Making it FAIR case study: Foxton Canal Museum

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.

This is one of a set of eight case studies. You can find a summary of all of the Making it FAIR project case studies here.

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What did you want to find out? | What did you do? | What were the challenges? | What did you learn? | What’s next?

What did you want to find out?

  • In regards to our online / digital presence, we wanted to understand how weak that presence was, where should we start, what necessary skills do we need and how do we engage with those that can teach, guide and both support and inspire us?
  • What were our current and potential audiences – was it the ‘family unit’ that we wished to attract.
  • What could we learn from a planned approach on a number of areas. Can we get ideas on what type of content makes an impression and with whom
  • What could the figures (analytics) tell us about our content and our audience (and what does that data really mean?).

What did you do?

  • Re-engaged with our existing Facebook audience (and linked the content to Instagram)
  • Tried to find new audiences with three key topics, using photos and encouraging comments: 1900s archive photos of the Inclined plane (USP), 1980s photos of the building of the Museum, one set of items in our collection ‘lace plates/Measham ware’
  • We then set out evaluating the response.

What were the challenges?

  • A key challenge was knowing the right questions to ask of ourselves. As our understanding of what we were doing increased, the questions we were asking ourselves got more detailed (and more complicated to answer!)
  • Using Facebook and Instagram was a challenge, particularly the differences between the two social platforms and getting the image presentation right for the audience and for the device (mobile vs desktop)
  • Evaluating the experiment, around activity and engagement, was difficult. The numbers were important but often confusing. For a small experiment maybe the who and why are more meaningful?

What did you learn?

  • We aren’t the only museum, (local, national, or even international) that has a weak online presence. We have many wonderful stories to tell and ‘things’ to showcase. We feel better placed now to develop this journey in a multitude of ways (bit by bit).
  • There is no quick solution to effective online/digital presence. As we did with this experiment – try it, look at it, learn from it – adapt, adjust and try again

What’s next?

  • Develop Museum Crush article to experiment with storytelling
  • Expand online presence to showcase collection and museum (especially with third party partners)
  • Regularly re-visit our target audience
  • Prioritise increasing people resource for online activity
  • Support national collection – helps sustainability & protects against vulnerability
  • Continue with posting experiments – new and variations, to increase understanding of both use of Social Media platforms and evaluating responses.

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.