MuseumNext Digital Summit: Day Five

My final MuseumNext blog post will focus on the theme of challenges. Whether that be challenges museums need to face, or staff overcoming challenging scenarios in order to produce content. One particular presentation stood out to me so I’m going to start there and discuss a couple of others later on.

But first, I want to say how much I’ve enjoyed participating in this year’s MuseumNext Digital Summit. One thing that has been mentioned again and again is how digital can expand your audience. Whether that be through removing geographic barriers or making your event more accessible. It has been great to not only attend, but watch videos when I have the time in my day to really focus and give my full attention. This has allowed the content to resonate with me in a way that hasn’t been possible at an in-person conference. I hope that when we go back to having safe, in-person events, digital will remain an option so there is more access to professional development in the sector and inspirational content.

  1. Old People Need Fun Digital Experiences Too!
    Presenters: Alice Gibbons and Murphy Peoples

This was an amazing presentation by Gibbons and Peoples from Museums Victoria focusing on how to take digital to an older demographic and how this can have a great impact on physical and mental health. Prior to COVID-19, Museums Victoria would travel to aged care facilities to present a reminiscing program. Part of this involved touching objects, viewing images and videos and listening to music. For those who suffer from dementia, these kinds of programs have been encouraged as a way to gently explore the past and not force the present.

So what has happened with this program in the time of COVID-19? Aged care facilities were some of the hardest hit by the pandemic resulting in their occupants experiencing escalating feelings of isolation. While there was a hesitancy surrounding trialling a digital program for this audience, Museums Victoria saw a need. A need for keeping them connected and experiencing joy in their day. This is where the idea for ‘Relive the Good Old Days’ started – an online digital hub that is user friendly and contains reminiscing digital kits on various themes – including sport, disco, board games, etc. Under each theme there are images, Spotify playlists and information on objects held in the Museums Victoria collection.

As Gibbons and Peoples said, museums are so well-equipped to run these reminiscing sessions as we care for objects from the past. The objects can be used as springboards, presenting an opportunity to dive into memories, emotions and, ultimately, stories. I loved how they ended their presentation by reminding viewers that older adults need to have fun too and while museums tend to focus on families, kids and young adults, there is this whole market out there where museum work can make an incredible impact.

2. To Achieve Scale and Impact Think Like a Product Developer
Presenters: Lisa Bernstein and Posie Wood

How can museums ensure they are delivering educational content that is both trusted and useful? One solution might be to think like a product developer. Bernstein and Wood spoke about the power museums have in providing students with content that can contextualise their learning and equip them with information to make new content appear not so overwhelming. However, museums can be seen as exclusive and exclusionary places. So, the aim should be to produce educational material to both generate trust and relieve the burden on teachers. They compared current education kits to Ikea furniture – some assembly required. As opposed to something instantly useful and ready to deliver, these assembly-required kits can add more to the plate of a teacher.

How to think like a product developer is to always know who your audience is (and not just what grade you’re pitching too but deeper than that), what problems you can solve and what will delight users. If you can gain an understanding of those three areas, then you can start producing more valuable content.

3. From Virtually Unknown to Virtually Everywhere
Presenters: Ed Lawless and Emilie Carruthers

The final presentation I want to touch on was by Lawless and Carruthers from the British Museum. The majority of their talk looked at their digital education programs and how the British Museum adapted to delivering programs during lockdown. However, why I’m mentioning this talk is because right at the end there was a very brief discussion on what the future entails. They want to continue with digital education programs for those who are unable to attend the Museum. For those who can, in-person programs will re-commence.

It highlighted, to me, this re-thinking of accessibility that has been raised due to COVID-19. I mentioned at the start of this post that having more online can open so many more opportunities and extend the reach of the Museum to new audiences. There is still this desire for people to come back to Museums and physically attend programs, education tours, etc. – but is the way forward to just go back to how things were?

This conference has encouraged me to think more deeply about what I can do to strike a balance with my museum in the future. I am looking forward to creating more online opportunities with school groups in particular. Thank you to everyone who was involved in organising the conference and who presented. I love leaving a conference feeling truly inspired about the industry that I work in and the possibilities that are out there. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my reflections and watch this space for more conference writings this year and perhaps, some museum visits!

Cover image is from the MuseumNext Digital Summit website.

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