Thoughts from MuseumNext

Posted on April 27, 2015

Last week I was at MusuemNext in Geneva. It’s an international conference on the future of museums and has been going for a little while now. I’ve had my eye on it for a while – what’s not to love about visiting European cities to hear interesting people talk about the subjects you find fascinating? Nothing, that’s what.

This year I had an excuse to attend – I was presenting some work I did for the V&A at the end of last year. A full write-up of that is coming, but you can check The Museum Dashboard on Slideshare in the meantime, with some extra notes on the One Further website.

Thoughts from the conference

I’ve collected together lots of round-ups, notes and slides on CulturalDigital, so feel free to dig in to those. Here’s my contribution.

Oh, and MuseumNext isn’t just a conference about digital tech/media in museums, but that’s my interest, so that’s where I’m coming from here. Just so you know.

1. How deep does digital transformation go?

There are lots of organisations doing really interesting digital work, but on a few occasions I was left wondering just how deeply rooted it is. Good work seems to be the product of good people pushing things through. If those people were to leave then would the work continue?

Related thought: just how good are museums (and I’d extend this over to the rest of the cultural sector) at attracting and retaining talent in digital teams? I missed the session on Making the most of your people but from what I heard it was very well attended.

Related fact: almost everyone seems to be looking for a new job.

2. Outsider approaches

Projects like Museum Hack and Invasioni Digitali are coming in and doing a great job of sparking excitement and interest in museums. Are they making up for a failing on the part of the museums themselves, or do they exist because they’re being welcomed into institutions that serve as foundations for all sorts of different experiences? Either way, good stuff.

3. New ways of working

Not so long ago I was talking to someone about ways that cultural organisations might be picking up on processes and methodologies like agile, lean, user-focused design, etc and so on. We’d both seen digital agencies (often very close to emerging trends) influencing their contacts in an organisation’s digital team, with that team then passing on knowledge to their colleagues. So that’s one way.

Interesting to see that a couple of former heads of digital at major US institutions have recently turned consultant and are teaching this kind of stuff.

Coming back to MuseumNext, workshops on agile development and customer journey mapping might seem like slightly curious things to have at a conference. However, they were really well run and got rave reviews. Just goes to show.

MuseumNext - Southbank Centre

4. Sharing stuff

MuseumNext attracts a progressive bunch (as you’d expect, given the name) and the instinct towards sharing and building on each other’s work comes across strongly. By and large case studies were more ‘This is what we did, here are some pointers if you’re thinking of doing something similar’, rather than ‘This is what we did – applaud our brilliance’.

The Southbank Centre’s open website approach typifies this. It could be summarised as ‘Here’s what we’re doing, here’s our documentation, code and design patterns and lets collaborate on parts of it where we can. Is there anything else we can give you?’.

Thoughts about the conference

I tend to find that museum conferences, as opposed to the visual/performing arts ones I usually attend, tend have quite an academic feel to them. Not so with MuseumNext. The subject matter is no less substantial, but it feels lighter and more approachable. Maybe that’s because the organisers have a visual comms background. Hmm.

The attendee list was really very excellent indeed. In fact I’d say that’s one of the great strengths of this conference. It was great to have a few days of talking to smart, friendly people about interesting things with no need to explain as you go along. That was really good.

The experience of speaking really couldn’t have been much better either. The tech setup was simple and seamless and the audience was receptive and asked some really smart questions afterwards.

In the interests of balance, I should say that it wasn’t all amazing. What is? There was some sketchy wifi, venues that were a little too spread out (resulting in extended breaks and long sessions that didn’t always justify their runtime) and the perfect storm of conference no-no’s that resulted in a session called ‘The Sociable Museum’ which… well, I’ll leave it there.

None of which really mattered. I came away a bit smarter and knowing many more interesting people, which was exactly what I was looking for.