MCG’s Museums+Tech 2016 Talk Abstracts

Read abstracts for all the amazing talks we have lined up for this year’s Museums+Tech conference.

Behind ‘Explore’: how we rethought our approach to telling stories online

Beyond 'Explore' at NMS

Beyond ‘Explore’ at NMS

Elaine Macintyre, National Museums Scotland

In 2014 National Museums Scotland relaunched their website. At that time we put a lot of emphasis on people using the website in conjunction with a ‘physical’ visit to one of our museums. However, with a core objective of the Digital Media team being to bring the museum to life online and use digital channels to help deliver the organisation’s mission, we also wanted to ensure we were catering for those coming to the site for other reasons.

Using audience research, segmentation and analysis of online user trends we set about rethinking what an “online hub for our collections activity” would look like, and how we could develop a resource that was useful, engaging and sustainable. In May 2016 we unveiled our completely revamped ‘Explore’ section – a new home for all our stories, films, games and resources. This presentation will cover the background to the project, how we tackled it, who we consulted and what we’ve learned since going live.

Fire! Fire! A story told several ways

Rhiannon Looseley and Josh Blair, Digital Learning Projects Manager / Digital Learning Coordinator, Museum of London

How can you attract and engage a number of different audiences online to an already well-known story?

The Museum of London is producing two interlinked online experiences – a dedicated website and a large scale Minecraft experience – to mark the anniversary of the Fire of London in September 2016. These online offerings will tell the story of the fire in new ways and are rich with opportunity, but both projects are challenging established ways of working at the museum and have yielded great insights into modern-day storytelling, project management and audience experience.

Others working on similar digital projects in the cultural heritage sector will be interested to hear about the learning gained, including practical points (working through complicated procurement processes) and theoretical points (how to embed digital thinking into traditional ways of working, and mindset shifts around new ways of partnering with suppliers).

We know that September 2016 will be an anniversary to remember, marking 350 years since one of London’s biggest disasters. We’ll share how we aspire to set the web ablaze with these experimental new online resources, and how we learned through our own kind of firefighting at times during these projects!

London in Minecraft

London in Minecraft

Museums at Night logo

Museums at Night

Answer me this! Questions and experiments

Rosie Clarke, Campaigns Officer, Culture24

This paper will share stories of digital experiments recently carried out by Culture24’s Museums at Night festival team to better communicate with the museum sector and with the public. I’ll discuss how we reorganised and simplified our complicated email newsletter processes, and integrated them with our online competition forms. I’ll share what we learned about online fundraising when rolling out our first JustGiving appeal – and what we could have done differently to maximise donations. And I’ll explain the impact that rolling out a live chat website function has had, as well as giving examples of the surprising things this new digital communications channel taught us about how well – or poorly – our website helps visitors!

Sleep Stories @ Wellcome Collection

Sleep Stories @ Wellcome Collection

Sleep Stories: crowdsourcing a patchwork of meaningful stories online and in person

Russell Dornan, Web Editor, Wellcome Collection

Our Sleep Stories project is a way for us to record and share people’s stories of what happens while they’re asleep and ties into one of our current exhibitions. The emphasis is on hearing, recording and sharing stories from our audience, giving them a voice, and interpreting them in a creative way.

Stories were submitted online as well as in person. They were then interpreted through embroidery with public participants in our Reading Room, while they shared and reflected on the stories. The individual stories form a beautiful quilt that will soon be presented online for our audience to explore them all.

Sharing digital content with Wikimedia

wales-wikimediaJason Evans, Wikimedian in Residence, National Library of Wales

In April 2013 the National Library of Wales caught fire. Offices were burned and collections destroyed. On the same day the library introduced a new policy – It would no longer claim any rights to digital reproductions of out of copyright material from its collections. One way the library chose to actively encourage this new policy was through the appointment of a Wikimedian in Residence, someone who could facilitate the sharing of the new open content with the world through Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. In 16 months the library has shared nearly 15,000 images on a CC-0 licence or public domain tag with Wikimedia Commons and this has generated over 100 million views of Library images. We then started combining these images with linked data via Wikidata which unlocks countless stories hidden within our image collections. The data can show us which artists painted what, what subject matter was most popular in a given timeframe, relationships between artists and engravers and so on. Wikidata also gives us a way of connecting and merging collections, such as joining up a portrait archive with data from the Welsh dictionary of Biography.

Adaptive evolution with A/B testing

Chloe Roberts, Web Producer, Wellcome Collection

A/B testing is everywhere, and many digital teams have probably already been sent off on a quest to do some of their own. But where do you start, and how do you make sure your tests are super effective in making your website better?

Adaptive evolution is the ability to adapt to any situation, so new abilities are gained whenever a weakness is detected. For digital products, weak spots can be found in our users’ journeys, and once they’re detected, A/B testing is a great way to test-drive possible evolution pathways, so that gradually through a constant process of identifying and fixing weaknesses, the product evolves to be a completely perfect entity. We’ve been experimenting with a structured, evidence driven A/B planning process, and would like to share what we’ve learnt so far about setting up, choosing what to test and why, and how to track the results.

