Category Archives: Gallery Technology

QR codes and triggered content in museum spaces – in 2018

Any other museum digital people getting an influx of requests for QR codes to put in galleries recently? No? IS IT JUST US?!

After thinking that QR codes had died a death a few years ago, over the last few months we’ve had people from lots of different teams ask for QR codes to trigger content in galleries, for a variety of uses such as:

  • Sending people to additional content to what’s in an exhibition, to be used while in the gallery e.g. an audio guide
  • Showing the same content that’s in the exhibition but ‘just in case’ people want to look at it on their phones
  • Sending people to content that is referenced in exhibitions/galleries that needs a screen but doesn’t have an interactive e.g. a map on Know Your Place

After an attempt to fend them off we realised that we didn’t really have any evidence that people don’t use them. At least nothing recent or since the introduction of automatic QR code scanning with iOS 11 last year (thanks for that, Apple). So, we thought we’d test it out, making sure we’re tracking everything and also always providing a short URL for people to type into browsers as an alternative.

In most cases, it’s as expected and people just aren’t using them. They’re also not using the URL alternatives either, though, which maybe suggests that people don’t really want to have to go on their phones to look at content and are happy with reading the interpretation in the gallery. Controversial, I know. (Or maybe we need to provide more appealing content.)

However, then we come to our recent Grayson Perry exhibition at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, which had audio content which was ‘extra’ to what was in the exhibition. We provided headphones but visitors used their own devices. A key difference with this one though was that our front of house team facilitated use of the QR codes, encouraging visitors to use them and showing them what to do. As such, the six audio files (there was one with each tapestry on display) had 5,520 listens altogether over the course of the exhibition (March – June), over 900 each on average.

Whilst it’s great that they were used – it threw us a bit – the flip side of this is that it was only in an instance where it’s being facilitated. I’m not partuclarly keen on using something that we’re having to teach visitors how to use and where we’re trying to change users’ behaviours.

There’s also some more here around the crossover between online and gallery content (should we be using one thing for both, are they different user cases that need to be separate) which we’re talking about and testing more and more at the moment, but that’s one for another post.

We’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on triggered content. Do people even know what QR codes are? Are ‘just because we can and they’re no/low cost’ reasons enough to use them? How do you do triggered content? Is this unique to medium-sized museums or are the big and smaller guys grappling with this too? Or is it really just us?!

Culture KPIs

There are various versions of a common saying that ‘if you don’t measure it you can’t manage it’. See Zak Mensah’s (Head of Transformation at Bristol Culture) tweet below. As we’ll explain below we’re doing a good job of collecting a significant amount of Key Performance Indicator data;  however, there remain areas of our service that don’t have KPIs and are not being ‘inspected’ (which usually means they’re not being celebrated). This blog is about our recent sprint to improve how we do KPI data collection and reporting.

The most public face of Bristol Culture is the five museums we run (including Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and M Shed), but the service is much more than its museums. Our teams include, among others; the arts and events team (who are responsible the annual Harbour Festival as well as the Cultural Investment Programme which funds over 100 local arts and cultural organisations in Bristol); Bristol Archives; the Modern Records Office; Bristol Film Office and the Bristol Regional Environmental Recording Centre who are responsible for wildlife and geological data for the region.

Like most organisations we have KPIs and other performance data that we need to collect every year in order to meet funding requirements e.g. the ACE NPO Annual Return. We also collect lots of performance data which goes beyond this, but we don’t necessarily have a joined up picture of how each team is performing and how we are performing as a whole service.

Why KPIs?

The first thing to say is that they’re not a cynical tool to catch out teams for poor performance. The operative word in KPI is ‘indicator’; the data should be a litmus test of overall performance. The second thing is that KPIs should not be viewed in a vacuum. They make sense only in a given context; typically comparing KPIs month by month, quarter by quarter, etc. to track growth or to look for patterns over time such as busy periods.

A great resource we’ve been using for a few years is the Service Manual produced by the Government Digital Service (GDS) https://www.gov.uk/service-manual. They provide really focused advice on performance data. Under the heading ‘what to measure’, the service manual specifies four mandatory metrics to understand how a service is performing:

  • cost per transaction– how much it costs … each time someone completes the task your service provides
  • user satisfaction– what percentage of users are satisfied with their experience of using your service
  • completion rate– what percentage of transactions users successfully complete
  • digital take-up– what percentage of users choose … digital services to complete their task

Added to this, the service manual advises that:

You must collect data for the 4 mandatory key performance indicators (KPIs), but you’ll also need your own KPIs to fully understand whether your service is working for users and communicate its performance to your organisation.

