Weeknotes 38. 2016: Minding the gap: What we can learn from listening to what visitors don’t say

On September 23rd, 2016, posted in: weeknotes by

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It was about four years ago that we started noticing. Silence, gaps, spaces in visitor experiences and it’s started to become a bit of an obsession. Because it seems that listening to what isn’t said is sometimes more important that listening to what is said.

We noticed it first in one of our very earliest pieces of work in which we gave visitors a recording device to carry with them during their visit.  The recruitment and fieldwork had gone exceptionally well.  Visitors were happy to take part and we quickly accumulated hours and hours of recordings.  We started listening eagerly but quickly felt overwhelmed by the scale of our task and began spooling through the long passages of silence to get to where visitors chatted and pondered their experience.

And there’s the thing.  We instinctively focussed on what visitors said, the questions they asked, how they spoke and what they did. Days into the process we realised that we had been unwittingly ignoring the real insight.  For much of their visit, people moved quickly and quietly through the site. Where we, and the organisation, imagined visitors moving slowly, looking carefully, discussing the objects, there was… well, a gap.  These objects, the displays weren’t, in the words of Peter Samis, ‘sticky’

In fact a whole series of galleries were acting as a route to the ‘interesting stuff’ that did halt them in their tracks and did provoke lots of verbal reaction. One group of participants could even be heard pacing through gallery after gallery until they finally announced “So this is where the interesting stuff is!”

This insight allowed us to shift our focus – was there anything that might sloooow them down or open them up to these less obviously appealing displays for example.  Or could we use the energy from the ‘interesting’ stuff to open them up to new experiences.

The silences and gaps are still with us and we continue to try to ensure our attention is not too caught up in what is being said or done.  But it brings with it some challenges such as how do we talk about what isn’t there and when is a silence or gap significant or not?

Why does this matter for digital project?

A common issue we come across is that organisations have spotted digital gaps not audience gaps. For example, we hear we have lots of information that we haven’t been able to give to people without cluttering the exhibition space and a mobile guide lets us fix that issue. But the truth is most visitors don’t want access to lots of information during their visit.  They just want the right information written in a way they can understand and is easily accessible to them.

We need to refocus our gap detecting powers on to our audiences. Because what we have begun to realise is that the gaps and silences often occur because our audiences aren’t always very good at either articulating their needs or even knowing things could be better.   

A nice example of this follows on from Lindsey’s recent post on planning.  As part of that work on planning we’ve been listening to front of house staff talk about the type of questions visitors ask them, how they tackle them and where they place themselves. In the entrance hall, some people ask “Where’s the [insert name of famous object]?”, “Where’s the cloak room?” or “Where do I start?”. But observation and further questioning suggested that some audience segments simply weren’t interacting with staff at that point. They tend to shoot off into the museum and wander. In silence. The staff’s operating assumption was that these visitors ‘didn’t have any questions’.  This turned out to be true – sort of – but not quite in the way that was expected.

We came to realise that a lack of purpose, low levels of knowledge about a venue or lack experience of museums can mean some visitors – often those who need help most – simply can’t formulate a specific question, have no destination in mind or assume everything will become clear if they just keep going. In other words visitors who need most support aren’t accessing it and may have no idea their visit could be better with just a bit of help.

Digital could help this group identify what is interesting to them but relying on them to seek it out is unlikely to work. They need active intervention. Active interventions might be in your face marketing that talks to the need OR a person located in the right place, supported by a digital tools. We’re not the first to think of this by any means – many museums combine tablets and staff, however thinking about how you train these staff and the types of questions they need to ask can only be identified by understanding what they aren’t asking.

As we start to dig into more and more of these gaps and silences, we can see there are lots of opportunities. We just don’t know what they are yet.

In weeknotes – Lindsey and Laura have been preparing for their visit to Boston and workshops at the Isabella Gardner Stewart Museum. If you would like to join them for a beer and some museum related chat they are going to be at “Drinking about Museums” at The Hong Kong in Harvard Square at 6 pm on the 29th.

Meanwhile Lindsey and I have sharing with Scottish Ballet the outcome of the research phase as well as managing all the logistics for a series of phone interviews. Plus a few top secret things that we can’t share right now but hopefully will be able to soon.

No links this week but double next week!

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Weeknotes 37.2016: Do visitors really use a museum website to plan their visit?

On September 16th, 2016, posted in: weeknotes by

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We’ve recently been doing a lot of visitor journey mapping. Sometimes using the data we’ve gathered in a research process and sometimes working with the internal teams existing knowledge and experience. When we map a visitor journey with clients using their knowledge, it’s common for teams to insert a moment before the person arrives where the visitor plans their visit using the website. This often includes looking at what there is available to do, what is available to see and making a decision about why they should come and what they should do.


