Are Museum Ethics Changing?

One of the student assignments in the Museum Studies graduate seminar I lead each fall semester at the University of Memphis is to provide annotated references each week on the seminar topic.  I enjoy the diverse responses from graduate students in Art History, Earth Science, Anthropology, History and other disciplines.  That diversity allows me to think outside of my worldview as the director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  One of my intents with the assignment is build a database of resources to share on the range of Museum Practices issues.  In the coming weeks, I will occasionally feature selections of those resources on this blog, especially as they relate to public engagement of museums and archaeology.

Early in the seminar we take up the issue of Museum Ethics.  Here are some of those resources:

  • Treatment and Repatriation of Human Remains – Katherine Broome wrote about the website set up by family members and first responders of the September 11, 2001 disaster at the World Trade Center.  The group’s function is to galvanize opposition to the placement of human remains in any memorial museum at the site.  The May 2011 issue of Anthropology Today, has an update by the advisors to the group.  Within the U.S., for the last 25 years museum questions about human remains have principally focused on those of Native Americans as a result of the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  Here is a link to an updated scholarly treatment on the impacts of NAGPRA.  Cori Ogleton came across a statement from the Pitt Rivers Museum in the UK about the exhibiting of human remains.  The governing policy of the Museum on the treatment and repatriation of human remains is also available.  A primary difference between the U.S. and U.K. policies is the formal legislation in the U.S. compared to less structured guidelines in the U.K.  As well, the role of the relative or descendent voices of the human remains held in the U.K. seems considerably less in the U.S.  The treatment and repatriation of human remains is a critical issue in public outreach in both archaeology and museums today.  In the U.S., our institutions are now directly accountable to the citizens whose collections they curate.
  • Treatment and Repatriation of Cultural Materials – The Elgin Marbles have long been a touchstone for discussing the repatriation of cultural materials.  That horizon has broadened considerably   Katie Maish found a formal discussion between Malcolm Bell III who notes the loss of context when art is taken from its original setting and James Cuno who promotes the cause of the Universalist Museum approach.  Noteworthy is that only Western Institutions signed the 2002 Declaration of Importance and Value of Universal Museums.  Alex Pearson came across an excellent blog that discusses the generalities and specific instances of looting and museums ethical responsibility.  The repatriation and exhibition of a cultural materials will continue to be a substantive issue that faces archaeologists and museums in their very ability to conduct public outreach.  Does the public’s desire to view prehistoric ceramic vessels override the objections of those descendent voices, also a part of that public, who wish for the objects to be kept from public view?  If the public’s desire to view these objects is considered paramount, why are they for the most part locked away in repositories away from public view?
  • And in General – The American Association of Museums (AAM), the International Council of Museums, the Society for American Archaeology, and most other national organizations make their code of ethics available on-line.  Megan Keener reported an interesting project from the Center for the Future of Museums of the American Association of Museums.  The project invited practitioners from a diversity of museum settings to consider the needs for amending the AAM’s current code of ethics.  The discussion notes that codes need constant updating to address the evolving and dynamic pace of world events.  Here is an example of the project’s discussion.  The Institute of Museum Ethics at Seton Hall University also has abundant resources on the subject.

The accountability demanded of archaeologists and museum professionals by the very voices whose materials cultural they curate is rightfully on the rise and will continue to grow.  As well, as archaeologists and museum professionals are employed in nonprofit and publicly financed institutions, in an era of decreasing discretionary dollars, institutions that are unable to explain their relevancy to the public likely will not, and should not, survive.  In this capacity, ethics takes on an increased role.

How has your institution been faced with new ethical considerations?


Museums, Archaeology & Mobile Apps

Got myself an iPad a couple of weeks ago so I am now learning about the mobile app business.  I have to confess that the biggest draw for me in taking the iPad plunge was to use a music/sound making app called Reactable.  At the same, I sufficiently rationalized the iPad’s portability and work applications as factors to justify the cost.  To dutifully follow-up on the rationalizations, I went to the App Store and searched on Anthropology, Archaeology, Museums to see what all was out there.  There is a good bit of cool stuff.  You can tour Roman-era London via the Londinium app produced by the Museum of London, explore the Please Touch the Exhibit app from the Melbourne Museum, view fine art in the Philips Collection multimedia app based in Washington D.C., and on and on . . .

