Museums, technology

Get your museum digital skills started in 3 steps

As we rapidly approach 2016 i’m still amazed at how many people (organisations are people right?) say they are still yet to get started with “digital”. I’m also still reeling over a comment from a chatting with strangers at the Making Digital Work conference back in October in which I was told “it’s alright for you Zak, you are a senior manager so you can do what you like and make it happen”. That comment hurt me, not personally but my sense of championing “digital” for everybody. I wasn’t always a “boss – who lets not forget has a boss who has a boss and so on”. But I disgress. YOU, yes YOU can do digital. You simply start. You don’t need permission from anybody in your organisation. Pssst people actually like it when their colleagues get stuff done for them.

Here is how I would start to do digital today (1hr to 1 week):

Step 1:Google your organisation

Log out of your google account and search the name of your organisation. What results came back? For me it is our website, followed by a Wikipedia entry about us and then trip advisor.
Both Wikipedia and trip advisor WANT you to use them. Setup an account, review their guidelines and start to review entries. When you spot an error fix it or in the case of trip advisor write a reply to any comments that have 2 stars or less.

There is a good reason that Wikipedia and trip advisor show so highly in the Google results and that is because so many people use them. And you also using it will get your work in front of the many people looking at those websites. You’ll immediately be improving your organisations customer service by keeping an eye on these two website and the wonderful thing is you just did it without a committee. If you don’t feel empowered to even do this then I suggest you leave your employer and I’m not kidding.

Done that? You have just earned your first digital badge and it took less than one hour.

Step two: Simple – copy what others are doing

Organisations like mine recruit people with lots of experience and/or potential. As at this stage I assume the digital team is YOU you probably don’t have others to bounce ideas off. I look at it as an opportunity as there is nobody to tell you no. Instead of giving up, copy what others are doing, that’s how I started. Watch and copy how they respond to tweets, negative comments on Facebook or trip advisor etc. This approach lets you piggyback off much more experienced people and only costs you a bit of time. If you can I also suggest you attend as many of the free evening meet ups that nerds like me speak at throughout the country. You rock up to a pub, buy a drink and listen to a variety of people who love digital so much they want to spread the word or share a problem. I know rocking up to an event on your own is difficult but that tingle of fear is only in your head. You don’t even have to talk to anybody if you don’t want to, just smile and politely clap after the talk.

Step three: Read the GDS service manual

The Government Service Design Manual is the blueprint about how to start and scale a digital service. The brightest minds in the land of digital have produced this resource for YOU to learn on the shoulders of giants.

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Museums, Notes, technology

The Shortcut to being good at digital

You’re generally seen to be good at something if it take little effort to come to the answer or ‘do’ the work. I can pretty much do this for ‘digital’ in lot of its areas. I need my team and wider service to know much too. Yet there are no shortcuts. Should you use a tiff image file type on the web or a jpeg? what makes the internet work? why is the open web better for us than a closed system? will a PDF open in 250 years?

To learn the answers to these and much more you just have to start on the long path. Read more about the web and digital, attend evening sessions (often in a pub if that helps), be curious at all times. Here is a tip though: until you ‘do’ the leg work the answer is nearly always “yes that could work but it depends”.

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Museums, Notes, technology

Week 54 at work

This week I think email took over my life but I managed to:

  • One of our new style Culture management team meetings – change ahoy!
  • Made plans to start our digital literacy programme – learn how to use email, twitter and record oral histories for beginners
  • Met our Arts Council relationship manager and talked lots about working together
  • We’re on the verge of winning a 12 month project but needed to spend some talk meeting their ‘conditions’
  • Talked all things ‘interpretation’
  • Looked at how we’ll resource our marketing efforts once Claire leaves and Kerrie goes off for awhile and came away with 18 issues to resolve
  • Decided how to best proceed with our learning section in the short term
  • Showed a few folks how we’re using basecamp for small projects to ease the process and help us all feel more in control
  • Attended the monthly South Media South West event
  • Prepared our website and social media for the industrial action on the 10th
  • Spoke at an eLN workshop about making ebooks
  • Attended a half day Nesta project workshop
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Museums, Notes, personal, technology

Year one: A year in review

Last week’s wrap up #52 marked the end of my first year at Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives. It has been a great year for me across the board. It was the year I decided to get more organised (at work anyway!), take control of my own working life by working on meaningful projects and we’re having our first baby soon!

I mostly stopped freelancing which was both easy and hard to do. Stopping meant that I could focus more clearly on the job and not let other people down. I can now come home and not worry about saying “i’ll only be an hour, only to disappears into some code deep into the evening”. This also gave me more time to enjoy personal pursuits including trying to say YES to any travel or holiday opportunity. I got to enjoy France twice, Budapest in Hungary, and the Peak district.

July

Starting a new role in a new sector takes some getting used to and I spent much of the first month getting to meet people, listen, review but ultimately kept quiet about possible new ideas – nobody wants to hear the unknown new guy stating the obvious. It was towards the end of the first month I realised too that I should blog regularly, mostly for myself to laugh or cringe back at in many years to come. I started to write a weekly blog post which i’ve just about managed to keep up with.

