This year Thijs Waardenburg and I attended at the Museumnext conference that took place in the CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporánia de Barcelona) in Barcelona. Many inspiring presentations, workshops and discussions about the digital side of museums were held. Museumnext is a conference about technologies and participation for the museum sector that brings together museum professionals and researchers from around the world to share best practices, encourage new thinking and discuss ‘what’s next?’. As we are trying to help museums to cope with the increasing technologies and expectations from the audiences with our project Museum Compass and the specific products (Museum Match, Museum Monitor, Business Models), we wanted to be a part of this community to share thoughts and be inspired by many projects that museums have been doing. In this blog I will highlight some of the presentations we have seen.
Three themes were central: digital participation, digital marketing and digital challenges. Museumnext started four years ago as a small gathering and it has grown ever since. This year big and small names from the UK (like Tate and Victoria and Albert Museum), the Netherlands (like Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum), Northern, Eastern Europe and the US (like MOMA and Smithsonian) were present.
The conference started with an inspiring keynote from Nancy Proctor, head of Mobile Strategy and Initiatives at Smithsonian Institution. She spoke about the difference of revolutionary change and radical change whereby technology plays an important role. Digital practices like AR (augmented reality) and mobile apps are revolutionary, because they are new gadgets and will make the museum look fashionable. But the projects that use these technologies will mostly have limited impact, because it will not fundamentally change the way museums will do “businesses” with these revolutionary projects. Nancy Proctor is interested in how the revolutionary change (technologies) can be coupled with bigger projects of radical and structural change. Her claim was that museum have to use the difference of these changes to prioritize projects: is this project going to fundamentally change the relationship with the public and will it help to understand and fulfill the mission or is it meant to be to make a quicker shift (from pen and paper to E-mail)? The first step to achieve radical change is to know yourself: know where you are going and know where you come from. This is also the first step in our project, the Museum Match (MuseumWijzer). Second, Nancy argued, museums have to know their audience: what kind of content and experiences do they want? And how is the mission of your museum relevant for them? And third museums have to invite the world in. The Smithsonian wants to use more connected devices to help them to recruit the world and to ask the audience to help them to fulfill their mission. In overall, Nancy Proctors argued that the best digital/mobile strategy should be a part of the overall strategy of the museum, and should not be something apart but should integrate in the institution.
The afternoon session started with a keynote from Hein Wils from the Stedelijk Museum and Ferry Piekart, formerly of Nederlands Architectuurinstituut and now an independent consultant working on augmented reality and mobile projects, and they talked about augmented reality.
During the two days many presentations were held. Examples of other presentations:
• Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House (MoAD) presented a project of a participative educational project. They discussed the rationale and trade-offs behind undertaking custom activities that purposefully engage the audience with the museums physical artifacts, images and stories.
• The National Museums Scotland (NMS) and the grand Museum of Zoology explored how mobile devices, interactive labels, QR codes and social media can create public engagement and interactions inside the museum. They developed “ghost objects” (objects where people can put their comment on with a QR code). For example a ghost shoe with 9 QR codes that represented videos of people that gave their association with this shoe, so in total they created nine shoes. They argued that it is not about the technology, but about the idea behind it.
• The Royal Museums Greenwich discussed the question where does marketing end and learning begin? They united the marketing and education department from the museum, since social channels and interactive online experiences being utilized in participatory ways by both education and communication teams. They argued that museums have to develop active marketing strategies, so people can actively react and do something with the information that the marketing is delivering, it instead of just passively receive the marketing message.
The second day of the conference was opened with a keynote presentation from Robin Dowden, Director of New Media Initiatives and Nate Solas, Senior New Media Developer from Walker Art Centre, about the development of their revolutionary new website. Tart Walker Art Center launched a new website: a hub for contemporary. During this keynote they talked about the institutional change and ideas driving the site, and the challenges of bringing the ideas online. Some interesting visions were shared: “if you have content that delivers value, people will engage” and “give the public the experience they expect”.
The afternoon session started with a keynote from Jason daPonte. He talked about how mobile experiences will change when everything becomes connected to the internet and how museums can succeed in this emerging digital landscape. Jason also argued that, “although we know how to make mobile devices, you have think about the value and the story behind it otherwise it is not going to work”.
After all, Thijs and I had a great time in Barcelona. We are very much inspired by the many projects that we have seen at the Museumnext conference 2012. Some of them were familiar to us, but some approaches and insights were also new. Besides, this was a good opportunity to discuss our project with people in the field from different backgrounds. So we are bringing back a lot of new insights and contacts to Holland that will help us to fulfill our mission: support museums in their choice for cross-media services with practically applicable products.
To watch interviews with the founder of Museumnext and some of the people that presented click: http://www.cccb.org/en/curs_o_conferencia-museum_next-40761
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