Category Archives: Design process

Unpacking MW2014 – Part Two

Part One of this post dealt with some of the kinds of people movement in the field this year.  This post will deal with one of the most exciting developments I’ve seen in years, the proliferation of grassroots efforts to educate, connect, and energize the field.

I gave a brown bag talk at Baltimore Museum of Art before the conference on  “What skills will it take to survive in the 21st century museum and the how the heck is one supposed to get them while holding down a day job?”. What it really turned into was a long, roundtable discussion on how BMA works, what needs staff had for tools and processes and their hope that the perfect tools existed out there somewhere. I raised a few eyebrows, given my title, when I advocated that they refrain from email when a phone call or just walking over to a colleague’s desk would suffice. Ditto for suggesting a good project manager is more cost effective in the long run than any project managment package out there (Forgive me, Basecamp! I love you to bits and use you daily, but…).

You might think the talk was a bummer, but it was a lively talk, folks were engaged, and despite my inability to recommend any magic bullets, I think it was a valuable event, because they got to hear each other in ways that they mightn’t in their day-to-day work lives. They taught each other all kinds of things I couldn’t have, and together as a group they surfaced a lot of issues that are good to work on. I look forward to hearing how they fare.

The Computer Club model
I have these kinds of discusions a lot nowadays, which is odd. If you’d asked me three years what I saw myself doing, “Talking about informal professional development” wouldn’t have been a top answer. Yet, in my current role at PEM, it has come to occupy a lot my energy and thought. With the prolifereation of tools and platforms, it’s not surprising that most museum staff don’t feel able to make informed chices about how they might use them, or even whether to use them at all. For those us charged with using those platforms and tools to reach our museums’ audiences, and engage new ones, it makes for a neat dilemma. And one of the best ways I’ve seen to address it comes from the Imperial War Museum in London, where Carolyn Royston and Co. have started a low barrier-to-entry professional development program they call Computer Club. Read all about it here or check out this interview Suse Cairns did with Carolyn all about Computer Club.

Cool, or what? Image courtesy of Carolyn Royston

Here at PEM, we’ve taken that model and adapted it to fit our particular needs. We started with a specific social media emphasis, because we’d just launched a blog and there was an institutional imperiative to increase staff participation in PEM’s social media efforts. Since then, we’ve hosted a half dozen or so on topics like:

  • Social Media 101: What are social media and why does PEM care?
  • Our blog and blogging: What makes a good PEM blog post?
  • Twitter for Professionals
  • Facebook: How to interact with PEM on Facebook and spread the love
  • Digital Imaging: How to take better pictures with your phone

To say that there’s pent-up demand wouldbe a bit of an unerstatement. We routinely get 20-25 people from across the institution. And just like I saw in Baltimore, they came from across the museum, from entry-level to senior folks. Why isn’t everybody doing this? Developing and normalizing this kind of highly targeted peer-to-peer learning has great potential both to spread skills and energize staff. Microcredentialing or badging systems are hot stuff these days, and I’ve always been a bit of skeptic until now because I couldn’t see how you make the value case for it. In this case, though, it’s dead easy to see. Want to build a culture of learning? Here’s a way that’s low-overhead, staff-driven, and responsive to your needs. With just a little bit of input from your HR department, you could make a program where learners get recognized for attending, and those microcredentials figure into the annual review process. Must work on that…

The Drinking Continues
When I suggested having a Drinking About Museums: MW edition, some wag replied “Isn’t a conference just one big #drinkingaboutmuseums? Well, yes. Certainly, DAM started off as a desire to capture some of that “late night at the conference bar” magic. But it has also become more than that. It’s a bona fide international phenomenon, with chapters popping up all over, getting together, and sharing their passion for museums, meeting new colleagues and joining a larger, global community. Whether you’re a student thinknig about a museum career, someone working in a GLAM, or just a museum lover, it’s a great way to connect, learn, and grow.

So, we had an event at MW and  got a bunch of about 30 DAM movers and shakers together. It was enormously gratifying to see all these folks who had started their own groups all in one place. The Godfather of DAM, Mr. Koven J. Smith, came up to me in the middle of it and said his typically understated way, “Look at this. We made something good.” And I have to agree.

 

DAM:MW Hall of Fame. There’s Koven and me in the back row, as is mete and right.

If you haven’t been to one, go. And if there isn’t one in your town, start one. And if you’re going to AAM2014, there’ll be *two* DAMs, so be warned!