August

I was starting to find my feet and voice during the second month and began to make small ‘interventions’ such as opening up wide our social media accounts to staff. My favourite quote to this day happened during August “What have you actually fixed?” and it was a nice reminder that people must SHIP projects not ‘manage’ your career away. I got my head down planning what projects our team could actually ship during my 18 month contract.

September

I got busy building the digital team’s foundation and drafted our 8 digital principles. By now I could see some of our weak spots and set things in motion to improve across short and long term projects. I took on a marketing apprentice with a digital twist who has just written her first blog post yah! I took the second half of the month off to motorcycle down through France.

October

By October it was clear to me that as a manager I needed to better understand what I needed our ‘digital team’ to be. Plus I was so used to being ‘in’ a team rather than running one that I was in danger of neglecting my duty so I set about on revised course. During this month I put the wheels in motion for what turned out to be an unsuccesful Nesta project bid. Sometimes we need the wind to be knocked out of our sails. I finally got to meet a group of likeminded folk at Museumcamp and by the end of the end decided that my role is often best described as “spinning 1001 tiny plates”. I also worked with the team to produce draft social media training and guidance. Unsurprisingly, but a bit disappointing, is that opening up the flood gates for staff to use social media doesn’t actually mean many will. I strongly suggest you have an ‘open’ policy… you won’t regret it or be made to eat humble pie. We at least now have a framework and training to begin longer term digital take-up initiatives.

November

I kicked off the month running social media related training and being as sociable as possible by attending local digital events shouting to everybody that our museum service is taking digital seriously and we’re after collaboration. A thread of work that i’m very excited about long term ‘student as producer’ breathed into life. Our 8 digital principles were signed off with our mantra being to ‘create a ruckus’. I attended lots of events and cast one eye to our 2014-15 road map. By now I have clear vision for our most pressing projects and so this month felt like a real turning point.

December

A packed month around revising our digital strategy, launching an exhibition and agreeing to get involved in the forward plans. It was also the month where I knuckled down to start our website project which eventually went ‘live’ on 15th May. I learnt all about procurement, tendering, hidden agendas and being proved right and wrong ha. I also picked myself from the disappointment of our earlier Nesta bid and ran straight into a collaboration with Aardman and University of Bristol which eventually become our successful application in June. Notice that the timescales require a focus on both the here and now and also to think about 2-5 years ahead. Parked our online shop ideas. Spent a bunch of time reviewing our digitisation efforts. This will be a thread of work for an entire career. During December I also realised that having a wooly digital strategy wasn’t a great idea and ultimately decided to tackle projects in smaller pieces to let the strategy and tactics naturally surface. We were also short staffed over the christmas break so I got my first experience working as a visitor assistant to ensure our gallery doors stayed open. Our director sailed off to the sun.

January

During January we got the green light on our website project which I see as the foundation platform for much of our future work. I got to crack on reviewing our existing offering and making suggestions for direction to help the website agency. Our interim director took office and has been very supportive since day one – i love to learn from more experienced people which is a bonus. I and the team got our hands wet by agreeing to use trello to manage our workload and show our public roadmap.

 February

We kicked off the website project and used the helpful GDS service model to ensure we met our user needs AND stayed aligned to the general direction that public sector digital is heading. Took on a young student for one week’s work experience which was a privilege. Much of this month and the next was spent writing and revising our Arts Council 2015-18 bid. This cash keeps us afloat and pays my wages. A simple move to eventbrite for our event bookings literally has saved us thousands of plans. Amazing to be reminded that not all projects need to take a long time nor be expensive. Attended some events. Loved the smack in the face quote by Steve Jobs “Nothing is being held up that is any good“.

March

Towards the end of the financial year everybody sees what small pots of cash they had tucked away and get spending. I learned that others may spend your cash if you’re not quick enough. The result of which is we lost out on some kit we really needed but lesson learned! The council offered staff voluntary severance and it was sad to wave farewell during March and April to some great folks.I was working on two major project bids and this was a burn the candle at both ends month. Needless to say I hope I don’t have too many months like this one. That being said everything came good so it was worth the effort.

April

Heading out of the fog that was bid deadline submission felt great and made April whizz past. I had to take on some of the workload from those who left the service, some of this was good of course… some of it now forces me to spend too much time on frustrating processes that I hope to whack soon. Our website project moved through alpha and beta stages. We learned tons from our users and understanding data. I’m now converted to using data to help us in all corners of the service! Spoke at a conference and tried to visit a bunch of museums.

May

We hosted a MCG Museums Get Mobile conference and launched our website less than 24 hours apart bristolmuseums.org.uk which was intense but rewarding. It was a month of major projects converging and i’m glad that things panned out. I perfectly timed a week holiday in the south of France post launch which recharged the old batteries. Our service began what seems to be a long and protracted restructure which is never comfortable. Made our first internal ebook for an exhibition.

June

During this month I took on new responsibilities and got the new title ‘interim head of digital’. I have been moving quickly to get the ball rolling on related activity which i’ll talk about soon. I had lots of post website launch work to do as well as our 2014 digital p Right at the end of the month we heard we were successful in both our Arts Council bid which cast a shadow over Feb and March and another project subject to a few conditions. A great way to cap off the first year working at the service.

I’d like to thank David, Emma, Fay, Tom and Zahid for all their HARD work. I believe we have a great digital team and we should be proud of the work we’ve done together. Now let’s ship some even better work!

Onwards.

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