This Week in Los Angeles

The Museums and the Web conference organized in the United States is now turning 20 years old. This year, the conference takes place in Los Angeles. Originally established by David Bearman and Jennifer Trant, this four-day event has become one of the museum industry’s most valuable gatherings.

According to the Washington Post, there are roughly 11 000 Starbucks locations in the U.S., and about 14 000 McDonald’s restaurants.

Nevertheless, when combined, these two chains don’t come close to the number of museums in the U.S. – there are a whopping 35 000 museums in the U.S. as it is. The Museums and the Web event will again this year showcase the most prominent of these in the form of lectures on the digital dimension by experts of the field.

Scrolling through this year’s program and exhibits, it is evident that museums are embracing the digital – as well as brand new design and leadership practices.

Service design is increasingly being applied, and this year, many talks in the event will focus on this topic.

Service design is used, for example, to research the ways in which customer behaviour, motivations and needs interact with existing products and services. As it is service design that highlights best where there are critical moments, thresholds, and new opportunities for improvement, or entirely new ways of meeting customer needs, it is also increasingly applied in the museum industry.

Applied to the museum world, service design offers the opportunity to connect up long standing audience-focused research practices. For all of us involved in the delivery of digital products designed to support museum initiatives, service design presents a very useful as well as a provocative framework for designing, planning, and executing the next generation of digital products.

Following up on the service design paradigm, organizations across the field are also increasingly interested in how to measure success when it comes to digital projects.

Furthermore, organizations across the field are adopting new leadership practices and policies, like “Lean”, “Agile”, “Radical”, and “Open”. These concepts incorporate some of the most remarkable changes in the museum C-suite. As Michael Edson has demonstrated in his talks, these methodologies may be applied in the museum industry with success. Yet another emerging trend is designing digital mobile experiences.

I’m excited that some of my co-workers will be visiting the conference again this year and networking in LA. Last year, when the conference was organized in Chicago, our staff gained valuable insights into the current exciting digital projects in various museums around the world. Visiting this kind of topical events is of utmost importance for any big museum organization attempting to invest in digital projects. I’m looking forward to following the conference proceedings online!

See the full conference program of the MW2016: http://mw2016.museumsandtheweb.com/program/

Reconsidering the Priorities of Museum Practice

The question I ask myself every now and then, is – as Michael Edson put it, visiting Helsinki last autumn – if there exists “a bias” in the museum industry of “getting a person in front of the artwork” in a museum setting? And if this is true, should we reconsider and revise the priorities of current museum practice?

With the fabulous new HAM (http://hamhelsinki.fi) re-opened and a brand new art museum Amos Rex (http://amosanderson.fi/en/lasipalatsi/) soon to be constructed directly opposite to the Kiasma – and moreover, the annual museum card gaining in popularity – well, the industry seems to be blooming here in Finland. The Finnish National Gallery alone attracted well over 500 000 visitors last year.

Even the Solomon R. Guggenheim foundation seems to have a vested interest in the Finnish museum-going people, as well as the steady flow of tourists visiting Helsinki (http://www.guggenheimhki.fi/en/).

However, my question, regarding the possible bias is, how can museums best reach out to new audiences, besides “the regular crowd” visiting the museum’s collections and intriguing exhibitions at the physical site?

A few years back, the Rijksmuseum, located in Amsterdam, Netherlands, transferred well over 100 000 high-resolution images of the artworks in their collection in the internet. In conjunction, the museum also created the Rijksstudio, where the general public can create their own collections of images and edit them. Furthermore, the collection data of these artworks can now be downloaded free of charge. An unprecedented online buzz resulted.

As the most feasible way to reach people besides those visiting the museum site is to upload quality content, for example, images of and information on artworks on the internet or social media, many museums around the world are starting to embrace open data.

In the book “Sharing is Caring – Openness and Sharing in the Cultural Heritage Sector”, Merete Sanderhoff describes the current online and offline practices of the Statens Museum for Kunst, located in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Last week, Sanderhoff also visited the Finnish National Gallery, giving a brief talk of her work in the SMK.

