This year I was extremely fortunate to be able to attend the Museums Computer Network conference in New Orleans, and present two papers!! (so two exclamation marks). I did a short 10 minute demo of our Pocket Curator app and shared information on our Innovation Fund and how it has helped us foster a culture of innovation across our museums (I’ve blogged about this previously here and here).
The tone of the conference was set by an excellent keynote from Catherine Bracy, who has a bio much too long and impressive to list here, including being Director of Community for Code for America and working on the Obama campaign. She opened with the sentiment that people appear to have lost trust in public institutions (clearly illustrated by the likes of Brexit and Trump – a cloud that hungover the conference even pre election). She challenged institutions to reconnect with what made them important in the first place, and breathe new life into those core values, but deliver them in new ways appropriate for the current era. This tapped into something I have been thinking about for some time and helped me get into the conference mindset for the next three days.
Below are two visual notes of her talk drawn by delegates at the conference. Both delegates produced a number of these across the three days and I found them really engaging (check out their Twitter feeds). They seem like a great way to remind yourself of key themes and share learning with colleagues who couldn’t make it. They have given me ideas for how we can share some of the key messages from the events we organise (though it’ll be done in photoshop since I lack the drawing skills…).
I didn’t have a particular plan for the conference about which streams I would go to, instead I followed my nose in terms of what appealed in the moment. Nevertheless one theme that seemed to emerge for me was evaluation and a data driven strateguc approach. I attended useful sessions from Jackie Armstrong at MoMA and Kathi Kaiser from Centralis on evaluating in gallery interactives. Key messages were around focusing on only gathering the data you need and making sure you are asking the right questions!
Thoughts raised in this session were extended in a later session on ‘Strategic and Integrated Analytics: Making data about museums accessible’ from Kate Haley Goldman, Bruce Wyman, Douglas Hegley and Corey Timpson. They really exposed our challenge – we are always struggling with the mammoth task of collecting data, but our real challenge is interpretting and understanding the data, and making it accessible and usable across our organisation. They highlighted to me how much more we could be doing with our data and how much more effective we could be – if only we could find the time!!
Another key session for me was one in which MoMA (Shannon Darrough), the Met (Liz Filardi) and the Whitney (Sophie Anderson) all shared tales of thier website redevelopments, taking Agile, Lean approaches and bring web development in house to have more control and flexibility – hugely pertinent to my work at the moment as we redo some of our sites. This was complemented by an interesting session on the National Museums Website Motivation Survey and how specific organisations have applied insights to their website design and content strategy.
I also attended quite a few sessions that focussed on senior leaders and their role in changing organisational culture. On Wednesday I went to the session ‘After the Launch’ with Nik Honeysett, Shelley Bernstein and Rob Stein about how they sustain momentum and organisational vigour in the wake of innovative projects. I followed this up with a session on Friday, ‘The View from the Top: an executive roundtable’ again with Nik Honeysett and Shelley Bernstein. Key messages for me were firstly about being open about our process during the process, sharing successes and failures and engaging with the community (both within and outside the organisation), and the understanding that while as organisations we seem comfortable with additive change, subtractive change is much more challenging, but necessary in the curent climate where we are trying to expand into new areas without expanding our resources.
One final session which I found really useful on a personal level was ‘Sustaining Innovation: Tips and Techniques for keeping momentum in your organisation’ with a fantastic panel including Emily Lytle-Painter, Greg Albers, Jeffrey Inscho and Douglas Hegley. This session covered a lot of territory, but in the second half we focused on how we manage to work to our best potential in sometimes challenging situations. It was a great opportunity to take a step back and put things in perspective. While what we do is important, we aren’t brain surgeons, we don’t have problems that can’t be solved. There were also some great practical tips. One I particularly liked was the idea of complemeting a colleague on their work every day, improving the workspace for you and someone else.
MCN is always a fantastic conference, with so many good sessions (so many that I couldn’t make it to and am now trying to catch up with online!). I always come away with a lot of specific ideas that I want to apply back in the office. This year another highlight was the location – New Orleans! – a city I’ve always wanted to visit. It certainly lived up to expectation, with the French Quarter in particular offering a vibrant city life, with a lot of great venues, mostly featuring live music, loads of talented street performers, and street psychics, and a number of Voodoo themed shops and venues.
A highlight of the city for me was a trip I sneaked in to the city’s oldest cemetary (St Louis Cemetary No 1). I was a bit put off at first as I was told that I wasn’t allowed to wonder the cemetary, and could only enter with a guide, as I only had a little time, but I’m glad I did, it was a fantastic tour. The guide was so well informed about the history of the city and burial practices that it really transformed the experience. Of course we also stopped by the tomb of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, whose is apparently the second most visited grave in the US, behind Elvis…