An Audioguide for the Digital Age

Anna Lowe, Founder, SMARTIFY


I love storytelling but hate museum audio guides: They cost £4 and you don’t know what you’ll get; you follow a crowded predetermined path of museum ‘greatest hits’ rather than a lovingly crafted mixtape of objects; it’s usually one institutional interpretation; and they’re ugly, second-hand and poorly designed.

In May 2015 I cofounded SMARTIFY,  a Community Interest Company that hopes to transform the experience of uncovering and sharing stories about art. Our goal is to make the discovery of art as easy and personal as the discovery music on Spotify or TV on Netflix.

SMARTIFY is a free app for museum and gallery-goers that uses image recognition and augmented reality technology to instantly recognise artworks and allows audiences to discover varied commentary while sharing their own responses.

Poetic Places: Making a geolocation app with little time, less money, and no coding

Sarah Cole, Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence, British Library / Creative Geek TIME/IMAGE

poetic-placesPoetic Places is a free app for iOS and Android that launched in March 2016, the outcome of a Creative Residency at the British Library.

Poetic Places brings poetic depictions of place into the physical world. Using geofencing and notifications, it allows users to encounter literature in the locations described by the texts, accompanied by contextualising narratives and evocative visual materials drawn predominantly from archive collections freely available under Creative Commons.

Poetic Places is also an experiment to see what can be achieved in a short time frame with a small budget (less than £5k in total) and limited technological know-how. Built in under six months using a DIY app-building platform that requires no coding, the project is deliberately replicable in a way that will hopefully act as an inspiration for smaller arts organisations.

In this talk, Sarah will speak about:

– The ideas behind the Poetic Places, such as psychogeography, serendipitous discovery, and use of open collections;
– The technology powering it, why we chose to use the GoodBarber platform, and how it works;
– The content used, how it’s curated, what resources we used, and to what effect;
– Public response and takeaways, how the project might help others.

The naked bot

Andrew Larking, Creative Director, Deeson

After decades of speculation the question of whether artificial intelligence will change the way we live and work is finally settled. It is clear that the change will be lasting and radical. As such, the debate has shifted into what impact this change will have on people and whether it should actually be considered a threat.

When AI is treated as a large amorphous thing it is easy to make sweeping statements about the “dangers” it may pose to the digital curator. We will sort fact from speculation and peel away the layers to reveal how AI is simply a very powerful toolset that can make curation far more enjoyable and more effective.

We begin by demonstrating that AI is actually already here. By reviewing the ways in which AI tools are being used today we can gain invaluable insights as to what more widespread adoption will be like. We will look at specific examples such as deduction reasoning coupled with ontologies to surface relevant information; clustering algorithms for market segmentation; And personal assistants to guide discovery of information. We’ll then reveal how AI can be employed today with surprisingly little effort given the potential benefits. Ultimately the threat may well lie in learning about and using these tools. We will discuss how AI tools can remove uncertainty and reduce the number of tedious tasks. This allows curation to return to focus on its original calling – that of delighting and surprising users through creativity and amazing experience.

Objects in the Round: Photogrammetry for engagement and education

James Lloyd, PhD Student/Museum Volunteer, Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology

The Ure Museum has recently run a student-led project creating 3D models of classical and archaeological artefacts. Key to this project was finding the most effective ways to create the models and desseminate them. Photogreammetry and Sketchfab were the answers. Having presented the findings of our project and what we learnt, listeners will have a good understanding of how they too can create 3D models of their own collections, and upload them online to create a ‘virtual museum’ with wide reach. While this paper will outline the ‘how-to’ aspect of photogreammetry, it will also emphasise how 3D models can be used to supplement physical collections, such as utilising google cardboard to view objects in the round.

Wikipedia projects aren’t built in a day – Roman coinage on Commons

Martin Fell, Digital Team Leader, York Museums Trust

York Museums Trust (YMT) has run two successful – jointly funded – Wikipedia residency programmes looking specifically at the sustainable re-use of openly licensed digital content on Wikipedia.

Legacy and sustainability were the two most important issues investigated during our collaborative work with Wikimedia UK and we found there was no silver bullet for achieving either.

However, our latest project – devised and led by numismatics curator Andrew Woods – condenses much of what we have learnt during YMT’s two-years of GLAMwiki work and gives a cost-benefit analysis of committing time to working on the world’s most popular encyclopedia.

It investigates both the digital ground work that needs to be undertaken as well as the impact Wikipedia projects have on curatorial time, the joys of working with enthusiastic volunteers and the clarity that comes from effective reporting of successes and failures.

Using service design, dashboards and trello in the trenches

Katharine Alston, Digital Learning Coordinator, Imperial War Museums

We’re going agile… But what is this like for the team who have to adapt and support the change?

