Collaboration can be transformative – Take homes from the CILIP executive briefing ‘Beyond Silos of the LAM’s

Beyond Silos of LAMs conference

“Collaboration can be transformative”. This was the opening statement made by Gunter Waibel at the ‘Beyond Silos of the LAM’s’ event at CILIP on 15th September.

He used an analogy for collaboration being like a trapeze artist, swinging from one swing to another. In other words, something that requires an act of faith and a trust in yourself, your fellow flyers and the technology you are using.

Trust and risk were themes of the day. Who was willing to do both? It was clear that in most cases it was getting a mandate for collaboration from senior management that was necessary.

Case studies from V&A, Smithsonian and York Library and Archives all shared the presence of a clear vision, a belief and clarity about purpose and value that drives your ambitions. With this, securing the mandate for collaboration seems easier – as Stuart Dempster so nicely put it“ success breeds success”.

One thing that struck me was the question – What are the incentives to collaborate beyond personal success that so often (if we are honest) can be defined as trumping your partner? Guenter spoke accurately I felt, about the inherent tension in the fact that we are often measured “against each other – not really a natural state for collaboration”!

Maybe a way to deflect this dichotomy might be as Nick Poole suggested in his talk the need to collaborate “beyond our mates”. and consider wider collaboration with perhaps the creative industries, tourism, arts or commercial partners.

This mirrors my personal feelings that by far the biggest threat facing LAM’s is the risk of not collaborating beyond their mates – not to face outwards from the sector to the wider environment and the many places where cultural content could be of value (schools, broadcasters, publishers, bloggers and more).

Nick encapsulated this very well when he said “ we have a collective opportunity, we are all emerging from an ere of mass digitisation into something more nuanced and sophisticated.”

Roy, Nick and Brian
Left to right: Brian Kelly, Fiona Williams, Roy Clare, Nick Poole and Guenter Waibel

I was struck by the fact that within the Smithsonian, they face internally all the same issues that an individual museum, library or archive face in collaborating with others. With their 19 museums, 20 library branches, research facilities, archives and a zoo, they probably have as many objects as a small country! They are singlehandedly their own silo, but with a brand (a bit like the Tate), that needs no introduction.

My own presentation considered the issue of users, their needs and behaviour online. In particular what methodologies and tools are available to us now that could deliver more focussed user friendly services that have a collaborative model at their core.

You can view the presentation of slideshare here.

My essential premise took a specific profile of a 10 year old child sitting down to a computer in a library. It asked “why can’t the library’s online offer, engage the child to the same degree as the physical library?

It’s a very good question and one that is long overdue in asking. For me, the answers are all there for the taking – diverse content feeds, open data sharing, aggregation platforms and interface personalisation.

I would love to see my idea tried out in a library and then track the usage.

Any takers???

Take-homes from btween09 digital media forum, Liverpool

Just spent a great two days in Liverpool with a very interesting mix of creative types (entrepreneurs, developers, thinkers, social media start-ups, agencies and broadcasters) as part of the btween09 digital media forum. Well done to Katz Kiely and her team at just-b.

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I was one of only a handful of people from the public cultural sector and probably one of the only people who doesn’t have the successful monetising of their offer at the heart of what drives their service. Not that I am saying that the task of justifying the spending of public money is not something that should be quantified and considered as ROI but that the mindset of being driven by a remit to promote learning and engagement for its own sake puts you in a different box to commercial companies.

For me there are a number of key take-homes and formation of early ideas.

1. I was struck by how clever commercial agencies are getting in their manipulation of social media. Ogilvy talked about Brands not just using social media, but being social. But the methods within this new marketing 2.0 seems sometimes counter intuitive in some ways to traditional marketing methods. For example, you don’t talk about yourself within networks, you talk about other people or you support networking and ideas shaping events such as this one in order to make sure you are on the right wave. I guess no one would be surprised to hear that I am deeply cynical about agencies in general and about this kind of clever intrusion into the heart of social networking but, as the revenue streams generated support the sector that I hold dear, I have to bite my tongue. Also, hats off to the people at Ogilvy who are seriously smart (love the brainZ internal problem solving solution, read a post from the people that built it here). I would love to see this kind of intelligence applied to arts, heritage and education!