What makes the current practice of the SMK really groundbreaking is that the staff of the museum, on all levels, is now deeply involved in facilitating sharing, reuse, sampling and remixes of the digital resources.

Some prime examples of the facilitation of image reuse are the extensive community projects that have been undertaken by the SMK staff. These involve getting a group of local youth to meet the staff once per week, to brainstorm and carry out projects where the artwork images are appropriated to the cityscape, as well as handing over control of the museum space to artists and creatives for an arts hackathon.

In her talk, Sanderhoff emphasized that acting as a catalyst for creative ideas of the general public or other creative people is now a practice permeating the organization of the SMK.

Last year, the FNG conducted an extensive research on its audience’s preferences regarding art museums. For this research, 500 people from Finland were asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding their views on art. This questionnaire included 18 sample images of the artworks of the collections of the FNG.

This research clearly indicated, that in addition to viewing art in a museum setting, the majority of Finnish people who replied to the questionnaire would also like to see artworks elsewhere – for example on the streets of their cities, or when visiting shopping centers – or even when using public transportation.

I think the FNG’s recent collaboration with the Lux Helsinki light installations festival in the beginning of this year makes for a prime example of contemporary art reaching out to new audiences, of art integrating to the cityscape, as well as of art becoming a topic of various conversations on the internet. By collaborating with the festival, the FNG attracted numerous new visitors in the Ateneum building, while the beautiful images of the colorful façade and the various light installations inside spread online during the festival.

The results of this type of collaborative projects can be very rewarding for all parties involved.

Art can substantially enhance the look and feel of the cityscape, and our everyday environment. And besides the museum site, given a chance, art can also thrive online and generate a buzz online and in social networks.

In order to better address their long-term strategic objectives, will art museums be making this kind of collaborative and community-based practice and reaching out to new audiences online their top priority in the future?

Applying Agile, Lean and Scrum Methodology

I recently wrote in this blog about the current digital transformation in the museum industry, and emphasized the need for any organization attempting to thrive in the digital world to create a holistic digital strategy.

However, not all industry experts agree that strategy is that important.

Michael Edson, Web and New Media Strategist at the Smithsonian Institution, says that strategy is overrated.

In a SlideShare presentation entitled “Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast: Digital Strategy in a Changing World”, Edson lists ten reasons why:

In his opinion, strategy is over-glamorized, it is too inward-looking, it is too slow, it is too static, it overlooks crucial activities, it is incomplete, it has the wrong audience, it is dishonest, it fails to inspire, and, most importantly, strategy almost never succeeds.

In his presentation, Edson quotes Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electrics: “In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell.”

The main issue here is that the implementation of the strategy “almost never succeeds”.

Why is that?

And more importantly, what, if anything, is there for the organization to do in order to not fail in the implementation phase?

Edson suggests that the common issue here is the methodology is flawed. As a potential solution for this problem, Edson strongly recommends implementing agile methodology.

In “The Agile Manifesto”, the main points of agile methodology are listed as follows:

  • individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • working software over comprehensive documentation
  • customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • responding to change over following a plan

For Edson, this ideology of strategy implementation translates to “Think big, start small, move fast”.

In this context, Edson also recommends applying the lean startup model.

The lean startup model is based on the “build-measure-learn” feedback loop. This model is useful in developing a so-called minimum viable product, just to set in motion the feedback loop and the process of learning. What Edson recommends here, is to attempt to create an open, iterative workflow in the organization.

This, in his opinion, is a key factor in creating a healthy balance between “planning” and “doing”.

Ok, so your organization is now implementing the strategy via agile methodology and the lean startup model. But how to measure success?

In his presentation, Edson quotes Jim Collins, and concludes, that “What matters is not finding the perfect indicator, but settling upon a consistent and intelligent method of assessing your output results”.

I couldn’t agree more on this one.

What I would add to Edson’s suggestions is applying scrum workflow.

That would translate into having a sprint planning session, preferably applying daily scrum methods, and having sprint review and sprint retrospective events in the digital project development team as well as on the organization level.

I am very curious to see if the Museum Industry will find these methods useful in achieving strategic goals in the near future.