“Technology does no longer sit in the IT ghetto”: takeaways from Museums and the Web Conference

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After one of the most intense weeks since the foundation of #svegliamuseo, we would like to share with our community some of the takeaways from Museums and the Web 2014.

#svegliamuseo on stage: a recap

I presented the #svegliamuseo project along with a “photograph” of italian museums at the Social Media Clinic on Friday 4th April. After my presentation – here is a link to my slides -, a panel of experts judged the project and gave their feedbacks, suggesting new and possible scenarios.

The panel and the public really liked the concept and what we are doing. In particular, they liked the fact that #svegliamuseo has been founded outside the institutional framework, by a group of young and passionate professionals. They recognized the power of our role as connectors, that relies on the international collaboration.

I was very proud to be able to speak up for italian museums, along with the incredible growth in the use of online tools that we have been seeing in the past few months. Data from the #museumweek, for example, have supported our thesis that it takes very little to trigger a very big wave.

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Speaking of involving a network of international professionals, Dana Allen-Greil from the National Gallery of Art and Sarah Bailey Hogarty from the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, gave us a few tips that we are already working to implement.

In the coming weeks we will tell you more, but we can anticipate that we will start a “mentorship program” between Italian and foreign museum professionals following the same concept of our interviews, but more direct and efficient. The online interviews will use Google Hangout On Air and the community will be able to follow them through the Svegliamuseo On Air YouTube Channel. Every time we will launch a call to action through our channels, announcing the theme of the episode as well as the international professional who will be interviewed (analytics, social networks, special projects, digital in the galleries etc.). We will ask the Italian community to volunteer submitting an existing museum project for review and tips from the international mentor. Scope of this work is to generate a dialogue around certain topics and to increase the communication between the Italian field and the one abroad.

We really like this idea because it’s immediate and hopefully will increase accessibility on themes and discussions. What do you think about this new concept?

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Our takeaways

Besides the direct feedback on the #svegliamuseo goals and intentions, what are our takeaways from the conference?

It has been a pleasure to meet the colleague from Digital Invasions. Thanks to Valeria, who organized the pre-conference tour with the Digital Invasion piece, I could visit (and invade) 5 different museums in Baltimore. I really enjoyed the international atmosphere since the first day.

It has been extremely nice to recognize faces and roles thanks to the Twitter connections – I can’t even describe how glad I was when people recognized me because they follow #svegliamuseo -. This proved, once and for all, that digital professionals in the museum field create a real network that goes beyond the geographical borders. We will never stop highlighting the importance of Twitter for professional use.

During the pre-conference workshops, we chose to attend the one dedicated to Computer Club. We have to admit that we have been attracted by the cinematographic title (The first rule of Computer Club is talk about Computer Club). Furthermore, the concept of hands-on (and fun) training for museum staff is really appealing for us. Carolyn Royston and Simon Delafond chaired the workshop. Along with the staff at the Imperial War Museum they founded Computer Club to increase the digital awareness and the digital literacy of museum employees, especially for those that don’t necessarily use digital tools on a daily basis. From social media to games, from apps to project management tools, we believe that being able to provide this kind of informal training is crucial to align the digital strategy of an institution. The playful approach of Computer Club makes it easier for participants to feel more relaxed among colleagues and don’t be daunted by the unknown J

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Another concept that characterized the Conference Program is that the competitors of the museum, is not another museum, but rather the theme park or the cinema or the craft fair. The experience and what the visitor can make out of it is more and more crucial. Thus, we hear about many projects that reflect, either conceptually and practically, on the concepts of immersion and interaction.

Technology, that once had a marginal role that didn’t really have anything to do with the mission of the museum, is now on the same level of curation, education and communication. It sits at the same table of more traditional functions and is no longer in the IT ghetto. This change is radical and will affect the internal structure of cultural institutions, such as the staff, the competences that are required and the workflow.

Think mobile first” was another fil rouge of the conference. But this doesn’t mean that museums need to adopt it randomly, but rather contextually, adjusting to how and where visitors access information from mobile devices. These two blog posts (one & two) from the Victoria and Albert Museum elaborates on this concept. The “visitor’s journey” map, a concept suggested during the workshop Tools for designing visitor-centered mobile experiences, offered many tips in this sense. What is the journey of your typical visitor from the moment in which he/she decides to visit to the moment he/she exits from your museum? What questions and need does he/she have throughout the process? What kind of services can we offer to respond to these needs? Mobile apps and experiences certainly can help, but we need to think about specific questions for which mobile can – or cannot – be the answer.

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The openness and friendliness of the attendees was also striking. Everyone was extremely approachable and willing to share views or simply to discuss. This shows a very clear difference with European environments in which cultural professionals tend to be far more formal. This results in a very collaborative approach in which other museums are seen as source of help and inspiration rather than competitors. Institutions share results and opinions for a collaborative growth and to solve problems that are common. One professional forum, in particular, was all about this concept and indicated a series of tools and platforms for collaborative work, from Google Doc, to Stackexchange and Wiki.

One last thing that: social networks actions, as well as any other actions, should be paired with an understanding of the museum’s own target before and after a campaign or a project. Let’s get real: it doesn’t make any sense to invest resources and energies in activities that don’t show any results as much as we can’t know if something works if we don’t analyze the results.

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All in all, after MW2014 we can say that the museum is part of a more complex network that has to take into account the reality that surrounds it. We learned a lot –and as you can see we had a lot of fun. We would like the Italian museum sector to be more part of this environment and we are willing to work to get these two worlds closer. #staytuned!