Weeknotes: 43.2015 – Conferences and Congratulations (inc #AHIconf and #MCN2015)

On October 29th, 2015, posted in: weeknotes by

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It seems this week has a strong conference theme.

First up, here are the slides from Alyson’s July DLNET conference presentation on “How to deliver successful mobile experiences in museums?”, you can see them here, or below. The presentation drew on recent work at the Van Gogh Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, amongst others.

This week Lindsey also attended the conference of the Association of Heritage Interpretation (AHI), which had the unusual kit list suggestion of a pair of stout walking shoes and waterproofs (they had a trip to Stonehenge and the Wiltshire Museum). She said:

“I have to say shamefully, this is one of the first conferences that I’ve been to (other than the large sector conferences) that hasn’t been directly about digital or innovation in cultural heritage. Many of us can be accused of only attending conferences that are about our own niche; listening to the echo chamber of people who agree with you doesn’t always help. The silos that we so often bang on about happening in organisations are happening sector wide.

I realised that actually this was a group of people that are just as keen to understand the affordances of digital as a tool as any other professionals in the sector. As people specifying the way that meaning will be delivered, they need to understand what different digital platforms can do well, where are they likely to deliver positive impact, and where they won’t.

We’re all still learning what the affordances are but the conversations and examples felt a slightly behind the times – comparing apps to experiences with humans guides and panels with text on screens, technology is just for young people nearly made me jump out of my seat. Many of the digital examples were stand alone walking tour apps or large video screens, the echo chamber is here too. The one standout that I must mention was the (now AHI award winning) multiplayer game at Bannockburn Battle Room and the interpretative plans for Jurassica (animatronic dinosaurs swimming around in water, anyone?).

There was a glimmer of light, during a discussion about the Future of Interpretation someone suggested that “we haven’t even seen what digital can do yet”. I totally agree and in fact it was the conversations that weren’t about digital that got my mind firing in ways that not many digital/innovation conferences have for quite a while.

The conversations I really enjoyed were inspiring in terms of how digital could support solutions that could address these real challenges. A theme I wasn’t expecting to hear was about understanding the power and role of the interpretation; there was a definite political feel to the conference for me.

Kate Pugh from the Heritage Alliance talked about the many impacts of heritage and the contradiction of a government that is overseeing massive reductions in spending on heritage while using historic sites and cultural icons to market “Britain Is Great” throughout the world. The need for heritage to demonstrate it’s power and impact is becoming greater and greater.

Rob Campbell from English Heritage and David Dawson, Director from Wiltshire Museum talked about their interpretation strategic partnership. The Museum had helped delivered much needed to artefacts to Stonehenge. While, Wiltshire Museum, was able to own and tell some of the stories from Stonehenge (and therefore be actively promoted from the highly visited historic site) to raise awareness of their collection and increase the number of visitors to, what is effectively an regional museum with a wonderful collection (including two thirds of the UK’s Saxon gold, no less!). Suffering from a £10k per annum deficit after change in policy by local councils, the Wiltshire Museum has taken bold steps to really target a specific audience by leveraging the strategic interpretation partnerships. Understanding that many of those who want to lightly graze on the story of Stonehenge are likely to graze on the interpretation at the site, Wiltshire Museum has decided to target the visitor who are the “Time Team” viewers and specialist heritage tour groups – longer texts, more detailed displays – all working towards this audience. They have seen an increase in their visitors.

Eric Langham from intepretation agency Barker Langham spoke about how different cultures interpret time and objects using his experience from working in the Middle East. It was incredibly interesting and covered the soft power of cultural heritage organisations. This led to someone asking: as people in charge of meaning how do you become a voice for propaganda? I shall forever remember Eric’s reply “Well, all heritage interpreters are ministers of propaganda”. Power indeed.

Finally, it was a talk by Carolyn Lloyd Brown from Heritage Angel that showed the value and danger of interpretation. Carolyn discussed how UNESCO sites (such as Palmyra) were now being actively targeted by ISIL. Carolyn had worked as an intepretation planner in the UAE to support the accreditation of important rock art sites  as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Through this process, she realised that the accreditation could possibly increase the likelihood of the sites being targeted. By supporting the world to understand the cultural heritage value of these sites, they were, in effect, more likely to be destroyed.

The overall result for me, was an understanding of the importance of the stories, the impact that policy and politics is having on cultural heritage and finally, the power of being able to deliver meaning over information.

So, a new resolution: to go to more conferences, talks and workshops that target different departments other than digital.”

There will be more on conferences next week, from UK Museums on the Webb, which Alyson has just attended, and Laura is preparing for the MCN conference next week.

Laura will be there presenting a paper on the Friday on “Service Design: Designing for Visitor Needs at the Interface of the Digital and the Physical” on Wednesday. This session will put digital products in the context of the whole visitor experience and provide tools that aid this approach in the development process, so creating a service that really works for the user.

Finally the CONGRATULATIONS!! On Saturday the Van Gogh Museum, Fabrique and FGW won an Dutch Design Award for Service with the multimedia guide. Here it is with the Fabrique team and Pieter from the Van Gogh Museum:


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