Thursday, 6 March 2014

Women in the Arts event March 2014

My blog has been woefully quiet for over a year. This is just a quick post so won't make up for my silence, but at least it's a start

Yesterday I attended an event called Women in the Arts, part of the Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre.  I was interested in attending because of the issues that are currently arising for me in trying to balance a career that I enjoy, find fulfilling and need (for emotional as well as financial reasons) with my newfound responsibilities of being a mother – a balance that I’m still struggling to come to terms with at the moment, although it is early days as yet. 

Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre opened the day with an inspiring conversation about representations of women’s creativity in the arts and how, though women have always had a creative voice, even today, that voice is not necessarily represented in the works of art that are performed, those that are reviewed / critiqued, and those that people recommend to one another etc.

The day started with a number of talks from women from different areas of the arts discussing the issues that affect women working in each of these areas.

The event then broke into separate discussion areas for different art forms – I was part of the ‘Women in Heritage’ discussion. We had an interesting discussion which acknowledged that women are actually very well represented in heritage, though not always at more senior levels.  Each of the small groups were then asked to report back to the whole conference and a number of themes emerged.  One theme was the need for strong female mentors and role models. Another was confidence and women’s need to assert themselves more, be more willing to negotiate on pay etc. Childcare and dependent care arrangements, their cost, and the fact that it tends always to fall to women, came up time and time again. The need for more female gatekeepers at senior levels came up a lot too. 
I didn’t necessarily agree with everything that was said on the day, but it was very inspiring to spend the afternoon among such articulate, high-achieving and creative women, and very reassuring to hear of others struggling with, and feeling as concerned by the same challenges that I’m struggling with. 

In terms of next steps for me to make sure I capitalise on the inspiration I gained, I’m going to renew my efforts to find myself a mentor who is both in a senior role in a heritage organisation and also a working mother (in a digital role would be even better - any ideas anyone?), I’m going to try and give myself more permission to carve out time to do things that will benefit me and my career and I’m generally going to try and take confidence and reassurance from the knowledge that there are others who have successfully circumnavigated the challenges I’m currently facing.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

UKMW12 takeaways

Another UK Museums on the Web conference (organised by the Museums Computer Group) has happened, and since I was much less involved in the organisation this year, I can say, without bias, that it was brilliant! You can view full programme or view slides from all presentations should you so desire. These notes are just a fairly brief summary of some of the main things that I took away from the conference.  Apologies for any mistakes or misrepresentations, do let me know if you're a speaker and you think I need to change what I've written here.

Make data-based decisions

This was a key message that came out of several different papers, i.e. use your Google Analytics data to inform what you’re going to do next – what’s popular? What’s happening at the moment? When do people look at your material?
·         The V&A plan their website subject pages around what people are searching for

·         The Guardian now carry out ‘day-parting’ (a word they’ve made up) – looking at the patterns of website use throughout the day. They’ve spotted particularly interesting patterns of mobile use (see below).

Integrating digital into all areas of the Museum


·         The V&A have separated out content processes into:

§  ‘business as usual’ - can go live without approval from digital media department

§  projects for the Digital Content Programme needing Content Commissioning Group approval,

§  projects affecting or changing V&A technology needing Digital FuturePlan approval (see slides for flow chart of how this all works)

·         Rather than write a strategy which would soon go out of date, the V&A created a framework of guidelines for content (see slides for examples of kinds of guidelines).  

·         Visibility of the new processes and decision-making is key to organisation change – small things like making minutes of decision-making meetings avaialble on the intranet can be very important

·       Evolution of Tate’s website and web strategy over the past few years has been as follows:

§  Initially a brochure (self-explanatory)

§  Moved to being a channel - commissioning content specifically for the web for the first time rather than re-purposing content from the galleries and building up an editorial team (e.g. Tate Kids)

§  It's now a platform - multiples blogs, holding debates online, building community, participation projects and social media

§  Tate’s 2010-12 strategy was about:

·         The need for a transformation project

·         The need for an audience-centred approach

·         An outline of areas that needed to be addressed

§  Digital Strategy 2013-15 (currently being produced) is about how digital is a dimension of everything – every other department now has digital in their strategies

·       Digital audiences do not exist as a neat package, there is no one-size-fits-all silver-bullet solution to providing for their needs.

