Week 56 at work

A week of blue skies and hot weather made a welcome change. I got up to:

  • Started full steam ahead with using Basecamp for our projects and it has already highlighted little details with big impacts that could easily with slipped by. I’m already noticing a reduction in meetings which is great
  • Had our quarterly meeting with our major funder Arts Council England. Lots of hard work last week in preparing for this meeting paid off.
  • Paul and I discussed how we can get cracking with using an iPad as a way to record and edit audio instead of pocket recorders
  • Ran a half day kick-off meeting Aardman and University of Bristol for a new project
  • Chopped it up with the education team about why we blog and how they can get started. I was pleased to hear others are also interested in blogging so I hope to run a series of mini workshops soon
  • Met with Stephen Gray to see what plans he has for using an oculus rift headset in our Moved by Conflict exhibition.
  • Enjoyed my regular meeting with our IT Services account manager. I fed back about our Arts Council plans for 2015-18 and discussed how we could best have a voice in any IT strategy seeing as we are the customer after all
  • Contributed to our monthly senior management team session
  • Had a sudden lightbulb moment about the direction for the website ‘phase 2’ and got to planning it
  • Spent some time reflecting on how difficult change is in an organisational culture
  • Enjoyed an end of week drink with a fair few colleagues as we said farewell to a few members of staff


When you’re not the 80 percent

I’ve been thinking about customer service a lot recently and this recent exchange made me want to weep. A typical call with any centralised service who are setup to deal with the common 80% of enquiries ALWAYS seems to go like this:
ME: “Hello [in a chipper voice] I’m Zak and I’m calling because I have a [known] problem and you’re the service who can help”.
THEM: [Shuffling of script to react to non-threatening caller] “Good afternoon I’m ‘x’ how can I help today?”.
ME: “I have problem that I couldn’t find an answer to on your help and intranet pages. I know the search facility isn’t great and so the answer may be there but it’s easier to call than waste more time downloading and searching yet more word documents or pdfs [which is probably why that poor search engine largely gets a poor reputation] so i’m coming direct”.
THEM: “Shoot”.
ME: Lots of my clients [internal staff or public] have complained about one of our services that you manage and we need to resolve it as effectively and efficiency as possible. Can we have a non-standard thingy-doodle? as this is known to work elsewhere and there is little harm in experimenting as what we currently use is clearly failing to meet user expectations.
THEM: [Reading standard script] “No. The standard offering has been deemed the only solution”.
ME: “But failure to deviate from our current path is eroding our reputation”.
THEM: “Can I help you with anything else today?”  [Run infinite loop of unhelpful responses]

I often harp on about addressing the 80% of common issues first but this is a reminder that you still need a plan for the other 20%. If you aren’t aware of the Pareto principle check it out.

Week 55 at work

A hard slog of a week in which I managed to:

  • Had a panic when I discovered how much a project “under-estimated” the time it will take to produce some videos
  • Saw the M Shed biomass boiler up close (we need to get the computer remote access) massive piece of kit!
  • Did a telephone interview with Nick Poole from the Collections Trust about my view on free vs paid digital services which morphed into a big rant on my part ha. In summary making things ‘open’ is a new and ‘uniquely digital’ opportunity we must embrace NOW
  • Reviewed our schools booking procedure as it’s in line for becoming a ‘digital service’
  • Talked more about a digital HLF bid proposal…
  • Got the low down on the interpretation plans for our Moved by Conflict exhibition
  • Held our first ‘future of interpretation’ meeting which will be chunked into bite-sized pieces
  • Made a plan to deal with this years audience exit surveys which we use to help inform our service
  • Dealt with lots of complaints from staff about lack of access to email and calendars remotely. Bristol City Council had to turn off remote access without using a PSN token and of course not everybody receives a token. Major headache.
  • Discovered lots of small holes in our working practices around communicating project milestones. Found a way to fix much of this I hope.
  • Met with key team members to discuss our long road to documenting and agreeing service wide interpretation
  •  Agreed with a comment in a video by Seth Godin that I need to say NO to lots of ad hoc pieces of work and get back to projects that matter
  • Produced our quarterly report for major funder Arts Council England in preparation for next week’s meeting. Great to see the breadth of work we’ve been up to.
  • Met with the Library service to see where we can work together on systems, storage and skills exchange.
  • Finally delivered my workshop outline for a November workshop i’ll be running on “Using digital media as a museum” for SW Fed
  • Attended the best named meeting ever “Meeting with Death” about a forth coming exhibition on the subject of death

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

Week 53 at work

Last week marked a year in the job and this week seemed like a new chapter. I got up to:

  • Met with the whole team to highlight what our key Arts Council goals are for Q2-Q4
  • Worked on streamlining our data collection but this feels like losing battle
  • Showed our Head of Collections the great work that BIG lab are doing and agreed to give their two prototypes a trial
  • Tried to move our online shop to the next step but stumbled
  • Reviewed ALL outstanding requests for design work (3D, print, web) which again is tough trying to steer the ship
  • Had a great catchup with Andy about scanning and getting our cranes to talk
  • Attended two open data related evening events, mysociety meetup and ODUG local user group
  • Spent quite a lot of time firefighting small issues
  • Welcomed David Butler and his research cohort from The University of Southern Mississippi for a four day exit survey around museum collections and slavery – special shout out to John
  • Tinkered with some website bits…
  • On Saturday I gave two short talks on Ada Lovelace and her connection to The Red Lodge Museum

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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“.


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.


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.


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.


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!