The Italian Jobs – Sveglia Museo and Invasioni Digitali
Innovation happens all over, and this year, Italy is a hotbed of grassroots efforts to increase Italian museums’ connections to audiences using social media. Sveglia Museo is “an experimental project to help Italian museums achieve a better communication with their audience: the goal is to get them talking and tweeting with each other. The idea is to ask for advice from digital communication managers of foreign museums in order to “wake up” Italian museums, online and on social networks.” They’ve already generated a tremendous amount of buzz online, both for their ambition (getting government agencies with no budgets to take on more work is no mean feat!) and for their clever appeal to a global community of practice to help them. I wish them well, and so should you. It’s a worthy model.

The other Italian initiative is Invasioni Digitali or “Digital Invasions” Digital Invasions “are mobs of people who support museums and cultural heritage by ‘invading’ them and then documenting the experience on blogs and social media. Each ‘invasion’ is meant to create new forms of conversation about arts and culture, and to transform the cultural heritage into something that is ‘open, welcoming and innovative.’”  It’s like Flash Mobs meet Drinking About Museums, with a service component. Genius stuff… If you know a museum or heritage site that’s laboring in obscurity, or could benefit from an injection of interest from a digitally savvy audience, then this model is for you.  At our last Museums Showoff,  one of the speakers gave an impassioned defense of her museum nd ended with an open invitation to come visit. Maybe instead of a visit, an invasion is needed!

Stefania (l) and Marianna (r) with PEM Press Officer and blogstress Dinah Cardin and me

And while I’m (profesionally) crushing on the Italian initiatives, they are by no means the only ones out there. Mar Dixon has launched an impressive number of Twitter campaigns around museum themes like #MuseumWeek and #MuseumSelfie. In fact, some enterprising soul could probably compile a Tumblr of these kinds of grassroots inititives and win the undying affection of museum social media managers the world over, myself included. Hint, hint…

The last part of this series will touch on issues that came up in my sessions around evaluation and access, and the maturation of the field.

Unpacking MW2014 – Part One

by Ed Rodley

March has been a busy month at work, and when that hasn’t been occupying my attention, CODE | WORDS has. Think lots and lots of phone calls, Google Hangouts, and collaborative editing of documents. It was therefore a wonderful break to escape to Baltimore for a few days for the Museum Computer Network board meeting and Museums and the Web 2014. 
MW2014

Museums and the Web 2014 has ended, and I am so glad I was able to attend! The sessions were excellent, the conversation lively, and I came away feeling energized and excited about what the coming year holds for us. There was so much going on that my attempt to unpack it in a nice, brief post failed before it even left outline form in my notebook. So, I’m going to have to spread it out based on the themes that emerged for me.

Comings…

After you’ve been in the business awhile, one of the reasons to go to conferences is to see who’s moved in, who’s moved up and who’s moved along. And there was plenty of two of the three. Which is both encouraging and discouraging.

Given the price tag of conferences these days, it is always a pleasure to see younger colleagues, and particularly students coming and participating. I had some great conversations and inevitably, a lot of “What should I do?” talks with people. Some of the things I found myself saying over and over again included the following observations.

  • I think Museum Studies certificate/degrees continue to become less of a differentiating variable, and more of a box to tick. The resumes I see will almost all have some kind of museum studies credential on them, so if you’re looking to stand out from a crowded field, that will only save you from the initial cull. All of the resumes I’ve seen in the past few months that really caught my attention had something else in them; a concentration in media studies, design courses, education, etc… Don’t get me wrong, I think Museum Studies credentials have merit, but I don’t think they’re enough to get you into the field. And if you’re just embarking on your career, getting in is all that matters, right? I’m also not suggesting getting even more degrees. Just look at your courses, and your peers’ courses and find that thing that’s  going to make you stand out.
  • It’s nobody’s job to get you unstuck other than you. Can’t break into the sector? Can’t move on? Difficult boss? Visionless administration? Chronic understaffing/budgeting/resources? Whatever the problem, in the end, it comes down to you. Seeking outside advice and counsel is a great tool to helping you get clear about your goals, but it’s no substitute.
  • Stop thinking about where you want to work, and think about who you want to work with instead.  Given the peculiarly public-facing nature of digital projects and products and the small size of the community, it’s relatively easy to look at interesting, innovative work and figure out who made it. They also move around, so if you focus on the museum instead of the person, you run the risk of applying somewhere where someone innovative used to work. Do your homework. Find examples of work that speak to you, figure out who made it, and find out where they are. Go to the conferences. I know they’re expensive, but most of them offer scholarships and/or volunteer discounts. Find them and ask them about their work. Very few people I know hate to be asked about the work they’ve done. It’s a great conversation starter.

