Video: Introducing Nesta…and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Back in 2014/15 when I was still Head of Digital we worked on a cutting edge ibeacon game called The Hidden Museum. Thanks to the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts including Nesta  [Nesta is a global innovation foundation] and partners  aardman, University of Bristol we had a grant funded fun time!

In a recently launched video showcasing Nesta you can see our game at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery in action in this 100 second video. Come to visit us and play the game on your iPad.

Video link

So…five years at Bristol City Council

1st July 2018 is a significant personal milestone for me as I turn five as an employee of Bristol City Council’s Culture team. Most importantly I’m happy. I absolutely love what I do and where I work. As a Bristolian, I feel immensely proud of helping the Council run such a great cultural service.

If you’ve ever heard me give a talk there is a good chance you have heard my tongue in cheek remark that “I originally came on a 18 month fixed term contract and by the time they work out how to get rid of me I’d be out the door anyway”.

In reality I set about using that first 12 months to show that digital was a key ingredient to the museum’s current and future success. I got to build a digital team from the ground up and since those early days my role has grown from one team to ten as well as shedding two job titles through promotion.

“We” have delivered lots of pieces of work in the past five years. I say “we” as no project is shipped without the effort from some of the most talented people I’ve had the delight to work with. We do so much that it is literally impossible to keep track 100% of what is delivered even though I try my best. Across the team’s there is at least 1-2 people working 7am to 2am most days of the week which is mind-blowing.

We are a team of teams and these five years have taught me a great deal about other people’s passions within the Culture team. I really love that both digital and transformation get to weave around all the corners of the Culture service so I get a glimpse behind the curtain of a much bigger picture.

I have met hundreds if not thousands of people across the globe who care deeply about using Culture as a force of good in the world. I have spoken at dozens of events and had the privilege of learning from lots of people who care enough to share time with me and the sector.

Do. Try. Deliver. Learn. Repeat.

I just wanted to pause to take the time to say thank you to anyone I’ve come into contact with, worked with, agreed with or “respectively disagreed” with. Transformation is a process not a project. Looking ahead, I continue to work on growing as a leader and helping the greatest city on Earth to deliver the best cultural offer. Getting better means regularly asking my colleagues what can I do more of, less of or what is good enough that should be kept as it is. Seth Godin says be “defenseless” in order to grow …also helps to keep the old ego in check.

I remember reading a guidance document that said a museum professional is somebody with “five” years or more experience. Totally incorrect way to foster good relations eh. I guess my tenture means I need to drop my joke that I’m a professional unprofessional…. and go make a ruckus.

Bulk pricing for museum retail?

I was waiting at the nearby DIY shop (i think I made the problem worse but I digress) and noticed that all the price labels offer a discount if you buy in bulk, 3 or more. They offered four or so tiers of discount the more you buy. an Interesting approach that I wonder could port well to museum shops. We already buy in bulk. We know what products sell well. Buy 3+ prints at a reduced rate for instance. I’ll see if we can experiment with this approach online. I’ll Let you know if we get anywhere.

UPDATE: Started with bulk discount on our Guide to the Art Collection

Sharing scales

If you need a tool, process or reference material then please do share that widely. Tell a colleague, speak at a staff meeting, write about it on the web. There is a very good chance someone else can benefit. Sharing what we do, why “that” choice and “how” we do something allows others to benefit. Your own  way  not  even  be  the best. Low cost for you but scalable for the sector.
How can I help?

Shipping web features for winter 2017

Until you ship a product or feature its just a trello card with a wish. Shipping “things” is the aim of the game.

Performance dashboard

According to the trello card of the request dashboards have been brewing since 17 June 2016. This month the team have finally been able to launch an initial performance dashboard at https://performance.bristolmuseums.org.uk/  We aim to publicly share our performance data so that anybody can see how we’re doing. We want to share our successes and show where there is an opportunity to do better. So far for 2017-18 we’re tracking 14% up from last year with a target of 1 million or more visits across our 5 museums and our Archive.