Mapping the journey at Battle Abbey for English Heritage

When we are using real data to plan a visitor journey there is often a moment where the people in the room realise

a) how few people use the website to plan a visit

b) when they do how shallow the planning is.

What do we think planning means?

A common assumption is that lots of visitors are using the website to carefully plan their visit and therefore become aware of the wide range of programmes and services available to them. It would seem to be a good assumption to make. Data commonly shows that the majority visitors to a museum’s website do so “to plan”. But that isn’t to say that the majority of physical visitors have used the website. And if they have used the website – the “planning” activity rarely looks the way we expect. Visitors may call it planning but what they actually do doesn’t match our understanding of that activity.

One of the challenges is that all too often we use the term planning to describe both an activity AND a moment in time – before visiting.  If we think of planning as an activity where we make an effort to understand what is available and make some decisions around what to do, the order to do things and when to do them then it can – and does – happen at anytime during the visitor journey – pre, during and even post-visit. And what more commonly happens before a visit is what we have come to call “checking” – how to get there, when is it open, do they have a car park.

The reality is that it’s rare for people to review what’s available to them and begin making detailed decisions and prioritisations about what to do and when before they arrive. On any platform. Including the museum’s website.

Does the difference matter?

If we assume people have used our website to plan then we believe that people are well prepared to understand what is available to them before they walk through the door. They know about the cafe and the shop, the events and the tools available to make the most of their time. They will have prior knowledge of types of things there are to see and do and how long a visit might take. And that they enter the building with a purpose.

The truth is that many people walk through your door have no idea about who you are, and what you offer.

The impact is that people who don’t plan often experience “non-planners regret” and start blaming themselves for not planning better. This is often a moment in the visit where they realise they have limited time and/or energy and want to make sure they get what they need from a visit or they spot a sign for a talk that they would have enjoyed but will now miss. This is often in the middle of a visit, where all the planning tools provided are on the outer edges of the experience and is often articulated as “I should have got a map”, “I probably should have checked what was on” or they start to ask any staff they can see.

Planning favours the knowing

Clearly there are people who plan before they arrive however they seem to have two strong defining elements. The first is a strong motivation to get the most from their visit for example “I have to see X”. They tend to have more knowledge or purpose or significant, practical needs, for example, families are often planners.

There second element is about “understanding how to visit”. Experienced visitors to cultural attractions know some of the pitfalls and unwritten rules of visiting a museum i.e. what type of things may be available that they are interested in. They understand the framework of an experience and are able to navigate through to what they personally enjoy. A challenge here is that as seasoned museum professionals it’s difficult to put ourselves in the position of those who rarely visit a museum and therefore we design using symbols and language that we assume everyone understand or we bury things thinking that people will know how to find them. So for example the “plan you visit” area often includes things such as the mobile guide – which in turn is often designed to be aimed at people who are new to the subject or museums.

Why don’t people plan?

If a visitor isn’t a regular museum attender and/or you don’t have a huge drive to engage with the subject matter of a museum then you aren’t likely to plan. Their assumption is that there is little on offer beyond what is available in the exhibition space and they will be able to understand the depth and breadth of whatever there is to do within the first few minutes of their visit. Which is commonly a busy and dis-orientating time.

This means you are potentially making the exact people that you want to encourage to have a great experience and return work super hard.

They will check details – and they will do that using your website – but right now we don’t make the effort to flip them into deeper planning or acknowledge that if they don’t plan before they visit there may be a moment where they do need support to prioritise their time and energy.

So what to do about it? Here are some things we have been thinking about:

  1. Look at the visitor journey and start to identify where people will identify the need to think about managing their time and energy – what is the best mechanism for supporting them?
  2. If your visitor doesn’t plan then providing a section called plan your visit is unlikely to work – can you use new language that fits with their motivations?
  3. Begin to think about planning as an activity rather than moment in the journey

Note: This post was indirectly inspired by this great post by Rob Cawston at National Museums Scotland about how they are looking into developing their new “What’s On” page. You should check it out.

This weeknotes is quick because I’ve eaten up all my time on this post but…

Alyson has been working on a discovery report for Scottish Ballet and supporting Laura on proposals. Laura has been working on the proposals whilst wrapping up on some work for MCN. I’ve also been working with Laura to plan the workshops for Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (ISGM) and hammering out the ssGreat Britain report.