There is a good bit of museum and archaeology app stuff out there.  But are these apps the latest fad, toys, or what?  As is often the case the American Association of Museum provides a good summary overview text on the subject.  Mobile Apps for Museums: The AAM Guide to Planning and Strategy edited by Nancy Proctor is a good place to start investigating the applicability of these new mobile applications.  Proctor is the Smithsonian’s Head of New Media Initiatives.

In 100 pages, the volume contains 12 brief overview essays on almost all phases of mobile apps from the technical to practical considerations.  An additional 12-page glossary interprets the jargon inherent in any such discussion.  Although a careful read of the entire volume is worthwhile, several essays stood out to me:

  •  Robert Stein’s essay “Mobile Content Strategies for Content Sharing and Long-Term Sustainability” deals with the compatibility of museum apps across time and space.  He reports on a paper he and Proctor co-authored at the 2011 Museums and the Web Conference that addresses this issue and references the TourML wiki as a source for ongoing dialogue.  The upshot of the article is recognizing the importance in the early stages of app development that there are industry standards to assure the production of quality and interactive products.
  • Kate Haley Goldman’s essay “Understanding Adoption of Mobile Technology with Museums” is an important first read for anyone considering mobile apps in museum settings.   Goldman astutely observes that “for institutions already using mobile interpretation, encouraging visitors to use the mobile interpretation was the largest challenge.  Yet for others – vendors and researchers, as well as those considering projects – attracting new visitors via mobile was a primary goal.  This disconnect represents a great opportunity for future research” (p. 67).  Goldman speculates that part of the disconnect comes from the validity and reliability of the visitor survey measures.  She argues for visitor based longitudinal studies to help clarify the issue.  This understanding echoes Clay Shirkey’s concern that internet technology must be relevant to existing behavior.
  • Jane Burton’s essay “Playful Apps” provides another layer of insights as the relationship of the museum user to museum apps. She notes that you can explore physics by playing Launchball from the Science Museum of London or learn about human origins by visiting Meanderthal from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  She cites Flurry, a San Francisco based smartphone analytics firm report, in noting that “studying the U.S. mobile gamer, we note that she earns over 50% more than the average American, is more than twice as likely to have earned a college bachelor’s degree, and is more like to be white or Asian” (p. 74).  Like Goldman, she finds that conventional wisdom on app adoption and use in museums might be suspect and counter the conventional wisdom of the typical app user.
The collection of essays provides an excellent starting point and balanced overview for anyone wishing to get beyond the immediate must have hype or the flip side of too quickly dismissing the use of mobile apps in museum or archaeology public engagement efforts.  However, except for an essay on mobile apps at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, no author in the volume considered in a substantive way whether the apps actually fit in with the mission of the museum or organization.  Proposals for adopting such new technology that are thoroughly enmeshed in the mission of the institution will allow justification of the high cost of app development and equipment often needed to operate the systems.  Otherwise, nay sayers (and funders) may argue that we are just jumping on to the latest interpretive fad.

What is your experience with mobile apps?

Advocacy & Museums: Not Just for Administrators Anymore

With shrinking support dollars, advocacy is more than ever a pressing and essential survival skill for public institutions.  The American Association of Museums‘ (AAM) 2011 book Speak Up For Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy by Gail Ravnitzky Siberglied is an excellent starting point for the discussion.  As AAM President Ford Bell notes in the volume’s Preface “We advocate for the value of our museums every time we open an exhibit, welcome a school group, send out a press release, meet with funders or hold a special event in the community.  Advocacy can be as simple and personal as chatting with a visitor” (p. xi).  Advocacy work with elected officials and policy makers is the focus of the volume.

Like many AAM publications, the scope of Speak Up For Museums is basic but comprehensive.  The volume covers the limitations in advocacy work for nonprofits, involvement of museum boards, advice from public officials and museum advocates, and a basic civics lesson on government structures and operations related to advocacy.

Two chapters stood out as particularly helpful to me.  First, Chapter 3, An Advocacy Inventory, contains step-by-step templates/guides for compiling institutional data (e.g., visitation demographics, elected and other public officials, and economic data) critical for successful advocacy.

Chapter 6, Start Advocating Today! A Week-by-Week Plan provides a list of 57 advocacy tasks.  The examples range from simple to complex and include adding all relevant elected (city, state, county, federal) officials to your mailing list and social media sites (and vice versa), updating a museum’s virtual presence on websites, Wikipedia and social media pages, and  joining with other area museums in advocacy efforts.

