Weeknotes: 6.2016 – Service Design at Battle Abbey, Nightwatchers at the Tower of London, and debating the Big Reveal

On February 11th, 2016, posted in: weeknotes by

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A nice new project to announce this week, for English Heritage at Battle Abbey. As this year marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, there are plans for a major programme of work and events in commemoration, including potentially some digital elements. We’re going to work with them to apply service design methodologies to make sure that all the various elements (interpretation, marketing, visitor services and so on) come together to create the best experience for the visitor.

There is a growing evidence in the sector that success with digital often relies on the many non-digital elements of service and experience being in place. English Heritage has taken this on board and is seeing how all the different parts of the project team working together can deliver on what they need to do. The hope is that this will not only make this specific project more successful, but also be a test bed for this new way of working. A good meaty (or whatever the vegetarian equivalent is?!) project for us to get our teeth into!

Last week, amongst various presentations, tender wrangling and team meetings, we had our kick off for the online audiences project at the Science Museum,, and a visit to try out the Tower of London’s Nightwatchers event (experience? performance? Not sure what the right word is for this!). It’s an immersive audio based experience that involves exploring the Tower at night, which is very atmospheric. From the description: “After-hours this place is off limits to most people, but not to us Operative 341. This will be your patch. The people here, your business…”

It’s great to see something a bit different being tried by what might be perceived as a very traditional venue, it certainly made me think differently about the site. We were reflecting on the fact that in some ways, the content itself (but not the style) is not so different to drama based productions HRP did in the 90s. These were offered as a standard part of the interpretation. Back then visitors either loved them or hated them but they weren’t really given sufficient information to make an informed choice about whether or not to watch, it was just there. With Nightwatchers, by presenting it as an event, outside of normal hours, the audience is completely open to something new and different, and that enables HRP to push more provocative narratives.

I can’t say too much more, as don’t want to spoil it for anyone who is planning to go. Would love to chat with others who’ve been, though. If you are going, wrap up warm, is my advice. I think they’ve sold out this run (as they did the first) but maybe there will be a third?

On a different note, preparing for a report presentation lead to some discussion amongst us about the nature of these sorts of meetings. There is a temptation, perhaps, to want there to be a big reveal, tah-dah moment. As a consultant you’re sometimes looking to have your value confirmed by a resounding “oohhhh” and a “I didn’t know that”. Without it, you’re sometimes left wondering – was that OK, did I help? I mean, it’s not meant to be a theatrical performance, but still.

Yet, the truth is that it isn’t about us, it’s about people who are trying to fix problems and most instances bring about change. In reality. real change (where thinking and processes are shifted) happens more effectively when the surprises are kept to a minimum. Rarely can that kind of change happen in a four week project, with minimal interaction and a great swathe of new facts being thrown about. It happens through interventions that build on what is known already and collaborating to see and feel new ways of working. The wows are distracting and having time to digest the implications of any research can help make better decisions.

We’ve started doing this in our research work, asking our clients to workshop through the analysis. Synthesising some of the data themselves. But then the question becomes about value, what are they paying for. We all like to learn something new, and when clients are paying for something as abstract as advice or “consultation”, something they may have never paid for before – you tend to want to provide a bit of drama.

So the question remains as to what demonstrates value: actual change that builds on what you know or a bit of a showmanship and a wow? Are they mutually exclusive? Any other consultants or researchers struggling with similar thoughts?


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