Up until this week we were collecting the data for the mandatory KPIs but they have been  somewhat buried in very large excel spreadsheets or in different locations.  For example our satisfaction data lives on a surveymonkey dashboard. Of course, spreadsheets have their place, but to get more of our colleagues in the service taking an interest in our KPI data we need to present it in a way they can understand more intuitively. Again, not wanting to reinvent the wheel, we turned to the GDS to see what they were doing. The service dashboard they publish online has two headline KPI figures followed below with a list of the departments which you can click into to see KPIs at a department level.

Achieving a new KPI dashboard

As a general rule, we prefer to use open source and openly available tools to do our work, and this means not being locked into any single product. This also allows us to be more modular in our approach to data, giving us the ability to switch tools or upgrade various elements without affecting the whole system. When it comes to analysing data across platforms, the challenge is how to get the data from the point of data capture to the analysis and presentation tech – and when to automate vs doing manual data manipulations. Having spent the last year shifting away from using Excel as a data store and moving our main KPIs to an online database, we now have a system which can integrate with Google Sheets in various ways to extract and aggregate the raw data into meaningful metrics. Here’s a quick summary of the various integrations involved:

Data capture from staff using online forms: Staff across the service are required to log performance data, at their desks, and on the move via tablets over wifi. Our online performance data system provides customised data entry forms for specific figures such as exhibition visits. These forms also capture metadata around the figures such as who logged the figure and any comments about it – this is useful when we come to test and inspect any anomalies. We’ve also overcome the risk of saving raw data in spreadsheets, and the bottleneck often caused when two people need to log data at the same time on the same spreadsheet.

Data capture directly from visitors: A while back we moved to online, self-completed visitor surveys using SurveyMonkey and these prompt visitors to rate their satisfaction. We wanted the daily % of satisfied feedback entries to make its way to our dashboard, and to be aggregated (both combined with data across sites and then condensed into a single representative figure). This proved subtly challenging and had the whole team scratching our heads at various points thinking about whether an average of averages actually meant something, and furthermore how this could be filtered by a date range, if at all.

Google Analytics:  Quietly ticking away in the background of all our websites.

Google sheets as a place to join and validate data: It is a piece of cake to suck up data from Google Sheets into Data Studio, provided it’s in the right format. We needed to use a few tricks to bring data into Google Sheets, however, including Zapier, Google Apps Script, and sheets Add-ons.

Zapier: gives us the power to integrate visitor satisfaction from SurveyMonkey into Google Sheets.

Google apps script: We use this to query the API on our data platform and then perform some extra calculations such as working out conversion rates of exhibition visits vs museum visits. We also really like the record macro feature which we can use to automate any calculations after bringing in the data. Technically it is possible to push or pull data into Google Sheets – we opted for a pull because this gives us control via Google Sheets rather than waiting for a scheduled push from the data server.

Google Sheets formulae: We can join museum visits and exhibition visits in one sheet by  using the SUMIFS function, and then use this to work out a daily conversion rate. This can then be aggregated in Data Studio to get an overall conversion rate, filtered by date.

Sheets Add-Ons: We found a nifty add-on for integrating sheets with Google Analytics. Whilst it’s fairly simple to connect Analytics to Data Studio, we wanted to combine the stats across our various websites, and so we needed a preliminary data ‘munging’ stage first.

Joining the dots…

1.) Zapier pushes the satisfaction score from SurveyMonkey to Sheets.

2.) A Google Sheets Add On pulls in Google Analytics data into Sheets, combining figures across many websites in one place.

3.) Online data forms save data directly to a web database (MongoDB).

4.) The performance platform displays raw and aggregated data to staff using ChartJS.

5.) Google Apps Script pulls in performance data to Google Sheets.

6.) Gooogle Data Studio brings in data from Google Sheets,  and provides both aggregation and calculated fields.

7.) The dashboard can be embedded back into other websites including our performance platform via an iframe.

8.) Good old Excel and some VBA programming can harness data from the performance platform.

logos
Technologies involved in gathering and analysing performance data across museums.

Data Studio

We’ve been testing out Google Data Studio over the last few months to get a feel for how it might work for us. It’s definitely the cleanest way to visualise our KPIs, even if what’s going on behind the scenes isn’t quite as simple as it looks on the outside.