2. Charles Leadbeater’s analysis of the switch between traditional media and what he calls ‘mutual media’ is excellent. It’s a very clear visual image of the shift between mutual media as the moon orbiting around the huge sun of traditional media (the model of the past), and the future trajectory that he predicts will see the positions switch. He talked around many of the ideas present in his books, such as the breakdown of people activities into three categories – Enjoy, Talk, Do. You can get his essay with a lot of other good stuff in the recently published “After the Crunch” book by CCSkills and British Council here).

3. The three speakers from my session (Will Gompertz, Peter Buckingham and me) were presenting and discussing the issues faced by different aspects of cultural sector as funded by three different government funded agencies – Film Council, MLA and Arts Council – three different organisations but all clearly arriving at the same place at the same point in time with regard to the potential of digital services to transform user engagement. All looking for the holy grail of what this should mean in terms of policy development. But the really cool bit was that Leadbeaters introduction couldn’t have provided a better platform or introduction to the issues we were discussing. It was not planned, it was just all true. True and very reassuring that our observations and thoughts about what is possible and the value of real collaboration put us on the right track, Very comforting when weighing up the price of all the blood, sweat and tears or trying to get people to see the links between all these things.

4. It was really inspiring to see FACT thriving as a venue and as an organisation. Looking really good with projects like FACT TV and Abandon Normal Devices. They were contemporaries to the organisation I used to run before Culture24 called Lighthouse, who roots came out of the independent film and video workshop initiatives in the 80’s and who have both blossomed through the careful and clear advocacy of the role of creative activities and industries in economic development and reform at a local level. The original key player in FACT, Eddie Burg, is now at the Southbank and soon to join the Culture24 board. Very nice and looking forward to working with him.

5. I have learned that five and a half hours on a bus that was sold to you as a techbus, but actually lacked much actual ‘tech’, not really enough beer and a huge traffic jam, can actually be really fun if you are travelling with a group of truly free minds (thanks to Alfie Dennen and Adam Gee for the stories). Charlie Leadbeater called the people who are pushing to find the meaning of the new digital spaces (socially and culturally) “pirates and renegades”. I say ‘yes’ to that.

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Check out the little blue buy who blows bubbles when you tweet!

ippr and NMDC book launch ‘Learning to Live’: Museums, young people and education

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I spend much of the Christmas holidays last year writing a chapter for a new book about museums, young people and education. The finished book, entitled ‘Learning to Live ‘ and published by ippr and NMDC jointly, was launched today at an extremely interesting event at the National Portrait Gallery. You can download a pdf here. The first panel was chaired by Jon Snow and speakers included Estelle Morris, Nicholas Serota, Dea Birkett, Virginia Tandy and David Anderson.

The focus of the discussion was on what some museums were already doing, that many needed to do more of, in order to engage and attract young people.

There was much agreement about the intrinsic value of learning and museums and the body of evidence that has been collected over recent years (Virginia’s work in Manchester in particular came out strongly). However the heart of the conversation lay around the widely acknowledge benefits of opening up the physical museum and gallery space to be more welcoming and to offer ways for young people to interact with what is going on. This could be by putting sofa’s in the gallery to allow kids to hang out or by getting rid of the desks in entrance halls and replacing them with meet and greet (to see how the retail world get this approach you just have to go into Jack Wills clothes store, any Saturday afternoon).

As Dea Birkett put it so nicely, “ many museums ask young people not to chat, not to sit down and not to use their mobile phones – three things that many of then find virtually impossible”.

Jane's chapter

Unsurprisingly my chapter in the book is about unlocking online opportunities which did come into the debate about half way through. When asked by ippr co-director Carey Oppenheim to say a bit more about my ideas I couldn’t help wonder what the digital equivalent was of putting sofa’s in museums for teenagers to sit on?