It was a lovely pre-conference gift to hear in January that Nancy Proctor had been appointed Deputy Director for Digital Experience at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Nancy has been a friend and colleague for many years and it was heartening to see another colleague who combines a passion for museums with a deep understanding of digital technologies climb into the senior management ranks. I look forward to seeing what she’ll do in the coming years. There’s a lot to look forward to. The number of C-level positions like Nancy’s being created seems to be going up every year. And the pool of candidates is full of some of the brightest, most committed, thoroughgoing professionals you could ask for.

…and Goings

I only worry that the growth rate of CDO-type positions won’t match the rate of colleagues leaving the field. Some flux is inevitable in a workforce, but this year has been particularly turbulent, and mostly flowing out of the field and not so much in. A couple has turned into more than a handful very rapidly.  I joked with someone that in a few year’s time, I’d find myself sitting alone at the bar at MCN or MW if things don’t change. It wasn’t a very pleasant picture. And I don’t know what to do, other than hope at this point.

That’s a bit of a downer, I realize, but one of the wonderful things about conferences is that they crystallize things. You start to see big pictures arise out of lots of little things. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes not. But I’d always rather have specific fears than vague ones. The next post will be peppier and look at all the energy around grass-roots museum advocacy. There’ll be invasions, clubs, and drinking!

CODE│WORDS: An experiment in online discourse and publishing

by Ed Rodley

CC BY-SA 2.0 image by Flickr user djandyw.com

CC BY-SA 2.0 image by Flickr user djandyw.com

So, another long silence. February was the month of the endless head cold, and tons of stuff going on at Peabody Essex Museum.  The March shows will be opening soon! But, I haven’t been completely idle.  There have been secret plans afoot, which are finally cooked enough to announce. The big one is an experiment in online discourse and publishing that Rob Stein, Suse Cairns, and I have been discussing for a couple of months.  Let me tell you a bit about it, and see if it sounds interesting to you.

Background
As you already know, 2013 was a pretty fruitful year for museum blog conversations. I was very grateful for both the quantity and quality of the discourse that happened, and how much of it seems to have influenced discourse in the broader museum community. Conference sessions and other publications continue to flow out of conversations that started as blog posts. By default, these tended to be reactionary, driven by current affairs and mass media. To step it up a notch for 2014, here’s an idea for an experiment that might do just that, and possibly pay further dividends down the road.

Suse Cairns (she of museum geek and Museopunks) and I have been talking about collaborating on a book for some time, once her PhD work wound down.  Both of us are interested in the intersection of the digital and museums and figured we’d find fertile ground there, but we hadn’t really gotten much further than that.  Late last year, Rob Stein wrote a comment to a Dallas newspaper article about visitors and smartphones that Suse and I both thought deserved a wider audience, so I asked him to consider reworking it as a guest post on my blog. However, Rob being Rob, he had a larger vision than just a one-off blog post.

“How about this instead?” he asked us,  “What if a group of museum blogs tackled a set of interrelated issues at the same time, with an eye toward some kind of publication being the final product? The process itself would be an interesting experiment, and the outcome – some hopefully substantial discourse and new knowledge – could be a real benefit to the field.” The basic idea was to strategically identify some interesting issues, divide up the issues among a group of collaborators, and  then tackle them sequentially, developing them simultaneously and collaboratively, so that we could heavily cross-link between them to create a more coherent narrative than the usual call and response of blogging. To this, we added the idea of using the blog posts *and* their associated commentary as the basis for revised essays that could be collected and published as an edited volume later. The conversations around the initial posts would thus become part of the final essays.

So we had a bunch of Google hangouts to hash out what this strange hybrid might look like and how it should function. Here’s what we came up with.

I stink at getting Hangout screenshots.

I stink at getting Hangout screenshots.

The project in a nutshell

CODE | WORDS as we originally conceived it comprises three primary phases:

  • Phase I is an open, online discussion via a shared Google document, where we set up the initial parameters for discussion, topics, and framework for the project.

  • Phase II will be a focussed blogging project in April-May 2014, which will initially be located on Medium and later archived. During a six-week period, 12 authors will post 2,000 word essays on related topics we chose in Phase I. You, the interested public, will discuss these essays and help the authors reflect on the issues they raise. In addition, a number of selected respondents will write 1,000 word responses to the initial essay. We think this approach will allow the project both depth and considered commentary, as well as responsiveness and the capacity to adapt the discussion to new questions that arise.

