Making it FAIR case study: Wiltshire 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? | Top tips and insights

What did you want to find out?

  • Whether our non-specialist audiences found our collections database approachable/engaging
  • Whether we can improve this without compromising its usefulness to academic researchers
  • How we can best encourage our local audiences to engage with our archaeological collections online
  • Whether this would actually lead to more visits to the museum.

What did you do?

  • We made two slightly different versions of the same webpage, sharing information on the recent discovery of The Melksham Hoard: one was typical, and the other a bit more ‘dynamic’ with slightly less specialist text. This was then sent out as part of our monthly newsletter for people’s opinions.
  • We also made two different Facebook posts, which you can find here and on our Facebook page here, both emphasising the local link and the narrative of its discovery, rather than the object itself.
Two different Facebook posts from Wiltshere Museum. One featuring more of a lcocal link with archaeology and old areal photos, the other focusing on a recent arachaeological discovery of a copper horse harness fitting.

What were the challenges?

  • Pre-existing website architecture limits what we can do without it looking incongruous.
  • Our collections management system doesn’t link archaeological objects with potentially relevant archive photos, we need to rely on prior knowledge or search through the archive each time.

What did you learn?

  • Our members were split down the middle in terms of which webpage design they preferred: 57% opted for the more basic design, although there were requests for more surrounding information
  • 85% said that seeing an object online would make them more likely to search it out if visiting the museum physically
  • The Facebook post emphasising local connections and the discovery itself, rather than the object performed far better in every respect.

What’s next?

  • We don’t need to change the presentation of our online database, as it is what we build around it that will drive wider engagement
  • We need to ensure that our collections management database makes generating these kinds of posts quick and easy: WoK project already does this for research results, we now need to add detail for discovery and add in links to archival photos, etc.

Top tips and insights

  • Ensure that you budget for more time than you think is necessary if you are sending out questionnaires, or similar, as the size of the response will determine how useful the results are
  • If the museum does have separate staff for collections/outreach, ensure that those primarily responsible for the experiments have access to all of the accounts etc., as it will make things run much smoother.

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.