Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

The rise of data

Predicting our Cultural Future: Is 2016 the year of musedata?, Center for the Future of Museums, 8 December 2015

musedataUnderstanding how to collect data and knowing what to use it for are essential for our field. Today readers will hear more about these best practices from three women who work with data in museums. We welcome: Angie Judge, founding director of museum analytics provider at Dexbit; Dacia Massengill, Washington based digital strategist for museums and the cultural sector. She is also the creator of the Arts Analytics Group; and Elena Villaespesa , digital analyst at The Metropolitan Museum of Art by day, PhD student at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester by night. Elena blogs about her research in arts & metrics.

The meteoric rise of data is now estimated at 2.5 quintillion bytes daily, 90% less than 2 years old. Bringing information, analytics and sentiment, data is unsurprisingly positioning centrally to the mission of museums globally. With technology, data’s role is increasingly predictive rather than reactive. Beyond dealing purely in cultural history, does that mean data can now provide a pathway to the museum’s future?

This upsurge has fuelled predictions on how data will inform museum practice, explored by the Center for the Future of Museums, concepts now on their way to real life. It is a mind boggling world of dashboards and machine learning, loyalty and personalization, linked open data and data journalism: 2016 it seems, is the year of ‘musedata’. As it draws closer, we take a look at the opportunities, challenges and pathways the new year brings.

Big data, big opportunities

For some museums, the origin of analytics occurs organically from the data opportunities inherent in balancing access with preservation. Data can combine the visitor’s physical gallery pathway with the digital touchpoints that complete their omnichannel experience: web, app, social, ticketing and more. At New York’s Cooper Hewitt, data on how visitors interact with collections arose naturally from The Pen, an interactive digital device that allows visitors online access to their favorite objects post visit. For others, analytics is an intentional introduction to museum management on its own business case. Take the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, for example, where the results of split testing on website behaviour serve to enhance experience. Whether data’s presence precedes the demand from decisions or vice versa, the value equation remains the same: insight. Museums worldwide are beginning to discover the possibilities in patterns. Aggregated, this can be useful in informing digital production, tweaking marketing campaigns or adjusting wayfinding. At an individual visitor level, the opportunities are even greater. “We see three benefit pillars in pursuing musedata,” says Angie Judge, founder of Dexibit, museum analytics provider, “reporting efficiency, investment optimization and personalization opportunity”. Great news in a sector constantly challenged to do more with less.

Data literacy changes things

Whilst the museum is no stranger to audience research, analytics represents challenging new territory. This trend might be commonplace in sectors such as retail, but for museums, there’s a journey ahead to achieve widespread analytics adoption. Often, this transformation starts with specific resources dedicated to this task and an increase of data literacy. Lack of resources is a common barrier, however many museums are creating analyst roles or including responsibilities for various departments. For data to make an impact, Elena Villaespesa, digital analyst at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is an advocate for prioritizing cultural change with a focus on communicating insights and a framework for evaluation to ensure findings result in outcomes. At the Met, Villaespesa is designing a dashboard for data stories. “By displaying data centrally, we can monitor trends and compare initiative results with context.” Villaespesa said. “The main objective of having a dashboard is to communicate the impact of our digital initiatives and to be able to make decisions in an effective and rapid way.”

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