·       Nick Poole: ‘A digital culture will get you through a time without a digital strategy much more than a digital strategy will get you through a time without a digital culture’

·       Katy Beale: Emphasise people and process over products – this can lead to longer-term strategic change

·       Katy Beale: There is little flex for innovation when a strategy focuses on a fixed amount of time


·      The V&A have changed the make-up of their FuturePlan team to include more digital people. They’ve also set up a Trustees’ Technology Strategy Committee. It’s role is as follows:

o   Ensure best practice in digital

o   Agree, review and steer projects with an overarching digital programme

o   Check design integrity of digital output


·         The growth in mobile last year was 170% (according to Let’s Get Real project research)

·       Tom Grinsted: Mobiles are arguably the most physically contiguous part of us these days – it’s becoming the predominant way of accessing the web

·       Patterns of mobile use (as spotted by the Guardian):

o   When we wake up

o   When getting coffee / filling time on the commute – this means that people are consuming MORE content than they used to because of mobile

o   Between 9 and 11 at night

o   People sitting at home, with a laptop next to them, still reach for a mobile – their motive on a mobile is usually searching

Collections online and data sharing

·      Paul Rowe (keynote): Share what you have and consider licenses which allow for re-use

·      Paul Rowe (keynote): Copyright is a very complex issue, if necessary it’s worth sharing collections data without an image

·      Collections Trust have been playing ‘top trumps’ with different ways of sharing collections.  Presentation slides have more info.

·       Collections Trust are looking at lots of different ways of sharing data, and are also gathering lots of anonymous information from Picture Libraries about the realities of how much revenue comes from image licensing.

User-engagement and digital research and development

Claire Ross and Jane Audas did a talk on the realities of digital R&D (research & development) with the IWM Social Interpretation project as an example. 

Key messages about R&D projects:

·      R&D projects often seen as a rapid, new and effective way of developing new material in museums. The reality, is very, very different.

·      Museums find R&D difficult because they’re not agile institutions

·      Evaluation is a continuous process

·      Funding for digital innovation is great, but expecting it to happen in a year is unrealistic – change takes time

·      Make sure you’ve got it before starting an R&D project – e.g. make sure digital images of objects are available

·      Advocacy for a project internally and externally is key to R&D projects

·      Always plan in a marketing budget

·      Think carefully whether R&D is what you really want to do

Key messages about user engagement:

·         QR codes don’t work

·         Deeper engagements happen online than in-gallery

·         Weird and emotive material gets the best comments

·         Provocative questions that bring the visitors in is also key to getting good engagement with people

·         post-moderation (i.e. not moderating before comments go live) works – just because people can abuse something that’s freely available to edit, doesn’t mean that they will.

·        Radical trust is important – people will write inane comments but they won’t write abusive comments
Can't wait for UKMW13 now!



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Monday, 27 August 2012

The Horniman and Another London exhibition

We had a little excursion to Forest Hill today and had a potter around the Horniman Museum in the morning, something I've been meaning to do for a while.  I really liked the Horniman.  It was something about the atmosphere I think, and the way that they somehow manage to combine the feeling of a very Victorian 'cabinet of curiosities' with a modern museum complete with modern interpretation and a child-friendly, accessible atmosphere.  We were only there for an hour, so this is far from a detailed appraisal but I liked the listening tables in the musical instruments exhibitions, I liked the giant walrus and I liked the centenary exhibition.  My only mild criticism was to do with the doors to the different exhibition spaces, which were all closed, and made me feel like I perhaps wasn't supposed to go in there, even though on closer investigation it was clearly ok to do so.

We've had quite a cultural bank holiday weekend in fact because yesterday we went to see the Another London exhibition at Tate Britain.  This is an exhibition of overseas photographers who have photographed London through the years.  It gives an outsider's view of the capital from various different angles.  It struck me before we went how similar it might be to the Museum of London's Street Photography exhibition last year which I really enjoyed and in many ways the comparison was a valid one. 

The Tate Britain exhibition made me realise, however, that I really do prefer history / social history exhibitions to ones that I'll broadly call 'art' exhibitions.  At the time of London Street Photography at the Museum of London, I heard it said that it was quite a 'traditional hang' i.e. had, in many ways, the feeling of a more traditional art exhibition much more than the rest of the Museum.  It was noticeable that visitors behaved very differently to the way that they do in other parts of the Museum, following a very linear path and lingering in front of each photograph for a long time in the way that people do in galleries. 

In this way, the exhibition at Tate Britain felt very similar.  Quite quiet crowds of people moved slowly from photograph to photograph, in order, looking at each one for a minute or so at a time. 

