 2005 </li></ul></ul><ul><li>National Council of Nonprofits </li></ul><ul><li>www.techsoup </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>CNET </li></ul><ul><ul><li>General product reviews and pricing. Not specific to nonprofits </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul>
  15. 16. Wise Technology and the Creative Business of Museums A Museum Educator’s Perspective Anne Thwaits [email_address] June 3, 2010
  16. 17. Charles Willson Peale The Artist in His Museum 1822
  17. 18. The National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, PA, is filled with high-tech exhibitions, artifacts and interactive displays.
  18. 19. Wise Technology and the Creative Business of Museums <ul><li>Be wise by… </li></ul><ul><li>Choosing technology that supports learning theory </li></ul><ul><li>Knowing what visitors want and expect </li></ul><ul><li>Using existing hardware (yours or visitors’), software, and online services whenever possible </li></ul>
  19. 20. Museum Learning Theories <ul><li>Three common contemporary theories: </li></ul><ul><li>Theory of Multiple Intelligences </li></ul><ul><li>Constructivist theory </li></ul><ul><li>Socio-cultural theory </li></ul>John Dewey, Experience and Education , 1938 All genuine education comes from experience, but not all experiences are genuinely or equally educative
  20. 21. Museum Learning Theories <ul><li>Theory of Multiple Intelligences </li></ul><ul><ul><li>There are nine different types of intelligence: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>visual/spatial </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>verbal/linguistic </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>logical/mathematical </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>bodily/kinesthetic </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>musical/rhythmic </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Interpersonal </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Intrapersonal </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>naturalistic </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>existential </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Strengths and weaknesses in various intelligences vary from person to person , so teaching methods should also vary </li></ul></ul>
  21. 22. Museum Learning Theories <ul><li>Constructivist theory </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Learners construct knowledge, educators provide the tools </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Learners make personal meanings based on prior experience , existing knowledge and interests </li></ul></ul>
  22. 23. “ Rather than learners being empty vessels into which information can be poured, they come… with a wealth of knowledge already organized. It is upon this knowledge structure that learners hang new information, creating new links to their pre-existing knowledge.” K. Jeffery-Clay
  23. 24. Museum Learning Theories <ul><li>Socio-cultural theory </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Learning is a socially mediated process </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Learning occurs in the context of interaction and collaboration with other people, where a wide range of levels of understanding and interests meet </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Communities of learners/communities of practice </li></ul></ul>
  24. 25. What Visitors Want Surprisingly, technology is not a high priority
  25. 26. What Visitors Want Pre-Baby Boom Baby Boom Generation X Generation Y Millenials 1946 1965 1977 1992 Birth year 2030 Vision: Anticipating the Needs and Expectations of Museum Visitors of the Future : A 2007 report by the Smithsonian Institution Office of Policy and Analysis
  26. 27. What Visitors Want Pre-Baby Boom Baby Boom Generation X Generation Y Millenials 1946 1965 1977 1992 Birth year Want stimulating exhibitions and interactives that will help them stave off dementia and maintain brain function Good family activities to do with grandkids Assistive technologies to help compensate for loss of hearing, vision, motor function, etc.
  27. 28. What Visitors Want Pre-Baby Boom Baby Boom Generation X Generation Y Millenials 1946 1965 1977 1992 Birth year Most educated generation yet Want to be more involved parents than their parents were Want to get their kids away from screens for real, active learning experiences
  28. 29. What Visitors Want Pre-Baby Boom Baby Boom Generation X Generation Y Millenials 1946 1965 1977 1992 Birth year Attached to the constant communications and info-gathering power of new technology tools Social experience is important – want constant connection with others Want to create, contribute to, comment on, manipulate, remix, and share content Want immediate access to info from many sources
  29. 30. interactions with technology in daily life outside of the museum shape the amount of involvement visitors want to have with their learning, their preference for social or collaborative learning experiences, and their expectations of rapid response and quick turn-around and refresh in museum programs and activities.