There are a number of integrations for Data Studio, including lots of third party ones, but so far we’ve found Google’s own Sheets and Analytics integrations cover us for everything we need. Within Data Studio you’re somewhat limited to what you can do in terms of manipulating or ‘munging’ the data (there’s been a lot of munging talk this week), and we’re finding the balance between how much we want Sheets to do and how much we want Data Studio to do.

At the beginning of the sprint we set about looking at Bristol Culture’s structure and listing five KPIs each for 1.) the service as a whole; 2.) the 3 ‘departments’ (Collections, Engagement and Transformation) and 3.) each team underneath them. We then listed what the data for each of the KPIs for each team would be. Our five KPIs are:

  • Take up
  • Revenue
  • Satisfaction
  • Cost per transaction
  • Conversion rate

Each team won’t necessarily have all five KPIs but actually the data we already collect covers most of these for all teams.

Using this structure we can then create a Data Studio report for each team, department and the service as a whole. So far we’ve cracked the service-wide dashboard and have made a start on department and team-level dashboards, which *should* mean we can roll out in a more seamless way. Although those could be famous last words, couldn’t they?

Any questions, let us know.

 

 

Darren Roberts (User Researcher), Mark Pajak (Head of Digital) &  Fay Curtis (User Researcher)

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Rowan Whitehouse joins the Digital Team

Hello! My name is Rowan Whitehouse and I am currently working as a cultural support apprentice for Bristol Museums.

I have been doing six week rotations around various departments, and as part of my third, with the digital team, I’ve been asked to review some of the technology around the museum.

So, to find some!

I noticed that the distribution of technology around the museum is heavier in areas with a higher number of children. Whilst there is a lot around the ground floor, particularly the Egypt and Natural History galleries, levels definitely drop off the more steps you climb, towards the Fine and Applied Arts galleries. I think this is due, in part, to many children’s interests leaning on the dinosaur/mummy side, rather than Bristol’s history of stone pub ware. Perhaps there are also certain established ideas about what an art gallery should  be, whereas many of the historic collections lend themselves well to interactive displays.

Upstairs, the technology has a distinctly more mature focus.
I chose to look at a tablet/kiosk in the European Old Masters gallery for an example. The kiosk itself fits well into its surroundings, the slim, white design is unobtrusive – something desirable in such a traditional gallery space. The kiosk serves as an extension of the wall plaques, it has an index of the paintings in the room with information on them. I think this is a great idea as the size of wall plaques often constrain the amount of information available.

A big drawback I felt however, was that the kiosk was static and fixed in one place. I observed that as people moved around the gallery they would continually look from the painting to it’s accompanying plaque, taking in both at the same time. Though the kiosk has more information, it would need to be able to move with the user to have the advantage over the plaques. On the position of the kiosk itself, I think it would receive more use if it was positioned in the middle of the room, rather than in the corner, where it is overlooked. Signage on the wall advertised a webpage, which could be accessed on a handheld device and provided the same information as the kiosk. I felt this was a better use of the index, and could be made even easier to access via a QR code. I wonder though, if people would want to use their phones like this in a gallery, and whether ideas about the way we experience art are the ultimate obstacle. I’ll be researching how other institutions use (or don’t use) technology in their galleries.

I wanted to see how technology is being used differently with the historic collections, so I headed back downstairs to the Egypt gallery. I observed a school group using the computers at the back of the gallery, both the children and their teacher struggled with the unusual keyboard layout and rollerball mouse, unable to figure out how to search. Eventually, they came upon it by chance, and enjoyed navigating the images and learning more about the objects in the gallery. The computers also have a timeline view, showing the history of the Egyptians, and an “Explore” function, where specific subjects could be looked at.

I think the location of the units massively benefit interaction, the dedicated space with chairs really invite and encourage visitors to engage. On using the technology, I felt that the access problems could be easily fixed by some stickers highlighting the left mouse button function, and something to resolve the stiffness of the rollerball.

My favourite interactive pieces in the museum were in the Egypt gallery. I loved the screens that featured the discovery of  a body, and asked the user what they thought about the body being in a museum, and gave the user the option of viewing the body at the end of the text. I felt like this type of interaction was fantastic, and rather than just providing information, engaged the visitor directly and was a great way of broaching questions that may not usually occur to visitors.

I’m looking forward to the next six weeks, and learning more about digital engagement in museums.

With such a fantastic collection, it’s exciting finding new ways of presenting it and helping visitors interact with objects