Museums Beyond The Web 

By David McCulloch on 10 Dec 2014 Category: News

In November 2014, Faversham & Moss sponsored the Museums Computer Group Annual Conference [1] at the Natural History Museum and this year it focused on ‘Museums Beyond the Web’. As an output from our discussions on the day, we have compiled a short guide to taking your organisation beyond the web.

The Landscape

Things are going well, visits to English museums and galleries increased by 4% in 2013 [2]. There are many reasons for this increase, but key to this is the increased use of digital communications and the application of digital technologies.

“Technology has irrevocably changed the landscape of programming in museums and libraries, increasing opportunities to reach the public in new ways.” Robert Stein & Bruce Wyman – Nurturing Engagement: How Technology and Business Model Alignment can Transform Visitor Participation in the Museum

From Oculus Rift and 3D printing to Google Glass and iBeacons, museums are now using the latest in digital technology to provide a more immersive experience.

With all of the options out there it’s difficult to create a clear, comprehensive and functional plan for your organisation. Bearing this in mind, if you follow the following steps it will help ensure your efforts result in success.

Isolate Your Organisation’s Objectives

The first thing you need to do is outline your organisation’s business objectives. Regardless of the digital technology and approach your organisation chooses to take, you must ensure that the experience is relevant to your organisation.

Below are some of the key questions you will need to answer in order to establish your business objectives:

  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • How will your organisation benefit?
  • Are your objectives true to the values of your organisation?
  • How will a visitor’s experience be enriched?
  • Are your objectives realistic?
  • What is the timeframe for delivery of the project?
  • What technical infrastructure currently exists within your organisation?
  • What metrics will you use to gauge engagement?

You will also need to isolate the challenges that you think will prohibit you from delivering these objectives. Common challenges are garnering support from internal stakeholders, securing the necessary funding or establishing if your organisation has the rights to use artefacts and collections.

Understand Your Audience

Don’t choose the technology that most excites you, make sure that it is relevant to your organisational needs and also that it is relevant to your audience. In short, combine the audience’s needs with those of the organisation and put people before the technology.

Engaging with your current visitors and asking them questions is a good way to understand what their expectations are. Combine low-cost qualitative and quantitative online tools, such as SurveyMonkey and Google Analytics, with more traditional on-the-ground interviews and surveys .

Use these tools to gain simple information about their age, gender, group size and location, to more complex questions about their engagement life-cycle and direct interactions with your organisation. You can then use this data to understand how they engage with technology and what their expectations are when they visit your museum or gallery.

Use the data you gather to create user personas [3]. The personas you create for your organisation should be referred to throughout your creative and development process to ensure that you remain focused on your audience. These personas can then be used to segment your audience further to ensure that any future decisions and initiatives are focused and appropriate.

Start Small and Experiment

Going beyond the web doesn’t have to cost your organisation a great deal of money. You should start small and evolve.

Learn through trial and error but be prepared to not get it right every time. You may also find that technology is evolving at such a pace that what may seem impossible today can quickly become possible.

Engage a small working group from your target audience to user test your product [4] and this will enable you to develop your projects further and in a focused and meaningful way.

Collaboration Yields Success

Advocacy [5] and collaboration with your colleagues is key for successfully selling your business case to internal stakeholders.

Also, as well as embracing the skills you have within your organisation don’t be afraid to collaborate with external experts in the field as this will potentially reduce the time and cost to deliver the project and allow the training and growth of your in-house skills.

Research the technology you want to use, as there may already be examples of other organisations working on similar projects.  Collaborating with them may enable you to deliver your project faster and with less development costs.

Here are five examples of Museums and Galleries who have already successfully used or are planning to use innovative technology:

  • iBeacons – at Rubens House in Antwerp iBeacons added history and depth to the great artists’ work [6]
  • 3D printing – High level copies of artefacts are being used in museums in China where there is a lack of physical content [7]
  • Interactive and immersive technology – Cleveland Museum of Art’s unique Gallery One [8]
  • Mobile Apps – The Commonwealth war graves commission app provides users with in depth details about the cemeteries and graves of soldiers across the globe [9]
  • Haptic and tactile museum experience – Manchester Museum enabled visitors to touch precious objects using this technology [10]

Future Revenue Streams

Overall, technology has the scope to provide your organisation with the opportunity to generate future revenue streams and provide return on your investment. Once you set your business goals and define your audience needs you will have a clear idea of the technology to use in order to achieve your objectives.

With visitor numbers for museums and galleries in the UK on the rise, creating a more immersive digital experience for your visitors has the potential to increase revenue for your organisation.

Museums are already seeing benefits from projects like the 3D printing of artefacts for exhibitions and by selling 3D printed items based on their collections.

Revenue can also be generated by speaking to businesses and outside organisations who have a link or a direct interest in the theme of your project. Negotiating sponsorship can help finance future digital projects and can benefit external companies by enhancing cultural prestige and by being part of their corporate social responsibility strategy.

Share your results

Finally, share your results with the community. Digital innovation in this industry will successfully grow through collaboration and by the sharing of knowledge. We recommend writing a Research and Development paper that outlines your experiences and findings and similarly these should be available from other organisations within the industry.

We are living in exciting times where ‘traditional’ museum experiences are no longer always relevant. There are new opportunities to engage and broaden your audiences in innovative and creative ways that will in turn create new revenue streams for you. The possibilities for the future are limitless and exciting.

[1] http://museumscomputergroup.org.uk/2014/08/12/ukmw14-programme/
[2] http://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/news/26082014-english-museums-see-4-percent-rise-in-2013
[3] http://openexhibits.org/wp-content/uploads/papers/CMME%20Personas.pdf
[4] http://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-many-test-users/
[5] http://www.museumsassociation.org/download?id=165568
[6] http://www.prophets.be/#/work/ibeacon/
[7] http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-11/06/arup-future-museums
[8] http://www.clevelandart.org/gallery-one/interactives
[9] http://www.cwgc.org/
[10] http://zeroproject.org/practice/haptic-and-tactile-museum-experience/