Leading Museums, Museum Leaders


The Museum of Australian Democracy has launched a chatbot for Facebook Messenger to help mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum. Photo: supplied.

Finbar O’Mallon, Museum of Australian Democracy uses Facebook Messenger chatbot to connect with Australia’s past, The Canberra Times, 26 May 2017

History teachers take note, the Museum of Australian Democracy is trying a new way of engaging with kids: a chatbot.

The museum is marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum by allowing people to learn about it through simply chatting with it on Facebook Messenger, emojis included.

The bot relies on you sticking to pre-prepared questions, and struggles slightly when you try to take it off script by typing your own.

“So what made the 1967 referendum different? Let’s zoom back to the 60s and have a look,” the chatbot said.

The Canberra Times only had the option of saying: “Let’s go!”.

“We are going back in tiiiiiiiime … And we’re away,” the chatbot said.

The information comes in a few concise paragraphs at a time and doesn’t pester you when you’re not using it, while allowing the more curious to click links to articles with more detail.

MOAD’s digital engagement manager Marni Pilgrim said the chatbot is an accessible way of getting important content into people’s pockets.

“We really did have to shave things down to be as tight and concise as possible while keeping the nuance that’s needed in a complex story like this,” Ms Pilgrim said.

“We certainly drew inspiration from the ABC News chatbot. We found that was a really effective way of communicating with people.”

“We had to be really aware of different areas of understanding. We couldn’t assume prior learning.”

Using the work already prepared for MOAD’s exhibit on the referendum, Yes: The Ongoing Story of the 1967 Referendum, the bot took about two months to design.

It’s programmed to respond to keywords in what people type, with a team responding to any questions it’s unable to answer.

Ms Pilgrim said they hoped it would be accessible to people in Indigenous communities as well.

She said they were already looking at using it as an onsite product for museum visitors beyond this event.

The 1967 referendum saw 90 per cent of Australians vote to have Aboriginal people counted in the national census and allowed the federal government to legislate laws on their behalf.

This meant Indigenous populations effected electorate sizes while allowing the federal government to tackle Indigenous issues directly, where the states had done little to affect such change.

See also: Yes: The Ongoing Story of the 1967 Referendum.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
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