Digital is now in everyone’s job title, and the IWM online learning offer is managed not by a web or digital team but the learning team. IWM digital learning group implemented practices from service design, agile along with Google Analytics to develop their online offer.
The DLG wanted to:
– Understand what our users were doing online. We wanted to know what they need, (not what they say they want). User behaviour lets us know what they want rather than what they say want.
– Develop a method whereby we could quickly respond to change. Enabling us to be reactive to our audiences needs
– Measure the value of the products, and the DLG work.

The unique aspect of this presentation is that it will be delivered by Katharine Alston who is relatively new to the process of user centred design, google analytics and website development, therefore she can offer an insight into how embedding these skills and methodology actually works when you step back in the organisation. Furthermore if the change results in a better experience for users.

Hard work of crowdsourcing. The experience of

Vahur Puik, Project Manager & Member of the Board, Estonian Photographic Heritage Society

Most of the digitized heritage is searchable only by text, not by location on a map. Geotagging historic content is a recognised task. The trick is to find a scalable workflow for it. We argue that the model where the content owner (uploader) also has to be the one to pin the content on the map is not effective enough. has been built so that content can be taken from the collections and then users geotag it in a crowdsourced manner. Equally important is the principle of social validation – no administrators, the suggestions made by different users validate each other.
Since March 2015 Ajapaik has been connected to the central repository of Estonian museums: users can make queries, select images, make sets (albums) and direct the imagery to Ajapaik for (other) users to do the geotagging. By the end of May 2016 almost 39000 pictures have been geotagged by more than 6300 users (see graphic: Still many questions are to be solved to keep the traction and user engagement of the platform growing, the main competition tends to be with Facebook where most of the discussion about old imagery takes place.

Are we there yet? The journey to embed digital thinking and practice within Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

tyne-and-wear-future-makersSarah Younas, Assistant Digital Officer, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Where should the innovative digital projects come from in the organisation? How can we increase digital literacy and raise the aspirations of museum staff? How can we encourage cross-departmental collaboration over multiple sites and promote new partnerships?

In a sector faced by the ever mounting pressure to be ‘digitally innovative,’ this talk will explore the initiatives undertaken by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums to positively influence organisational practices in order to create new, authentic experiences for our audiences.

Projects to be referenced include a digital making programme, Future Makers, casting the museum space as an active hub of invention and ingenuity and New Perspectives a networking programme bringing together museum staff with a mix of non-traditional thinkers including researchers, educators, technologists and arts practitioners.

This talk will analyse whether increasing an organisation’s digital literacy should not be focused on skills development, but on raising aspiration, empowering colleagues to share ideas and expanding the museum’s connectedness to novel practice outside of the sector.

It’s got to be easy to use’: collections based narratives in the classroom and how teachers use digital resources

Kate Noble, Education Officer The University of Cambridge Museums

cambridge-digital-teachingThis paper will focus on the findings of a consultation project carried out by museum educators from the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) exploring how we might re-create the stories we tell around objects within our collections in a classroom context. We visited 5 schools serving Reception up to VIth form, observed ICT use in 32 lessons, watched 43 teachers use collections based digital resources for planning and ran training sessions based on images and handling objects from 3 collections (Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Polar Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum). We found that only a small number of teachers we worked with used collections based resources (digital or other) in a structured way. There was a wide variation in the confidence and skills that teachers had using the internet for searching, knowing where to click to find content and navigating their way around a site. Six main themes and threads emerged from our research. We will share these insights with delegates and discuss how they will inform the creation our digital content moving forward to encourage schools to use objects from our collections. We hope the findings will also prove useful to sector colleagues wanting to ensure their digital resources meet teachers’ needs.

Creating an online interactive using a ‘difficult’ collection

Lucy Moore, Leeds Museums and Galleries

Our First World War Guardians

Our First World War Guardians

This paper reveals how we created the ‘Our First World War Guardians’ online interactive to engage learners of all ages with the medals collection at Leeds Museums and Galleries. We developed this education tool to show the significance of medals through the stories of real people, combining the latest 3-D technology with expert information. We will demonstrate how this has made the numismatics collections at Leeds Museums accessible to new, global audiences. The interactive received a commendation in the 2015 Association for Heritage Interpretation Awards.

Generating engagement: creating playful experiences with museum collections

Robert Cawston, Interim Head of Digital Media, National Museums Scotland


GEN @ National Museums Scotland

In Summer 2016 National Museums of Scotland will launch a new online game in collaboration with the digital team at Aardman Animations. Based around a lovable, animated creature known as “Gen”, the game uses biomedical objects from the museum collection to diagnose and treat the Gen as it suffers various ailments.

This paper will outline the core challenges of the project, sharing key insights for institutions exploring notions of play and experimentation and seeking new ways of connecting with audiences beyond the walls of the museum.

With reference to research conducted with Frankly Green & Webb the paper will explore the importance of asking your audience what it wants at the start of a project and how the focus of digital production should shift away from innovating with technology to innovating the user experience. It will also examine the best ways to elicit creative responses from a tender process as well as revealing some of pitfalls and benefits of working with agile methodologies within a museum setting.

We hope to also offer attendees the chance to play the game and share their thoughts!

The project received funding from Wellcome Trust and went live at in July 2016.


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