  30. 31. <ul><li>Museums must think of audiences as active participants and not passive consumers of information. </li></ul><ul><li>“ If the museum can emerge as a convener of cultural events rather than an arbiter of cultural truth, it will benefit from the Web more than be threatened by it. What the museum can contribute is an authenticity rooted in its integrity as an institution rather than the authority of its voice.” </li></ul><ul><li>David Bearman & Jennifer Trant </li></ul><ul><li>(Museums and the Web 2008) </li></ul>
  31. 32. Social Media <ul><li>Disseminate information (Facebook, Twitter, institution websites) </li></ul><ul><li>Create communities of learners/communities of practice (Facebook, Twitter, Ning, wikis) </li></ul><ul><li>Create and comment on content (YouTube, Flickr, Google Maps mash-ups, tagging, folksonomies) </li></ul>
  32. 33. The Black List Project Brooklyn Museum Two Macbook computers, and instructions for their use, used to capture Community Voices to YouTube in The Black List Project, an exhibition of portraits by photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders that explores being black in America.
  33. 34. The Black List Project Brooklyn Museum
  34. 35. World Beach Project Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  35. 36. World Beach Project Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  36. 37. Emily Düwel Interpretive Planning Exhibition Development Think Sense studios | [email_address] Co-Design, Technology and the Museum Paradigm
  37. 38. <ul><li>With the rise of technology, the desire to involve audiences in the museum process – first articulated in 1960s – has been increasingly realized, as evidenced by two important museum trends: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Democratization of Museums </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Accessibility </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Relevance </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Changing Ideas of Representation and Voice </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Creating Open-ended Learning Experiences </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Participatory Design or Co-Design </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Bringing the audience or community into the design process </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Re-thinking separation of author vs. subject vs. visitor </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Distributed Authority </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Encouraging Open Dialogue and Critique </li></ul></ul></ul>Technology Re-shaping the Museum Paradigm and vice-versa...
  38. 39. Co-Design in Practice ... visitors contribute scientific research and become environmental stewards, through complementary on-site and online activities... Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico La Esperanza Nature and History Reserve On-site Citizen Science Visitor Activities include bat counting and bird monitoring Cornell Ornithological Lab Partnership Citizen Science / Wildlab Online Citizen Science Visitor Activities include tracking bird migration and pathology.
  39. 40. ASU Museum of Anthropology Visiones Sagrados / Sacred Sites Room for the Dead (both museum and online exhibits) Visitors created altarpieces for loved ones or favorite icons, as well as contributed interpretive texts. Oracle Historical Society Family Histories: Día de los Muertos 2007 School kids conducted oral history interviews with family members and created altars commemorating a particular past relation. Visitors create and/or interpret art for museum display, producing a form of visual ethnography Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico. La Esperanza Reserve – Manor House Visitor Center Interpretive Plan A Place Over Time: Photos and Memories Community stakeholder life stories will be interwoven with images of La Esperanza sugar-cane workers by WPA photographer Jack Delano.
  40. 41. Visitors contribute their experiences of history and its interpretation.... Architecture of Segregation Proposed Traveling Museum Exhibition Dynamic Oral History Website Component People contributing both stories and photos documenting their experiences of segregation in the United States ... from both sides of the fence. National Museum of the American Indian Washington, DC Native American nations determine how their culture and history is represented and participate directly in curation. This effort represents the most seminal instance of co-design shaping a museum from the ground up.
  41. 42. Integrating scholarship with co-design... Apaches of Aravaipa Canyon, Inc. Website Project Goals: 1. Establishes institutional presence and communicates its core mission. 2. Shares new scholarship that – for the first time – attempts to incorporate an Apache point of view. 3. Invites stakeholder participation in helping to shape the future form of an interpretive center.
  42. 43. Museum / Technology Parallels <ul><li>Structuring data to make it relevant, meaningful and accessible </li></ul><ul><li>Visitor way-finding; non-linear navigation </li></ul><ul><li>Interactivity and free choice </li></ul><ul><li>Visitor evaluation vs. visitor bread crumbs </li></ul><ul><li>People sharing, curating and critiquing the events of their lives, their communities and the larger society, in real time via a spate of different social media </li></ul><ul><li>Creating collections, storehouses; situating objects, lives and places within a specific if open-ended past or landscape or context; drawing parallels, making associations (keywords) </li></ul>
  43. 44. MUSEUMS and MEMORY... Memory is not an instrument for exploring the past but its theatre. It is the medium of past experience, as the ground is the medium in which dead cities lie interred. Walter Benjamin (1892-1940)
  44. 45. Museums and Websites serving as universal repositories of both public and private memories...