The difference came, however, I found, when it came to the captions.  The Tate Britain captions in many cases gave very little information about the photograph's subject.  I felt that one was supposed to appreciate the photograph from an aesthetic perspective first and foremost.  There's nothing very wrong with this per say, but I don't really feel I have the requisite skills to be very good at it. Being a Londoner by blood, and by current residence, if not by birth, I love London and I love London's history and I love seeing places that I know today, and imagining how they would have been in the past, when my ancestors (about 3/4s of whom were from London for generations) lived here, worked here and went about their daily lives here.  The 'Another London' captions gave me little to further this pursuit, limiting captions often to a slightly esoteric title and a date.  This led me to reflect on how the Museum of London exhibition, for me, made itself far more accessible to a wider audience by including more information in its captions, and a narrative through the exhibition.  This meant that those interested in photography from an aesthetic point of view were still able to appreciate the photography, but so, also, were people with a general interest in London's history.  Perhaps a photography expert would disagree with me and would have preferred the Museum of London exhibition to have been more like 'Another London', but this was my feeling. 

One other negative point about Another London was that, as I observed a wheelchair user make her way around the exhibition, the photographs were hung at the eye level of an adult standing upright and were therefore hardly terribly accessible in that way either.

These things aside, I enjoyed the Another London exhibition, I enjoyed seeing photographs of London through the ages, I liked the way many of them caught the changing atmospheres of London, and I know enough about London history myself to still be able to grasp a little of the 'social history' interest that I desired from it.  A strong point in its favour, I felt, was the webpage about the exhibition, featuring two 'TateShots' videos of the photographers talking about their work, what inspired them, why they chose the subjects they did, etc.  This underlined once again the fact that I'm definitely someone who learns by hearing and listening, but also provided what I felt the captions lacked in terms of context and explanation behind some of the photographs. So 10/10 for TateShots!

I would certainly recommend the exhibition for a pootle around if you're interested in such things, although the £10 entry fee might possibly put me off, especially if I was short of time (I got in free - the perks of being a museum professional!)

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Thursday, 12 July 2012

Generic Learning Outcomes - friend or foe?

This is a really quick post in my lunch break so apologies for the brevity.  I intend to blog more fulsomely about the joint MCG/DLNET Engaging Digital Audiences in Museums conference yesterday over the days / weeks to come but I wanted to follow up on one point.

I just want to continue discussion here if possible about one particular point: A mention of learning outcomes in the morning suggested to me that there was perhaps a little negativity around the concept. I tried to open up this discussion in an unconference session called 'Learning outcomes: Friend or foe' but most of us in that session were already regular users of the Generic Learning Outcomes and therefore we didn't have the lively debate that we expected to have so I wanted to continue the discussion here:

1. What does the term 'learning outcome' mean to you?
2. What are your experiences of working with learning outcomes?
3. Would you consider them to be a friend or a foe and why?

I'm moving into a new role at Museum of London next week (more on this later) and part of that job will be about bringing lots of digital sub-teams around the Museum of London together to work more collaboratively.  A better understanding of the kinds of differences of opinion / misconceptions / likes / dislikes / different vocabularies or whatever you want to call them about issues like this would be really useful for me to help plan how I go about doing this.

Please let me know your thoughts by commenting on this post!


Friday, 14 October 2011

Twelve things I took away from the Culture24 Let's Get Real conference

On 21 September I attended Culture24's Let's Get Real conference in Bristol. This is quite a long time ago now and I should have blogged about it before but maybe the time lapse can help me be a bit more succinct about what I took away rather than providing a blow-by-blow account of the day.