Exhibitions online

Since I started at Bristol Culture about 4.5 years ago using the web to display our exhibitions has been a recurring dream. Thanks to Mike, Fay, Mark and Lacey this dream has come true at https://exhibitions.bristolmuseums.org.uk/#/ the point of this project was to highlight some of the key aspects of past, current and forthcoming exhibitions. We regularly get asked about past projects so this seemed a good starting point to figure out how we can tell stories in long form format. With an average reading time of 2 minutes its important to be clear and concise.  During its inception originally we were comparing this style of website as being like a weekend supplement of a magazine rather than a full autobiography.

Public timeline

Internally we’ve started to attempt to improve how we visualise some of our most used data. An obvious element is “What’s on” which isn’t always easy to understand from huge spreadsheets or our standard web section https://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/whats-on/ so we’ve introduced a timeline feature to hopefully make it easier for people to look at on any device.  Internally the timeline also includes things like room booking, install and de-rig periods and can map our KPI data over it. Nobody likes or uses data spreadsheets so i’m hopeful this is the beginning of a journey to make our data more usable for all. Hello https://d1g1t.al/#/timelinef

This work has been made possible in the large part by our own digital team who do a fantastic job under the hood of the museum and out in the galleries. Onwards.

Museums Journal: Charity commission issues cyber security warning

From a telephone interview I did about a week ago, following the NHS IT problems, for Museums Journal:

“Cyber security is something we think about frequently, but in the last few weeks it’s risen to the top of everyone’s agenda,” he said. We would be crippled if our collections database was unavailable to us for more than a couple of days.” Keeping secure backups in several different UK locations is a crucial part of the service’s security approach, Mensah added. And because hackers often take advantage of human error, other key measures include making sure strong, frequently changed passwords are used, and limiting access to key systems.

Link to the full article. I was trying to make it clear that weak passwords and our human nature to do the easiest thing is often the biggest challenge.

Visit to Brooklyn Museum 9th September 2016

I’ve wanted to visit Brooklyn Museum for years. I love hip hop and the museum crops up directly and indirectly in the culture – from my favourite rapper talking about art “Cop Rembrandt, hang ’em, pay the lot. Can’t complain, we ballin, true or not ma?” To showing artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat which pop up in my feeds frequently. No other museum has crossed my radar as much as the Brooklyn Museum and its famed African art collection to name just one area.

All of the above coupled with the exciting digital work such as the ASK project made choosing a holiday to NYC a sound decision. We took a stroll around the botanic gardens located next to the museum before visiting which our daughter loved. In addition to wanting to see the museum as a fan, in the back of my mind I’m also looking at our own future redevelopment of Bristol Museum & Art Gallery so seeing how other museums position various services will give me good ideas for the welcome, shop cafe, toilets etc.

The welcome

I’d say that the main entrance has three phases: an initial public outdoor space with cool foundation and seating, an inner floor to ceiling glass area with further seating and security (my normal bag too big which left me carrying a zzz 2yr, her change bag and my iPad – common practice in nationals) and then finally a large reception with bag checking-in area, welcome desk, access to the shop and toilets in view. The cost of “admission” is a suggested $16 or pay what you think. The messaging is good at having the bahaviour of paying the fee for me. The person at the desk explained the admission policy and that a benefit of paying is access to the special exhibition ‘Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present’. I took up this option whilst my wife went for $4 as she wasn’t bothered about sports. At this point I was expecting to hear about the ASK app but nope. A missed opportunity as Sara did say that staff normally tell folks about it. Hey we all have this happen. At this point I always ask the first visitor asssistant I see a question (I have a mystery shop list that is secret ha) and after they finally got my Bristol twang they gave me a very helpful answer. But first I needed to check out the cafe as I oversee two cafes at our own museums.

