The Making it FAIR project was developed in response to challenges faced by smaller museums struggling to engage online with audiences during lockdown, and beyond. Eight small museums worked with a range of partners including Culture24, Collections Trust and The Audience Agency to explore and develop their digital content and storytelling with collections. Over five months, each museum experimented with new ideas, approaches, processes and, where relevant, technical solutions, to help them build digital skills and to create engaging, relevant, fit-for-purpose digital content.
Below is a summary of the case studies from each participating museum detailing their experiments – what they did and how they did it. You can click on the link for each museum to see their full case studies and to get a sense of their journey through their experiments.
Through their experiment, Foxton Canal Museum wanted to develop their understanding of their online presence. They wanted to get a sense of the skills they needed and how to develop those skills. They wanted to get a sense of who their current and potential audiences were. They wanted to develop their ideas around the types of content they were creating and understand how best to use the data they had available to answer those questions. Their key lesson from the experience? There is no quick solution to create an effective online presence – they key is adapting, adjusting and persevering.
The team at Gawthorpe Textiles focused their experiment around their use of Pinterest. They wanted investigate how their audiences were engaging with their collections online, and whether Pinterest was the appropriate platform to reach their target audiences. Through this process, they hoped to be able to better understand how their audiences interact with their content and the types of content that their audiences were interested in seeing, so that they could better tailor their social media use. Their key learning from the process? Be realistic with your goals, start small and build it up in increments.
The Museum of Military Medicine started from a position of wanting to better understand the different social media platforms that were open to them. They looked in to who was leading the sector in social media communications and how they could stand out online, in a crowded market. Through their experiment, they also hoped to be able to increase their social media output, by telling interesting stories sourced from their collections. Through their experiment, a key insight is that it’s important to be selective with the media you’re using to tell your story – choose the right media for the right story.
The experiment undertaken by the Museum of Scottish Railways focused on staying active and present on social media. It asked questions around successfully generating social media content and how to maintain engagement with existing and new audiences. To experiment with this new practice, they created a blog post on a third party website which enabled them to create content which had more of a collections and story based focus. One of their key lessons from their experiment, though, was the realisation that you don’t need to post something new everyday on social media.
Spelthorne Museum started by wanting to increase their digital skills to boost museum attendance, improve the visitor experience and increase the membership of their museum groups. But through the process, it became clear that they needed to better understand how to interact and distribute digital resources to their local primary schools. Whilst they created some new social accounts, the core of their experiment came in setting up a new Google Site to host and share their education resources with schools. One of the main things they took away from the experience was the importance of being brave. The worst that can happen is that you’ll fail and have to try something else.
The experiment run by the Somme Museum had a number of aspirations, from creating a legacy of content that could be reusable, to understanding how best to use digitisation for increasing access to their collections through social media. Through their experiment they increased their digital skills, they digitised collections and they used that content to create a digital brochure featuring 100 artefacts and stories from their collections, as well as an online gallery of photographic images. Their key tip and insight is the importance of planning and preparation – know what you want to do and how you plan on doing it.
The core of Tenby Museum & Art Gallery’s experiment focused on making better use of their time and resources. In doing this, they hoped to be able to use their social media platforms more effectively, as well as have better conversations around collections with existing and new audiences. For the museum this experiment has taken a number of forms, from a podcast to video content on Instagram. Through their experiment, they’ve learnt the value of experimentation. One of their key insights is to not be afraid of experimentation, quoting Samuel Becket who wrote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better”.
Wiltshire Museum’s experiment revolved around their online collections database. They wanted to know if non-specialist audiences found their database approachable and engaging, and how they could improve that without comprising its usefulness for academic researchers. The team wanted to experiment with how they could encourage a local audience to engage with the archaeological collections online and whether all of this could lead to more physical visits to the museum. Their insight from the experience is to ensure that you budget more time than you think is necessary for your experiment – it’s easier to to give time back than it is to find more time when it’s needed.
Funding and partners: Making It FAIR was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Towards a National Collection programme (TaNC) as part of UKRI’s call for COVID-19 projects. The project was led by University of York and partners were Collections Trust, Culture24, Museum of London Archaeology, The Audience Agency, Intelligent Heritage and Knowledge Integration.