  • Finally, Phase III will (hopefully) include a published book that draws together the ideas from the blog posts and commentary, and develops them into formal, considered essays.

This will doubtless change somewhat, once we get down to sorting out the details with the authors, but at this point, this is what we think is going to happen.

How it came about:

We needed first and foremost to identify commentators/ thinkers willing and able to participate in a kinda strange-sounding nameless project. It was clear it needed a codename, because they make everything cooler! Thus was born CODE│WORDS : Technology and theory in the museum (working title). We wanted people who might challenge us and each other, and bring different ways of looking at things, whether from different countries, or different types of museums. We looked through our Twitter feeds and LinkedIn connections and quickly assembled a list of people we thought would bring a variety of interesting perspectives to the project, and we asked them. Stunningly enough, virtually everyone we asked said yes and the CODE | WORDS crew grew to include:

  • Seb Chan, Smithsonian Institution, USA  @sebchan
  • Susan Chun, Cultural Heritage Consulting, USA  @schun
  • Mike Edson, Smithsonian Institution, USA @mpedson
  • Beth Harris, Khan Academy, USA  @bethrharris
  • Courtney Johnston, Dowse Art Museum, NZ  @auchmill
  • Sarah Kenderdine, National Institute for Experimental Arts, COFA, UNSW, HK/AUS
  • Luis Marcelo Mendes, Museum Consultant, BR  @lumamendes
  • Mike Murawski, Portland Art Museum, USA  @murawski27
  • Nick Poole, Collections Trust, UK  @nickpoole1
  • John Russick, Chicago History Museum, USA
  • Merete Sanderhoff, Statens Museum for Kunst, DK @msanderhoff
  • Koven Smith, Kinetic Museums, USA @5easypieces
  • Thomas Soderqvist, Medical Musieon, DK @museionist
  • Beck Tench, Museum of Life and Science, USA @10ch
  • Marthe de Vette, Van Gogh Museum, NL
  • Bruce Wyman, Museum Consultant, USA  @bwyman
  • Steven Zucker, Khan Academy, USA  @drszucker

We wanted to collaboratively identify a series of topics around the impacts of digital technologies on museums that are most interesting to us, most useful for the development of the field, and/or most in need of poking at. That’s where we are right now, sorting out which topics to tackle.

Originally, we thought we’d use people’s existing blogs to make use of their built-in audiences, but for the sake of continuity and critical mass, we decided to try out Medium as our platform. Their commenting feature is kinda interesting in that it lets you pick a paragraph to attach your comment to, rather than just tacking it onto the end of a 2,000 word post. I’ve been meaning to give Medium a whirl for awhile, and am looking forward to seeing how it works out.

The next step in the coming weeks is to collaboratively work on topics in such a way that they naturally build on each other and can be heavily cross-linked. We do this already, but in a more reactionary manner. This experiment would be an opportunity to be more strategic about it, and hopefully more successful in building a larger hypernarrative.

We want to create an online community of interest on Medium around these essays and try to practice being as inclusive as possible. One of the benefits of Medium is that other authors can write their own posts and tag them so that they can hopefully join the scrum. Our current plan is to launch in April, and to release 12 essays over a six week period, to keep interest as high as possible and hopefully build a community of commentators who would respond to more than just one essay – or even contribute their own. That’s where you come in, gentle readers, so strap in and get ready for a few tons of museumy goodness to drop on you soon. Seriously, though. The success of this experiment depends on us engaging as broad as community as possible to join us in the work. Otherwise it’s just another edited volumeWe want you to share your expertise, your ideas, your experiences with us, and a global audience of interested peers. If you have never written a blog post before, or just want to dip your toe into a digital discussion, this could be a great way to start and test the waters.

Obviously, we want to document the process and results, if this model winds up having any utility. A logical place to disseminate finding will be at conferences. A bunch of us will be at Museums and the Web and AAM, and I’ll be trying to convene groups to hang out during the conferences. Stay tuned and let me know if you’ll be in Baltimore or Seattle. On our current timeline, we’ll be done with the initial essays by June, so MCN in November should be a good distance from which to look back on the process and reflect on lessons learned for the initial phases.

Once we have finished the initial round of essays, their authors will take them and the commentary they engendered, and use both to write new essays. Rob, Suse, and I will try to convince a publisher to release the resulting collection as a digital/physical publication. If you represent a publisher and want to talk more about CODE | WORDS, email me! 

If all goes well, then we’ll celebrate doing something cool and useful.

Once we’re ready to go, we’ll announce the URL and let the games begin! So stay tuned!