In fact – this all ties up nicely, Laura and I are going to be heading to Boston to work with ISGM in a couple of weeks and I just found out that I’m going to have a whole day free so I’m also checking out things to do or you might even say I’m planning.

And this weeks reading:

Association for Independent Museums reporting on to charge or not to charging entry

The Atlantic posted on the increased acceptance of mobile in museums

Future of Museums on what would happen if educators ran museums?

Hyperallergic post on artificial intelligence being used in the new Tate IK Prize winner project

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Weeknotes 36: Proposals, Insights and the History Project

On September 9th, 2016, posted in: weeknotes by

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A light Weeknotes this week as we focus on the usual early September rush of scoping projects and creating proposals. Our clients schedules are often guided by budget periods and early Spring openings. As a result of where our work lies in this cycle, we’re starting to see the familiar rhythm of peaks and troughs. A question we’re currently looking at is how can we achieve a more balanced workflow throughout the year, or at least how we make more of the quieter months so we’re ready for the busy ones.

I’ve been drafting, editing and uploading CRM data for a short survey we’re sending out. Pressing send on a questionnaire to an organisation’s entire mailing list definitely focuses the mind. I’m also pulling together the report for ss Great Britain. There’s been a two week gap between the last session and so I’ve had the chance to go back with a more critical eye and begin to prioritise some of the ideas and insights against their goals. A luxury that some schedules can’t afford but are always the better for it.

Alyson came up to Sheffield to do one of our insights sessions for some of the desk research she’s being carrying out for our Scottish Ballet project. The insights session is a technique we’ve developed over the last year where we begin to shift from data to insights and prioritise. Quite often when one of us is leading on a research project you can become heavily involved in the data and struggles to step back to understand what that actually means – the “why should anyone give a damn” type information. The technique allows one of us to tell the story of what we have seen while the other captures both the data and interpretation of that data on to post it notes. These are grouped into overarching themes or insights and discussed/challenged and combined further. What follows is a process of checks and balances to make sure the data isn’t skewed but it means we have a structure to use.

Alyson was also tidying up a few loose ends for the National Gallery content strategy as well as chipping into the various proposals.

Laura has been planning interview sessions with families for National Museum American Jewish History. We’re investigating how and why people capture memories. We’re finding this type of design research around behaviours and needs that is focused outside of the Museum context very interesting at the moment.

During the interviews, Laura will also be testing a prototype of a family story-collecting tool built on The History Project platform. It’s an interesting (and currently free) platform that anyone interested in memories and personal history should be aware of.

Reading list for this week:
Two articles looking at what happens when Museums stop trying to be “neutral spaces” and accept that “neutrality is in the eye of the beholder”. The Centre for the Future of Museums reports that they are the highest viewed articles they’ve posted so clearly an issue that is currently on everyone’s, mind.

Alyson suggests that a great companion piece to read alongside would be the UK Museums’ Association report on public attitudes to the future of museums and their impact. The report is based on some great research into what people perceive as the main purposes of museums and their role in society here in the UK.

Alyson is planning to attend some of the sessions at the Service Design Fringe Festival that is part of the London Design Festival – http://www.sd-ldf.com

One of the topics that came up at last week’s GEM conference was the idea of creativity, risk taking and innovation being siloed into a particular department or physical area of a museum building. It looks like this is a common issue and discussed in this article on how institutions’- innovation programmes are getting it wrong. Who are the people who own integration of solutions into the wider organisation? https://medium.nobl.io/what-every-institutional-innovation-program-gets-wrong-8943fdee9fce?source=linkShare-918e2ed964fa-1473409583

Finally, I wrote up and refined the post on weeknotes and popped it onto Medium – https://medium.com/frankly-green-webb/why-bother-to-share-a-weekly-update-e532cf6c0b25?source=linkShare-918e2ed964fa-1473409853

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Weeknotes 35.2016 – A weeknotes about weeknotes and mobile content

On September 2nd, 2016, posted in: weeknotes by

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As I take over the reins of Weeknotes, I’ve been reflecting on what we do with this weekly update. This, along with the fact that we’ve had a big lift recently in new subscribers, means that I thought I would take a moment to reflect why we share our Weeknotes whilst trying to encourage more of you to do the same.

If you haven’t heard about Weeknotes before – there’s an interesting post from Amplab where they talk about the rhythm, the process and benefits.

