Museums beyond digital: content strategy, evaluation and institutional change at #MW2015


Another year has passed and we are back from our third Museums and the Web Conference, so far one of our favorite! Five days of intense sessions, tours, workshops, social gatherings and museum fun can’t quite describe our #MW2015 week.

To all those that are a little bit curios about what the Conference was about, remember that all the papers presented are available online for free along with the ones from past conferences in Museums and the Web Archive, a giant pool of resources that can help us retrace the history of digital practice for cultural heritage.
If your hunger for #musetech #museweb #mtogo #musesocial projects is not yet satisfied, you can go through the amazing projects that won the Best of the Web Awards, Museums and the Web annual competition to award the best projects in different areas. Still hungry? Museums and the Web just opened the call for proposals for its Asian appointment in October, this year the #museweb crew will fly to Melbourne. Fancy a trip down under? You can submit a proposal no later than May 15th here.

As usual, we try to gather our main learnings and takeaways!


Quality content, targeted content, measurable content

Content has been one of the main themes throughout this #MW2015.
The Content Strategy workshop by Tijana Tasich and Conxa Roda has reflected on the building blocks of what content is, how and when to strategize it. We may define a content strategy as a long term plan of creating, delivering and maintaining valuable content for the target audience of our products.
A good content strategy should consider the right content, to be transmitted to the right users at the right time. For example, have you ever thought about what kind of content your institution produces to be delivered before, during and after the visit? What makes content viral and what does viral mean? What is SEO and how to apply it to your content? Starting from these considerations you should already be able to identify the critical points of your content strategy. Throughout the workshop, Tijana argued that Content is UX as they share similar values: they are about readability and clarity, focus on the end user and optimize the conversations. We couldn’t agree more.


Timing content, tools and services based on the moment of the visit (before, during, after etc.) has been a constant reflection throughout different sessions. Particularly as related to museum ticketing, but also to inform project prioritization as emerged in Customer Journey Mapping as well as Designing Digital Services.

But conversations about content didn’t stop here. The session on Digital Storytelling followed nicely this reflection on digital and qualitative content. As Amelia Wong said: “a good story makes the world fall away.”  This is true whether you’re referring to a good book, an exhibit or exhibition at a museum or even a website. The speakers reflected upon what exactly make a story digital: is it the mode of production? Is it the possibility of interaction or the linearity?

The Conference offered many hands-on learning opportunities on how to produce specific types of content, from video 1, video 2 to photography, from making content accessible to crowdsourcing content and so on. Again, what is the language of your content and is it suitable to the platform that you chose for it?

After all our reflections on the #MuseumWeek, which focused specifically on the quality of the participation, we wonder how much institutions understand and invest in content production rather than just looking at content delivery through digital platforms (whether it’s an app, a social platform and so on).



Of course, we couldn’t miss sessions on measuring the impact of our institutional channels and contents. The analytical thinking can’t start after a project is done, but has to be embedded from the very beginning, involving the staff in understanding where the project is going and what success will look like.

In this sense, the session on Concept Mapping was extremely useful (slides here). By reflecting on objectives using a simple tool as a post-it, a concept map can help institutions tracing the road map of a project. Post its are a rather democratic tool that allow project participants express their thoughts within the same amount of space.

From the Google Analytics workshop to Understanding Online Audiences, passing from our favorites Metrics, Metrics, Everywhere: Choosing the Right Ones for Your Website and Social Media and Social Media Analytics Workshop, we understood how segmentation, analysis and evaluation are crucial not only to assess the status of a project, but also to generate support from within the institution. As Elena Villaespesa said “spend as much time researching as you do presenting your research to your colleagues and beyond”.
In this sense, we suggest you to take a look to a very interesting project that aims at sharing user analytics among institutions.

Big projects, Big Changes

Naturally, Cooper-Hewitt was one of the most successful case studies at the Conference, with many sessions and reflections around the well known renovation project.

The success of this operation made us reflect on what does it take to kick off a change as such. We recently participated in a round table with Seb Chan in Milan, along with a bunch of Italian museum professionals. While the speaker led us through the many factors that contributed to Cooper-Hewitt’s success (collaboration, prototyping to show the vision, expertise, ability to create a large buy-in within a rather complex institution etc.), the question that hovered around the room for the whole time was “yes, well, but how much money did this cost?”. There it is. The well known Italian museum sector money issue sometimes prevail! We would love to hear the conversations go beyond the “how much was it?”. Without denying the significant investment that went in the renovation at Cooper-Hewitt, what it teaches us is a mind-set rather than a shopping list.


In fact, projects don’t have to be large to be transformational as emerged during the many sessions that discussed institutional change and digital leadership. You will find useful tips and reflections by looking at the resources of a workshop, a professional forum (slides here) and an how to session (with published paper). Throughout these sessions, we understood how digital projects often bring up issues as they push museums to tackle their institutional voice. As already discussed in our recap of #MCN2014, we wonder how digital leadership will evolve, particularly in Italy. Will involving HR in the selection process be a solution? Are the digital skills of the staff at large a constraint in understanding what do we need and why do we need it?

We try to look at the bright side: as we managed to go through the mirror maze at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, we will certainly find a solution to these intricate matters.

Beyond walls, Beyond Social, Beyond Digital

Throughout the Conference we kept hearing the word “beyond”. We have reached a point in which reflections about digital encompass broader reflections.
A particularly interesting session focused on those institutions that don’t have a building and how do they focus their digital outreaches in the public space. A whole range of great approaches and projects were discussed, from which everybody can learn.

During the Birds of a Feather Breakfast Roundtables for example, we sat at the table “Life beyond social media” reflecting upon how the skills that we have gathered experimenting and using social media platform will (and should) evolve. Social media is just the most current tool, but again, content creation and measurement have been there for a long time and will be there, regardless what the next tool will be. As amazing Vicki Portway pointed out, social media management is just the means through which we do actual audience engagement. In this sense, through social media, we can test and measure how our audience respond and interact to specific content and this should inform and connect to our broader institutional strategy.

As in the past years, Museums and the Web has looked at digital practice beyond its development within the institutional sphere, but also as an artistic tool, trying to look at how artists and designers push the boundaries of digital paradigms. The Conference was in fact opened by Kimchi and Chips, a design studio based in Korea that works with digital to shape the physical space.

Will museums be inspired from artistic paradigms as such to go beyond the limit of what we know about digital engagement? We look forward to the next Museums and the Web to find out!