Sarah Younas, Digital as New, Authentic Museum Experiences

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Transcript of Sarah Younas, Digital as New, Authentic Museum Experiences

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

Hi everyone, thank you for having me here today. Im Sarah Younas and Im Assistant Digital Officer at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums or TWAM for short. 1

9 museums, galleries and an archives service1.1 million objects12 miles of shelving

TWAM is a major regional museum, art gallery and archives service managing a collection of nine museums and galleries across Tyneside and the archives for Tyne & Wear. We have 1.1 million objects from every type of collection you can imagine including; archives, art, science and technology, archaeology, military history, social history, fashion and natural sciences. 2

Digital as essential audience focused principles An opportunity to challenge existing systems and traditional museum thinking

Im part of TWAMs Digital department, which is a very small team consisting of John Coburn, our Digital Programmes Manager and myself. When we say Digital, we prefer to talk about it in terms of essential audience-focused principles that stem from digital thinking and practice, rather than digital as technology. We see the existence of our team as an opportunity to challenge the existing systems and traditional museum thinking, to think outside of the display case as a way to better respond to user behaviour. 3

We assuage ourselves with the idea that in the digital era, people will still visit museums because they want to see the real thing, what we dont admit is that many of the real things we display just arent that compelling enough to get people in the door.

- Nina Simon, Mediations on Relevance, Part 5: Relevance is a Bridge

We need to make the museum relevant to audiences; meeting them in their world finding out what theyre excited about and use this as an access point to engage them with collections and resources 4

technologists | teachers | architects | interaction designers | sound recordists | gaming communities | film makers | musicians | animators | data visualisers | poets | biomedical researchers | curators | calligraphers | robotocists | forensics experts | geneticists | making communities | black metal community | AI researchers | healthcare pros

To do this, we develop our own public engagement programmes, working across all of the museums, galleries and archives, designing for every possible audience in collaboration with people who dont think like us communities, artists, creative practitioners and arts organisations. 5

We dont develop autonomouslyCreative ideas exist within everybody in the organisation

But the most important people we work with are venue staff. We dont develop autonomously and then parachute programmes in. It is essential that we work cross departmentally and involve the right staff at the earliest stage with ideas development, rather than when theyre needed to do a job. The Digital team are not the source of all ideas creative ideas exist within everybody in the organisation, no matter what their day-to-day roles and responsibilities are. The challenge is in unlocking that creativity.


The nature of creativity is to make space for things to happenwe can drive it out with our busyness and plans.

- Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Surprisingly, there is no internal requirement for this to happen and there are no structures or systems in place to generate ideas, meaning that often although staff are generally positive and want to be involved in the new, exciting and experimental, there is a perception that digital and innovation isnt connected to their role and isnt for them. 7

Knowledge is not enough we need to develop as creative thinkersWe need the space to create and experiment

If were all working towards a shared goal in inspiring personal and social change through our collections, then collectively, we need to recognise that our knowledge is not enough, we must learn to use that knowledge to develop as creative thinkers and to do this, we need the space to create and experiment. - So, with that in mind, Im going to talk to you about some of the initiatives undertaken by TWAM to find space for creativity, raise the aspiration of staff and slowly, but positively influence organisational practice in order to create new, authentic experiences for our audiences.


Small scale R&D Open to all members of staff from all departmentsPiloting one question or methodology considered innovative to TWAM practice

TNT or Try New Things is an action research project facilitated by 5 champions from a range of departments across the organisation including curatorial, outreach and programming. Its aim is to test small scale research and development projects by providing a modest amount of funding (up to 2000). It is open to all members of staff from all departments. Applications must pilot one question or methodology that is considered innovative to the practice of TWAM, with an audience focus. The project is rooted in a bi-monthly meet up where applicants pitch their proposals to a network of peers, getting feedback so that ideas can be revised, modified and ultimately strengthened and improved by the collective. Successful applicants must then commit to sharing their learning with colleagues. They must be frank about what worked, what didnt and whats next for them. They must then consider how they can learn from their research and how they can further develop the project.


Supporting conversationIdentifying allies and mentoring potential champions

The TNT model supports staff who, for whatever reason have quite possibly never met and never spoken before to get together and have a conversation, but sessions have a clear, yet constantly changing structure, to avoid staff spending two hours sitting in a room, talking about organisational change both positive and negative.

Our metrics for success are not primarily about the projects produced, but are around empowering staff to share their ideas and inspiring a familiarity and ease with meaningful experimentation across venues and departments, were interested in identifying allies and mentoring potential champions.


41 members of staff ranging from FOH SMT 17 submitted proposals, 11 pitched proposals

Over the course of the past year, 41 different members of staff have attended TNT, with a high percentage of them returning. The staff members range from Front of House to Senior Management and the majority had not previously engaged with the Digital programme. 17 TNT proposals have been submitted and 11 proposals have been pitched in a meet-up.


Expanding networks = new ways of thinking, new practice, new audiencesProgramming conversations, creating informal encounters

Every digital project we undertake is an opportunity for us to expand our networks and work with people who can introduce us to new ways of thinking, new practice and new audiences. We want to actively encourage ideas from outside of the organisation and a large part of our role is programming conversations and creating informal encounters between internal staff and potential external collaborators, usually by situating them in the museum space. 12

Curatorial staff meeting academic researchers to develop organic project proposals

New Perspectives sandpit event was an opportunity for 20 curatorial and programmes staff, mostly unfamiliar with the digital programme to meet academics from the regions five universities with a range of novel digital research interests including, forensic science, digital humanities, graphic design, architecture and biomedical diagnostics to form organic project proposals. 13

Getting staff away from their desks

The second event with enough capacity to run the event twice over, will this time see staff from the Great North Museum: Hancock, a natural history museum be taken away from their desks and out into the city for a creatively programmed walk designed to generate discussion with academics and researchers from Newcastle University. 14

How can we creatively use the museum space and its collections to spark greater public dialogue and participation?

One of the key aims we have for every digital project within the organisation is to challenge the public perception of what museums are for. How can we creatively use the museum space and its collections to spark greater public dialogue and participation within our nine museums? This is something we wanted to test with our pilot museums intervention programme, developed in response to a gap in venue programming and the latent potential of audiences that arent currently being reached.


Provoking learning through STEM related activity to inspire a new generation of inventors, makers and thinkers

The programme was designed to incite curiosity and provoke learning through STEM related activity. We hoped to inspire a new creative generation of inventors, makers and thinkers by engaging them in a series of making tasks to equip themselves with the making, problem solving and confidence skills that are essential for todays world.


Future Makers

In collaboration with FutureEverything, a digital innovation lab based in Manchester, we, working closely with venue staff, developed Future Makers, a series of creative technology workshops for adults and children across five of our venues. 17

Gadgets: Adventures in Design

Activity included designing wearable gadgets for the future using LittleBits technology, taking inspiration from everyday objects on display in our design gallery 18

New Inventors: Electro Dough

learning a