SFMOMA and The Rauschenberg Research Project

On February 1st, 2016, posted in: case studies by

The Challenge

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is working with the Getty Foundation to explore new models for scholarly publishing as part of the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI).

In July 2013, SFMOMA launched the Robert Rauschenberg Project (the RRP), its first online scholarly catalogue and the largest research project in the Museum’s history. Covering nearly ninety works, the RRP includes original scholarly essays, artist interviews, archival materials, conservation reports, and critical details for scholars: marks and inscriptions, bibliography, exhibition history, and provenance information.

Six months after launch, the Museum asked us to evaluate the RRP to determine if the project was meeting its objectives, who was using it, and how? Was there an audience for the project?

What we delivered

We used a mixed methodology to evaluate the RRP, combining an online survey with qualitative interviews, usability testing and Google Analytics analysis.

Breadth of perspective

The most revealing findings and powerful insights emerged (as they often do) as we triangulated the data from the different methods: usability testing allowed us to observe issues hinted at in the survey data and interviews provided insight into the motivations behind behaviours and patterns of use revealed in the Google Analytics.

The results of our research pointed to the enormous opportunities of online scholarly publishing and the notable success of the RRP in particular. We found great enthusiasm for the RRP as a resource for research and teaching and significant use of the content and features designed specifically for the primary audience of academics and curators. At the same time, we found concerns about the permanence of online publications and about the authority and status of online sources, particularly for tenure-track academics.

The move to online publishing represents a paradigm shift for museums as well as their academic audiences and our research provided insight into the changes in workflows and roles that will be required as SFMOMA seeks to move from a single publishing project to an on-going program of online scholarly publishing. Our findings are informing the museum’s planning for its new website and will serve as a springboard for future scholarly catalogues.

After launching the Rauschenberg Research Project we were really keen to understand how it was being used, and if it was genuinely reaching the audience groups we intended the material to reach. We partnered with Frankly, Green + Webb to help us evaluate the user experience of the project, and fully measure its many audiences. I was impressed by their approach, rigor and inventiveness, and would definitely work with them again.

Keir Winesmith, Head of Web and Digital Platforms, SFMOMA




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