Maybe it is finding a way to make the museum collections comfortable within the kinds of spaces young people hang out in online? Maybe it is allowing them to pick out and take the stuff they like into their own spaces and reuse it – become the producers as well as the consumers (I first heard this phrase in the late 90’s in relation to a conference I ran at Lighthouse called ‘Catching Up with the Kids’ – see Julian Sefton-Greens book “Young People, Creativity and New Technologies: The Challenge of Digital Arts” … sometimes I do feel that the museums world are still playing catch up to the rest of the arts?)

There then followed a second panel of eight 11 to 15 year olds from London schools talking about their own particular experiences and reactions to the contact they have had with museums and galleries, both in school and with their parents.

They were a pretty articulate group who would dispel any stereotype that young people and museums don’t mix. They were very clear that what they liked was being made to feel welcome, to be able to touch and play with stuff and to have fun. Not really an unrealistic request and one that the sector is perfectly placed to respond to.

The book has a VIP launch at No10 next Monday and I hope that there is the chance to impress these messages onto those within government who could offer read leadership in this area. I shall invest in a new frock and do my best.

Experimenting with iGoogle

Before Christmas we went live with a simple iGoogle gadget full of stories from the 24 Hour Museum website. The first cultural iGoogle gadget of its kind (correct me if I am wrong).

It looks like this (below) and will change branding as the new Culture24 site goes live (next week, 11th Feb, yes really …).

Am interested in how this kind of ubiquitous gadget might help to get the message about great culture being free and a good idea in planning what you might do if you are skint.

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On that theme, loved the Science Museum recent late night ‘adult only’ opening. Read more from the Evening Standard here.

Culture24 Seb Chan Workshop – September 8th, London

I often refer to the fantastic work that Seb Chan has been leading at the Powerhouse Museum in Australia and am pleased to say that Seb is coming to the UK this September to work with Culture24 on our international project Culturemondo.

While he is here, I have arranged for him to run a one day workshop looking at how to make your collection work for you online (or in other words “strategic social media for the cultural sector”).

The workshop is at the DANA centre in London on Monday 8th September and is being coordinated in association with Collections Trust and NMSI. You can find out more and book a place here.

This is a unique opportunity to find out about Powerhouse’s pioneering work first hand, the issues it has raised and how they have dealt with those issues (with great results). After the workshop there will be a chance to network over a few beers

Public Sector Broadcasting? Arts Council consult for Ofcom

When you hear the words public sector broadcasting you tend to think of the BBC and when you read the current consultation document prepared by Ofcom to generate debate and collect advice about where to go next with their regulations, you would be hard pressed the think of a lot else.

The document still expresses the debate within the terms of reference of the traditional broadcaster. It is all about inspiring and stimulating, there is little talk about actual participation, interactivity or collaboration – the kind of stuff that defines the way people actually use online technologies today.

I was not the only one at the meeting (which was filled mostly with other publicly funded media agencies, publishers and content holders) who felt that the old school broadcast language and tone of the document was symptomatic of the fact that they are basically missing the point of the online revolution and changing user behaviour.

If I were at art school now I would be writing my dissertation on the death of TV. Even the BBC has broken their own mould with the launch of the iplayer. I wonder who still only watches programmes within the TV schedule that just simply can’t get their head around their remote control (my mum basically)? Broadband is not the issue it was ten years ago and the wide scale take up has changed the UK media consultation habits forever.

The key question now is what are the new models for public sector publishers (I think publishing is a more appropriate work then broadcasting) that can encompass this change? They may broadcast but they will also need to aggregate, broker, listen, add value, provide context, host, distribute and mediate.

The possible answer to this question seems to have preoccupied me as Culture24 tries to find a way to describe itself within these new terms of reference. Surely public sector broadcasting is about access to publicly funded stuff? So me, this means not just the interpretative arts documentaries of BBC4, or the contemporary arts shows on Channel4, but the Tate on YouTube, the V&A podcasts, digital artists sites, commuinity gaming, the British library online catalogue etc..

