ISay is one of five research projects that were developed as a result of the LIVE!Museum Project. All of these projects look at ways to enhance the on-site museum experience through the use of online technology. ISay is looking at ways to encourage and integrate visitor-generated content in a museum environment.
ISay: New technologies, platforms and models of participation in heritage and culture
The availability of technology that enables capturing/generating and sharing visitor content does not guarantee the take up of that technology by visitors and practitioners. Visitors need to be encouraged and motivated to participate in a non-threatening, easy and (personally) worthwhile process that is accessible and inclusive. Practitioners need to see clear benefits to their practice and their institution in order to commit the required resources. The project will therefore look specifically at the visitor’s perspective, to establish what motivates and sustains visitor participation; and also at the practitioner’s perspective, to understand the barriers they must overcome in order to embrace visitor participation and content.
Sustained visitor and practitioner participation will depend on how well-designed the socio-technical system is: how appropriate and usable is the technology and interfaces; how well is participation supported through meaningful, interesting, inviting and comfortable experiences; what effective mechanisms are in place to resolve tensions and cultivate synergies between visitor content and institutional content; how appropriate and ethical are the models for the management of content ownership and rights. The project will also explore alternative designs of the socio-technical system to identify best practices and offer design guidelines.
Our first main research question therefore is:
Question 1: What models of participation in heritage are enabled by new technologies for capturing and sharing on-site visitor content?
There are potentially many beneficial effects in capturing and sharing on-site visitor content, both to visitors themselves and to the institution. Through producing and consuming content, visitors can learn from each other and contribute to each other’s meaning making in novel ways that significantly change their experience. The institution can benefit from visitor expertise; it can introduce an additional level of visitor-institution dialogue; it can curate an archive of visitor content, historical material in itself. The mere availability of visitor content – let alone its integration with institution content – may influence interpretation and research.
The value of visitor content may change over time: the relevance of content can be a function of the wider socio-political context within which it is produced and consumed. An awareness of the dynamics that shape the lifecycle of visitor content and its relationship with institutional content is central to a systematic assessment of the value of visitor content.
The past decade has seen a flourish of models of on-line visitor participation. This project focuses on on-site participation models based on capturing and sharing visitor content. In establishing the value of these new models, it is imperative that we look at their comparative value of technology-based on-site participation models in relation to existing models: how do models for on-site visitor participation differ from models for on-line user participation?
The deployment of these new models can lead to important transformations of philosophies, attitudes and practices, problematising in particular our existing conceptualisations of the visitor’s role in heritage, perhaps even leading to a re-conceptualisation of the visitor as a professional peer.
By documenting the above effects on the visitor experience and on institutional practice, the project will address a second research question:
Question 2: What are the added value and the effects of these models of participation?
The members of the iSay project team are:
Giasemi Vavoula – RCUK Academic Fellow, University of Leicester, department of Museum Studies
Bob Banks – Senior Consultant, Tribal Group
Sarah Beecham – Director Art of Memory
William Clarke – PhD Student, University of Leicester, department of Museum Studies
Polly Richards – Independent Curator and Content Developer, Polly Richards
Martin Roberts – Senior Curator, the Herbert
Julian Tomlin – Deputy Director Lakeside arts Centre
Elena Villaespesa – Intern, Tate Online