The AAM hosts a Speak Up For Museum webpage with many links and information on advocacy work.

The 125 page volume was a quick read and a ready reference for framing further advocacy work.  My takeaway points directly and indirectly from the book include:

  • Museums continue to move from being collections driven to centering on the visitor experience in the same way that archaeology now includes a public accountability component unheard of 50 years ago.  In this regard, all practitioners take on advocacy roles.  Advocacy is now embraced by the field archaeologist, the curator, and the research scientist, not just the administrators, educators and marketing departments.  Particularly with the advent of social media institutions no longer have the luxury of controlling the means and pace of their advocacy efforts.  Speak Up For Museums focuses on advocacy with public officials.   Although not explicitly stated, the public realm of advocacy also requires a full team effort.  Despite centralized press releases and lobbying efforts, all staff need to create their 3-minute elevator speech advocating for the institution.
  • I have a new appreciation that advocacy is a long-term process that starts with building a relationship today.  I often smile smugly at the Facebook entries from the institution that only posts for self-promotion or Kickstarter/Pepsi Challenge type fundraising efforts.  I suspect the public official feels the same way if they only hear from me when I need something but am not engaged as part of the broader solution.
  • Advocacy is not rocket science.  Advocacy can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and doing the next right thing.  Adding the email addresses of all relevant public officials to an e-newsletter list is pretty straightforward and can probably be achieved with a half-hour of Google search time.  In fact, Chapter 3 “An Advocacy Inventory” suggests that the template/guide tasks “can also be done as a case study for a graduate class in museum studies” (p. 16).  Hmm . . . sounds like Project 1 for my Museum Practices graduate seminar in the Museum Studies Certificate Program at the University of Memphis this fall semester – pick an area museum and develop an advocacy guide for them.

Speak Up For Museums is a great resource to start or further develop an institution’s advocacy work.  Although geared specifically toward museums, the application is adaptable to a range of nonprofit agencies.

What are your tools for advocacy?

Review of The Anthropology Graduate’s Guide

This post is bit off topic, but I know there are numerous anthropology professionals and students who read this blog, and I came across this excellent resource, so here goes:

The Anthropology Graduate’s Guide: From Student to a Career (Left Coast Press, 2011) is the one book that should be handed out with a diploma when a student graduates with a BA in Anthropology or by a student’s advisor before the first day of classes in a graduate program.  For me, the book is written as though authors Carol J. Ellick and Joe E. Watkins eavesdropped on my advising and mentoring conversations with both undergraduate and graduate students for the past 15 years, and then wrote about it.

The book is divided into three sections with a total of  fifteen chapters as follows:

Section 1 – Preparation contains five chapters for the student to begin thinking about a career in Anthropology.  There is a general introduction that importantly exposes the myths that one must ultimately get a PhD in the field, but that once you do, there are no jobs out there.  The authors also discuss creating a career journal and portfolio to help coordinate and showcase the student’s experiences and abilities.  This section also explores the career options flowing from both applied and academic tracks.  The authors include some great mini-bios to illustrate the diversity of career possibilities.  The section concludes with important discussions on professional standards and the resources for staying informed about job opportunities

Section II – Development is all about the nuts and bolts of preparing for a specific job search.  The four chapters in this section include details on creating a résumé, curriculum vita, biographical statement, the various letters in a job application, as well as the actual application process.

Section III – Setting Yourself Apart is in many ways the most valuable part of the book.  As I routinely note to students, it is simply not enough to show that you have a 3.9 GPA as you will need to translate those classroom skills into demonstrating the ability to function on the ground.  The author’s discuss the importance of internships and volunteering to demonstrate that real world link.  The critical ability to develop strong communication skills is the subject of one entire chapter.  The often overlooked opportunities within professional organizations both nationally, regionally, and locally are considered.  The section concludes with chapters that discuss the types of employment options with a focus on academic and research related opportunities.

The appendices to the volume are a considerable asset.  One appendix lists the employers of anthropologists as obtained from attendees name tag affiliations at an American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting.  A unique idea that certainly reflects contemporary reality of employment.  Perhaps one of the most useful parts of the book is the appendix of 15 mini-bios of anthropologists employed in an equal division of applied and academic positions.  Another appendix lists resources, mostly online, for further reference to many of the topics covered in the book.  A final appendix has samples of biographical sketches, letters requesting letters of recommendation, c.v.s and more.

