Fellow Travelers @ #MCN2015

By Sofie Andersen


Coming away from #MCN2015 is like leaving 'museum camp'. It’s an astonishing, curious community of creative technologists – questioning, sharing, re-thinking what we do. The best thing about it is the people, of course, but also the ideas and conversations that linger for days, weeks and often months afterwards.

What really set this year’s Museums Computer Network conference apart for me was what felt like the official/unofficial theme of the conferencebeing a human being; finding, listening to and bringing your fellow travelers along on the journey of what you’re trying to do – wherever you or they are.

Inspiration from Keynote: To call Liz Ogbu’s keynote inspiring is a gross underestimation. Liz is a designer, urbanist and social innovator who runs Studio 0. She’s a designer who uses her time not just doing the ‘glamorous’ work of being creative and coming up with great ideas, her practice is about applying her skills at being a human designer (as you’ll hear this relates to the practice of human centered design) – taking the time to be together with the people so that she can understand if she’s trying to solve the right problem. She showed us how we need to be doing the hard work. She spends time with the people she is trying to design for ('community' sounds like a distancing term), not clocking them as data points or asking questions about their lives, but actually being with them, cooking with them in their homes – often for hours on end – and listening, so that she can help to frame the right question to answer, and devise a system to achieve it.

This sentiment set the tone for the truest of aspirations in this community. To make a difference, have an impact –to help people be inspired and changed by museums, just as much as we are.

Inspiration from Ignite: Elissa Frankel & Carol Bossert outlined a vocabulary to help us.They proposed making a leap from museums as offering the deficit model (the museum has something that it provides to it’s audiences) or the transactional model (the call and response approach where the museum produces, the audiences partakes and responds) to a conversion model – where the audience is no longer the ‘audience’ or a passive spectator. The museum becomes a co-creator, responding to the visitor as active participants, changing the experience. The impact here isn’t measured by what happens during a visit but what happens once you think of the visitor as a buddy or fellow traveller, and what happens next on that journey.

To name a few more from the ignite series in brief - Sina Bahram showed us why making museums accessible is not only easily within our reach but also intensely creative in his talk 'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings'. Nikhil Trivedi issued a challenge - to make black and trans lives matter in museums. And one of my favorites – because, well, who doesn’t love a good storyteller telling stories about storytelling; Brad Baer pulling back the curtain on the success of Serial in his ‘The Science of Serial’. He showed how this addictive podcast series starts from asking a simple question (Do you remember what you did last Wednesday? Who you talked to? ), building into an investigative journey and global phenomenon museums can learn from. Serial helped re-awakening our love of podcasting, storytelling that you can listen to anywhere.

Inspiration from podcasting: So many great sessions.....but these first talks really set up MCN for me, and helped make the timing of our panel seem particularly prescient. In Art of Listening: Creating Authentic Stories in Sound we attempted– and had a lot of fun in the trying – to bring the spirit of authenticity into the session by making it a ‘screen-less’ roundtable discussion, in the style of the podcasts we love. Suse Cairns, Dan Davies, Natalie Marsh, Christine Murray and I put away slides and talking points and got into the nitty gritty of how to create authentic, intimate experiences even when the environment doesn’t allow for it, as well as how where you hear audio influences how you experience it. Slides and shownotes are here (I’ll update this post once the audio is released too). In the meantime, here’s some of the takeaways from our conversations;

  • Authenticity can be achieved in many ways but there is a common thread of audio that feels authentic, it has a sense of intimacy, honesty (though not always ‘truth or reality’), pacing that retains natural speech patterns - and can live with a little messy audio- and it gets you to feel something that helps you remember.
  • Our audio palettes have evolved – we listen to so much outside of museums (PEW found 10 million more NPR podcast downloads in 2014 than 2013) that we don’t need the ‘safe space’ of a one-size fits all approach to audio anymore.
  • Where we record audio is as contextual and important as where it’s listened to – if we can talk to someone on their own territory – away from the studio (in their bedrooms) we create a comfortable environment, a place to be themselves.
  • We can be journalistic & artistic in our processes – if we start early in the evolution of an idea or an exhibition and record our curatorial and expert teams, we might catch feeling and intent before their thinking has solidified into tired sound-bites. We can record our brainstorming meetings, or go back after an interview and dig deeper, get into one subject rather than 25.
  • It helps to listen to voices we like, that sound (or become) familiar over time which also means seeking voices that might not be represented or that don’t sound like the traditional voice of the museum.

One last initiative to mention was the amazing #MuseWoman pilot mentorship program. It started as an idea that germinated over lunch at Museums and the Web, and now Liz Filardi, Emily Lytle-Painter and Brinker have made it a reality. It was great to participate as a mentor, but also to see just how much genuine, collegial support there is for woman in creative tech, and all already beginning the practice of being a real human.

Other great MCN related roundups; Haitham Eid - here and Dana Mitroff Silvers - here.


Museum Camp for Creative Technologists...(image courtesy of Blaire Moskowitz)

Museum Camp for Creative Technologists...(image courtesy of Blaire Moskowitz).



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