Weeknotes: 16.2014 – Observations from MW2014

On April 17th, 2014, posted in: new post, weeknotes by

With a couple of weeks now passed since my colleague Lindsey and I were in Baltimore at Museums and the Web 2014, I’ve at last had the chance to sit down and reflect properly on the way the conference played out. This post is the result of  that reflection and highlights some of the key trends and themes that I’ll be taking away from the conference.

This isn’t meant to be a full recap of of the conference; others, who are far wiser than I, have written very good blogposts about the conference and I’ve linked to those at the bottom of this post.  Together they offer a great range of perspectives on what went on in Baltimore.

So, without further ado…

1. Digital’s place at the museum table
Listening to many of the presentations and conversations that went on in Baltimore, there was a prevailing and deeply exciting sense that the role of digital in the museum field has matured. I heard far less from digital professionals struggling for recognition and relevance within their own institutions. At the same time, I heard a good deal more than usual around the following themes:

  • How to work more effectively with departments across institutions

  • How to use digital to drive change in an organization

  • How to measure what’s meaningful and use data for decision-making

  • How to build solutions that are truly sustainable

Digital is beginning to feel less isolated, less of an island (and a law) unto itself, and instead there’s the genuine sense of a more collaborative spirit growing, and a recognition of the need for digital to touch and seek engagement from all parts of an organization.

All working together…

2. What will you do with your data?
MW2014 was abuzz with talk about data. Increasingly, and increasingly vocally, the museum field is focusing on the importance of data and research as tools for gaining buy-in from internal stakeholders, for making decisions and for taking action.

The role of data and research was the focus of an entire panel (on which – full disclosure – our own Lindsey Green presented a paper – our slides and notes are here.)  Judging from the number of people in the room and the other sessions and presentations in which the projects being discussed were supported by a research process , the topic of data and evaluation has entered the mainstream.

Jane Alexander from the Cleveland Museum of Art presented initial data from Gallery One’s first year, and offered some sound advice on this front: “First know what you want to know” and then set up your analytics (and have the analytics ready for launch). This sounds obvious but it’s not.  It’s easy to collect data. It’s hard to collect useful, meaningful data.

Rob Stein and Bruce Wyman’s presentation on the DMA Friends program at the Dallas Museum of Art was all about using data to support new forms of visitor engagement.

There’s much to say about DMA Friends but I was most struck by the fact that the DMA is training their staff to use the data from the Friends program to make decisions about how to better engage with visitors. The DMA is not just collecting data; they’re trying to actively use it for evidence-based decision-making.

3. The user experience of internal staff
Micah Walter gave a great presentation on the Cooper Hewitt’s experience with a content management system that alienated internal staff. He spoke about their decision to move to a WordPress-powered platform, in part because of its usability for museum content creators.

Museums are increasingly audience-focused but the user experience of internal staff is rarely considered when museums are embarking on a website redesign or content management system implementation.

Seb Chan summed it up well saying, “For your staff, the front end of your website is your backend”

4. Front line staff can make or break a digital project
The importance of front line staff to the success of digital projects came up in several presentations. The role of front line staff should never be underestimated but it often is. Rob Stein observed that when front of house staff felt a sense of ownership for DMA Friends, use of the program increased. And Lawrence Chiles of the National Maritime Museum, London also described the key role of front line staff and visitor experience teams in the Great Map project.

This made me wonder, how often do we include the visitor experience teams in our digital projects from the beginning? Does your project development process reflect the entire service offering (and not just the production of a product)?

As Lindsey put it, “Are your staff trained to know what problem your digital offer solves and how to solve visitors’ problems with your digital offer?”

Spare a thought for visitor-facing staff

Final thoughts…
A big thank you to MW for offering coupons to pre-conference workshops (I attended workshop for the first time) and to recording the conference sessions.  I had many moments during the conference when I wished I could be in two places at once and I’m really looking forward to seeing the videos online for the sessions I missed.

And lastly, a modest proposal for a different style of closing plenary. I’d love to see a more relaxed, more participatory event (with beer) with a brief video that recaps the conference. Let’s crowdsource some of the best moments: I’m sure conference participants would be happy to tweet great moments from the sessions/events with an #MWplenary hashtag .

MW2014 Re-cap
Those then, for me, were a few of the takeaways of a terrific Museums and the Web. But don’t take my word for it. The following is an (admittedly incomplete) list of great blog posts and Storifys summing up the conference – they’re well worth a look, so dive on in.

Ed Rodley
Unpacking MW2014 – Part One & Part Two (Part Three is forthcoming)

Andrew Lewis
Museums and the Web 2014: Digital arrival, unpredictability and churn

Kati Price
Ten digital lessons (or ‘the things I learnt at my first Museums and the Web’)

Micah Walter
The Internet is a vast and endless ocean – Thoughts following a week of talking about museums

Amanda Kezner
Museums and the Web 2014 – “one size does not fit all”

Mairin Kerr
#MW2014 – Collective Impressions

David McKenzie Storify
Museums and the Web 2014: Wednesday & Thursday (a synopsis of the conference)

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