engaging digital audiences in museums: new ways of understanding communication

It has finally occurred.  Under the title “Engaging digital audiences in museums”, organised by Museums Computers Group and Digital Learning Network, professionals of the museums throughout the UK have gathered with one aim: to discuss and share experiences about putting two different worlds together. Museums and technology.

“None of us is smart as all of us”. With this quotation Nick Winterbothan– Group for Education in Museums- presented the first requirement of the challenge. The need of communicate. As in a “Nail Puzzle” challenge, the way to face the dilemma begins from sharing experience, digital learning and observation.  Only in this way can we put the pieces together and achieve results.


We have two important challenges knocking at our door: Arriving at a change in society- with different ways to communicate and get engaged- and to beat the recession, by demonstrating the importance of Museums and knowledge. “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”.

This speech highlighted the importance of people as the real source of heritage. Museums are not for things, museums are for people. And to  reach people it is necessary more than ever to engage with them through new paths. To be connected.

But, what is the better way to reach these audiences?  How should we use the museum sources to achieve this?

Matthew Cook– head of the web of the British Museum – has told us about it. Through experience with mobile apps, he has reflected about the approaches of audiences and these devices. For instance, the way mobile technology has changed its patron and gone “from fun to fundamental”. Only understanding the visitors needs can we create a suitable app for them. And not all the visitors have the same needs to be fulfilled, they can be social needs, or intellectual, emotional, spiritual… It is eventually a matter of common sense, about having a deep knowledge about out galleries and our different targets of public, and to wonder about how they can be connected.

 It has to do with the transformation of the economy, about how the consumer is increasingly interacting with the branch- and a museum it is as well a cultural branch– and only by listening to them can we achieve engagement.

Until this point we have talked about the ideas. About the spirit and the philosophy that lead the connection between these two not-so-separate worlds; museums and technology. But… What about the cases? What about the real practice?

Lucinda Blasser– Digital Projects Manager, Royal Museums Greenwich- told us about her experience with the project “Discovery sessions-new ways of learning”.  Through a label-based device – in 2009 – children were encouraged to create their own historical enquiries, and try to learn more about what interested them. This is a case were technology is applied in order to control their own-learning. Children behaved especially well in this scenario, showing more engagement with the galleries, being more collaborative with each other and focusing more on the activity.  Teachers were also included in the activity, by controlling children activities via mobile and sending messages to them. The project was, thus, a total success.

John Coburn-Project Coordinator ICT, Tyne &Wear Archives &Museums, Newcastle- experimented with a different approach. In their project-,”Hidden Newcastle- failed inventors and body dredgers”- they put the focus on the people of Newcastle’s stories. The object provides raw source material for the story. In this way, they made a journey through 13 people’s stories. 13 common people, not famous, not commemorated, whose lives occurred mostly in the town-centre of Newcastle. The criteria used to select these stories are related with failure, macabre, eccentricity… They are not looking with this app to teach a deep knowledge of Newcastle history. They are, instead, looking for the sensation of wonderment. The combination of the app with the stories and the physical site where they happened creates a bond of affectivity and empathy, which is the motor that stirs public imagination, encouraging them to explore, and engage themselves.


Isabel Benavides– Programme Manager (Family Outreach), Museum of London – tackled one of the big concerns about the relationship between technologies and audiences: the impact. As she told us, they are trying to go beyond the traditional methods of enquiries, beyond the survey. By experimenting with technologies and a bit of imagination, they are focused on achieving something more valuable: subjective opinions.  For instance,  collecting communication between parents and children through devices as audioclips, easy speak microphones or cameras, in which the visitors can record their experiences [and] thoughts. Or through tools like those developed by “talkingmats”:  http://www.talkingmats.com/, where you can express the things you have enjoyed or not enjoyed about your visit.

Martha Henson-Multimedia Producer, Wellcome Trust – told us about their on-line game “High Tea”. Through this game set in the Opium Wars, which had a high success on the web, they collected useful information about what the consumers were concerned about in this historical period. Rather than a technique for attracting people to their collections, the aim of launching this game was to achieve an adequate perspective about how to focus their activity regarding the interests of the public. It was as well a funny and amusing way to spread knowledge about this phenomenon in history, raising empathy and comprehension about it.


There was time as well to talk about the doubts and concerns that a step as important as this raises. Probably, one of the most repeated words during the workshops and the conference was sustainability.   “How shinny are you?” – in terms on how many overwhelming technological devices you use- seems to be the wrong question, which  only leads to wastage of resources. It is necessary to resist being technology driven. Other than that, other alternatives appear more sensible. One of the most applauded was experimentation: not thinking of things that are expensive and huge, but trying them first in little activities, and then coming back with the results and deciding whether to move on or not. Sharing best practices, and consulting visitors about their needs or work in partnership are other options that can lead your project to success, overcoming the bias between the shiny new project and what is actually working.