Giving up a couple of hours a week to write about what we are doing, learning, seeing seems totally indulgent during busy times. In fact, we’ve recently had an internal discussion about whether weeknotes is for you or us. I think both. One of our main motivations for FG+W was to continue to learn and grow whilst improving and adding to the sector we work in. Weeknotes delivers on that in several ways:

  • Reflective practice – We learn a lot through doing, and in order to learn we have to reflect on what we’ve done and evaluate the impact our actions have had. At its best, Weeknotes gives us a chance to look back and say what we learned this week, what we saw, heard, noticed and how we would change it the next time. We do this via a weekly check-in meeting using Slack and that reflection process serves as the basis for Weeknotes.
  • Responsive sharing – As a small team, we can be responsive to the needs of projects AND how organisations are changing and responding to digital products and services. Therefore, we can pilot, test, and iterate processes and tools quickly. There’s value in that. However, I would love to see more people in the sector sharing.
  • Transparency – We work in a sector that has lots of people working on similar problems. There is a value in knowing who is working on what, what they have seen and learnt. We can learn quicker if we share notes.
  • It attracts like for like – we like working with all sorts of different clients, associates and employees but not surprisingly we work at our best when people trust us, share our values and believe in our processes. Weeknotes helps us find those people and encourages them to get in touch.

That’s all very sharing and caring – I imagine you are firing up a new WordPress site as I type. However…

In the interest of balance there are challenges – such as:

  • Keeping up the value – this is not easy when we’re flat out on project work. Martha’s steadfast commitment to getting them out week after week helped me to see the value in the rhythm of Weeknotes. The downside is that we don’t always have time to reflect and sometimes we are left with a “What we did on our holidays” type of reporting rather than valuable insights.
  • Musings over articles – there is a danger you capture half thoughts and musing that never really add up to enough to help anyone. The “research” post we released a couple of weeks ago was very popular. All of that info is buried in weeknotes somewhere – but it’s not easy to consume. My reflection on this is that every so often something has to become an article to consolidate what we know.
  • Oversharing – We have to be careful that we don’t put clients in a difficult situation. So we have a rule – we share what we own – our processes and what we learn from those. We won’t share what we don’t own – our clients’ organizational context and certain outcomes. We have been thinking about anonymizing the clients we work with so we can talk more freely about the projects but it doesn’t feel right.

So, have I tempted you to write and publish your own Weeknotes? If so, let us know – we’ll add you to our weekly reading list. Or if you still have some questions, drop me a line.

As part of my review, it would be great to get your feedback on Weeknotes. Let us know what you would like to read more of, or less of. Why you read Weeknotes or what you hope to get out of it. You can pop them in the comments below or email us.

Anyway with that – a bit of reflection on the last week.

Laura took some time this week to visit SFMOMA and use their new app, developed in collaboration with Detour. One of the distinguishing features of the app is the guided audio walks around the Museum. The app uses location-aware technology to deliver the right audio content to you in the right place, adjusting to your pace as you walk through the Museum and picking up where you left off if you choose to look at something that’s not on the tour. One of the challenges of “random access” mobile tours, that allow you to choose what to see, is what you gain in freedom you lose in strong overarching narrative and it’s easy to lose the power of a good story well told. So seeing a use of technology that gives visitors the freedom to walk around and yet still delivers a strong narrative is very interesting.

Alyson meanwhile is dipping in and out of reports on audiences and dance – whilst simultaneously trying to deal with our financial year end. The joys of a small business.

Finally, I was preparing for delivering a journey mapping workshop at the GEM conference while taking the chance to catch up with some Edinburgh colleagues. My reflection this week –  you can’t run an “Introduction to visitor journey mapping” session in one hour but you probably can in two!

This weeks reading:

  1. A new book that was recommended to Laura by Kate Haley Goldman that she’s looking forward to reading: Out on the Wire.  It’s a graphic nonfiction about storytelling and the new generation of radio. http://jessicaabel.com/out-on-the-wire/
  2.  The Digital Museum tumblr edited by John Stack – came onto Laura’s radar – so it’s a good time to share. It collects presentations and interviews about digital and museums
  3. For those interested in how we interview there is a great overview of the empathy interview
  4. The Project Director, Pietr spoke about the Our Museum Intiative at the GEM conference. In their words “As part Our Museum Intitative, several museums and galleries experimented in deeper partnerships and different aspects of organisational change. The website is a collection of the learning and thinking from our initiative and beyond.”
  5.  I enjoyed this post on designing content for services not channels by Melanie Cannon, Lead Content Designer at Department of Work and Pensions. Including this line “This service design approach to communicating with users can lead to questions about who “owns” a particular bit of content. There’s a simple answer: the user. Their need dictates the message and their preference dictates the channel.”
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