  45. 46. Memory Archives as vehicles for co-design... Sawad Brooks and Beth Stryker Disseminet ( ) A non-linear keyword-based investigation of accounts of the disappeared in El Salvador. Hippo Camps Public Memory Project The as yet unlaunched version of a new collective memory application City Design Center Chicago Database Future goal is to incorporate city plans and documents with individual experiential accounts of different urban sectors.
  46. 47. Some Big Questions in regard to Co-design and Technology... <ul><li>How can we ensure that programs impart meaning? </li></ul><ul><li>Is the curator – now a meta-curator – placed in the role of puppet master or play director? To what degree is that role transparent? </li></ul><ul><li>Is the voice of the author now a mere conduit for the voice of the many? </li></ul><ul><li>Is everything now to be given equal value? For example, is the digital copy as valuable as the original? </li></ul><ul><li>Digital interactivity versus engagement with the real ... how does technology enhance or divide us from meaningful experience </li></ul><ul><li>What happens when we let the rabble in the gate... </li></ul>
  47. 48. What It Means to Storm the Museum: Machine Projects – L.A. “ Etymologically speaking, “machine” is any means of doing something. Our explorations at Machine Project reflect this by investigating everything from knitting techniques to ideological frameworks for the construction of reality. ...” LACMA Intervention A few of the many ideas governing the idea of visitors being given opportunities to take over and re-interpret the museum... “ Garden on top of the elevator. Student driver parking valets. Child docents. Clap-activated lighting. Boat puppets. Laser eyed statue heads—please guard your eyes. Beware of pie toss. Saint Bernard with brandy neck-cask wandering around the landscape paintings. Abandoned luxury items. Preparator workshop. Can we drill into the floor? Whoopie cushions, everywhere. A voice hidden inside a pedestal occasionally shouts out a comment or interjection....”
  48. 49. A Few Key Technology Planning & Design Tips <ul><li>Keep your institutional mission front and center. Revisit it as you progress. </li></ul><ul><li>Look at – and articulate – your needs, purpose and goals. </li></ul><ul><li>Define your team. Be inclusive .. curatorial, design, evaluation, education, engineers/programmers, architects and even stakeholders should all have input during the creative brainstorm process. </li></ul><ul><li>Come up with a list of “allies” i.e. additional partners, advisors, technical gurus etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Think about the audience perspective. Ask yourself “How can the visitor help this project?” </li></ul><ul><li>Talk to visitors and community members. Consider using formative evaluation to find out the questions you don’t even know to ask. </li></ul><ul><li>Hold BRAINSTORM sessions with your full team. Let everyone bounce their ideas around. </li></ul><ul><li>Dream – engage in word play and free associate, think about metaphors, doodle and sketch, read poetry, wander, look around ... play. </li></ul><ul><li>Synthesize and pare down ideas into a clear and concise CONCEPT STATEMENT. This is the edifice upon which everything will hang. </li></ul><ul><li>Devise a few solutions in keeping with your concept statement .. not just one. </li></ul><ul><li>Look at existing freeware platforms and see if they can’t be adapted. Be careful of existing modules i.e. determine research/design/development and maintenance costs. Think about project/technology lifespan.Create simple prototype/s or representative sketch/es, evaluate in terms of initial resource outlay, ongoing maintenance costs and impact or benefit (see matrix). Discuss and make a selection.Draft the project parameters into a written plan. Spell out the purpose and goals, overarching concept, evaluation, interpretive strategy, project scope, team, work plan, outreach/marketing, timetable and budget.Develop schematics or a flow chart representing the information architecture or framework, i.e. demonstrate how the parts relate to the whole and incorporate into plan. </li></ul><ul><li>Using the above, create a framework or outline. This framework will then help ensure that all project aspects are unified and integrated, as well as ensure a smooth transition from stage to stage (e.g. from plan to research to content to design to engineering/programming to fabrication to installation). </li></ul><ul><li>All of the above will prove invaluable to writing convincing grant proposals to help fund the project. </li></ul>
  49. 50. Strategic Planning Matrix (Borrowed and adapted from John Durel, Organizational Coach, QM2/ Durel Consulting Partners) Projects falling under Nos. 1through 3 are good. Projects falling under Nos. 6 through 9 should be avoided. For many museums (unlike for-profits), No. 5 may proportionally outweigh all others in terms of benefit (e.g. the “blockbuster”). Resource Levels (staff, time, funding, space, etc.) Little #7 #3 #1 Some #8 #4 #2 Huge #9 #6 #5 Little Some Huge Impact