Here are 10 things I took away from the conference:
  1. Tom Uglow, Creative Lead in the Google Creative lab did a really inspiring keynote. Without consulting my notes, the thing that's stuck in my head is his very gratifying and inspiring suggestion that the people in the room that day would be the pioneers of taking museums forward into the future.
  2. There's so much more that you can do with Google Analytics than most of us are probably currently doing - I knew this before, but wanted to be told what these things were - and to a large extent the conference didn't disappoint! Examples that have stuck in my mind include: using segments to look at where your audience is coming from geographically and filtering out visits from within your own organisation.
  3. In the 'failing forward' section, Matthew Cock from the British Museum did a very quick but useful talk about how they'd refreshed their website and the tools he used to make the process easier e.g. having evidence-based discussions with stakeholders using heat maps and Analytics data often taking the sting out of certain decisions. James Morley from Kew also talked about some of the stuff they did on a similar project including optimising their 404 page with a set of quicklinks for likely content the user was looking for and a sponsorship banner.
  4. There's going to be a second round of the Action Research Project led by Culture24 that this conference came out of. Information will be made available on this soon. The first round sounds like it was a very useful experience for all involved and you can read about what it found out and how people found the project in the very interesting report.
  5. The report has also produced a couple of toolkits which I've looked at since I've returned to work and found very useful.  One is a Google Analytics healthchecklist, another to do with measuring social media impact and another to do with comparing social media tools
  6. The action research report also questions that long-held belief that the web helps museums reach new audiences as Hitwise data suggests that the audiences using are website are very similar to those visiting our sites.
  7. I talked to Danny and Martha from the Wellcome Trust about their very cool game High Tea which accompanied the High Society exhibition last year.  I played the game when I got back - it's VERY cool, but I also read the really very interesting report about the game.  Key thing that stuck with me here - how they targetted the gaming community with great success. 
  8. Jane Finnis (and I think others) talked about not having a digital strategy, but having a digital strand of an overarching strategy.
  9. The action research report shows that search engines and mobile visits are the fastest growing segments, and found no real evidence that social media drives traffic to sites.
  10. Someone highlighted some interesting research by Jim Richardson at MuseumNext about how people use museums on Facebook and Twitter.
  11. Couple of useful tools: XSort for analysing card sorting (although seems to be only for Mac?) and Reinvigorate for heat map tracking.
  12. Bristol is actually a rather nice place - who knew?

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What is online learning in museums?

I've been reflecting quite a lot recently on what online learning means in a museum context. 

Is it just for schools?

Or just for schools and children outside schools?

Or for schools, children and adults taking part in a formal course?

Or is it for everyone? 

What constitutes learning in an online context?

Is it learning that takes place when you're looking at something online?

Or is it the delivery online of tools that help you learn on- and offline?

And where do you see responsibility for online learning as sitting within a museum?

I obviously have views of my own on all these things, and I may blog about them at some point, but I'm interested to hear what other people think and what museum online learning is seen as being. 

Please leave your comments here if you have a view on this! I'd be really interested to hear people's thoughts. And please feel free to raise further questions too if you have any!

Thanks all!


Thursday, 21 July 2011

What can museums learn from universities about online learning?

Last night I went to a seminar at the University of Westminster. The seminar was public but part of the Johns Hopkins University museum studies summer school. The students are part of an online museum studies course similar to the one I did at Leicester except the distance learning element is conducted online rather than through big blue folders of paper!

Phyllis Hecht the course director talked about how the course works and most particularly about how they have built a community online through social media, and through the various softwares they use as part of the course.

The course is mostly asychronous, but they do also have live webinars that are also recorded to listen to later. They have chat rooms and an online museum cafe where students can chat about anything they want, course related or not. I can really see the value of building this community online and really investing time and effort into it and making it a required and encouraged part of the learning experience. Distance learning can be such an isolating experience and there's a risk that you miss out on so much of the serendipitous stuff that you get from bumping into someone on a university campus or bouncing ideas off each other in seminars.

It made me think about whether museums should be running online courses in the same way (some already are of course) and whether or not it would be just as important to build that community. I imagine museum online courses would be much much shorter which is a key difference and probably would make the vast amounts of work that goes in to Phyllis's online community untenable and perhaps to an extent less necessary. I also thought that it would be very hard for a museum to resource the amount of interaction Phyllis described. Nevertheless, I do think that if museums did go down the road (or continue down it) of offering short online courses in the same way as some run short courses for adults onsite, it would be important that the course tutor invested some time in building some kind of community online in order to facilitate the learning experience by providing some of the social interaction that you would get in an onsite course.

The main problems that Phyllis encounters are to do with the technology failing and I think that would be a key thing for museums to consider carefully before embarking on running an online course.

Rebecca Sinker, Curator: Digital Learning at Tate also then talked about her role and some of the questions it raises. I found this fascinating because she raised so many questions that I've battled with myself and also some new ones that I hadn't thought of. I think it's clear that museums and galleries still have some way to go before they/we completely work out what online learning really means and what its implications are.

The conversations that then ensued from the floor were also fascinating. It was so great to be part of a group of intellectual and articulate people all theorising and raising interesting discussions about what I do on a daily basis. It's so easy to get lost in the day-to-day and so important to go to these kinds of discussions once in a while to remind yourself of the issues and remember why we work in this wonderful, interesting sector that's so full of great objects and promotes so many discussions all the time about the best ways to share them.

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