As a final reflection, I would pick up one of the sentences used to describe the state of the situation and the aim of the conference: an intricate explosion. Something with a lot of pieces and layers mixed together, which have to work together, combining slowly and without leaving anything behind, to finally explode. To finally blossom

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Not a funny story: the Codice Calixtinus

I should not start with this post. I was thinking about telling a funny story, about me and my friends and our adventures in el Prado. And then, I opened the newspaper. And now, I am too much angry to talk about funny things.

I would tell you another story. This one is about irresponsability and neglicence.

All of us had heard about theft of masterpieces. Sometimes in films and books, sometimes, sadly, in newspapers. And all of us know about the security measures that every place with precious heritage must take.

One of this sad stories occurred in a town in a North-West of Spain- a region called Galicia- a year ago. This town, called Santiago de Compostela, is internationally famous as a place of pilmigrage with centuries of tradition. So many centuries that a guide for pilgrims written in the XII century is conserved in the Cathedral. It is called Codice Calixtinus, and, as you can imagine, is a precious document about manners, travels and cosmovision.

Well, this manuscript was stolen. Of course is nothing that you can laugh about, so please do not laugh if I tell you that the dean did not noticed that the Codice was stolen until six days after of its disappearance. It is not funny. Of course the Cathedral had security measures, what are you thinking. A lot of money was spent in that less than a year ago, a whole sealed chamber was built to conserve the manuscript- avoiding, by the way, any accesibility to the public, why should they have access to their own heritage? only major personalities could see it when the dean would think it was alright…- just the key was in a closet without any supervision. A human mistake, isn´t it? You are only responsible of one of the most precious documents in the country.

Of course, whispers and indignation spread after the event. Who was the thief? Was the mafia? Was a bizarre collector? Are we facing a clever criminal mind, a super villian laughing while he strokes his cats in a chamber full of treasures?

Well, not exactly… please do not laugh if a tell you he was a local electrician. It seems that he was aware- ironic mode on- of the high tech security and close care that the responsibles of the Cathedral treasures disposed- ironic mode off-.

This week the police found the Codice in the electrician´s garage. In a rubbish bag. Oh, please, don´t laugh. It seems that he was one of the people fired when the Cathedral was forced to regulate the laboral situation of its employees. He says that he was thinking to sell the manuscript for 40.000 euro, the money he insists the Cathedral owns him for his unpayed jobs. The police found in that garage another books and jewells of the Cathedral which thefts had not been even reported. At this point of the story you would better be crying.

Well, the manuscript was recovered. It will come back to the Cathedral where it is so properly well curated and exhibited. The president Mariano Rajoy did not miss the opportunity to appear in the media patronizing this “happy ending”. After all is one of the documents that built the identity of Spain as a nation, or Galicia as a nation. There is not an agreement in this either. Is curious, because the french author of the manuscript, Aimerico de Picaud, was not especially flattering with none of them. I honestly think the content of the Codice is the only truly funny thing in all this matter.

Well, this is the end of the story. In this article of Ignacio Escolar you can see the happy dean and president handeling the manuscript without gloves. Why should they? It has only ten centuries.


One final question. Am I the only person that thinks that the Codice Calixtinus, with all its historical value, and, apparently, identity value, would be better conserved and exhibited in a Museum? With proffesional security meassures? With a proffesional team of curators? Where everybody could see it?

Oh, I forgot. Nobody mess with the church. But this is another not-funny story.

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who am I and what is this

These are, by the way, two difficult questions.

Who am I?

I can say my name is Laura Martin, but this is not saying much. Let say I like museums. That, at least, is true. I like museums, and I have always liked them. I think about them. I talk about them. Of course, I visit them. Ok, that is a begining.

Let say I am moving between two countries. UK -where I live- and Spain- where I am from-. This can make things complicated. This can make things interesting, as well.

Let say I am struggling in two languages. I think I should apologize in advance for all the mistakes I will do. I am truly sorry, Shakespeare.

The rest of me is in building progress. Developing. Changing. Trying to be richer. As any museum.

What is this?

I can say this is a blog about museums, but this is not saying much either.

It is maybe a place to reflect what a museum is, and how it does-or it must- engage with its public.

It is maybe a chronic about what is going on- in Manchester mainly, but not only- and how to enjoy it. Or a place to link interesting things that interesting people is doing. Or have done in the past, and now they are in a museum.

It is maybe a chanel to express afection or dissafection about theories, policies and behaviors which sourronded cultural life, which make cultural life be what it is.

It is maybe all of this. A lot of things in just one place. Again, as any museum.

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