The Anthropology Graduate’s Guide is written in a clear, non-jargon laden, and down-to-earth style.  Each chapter has many exercises for the reader such that the volume lends itself well as a formal classroom text or for self-study.  I noted at the outset of this review that the authors include the precise topics I cover in my advising sessions with students.  However, I still recommend this book for all incoming graduate students.  I say this for two reasons.  First, Watkins and Elick have done a very comprehensive job in creating a resource to prepare students for the job market.  For the advisor to review with each student the general scope they cover in 250 pages is simply not practical.  Second, by the time the student raises these issues with the advisor, it is usually too late.  Students often start thinking about the nuts and bolts of their job application process as their graduation date approaches.  The authors show that this process needs to begin before they sit down for the first graduate seminar.

If you teach in an Anthropology program you owe it to yourself to check out The Anthropology Graduate’s Guide as a resource for your students.  If you are a student, this book includes all those things you need to know and either forgot to ask or were too embarrassed to ask because you thought you should already know.

I am confident this book will enjoy a long shelf-life and go into revisions down the road.

Report from the American Association of State and Local History Conference

I had a great time last week attending the American Association of State and Local History Annual Meeting in Oklahoma City.  The conference program listed an extensive number of sessions that focused on Museums and Public Outreach.  As well, given that the meetings were held in the very heart of Indian Country, a separate “Tribal Track” set of offerings dealt specifically with topics related to Native American cultural heritage.  You can check the entire program here.

A few of my highlights from the conference include:

  • A recent trend considered by many of the presenters is the shift from school group to family museum visits.  With school program funding cuts, we are keenly aware of this shift at the C.H. Nash Museum.  Sarah Watkins, Curator at the USS Constitution Museum, introduced the Family Learning Forum a project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  The site is packed with resources.  Of particular interest are the Success Stories that detail over 50 different family programs in place at museums across North America.  The Family Learning Forum website is a fantastic place to experience a variety of museum programs in history, art, archaeology and more.  Also, the Denver Art Museums resource link is one example of an institution with an abundance of downloadable guides and ideas for the family visit.
  • Over the past few years, museums and cultural heritage centers have begun using  innovative Scavenger Hunts and Geocaching for instructing on a range of topics.  Museums are increasingly going beyond the rote “find the answer in the exhibit text” type of scavenger hunt by incorporating role play and gaming.  For example Watson Adventure, Urban Interactive, and the Scavenger Hunt Ideas blog were resources presented by Rebecca Crawford of the USS Constitution Museum to consider when developing such activities.
  • The final session on the final day of the conference Of the Student, By the Student, and For the Student was excellent.  Journey Through Hallowed Ground from Monticello to Gettysburg and the Colorado Youth Summit were two examples where youth take part in service learning projects to experience history, archaeology, the environment and preservation.
  • I found the most stimulating session at the conference to be The Essential Frameworks of Informal Learning, presented by Beverly Sheppard, editor along with Kim Fortney of An Alliance of Spirit: Museum and School Partnerships.  Sheppard noted that only 9% of life is spent in formal learning settings.  A take-off point for the discussion was the Learning Science in Informal Environments: People Places and Pursuits from which the Six Strands of Science Learning are taken.  Sheppard reported that one year after a museum experience, visitors related less to exhibit facts and more to the affective quality of exposure to the “big idea” of the presentation.   The Informal Science website is a resource for further exploration on these areas of inquiry.  A lively discussion on experiences with innovative approaches to informal learning followed Sheppard’s presentation.

Overall the AASLH sessions were the most stimulating professional meetings on museum matters I attended in quite a while!

Were you there?  What are your highlights from the meetings?

Museums as Third Places

Open Field seating area at the Walker Art Center

Lately, I have thought a good bit about the idea of  Museums as third places – not work or home, but places where people regularly go to socialize and be in community.  Ray Oldenburg published on this concept a while ago.  He suggests that today’s coffee house best typifies the third place concept in North America.

Specific to museums, Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 blog took up this discussion in June of this year.  In the Museum 2.0 blog posts written by both Simon and guests, along with comment feedback, there was much back-and-forth on whether museums are able to function as third places.

