Thoughts from Museums and the Web 2011

Our Mobile “Untours” or “Detours” workshop went really well, I think. We had an overflow crowd. They actually brought in extra tables and chairs. Nobody walked out early and all of our small group discussions ran the full length of time we allotted them.
Each of the facilitators spoke briefly on some project that embodied for them a possible mobile “detour”. You can get the whole list at the MuseumMobile wiki. It’s a good starting place if you’re interested in knowing what’s out there that’s outside the tour paradigm.
The format we had decided on beforehand was to break into small groups and brainstorm mobile apps for an institution. To have a more focused discussion we used one of the mobile interpretation worksheets you can get at MuseumMobile that encouraged people to think concretely about their audience, the functionalities possible, and more. To make it a bit more fun and introduce some wildcards, we produced a set of cards that listed potential audience motivations (using Falk’s categories as inspiration), possible locations for interaction(in a gallery, in a museum, anywhere…) and potential stumbling blocks (no time, a bespoke tech vendor, curatorial intransigence…) that would have to addressed. If you want them, you can download a set of our MW detour cards. Artwork is courtesy of Michael Horvath.

It was very interesting to see how quickly very disparate groups could ideate outside the box when there was a good focus. One thing that happened in both my groups was that we picked a real museum that somebody was familiar with as a way to answer all the unknowns that would otherwise make it a purely intellectual exercise and not as useful. I think it might be something I’d try doing at the Museum as a team exercise because it turns out that our groups did the things that I always struggle with in my projects. Keeping the audience focus intact in the face of technology enthusiasm is just hard. Even though we had a card stating our primary audience were spiritual pilgrims, people coming to recharge their emotional batteries, it was just easier to dive right into the cool kinds of stuff we could deliver to them via a mobile experience that was really more appropriate to an audience composed of explorers or hobbyists. Maybe, it’s not just me…

Other learnings:
Museum people seem to have an insatiable appetite for case studies. One thing that came across to me loud and clear was that people wanted to know what worked and how they could use that knowledge to do their own work. Having a workshop on something that doesn’t really exist yet is a challenge, but a stimulating one and I’m glad we attempted it. My hat’s off to my fellow facilitators, and above all to Nancy Proctor, who herded us cats into getting the workshop organized and managed to keep us all on time and on topic for four very busy hours.