On Friday 6 May I went to York to attend the conference ‘Life Support: living with digital projects’ by the Museums Computer Group. My tutor Giasemi recommended me to go for my dissertation. It was very short notice as I didn’t even know about the conference until the week before. Thankfully I was able to apply for a bursary. I am very grateful to the MCG for having me. This post will be in English only.
The main research question of my dissertation is ‘how sustainable are digital community projects?’ It is a subject that I have worked with before during my thesis for the Reinwardt Academie. It was a great period in my bachelor and therefore I’m looking forward to the dissertation.
The MCG conference focussed on the ways in which digital projects come together and their (not so) sustainable aftermaths. The keynote speaker was Charlotte Sexton. Her talk was amazing because it confirmed some of my suspicions on how digital projects are treated by museums in general. Her talk was titled ‘life post-launch: how to tackle a digital hangover.’ Museums are often presented as organisations that perfectly adapted to the digital revolution. Sexton calls that a load of crap. Museums are obsessed with perfection but digital projects are more likely to fail than to succeed. Many museums don’t like to report on their less successful projects. This is something that I noticed whilst doing my literature review as well. There are very few cases of digital projects “that went wrong” in museum studies literature. Sexton focussed in her talk on the management of digital projects which was very helpful as well. She described several of the “types” of people involved in these projects. The architect, for example, drives the project, is its main voice but is rarely interested in maintenance. Funding was an important issue as well. In some papers I have read, museums blame the failure of their digital projects on a lack of funding. However, museums are rarely spending their budgets wisely. Much money goes to the development of the actual digital platform and then there is almost nothing left for promotion for example. A digital product does not sell itself. Sexton finished by stating that museums have to treat their digital products as babies. Museums are the parents and it is simply not enough to have a baby and then send it into the world. It needs support in order to grow up successfully.
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Good bits from other talks
Other talks that I thought were interesting were Graham Davies, Ivan Teage and Andrew Larking and Simon Wakeman of Deeson. I could take something useful out of all of these talks for my dissertation. Davies addressed the attitude that many museums have towards ‘shiny digital’ ideas. He proposes a change in attitude in which museums use digital as a means and not as an goal in itself. This is great material for my part in the dissertation on motivations and museum processes. Teage looked at how knowledge in museums is shared and transferred in order to sustain digital projects. The research he presented was fantastic and it can really help a lot of museums. Finally, Larking and Deeson did a talk about the point of view of the digital media agencies that are hired by museums to build digital products. It was a very good (and funny) talk at the end of that Friday. This talk was again hinting at attitude issues amongst museum professionals, including a fear of losing control.
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No community but more questions
The conference was very useful although it focussed on very particular parts of digital media in museums. Community was not thoroughly discussed as a subject. I understand this as it was a one-day conference. Still, I believe that a community would problematize any digital project but they are also what makes digital media so interesting to me. There are so many people connected nowadays online, they are building entirely new worlds in Minecraft for example. Museums have their own digital communities by helping people in creating their own exhibitions online. Digital communities can have a strong political agency and they can take action against injustice (Umbrella movement, Hong Kong). So to me, a digital community can be very powerful. The conference has led to me asking new questions. Where do you draw the line between being a provider of digital products to running the actual project? And how important are the tools, digital media, over the entire scope of digital community projects? What more is required for people for start their own community other than a digital platform?
So I have many new ideas now. If you are curious about the conference and the type of problems that were discussed, Martha Henson wrote a great blog post that started it all. Go and read it because it is a very nice post to read (it was also a rant). It was great to read something related to my dissertation, by somebody who had all these experiences and wasn’t afraid to talk about the difficulties she faced. It was more informative than some of the Routledge books I have been reading. Museums have to start with being honest and report on these less-successful projects so that we can learn from them. I have included a link to Henson’s blog in the end of this post.
My next meeting with Giasemi is on the 11th of May. The literature review will then hopefully be finished. I have sent emails to possible interviewees as well. For now, I will try to look up more information on case studies. If you know a blogger who has written on similar issues like Henson, please let me know! It would be great for my dissertation. Finally, if you have any comments or questions, send me an message.