Weeknotes: 2.2016 – New projects (ideation, service design, partnerships) and some office debates

On January 14th, 2016, posted in: weeknotes by

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We’ve been getting back into the swing of things at FGW, with some interesting work and interesting debate (about museum cuts, the effect of museums on health and how millennials use mobile), more details on both of these below. Before we get into that, a note about the blog: we have now moved to Mailchimp so if you get FGW in your Inbox via email it might look a bit different. Let us know if you have any problems with it though. Also if you should be reading this by email but it hasn’t showed up, check the spam folder (and if you want to subscribe, there will be a box on the right to put your email address in).

Maths can be beautiful: "Byrne Euclid title page image" by Oliver Byrne, Euclid

Maths can be beautiful: “Byrne Euclid title page image” by Oliver Byrne, Euclid

So, a new year brings some new projects. I’m very excited to be working with the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester at the moment. We’re helping them with the ideation phase of a possible new “Citizen Maths” project (to follow on from the example they have already set with Turing’s Sunflowers and Hooked on Music). After a round of stakeholder interviews with some very interesting folk, we kick off in earnest with a brainstorming session next week.

Meanwhile, Lindsey is working on an (at the moment) top secret project she’s calling Project Brian for now. Project Brian is a lovely piece of service design for an important heritage site.They are in the process of designing new and more varied services and activities, many of them digital, for a wider range of audiences. But past experience has shown that this presents some challenges in making sure visitors understand what’s on offer and can then access the appropriate service easily without lots of extra staff and cost. Service design is a process that should help tackle the challenge in a more holistic way.

Lindsey says: “It’s the first time they have worked in such an holistic way – combining visitors services requirements, with those of learning and marketing. A team short on time and big on ideas, the whole team are keen to understand how Service Design can help with their current challenge and maybe be used across other projects too. So, this time it’s all about collaboration and making small impactful interventions.“

Laura is jumping into her first big project as an MCN board member: leading a team to redefine MCN’s Strategic Partnerships.  Partnerships with vendors, sponsors, foundations and other professional communities are a key priority for MCN’s new strategic plan which was just released this week. Laura explains further: “I’m beginning the process with interviews with vendors and sponsors. The old model of vendors in the exhibit hall and everyone else in sessions doesn’t reflect the current realities of the sector and we can do a better job of meeting museum needs for access to products and services and vendor need for clients. Are you a digital/technology vendor to the museum sector? If you’re interested in participating in my upcoming interviews please contact me by email at laura@franklygreenwebb.com

Today in the “office” (Slack channel) the UK team have been talking about this article on the Museum Association’s report into local government cuts in 2015. It’s not cheerful reading; describing drastic budget cuts, increasing museum closures, introduction of admission charges and selling off of collection pieces to meet the shortfall. What’s not in the article is any discussion about the value or otherwise of museums, and what *should* be done in response to budget cuts. It’s a difficult question, how do you make the case for museums receiving funding from a decreasing pot, if it means essential services (providing for children in care, for example) might lose out?

There is certainly a huge political debate to be had about the cuts in general, which we won’t get into here (but ask us over a drink!). However, we were discussing the fact that it does perhaps feel like the cultural sector has failed to make a sufficiently strong case for itself, for what the benefits of museums and their collections are at a local level (relatively, the big nationals are doing OK, it is the smaller organisations with the least built-in resilience who are suffering). Contrast this with the vocal and successful Science is Vital campaign against cuts to scientific research funding. Maybe the cultural sector can also make the case for why they need funding too without it being about competing over decreasing slices of the same pie; instead making the case that the pie needs to be bigger to ensure all of these services can be provided for?

Perhaps there is a lack of confidence in the cultural sector on what those benefits are. An article came out last week that art galleries could point to to bolster their case, making the claim that “Art Isn’t Just Good For The Mind, It’s Good For The Body Too”. It references a piece of research that showed higher levels of inflammation-lowering chemicals in the body that correlated with people reporting a greater degree of wonder and amazement in their daily lives. It also looks at the benefits of various programmes of art therapy.

We were wondering if that lack of confidence was behind some of the digital offerings that hope to reach “new audiences” (for which you can often read “younger audiences”) and make museums seem more up to date. It’s not a great reason to create a new digital experience, though, as we find that people do tend to see through tech done for the sake of it, rather than because it genuinely helps better explain or expose the collection or subject matter. And it shouldn’t be assumed that it will reach that younger audience, who may not be as different from their elders as assumed, according to a recent report that claims that Mobile is Ageless. It showed that there were actually more similarities than differences between millennials and older generations in how they used their smartphones. We’ve seen the same thing in our own research at FGW with children and young adults.

I’m encouraged to find there is less of a gulf between the ages (so I can feel less of a dinosaur in relation to a 20 year old mobile user) but it does mean that demographics become much less useful as a way of understanding mobile audiences. Better to think about the context and type of destination to understand user behaviour, says the article, which sounds like good advice.

Finally, if you haven’t got tickets for the Museum’s Association’s Digital Festival next Thursday, there is still time. Alyson is chairing and the line up features a range of different uses for technology in museums that should inspire some good ideas for future projects.

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