Cafe

They have two options, a lovely looking restaurant and bar called The Norm or a standard cafe. I was tempted to try The Norm but it looked too lovely to disturb the diners with my young daughter. I’m sure it is kid friendly but I had that “pang” of not wanting to be loud as it didn’t look like that kind of space – more cool date type. This is the same feeling everybody has about being very quiet in gallery spaces even though this isn’t a rule! Instead we ate a lovely curated (I forgot the name of the artist) turkey cheese sandwich with coffee. Service was very good and I loved the design of the menu and bar area itself. There was indoor and outdoor seating.

ASK app
Whilst having lunch I started to spot messaging for the ASK app on the tables and lift. The app connects you in real time to staff who you can ask any question to and they get back to you. It wasn’t immediately obvious if you didn’t already know what it did. They seem to have mostly solved this by the helpful staff who work at the ASK station which you pass early on the first floor. I “asked” about what Ghanaian art they had on display and got a few suggestions and liked the style of interaction which was friendly and felt personal with lines like “my personal favourite”. The app worked well and lived up to my expectations having read about it on their labs blog for the whole development.

As much as I wanted to see everybody in the museum using the app I feel that this strand of “connection” with the public is very much in its infancy. The team behind ASK are tinkering with the future by making it. In 20-30yrs it may not be ASK but it will be a distance relative. Personally I think voice recognition will be something to keep an eye on. As an aside when I’d previously mentioned ASK to our curatorial team they were intrigued and also concerned about the time involvement of answering questions – when is too much of a good thing a burden? I didn’t get a chance to ask about this.

Galleries
I really enjoyed the four open floors of galleries and started top down. The Luce Center for Amercian Art visible Storafe Study Center is the best example of explaining how a museum works I’ve come across. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a simple clear explanation of an accession number. The ASK app suggestion had the additional benefit that I felt I was seeking out a unique way to find objects.
I enjoyed seeing a closed section being worked on. I loved the African art, Rodin and got a sleeping baby and me selfie with the Venice scene by Monet. I enjoyed the sports photography and was pleasantly surprised to see a photo of Wolverhampton wanderers football team (I lived there for 12 months and saw them play) among the basketball all stars, boxing stars and Motorsport. Use of tech was subtle and mainly used for TVs with bright signs. I liked the use of directional audio. There was lots of big open empty space throughout the building.

Shop

Our own shop suffered from neglect for years so shops are front and centre in my head at the moment. The layout of the main shop was very nice and sweeping. I thought I’d see lots more budget kids stuff we love in the uk but it was more gift stuff which I’m sure works very well. I saw a print on demand station but sadly ran out of time to try it out. There was a pop up shop in the special exhibition area that was well visually merchandised. I liked the seating by the book section and overall visual merchandising.

Meeting a few of the team

I was very fortunate to get to spend an hour with Sara Devine, JJ and Christina who took me up on the offer of saying hello. I explained how we’re trying to transform our service and focused on our own version of Pay What You Think, user research, shops and digital literacy for staff. I picked up Some helpful nuggets and hope to see these guys on the circuit soon.

Thank you Brooklyn Museum and thank you Sara, JJ and Christina for taking time to meet me…. Now back to my holiday!

Press quote in Fresh produce can add value to the art experience

Earlier this week I had a quote on Produce Business UK online in their article Fresh produce can add value to the art experience.

Zak Mensah, head of transformation for Bristol City Council, represents the city’s four museums and art gallery. He says the role of catering cannot be underestimated. “Bristol City Council’s culture team runs two cafes and a private hire business in partnership with Levy Restaurants UK,” he explains. “The year on year revenue exceeds £1 million. In line with the rest of the sector, the private hire side of the business generates more income than our cafés.

“It not only generates vital income, it also means we can make the best use of our venues, further opening them up to individuals, organisations and businesses across the city and beyond. Our cafés undoubtedly contribute to our very high overall visitor satisfaction, some 85% based on exit-survey data.” –

I always find it strange to write a comment that then gets adapted by an editor/press officer. The quote should have said we have five museums not four buy hey – oh and i’m only Head of Transformation for Culture not the entire Council!