Surely museums, galleries, archives, artist workshops, libraries, science centres, heritage sites should all be part of what public sector broadcasting/publishing should encompass?

Lets hope that the Arts Council are able to feedback these thoughts to Ofcom and that they are willing to hear them.

These notes relate to the Public Service Broadcasting Review Seminar, run by the Arts Council Visual Art Department and held at the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool on the 2 June 2008. John Wyver chaired the meeting.

Bob Geldof, Tim Berners-Lee and Gordon Brown on innovation and humanity

What a line up and congratulations to Nesta for pulling of a political success in their Innovation Edge conference this week – the Royal Festival Hall, an audience of three thousand and the inventor of the web. Pretty cool. But by far the coolest man of the day was Bob Geldof. Labelling himself one of what George Bernard Shaw called an ‘unreasonable man’, he talked about how this quality was one of the key factors in defining the entrepreneur.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

I was seriously impressed by his speech, delivered whilst pacing the stage in a fabulous mix of pin stripe tailoring and confrontational honesty. 30 minutes, no notes and total conviction and charm.

Be asked what I thought were the best questions of the day – if innovation is about progress, then progress to what? More? More what? More of Everything? We can’t have more of everything, we need to rearrange things. So, how can innovation help us to solve the huge global problems and challenges that we all face. There is a global interdependence that must be dealt with my cooperation.

He defined cooperation as the paradigm for this century and called upon us, Nesta and the government to show commitment and boldness without fear of failure.

This was great stuff and a slightly more subtle message then the one given by Gordon Brown which defined the need for innovation as one of the keys to the UK success competitively in the global economy.

Nesta’s job, I hope, is to walk the line between these two positions and so far, they are going a pretty good job. Their Chairman Chris Powell talked about innovation as being tranformative, iterative and geared to demand. I hope that they continue to see the demand being for cooperation and humanitarianism and not get sucked into the view that innovation is simply a route for profit (a position well versed by those who work in the creative and visual arts). Maybe the real risk taking we need now is to place cooperation alongside profit and believe that we are simply better and greater by working together.

This is what I believe the web can help us to do. Tim Berners-Lee echoed this view in his address (via a video link from Bristol). Speaking with a very English modestly of the part he played in developing the web he said the tool that does not represent the interconnection of millions of bits of computer equipment – but is the vehicle for “Humanity Connected”.

When asked by journalist Jonathon Freedland what his hope for the web, he said it was to “be responsible” and in shaping our research and new ideas, we would ask ourselves both the scientific question of ‘what is true’ but also the democratic one of ‘what shall we do’. Only then will be begin to see how to balance the ecology and psychology of the web.

‘VoiceThread’ tool for group conversation

Voicethread is a useful, fun and simple tool for playing around with images, text and audio in ways to add and share meaning(s) with others.

They describe it as follows:

:A VoiceThread is an online media album that can hold essentially any type of media (images, documents and videos) and allows people to make comments in 5 different ways – using voice (with a microphone or telephone), text, audio file, or video (with a webcam) – and share them with anyone they wish. A VoiceThread allows group conversations to be collected and shared in one place, from anywhere in the world.

At the moment it is free and you can see it would be very useful for any of the educational style, participatory community/local history projects that museums do so well. Also, for teachers, museum educationalists or kids just playing around.

Live and online museum information in a cool dashboard

Nick Poole (The Collections Trust/MDA) and I are working on plans for a more active and strategic partnership between our two organisations. At our last meeting he showed me a very cool thing from the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Launched last year it is a live Dashboard of regularly updated data about the museum and its activities – things like visitors through the door, fans on Facebook, energy consumption etc. It basically makes public all the usual statistical information that is normally lost in an institutions annual reports.

The visual layout of the data is really nice, simple and easy to see and there is something very compelling about the (almost) live updating. You can also explore any of the top line statistics further making it a fantastic advocacy tool for the museum.

You can read more in an interview with Rob Stein the Museum’s Chief Information Officer and Seb Chan.