Monthly Archives: October 2017

Off-line surveys: successfully not losing data

Losing survey data is a pain – unfortunately the events team lost six events worth of survey data they collected using off-line surveys. The team used iPads (cost per iPad is c.£320) to conduct surveys on software which was sourced outside our team (I’m not sure what system it was). They used the software on the basis that it claimed to offer off-line surveys i.e. without an internet connection /wi-fi. The idea was that they data could then be uploaded once the iPad was connected to the internet. When they came to do so, however, the data was simply not there and they had lost it all.

The events team came to the digital team this year to ask if we could help them with the public surveys for the 2017 Harbour Festival. The festival is held across much of Bristol City Centre and therefore in order to conduct surveys digitally using iPads we would need to do so without having to rely on having a wifi connection.Of course, one option would be to conduct the surveys with good old pen and paper, but as a digital-first service we were happy to accept the challenge.

One of the main reasons we want to avoid paper surveys is because it is time consuming and difficult to digitise the survey results. It requires someone to sit at a computer and manually input results. Staff resources are often limited and this is a job we’d rather not have to give ourselves. Practically, paper can also be unruly, there are issues with handwriting legibility and they are easy to lose when relying on volunteers to collect them so a digital a solution is very desirable.

The challenge came down to finding the right software that I could install on the iPad and test, and that didn’t cost too much. Our usual platform for conducting surveys on iPads where we do have an internet connection is SurveyMonkey (we pay for the gold subscription £230 per year). Unfortunately, off-line surveys are not a feature available on SurveyMonkey.

These are a few Apps I tried to use but weren’t right for one reason or another:

  • Qualtrics – poor trialling options and expensive for full features £65 for one month or £435 for one year
  • iSurveys (harvestyourdata.com) – free account is limited and their main website is difficult to use and I couldn’t work out how much the full feature product was
  • SurveyPocket by QuestionPro – trial difficult to use and full feature pricing only available by contacting the company
  • The one I almost went for: QuickTap Survey & Form Builder – good pricing options from $16 per month and the trial is OK

So, after trawling the internet and the App Store for options the one we went for is an App called Feed2go (www.feed2go.com)

Quick Note: Before I speak about the virtues of Feed2go, I have to make it clear that it is currently only available on the Apple App Store; it is not available on Android devices in the Play Store (quicktap surveys app is available on Android).

I downloaded the feed2go App onto my iPad and and it was ready to go with pretty much all features available – certainly enough to get a feel of whether it was right. Most crucially on the basic/trial version you can conduct off-line surveys and test if the data is secure and can be successfully uploaded – we I did and it worked. A major advantage of the feed2go app is that to access all the app’s features (Pro) is a very reasonable subscription of £2.49 for 1 month; £4.99 for 3 months; or £12.49 for 1 year. At these costs there is virtually no risk in trying the Pro subscription.

If anyone is interested in trying the App, I would suggest going ahead and downloading and having an explore. There are just a couple of things I will highlight:

  • The user interface is nice and clean and easy to use
  • The options for question structures is OK and covers most bases but it is more limited than something like SurveyMonkey
  • Some of the navigation in the App can be a bit clunky especially when designing survey forms, but once you get used to it then it’s fine
  • Probably the most significant feature of feed2go to mention is trying to use the same survey on one device. This is not a particular strong suit of feed2go but it does work. Basically you need to download feed2go on each device you have and then share the survey between them using a cloud storage server – the best one to use in my experience is DropBox. In the App there is an export/import function to share survey forms between devices. This also means that you will need to collate all results from different devices at the end.
  • As noted above, the feed2go app needs to be downloaded on each iPad. In our case all our service iPads are registered to one email address. This means we can use the one subscription across all of our devices. This is not the case if iPads are registered to different email addresses – a subscription will need to be paid for each.

Overall, yes the experience of using the App could be improved a little. But, the main feature we wanted it for – to save the results and successfully upload them worked 100%. I think what distinguishes feed2go from the previously (unsuccessfully) used software was that it operated through a web browser which relied on a cache of temp internet files files. Feed2go is an app which stores the data securely in a folder in the same way the camera stores photos on the iPad. Finally, the FAQ on the feed2go and the email support for the App is great; the developer is really responsive.

We have now used the App to conduct surveys in the estate around Our Blaise Castle House Museum site and we are planning to replace paper exit surveys at our houses (where we don’t have wifi) with the offline App.

If you have any comments or questions about doing offlien surveys or surveys in the cultural sector please get in touch I’m happy to have a chat. Darren.roberts@bristo.gov.uk

Going digital with our Exhibition Scheduling Timeline

 

 

developing a digital timeline for scheduling exhibitions

BACKGROUND

Having a visual representation of upcoming exhibitions, works, and major events is important in the exhibition planning process. Rather than relying on spotting dates that clash using lists of data, having a horizontal timeline spread out visually allows for faster cross-checking and helps collaboratively decide on how to plan for exhibition installs and derigs.

 

Until recently we had a system that used excel to plan out this timeline, by merging cells and coloring horizontally it was possible to manually construct a timeline. Apart from the pure joy that comes from printing anything from Excel, there were a number of limitations of this method.

  • When dates changed the whole thing needed to be rejigged
  • Everyone who received a printed copy at meetings stuck that to the wall and so date changes were hard to communicate.
  • We need to see the timeline over different scales – short term and long term, so this means using 2 separate excel tabs for each, hence duplication of effort.
  • We were unable to apply any permissions
  • The data was not interoperable with other systems

TIMELINE SOFTWARE (vis.js)

Thanks to Almende B.V. there is an open source timeline code library available at visjs.org/docs/timeline so this offers a neat solution to the manual task of having to recast the timeline using some creative Excel skills each time. We already have a database of Exhibition dates following our digital signage project and so this was the perfect opportunity to reuse this data, which should be the most up to date version of planned events as it is what we display to the public internally in our venues.

IMPLEMENTATION

The digital timeline was implemented using MEAN stack technology and combines data feeds from a variety of sources. In addition to bringing in data for agreed exhibitions, we wanted a flexible way to add installations, derigs, and other notes and so a new database on the node server combines these dates with exhibitions data. We can assign permissions to different user groups using some open source authentication libraries and this means we can now release the timeline for staff not involved in exhibitions, but also let various teams add and edit their own specific timeline data.

The great thing about vis is the ease of manipulation of the timeline, users are able to zoom in and out, and backward and forwards in time using with mouse, arrow or touch/pinch gestures.

 

Zoomed out view for the bigger picture
Zoomed in for the detail…

EMU INTEGRATION

The management of information surrounding object conservation, loans and movements is fundamental to successful exhibition development and installation. As such we maintain a record of exhibition dates in EMu, our collections management software. The EMu events module is used to record when exhibitions take place and also the object list where curators select and deselect objects for exhibition. Using the EMU API we are able to extract a structured list of Exhibitions information for publishing to the digital timeline.

HOW OUR TIMELINE WORKS

Each gallery or public space has its own horizontal track where exhibitions are published as blocks. These are grouped into our 5 museums and archives buildings and can be selected/deselected from the timeline to cross reference each. Once logged in a user is able ot manually add new blocks to the timeline and these are pre-set to “install”, “derig” and “provisional date”. Once a block is added our exhibitions team are able to add notes that are accessible on clicking the block. It is also possible to reorder and adjust dates by clicking and dragging.

IMPACT

The timeline now means everyone has access to an up to date picture of upcoming exhibitons installations to no one is out of date. The timeline is on a public platform and is mobile accessible so staff can access it on the move, in galleries or at home. Less time is spent on creative Excel manipulation and more work on spotting errors. It has also made scheduling meetings more dynamic, allowing better cross referencing and moving to different positions in time. An unexpected effect is that we are spotting more uses for the solution and are currently investigating the use of it for booking rooms and resources. There are some really neat things we can do such as import a data feed from the timeline back into our MS Outlook calendars  (“oooooh!”). The addition of thumbnail pictures used to advertise exhibitions has been a favorite feature among staff and really helps give an instant impression of current events, since it reinforces the exhibition branding which people are already familiar with.

ISSUES

It is far from perfect! Several iterations were needed to develop the drag and drop feature fo adding events. Also, we are reaching diminishing returns in terms of performance – with more and more data available to plot, the web app is performing slowly and could do with further optimisation to improve speed. Also due to our IT infrastructure, many staff use Internet Explorer and whilst the timeline works OK, many features are broken on this browser without changes to compatibility and caching settings on IE.

WHAT’S NEXT

Hopefully optimisation will improve performance and then it is full steam ahead with developing our resource booking system using the same framework.