But why is the third place an important discussion for museums?  At the C.H. Nash Museum, the third space idea is relevant as we attempt to build more engaged relationships with our visitors and in our role as a social asset in southwest Memphis.  The engagement is not just a matter of building attendance and revenue streams, but rather, as central to our function as a community stakeholder and partner.

Here are a couple of museums where the third place concept seems to work.  At the Sunwatch Village, a circa 1200 – 1500 AD American Indian site and museum near Dayton, Ohio, Site Manager Andy Sawyer developed regular gatherings of the Native American community via the Miami Valley Flute Circle for concerts and socializing.  These public concerts have a strong community building component.  Visitors are encouraged to bring their picnic dinners, visit, and turn the gathering into a true social event.  The Flute Circle is different from the typical Festival or Powwow event in their regularity (monthly) and the community component of both Native and non-Native participants.  Conceptually, the Flute Circle is similar to a series of Sunday evening concerts in the park or coffee house acoustic performances, only in a museum setting.  Of added significance at Sunwatch, is the relevancy of a Native American musical form being played at a traditional Native American site.

Another example of the third place is at the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis’ Open Field described as “an experimental project of the Walker Art Center that invites the public to help transform our big, green backyard into a cultural commons. It’s a place to share experiences, interests, and talents and celebrate the creative assets and collective knowledge that abound in the Twin Cities.”  During my recent Saturday visit to the Walker Art Center, the activities in the Open Field consisted of a coffee shop/lounge type space for refreshments and visiting, an area for hoola-hoop contests, drawing, lounging, WiFi and such.  Also going on was and a very cool Red 76 participatory project of building a school in the Open Field made completely of surplus materials from the Walker Art Center.  There is no fee to take part in any of the Open Field activities.  During my Saturday visit, the participation seemed largely as an add-on to folks who were already visiting the sculpture garden or the Museum itself.  However, when considering the potential draw from the nearby Loring Park complex, the Open Field of the Art Center could very much become a regular social destination for folks.

The Sunwatch and Walker Art Center are two examples of how the third place concept is applicable to Museums.  Third places seem a logical direction for museums in an era of heightened demands for an engaged visitor experience.  Pragmatically, as museum staff sizes either stagnate or shrink, developing venues as third places where visitors become more active as institutional stakeholders is an important step.  In this capacity, the distinctions between volunteer, visitor, participant and stakeholder likely will develop more grey area.

What are your thoughts or experiences on Museums as Third Places?

Measuring Program Success

A couple of months ago I had a conversation with a colleague who questioned how can we measure the success of public outreach programs in archaeology.  Specifically, she asked “How do we know that one shot archaeology week/month events are meaningful to the participants the day after?  How can we tell if the events are successful?”

I have thought about her questions more of late.  How do we measure success?  At the C.H. Nash Museum, this question was particularly relevant as we completed our recent Museum Assessment Program sponsored by the American Association of Museums.

Here are some thoughts on measuring program success:

  • Our staff concluded that attendance numbers and revenue dollars should not be the primary measure of success.  It’s nice to see income come closer to offsetting our expenses but as a small nonprofit, we know that even doubling our attendance is not going to allow us to break even.
  • Rather, we are thinking of ways to measure how well our programs and outreach align with our Mission Statement.  The alignment is not readily measured in dollars and cents and attendance numbers.  We also expect that to the extent we demonstrate an aggressive alignment with our mission, donor giving will increase.
  • Educational and outreach opportunities are central to our Mission Statement.  Schemes of pre and post testing visitors knowledge might not be a good gauge of success – particularly for our adult visitors.  A recent article in the Boston Globe reported that the simple presentation of facts is not an effective means to change an individual’s perspective on an issue.  But the article revealed an interesting point – the testing involved presumed experts telling people their assumptions were in error.  The article did not discuss instances when individuals participated in a process of discovery about alternative explanations for a set of phenomena.  The process described in the article is like standing up in front of a town meeting and saying that the beloved founder was a real scoundrel.  An alternative and more engaged approach might be to provide the town folks copies of the beloved founder’s diaries, testimony from his/her spouse, etc. etc and let the citizens decide if he/she was a scoundrel – an engaged participatory approach.
  • Specific to the Archaeology Week/Month event, here is an example – in years past I gave Archaeology Month presentations in Belzoni, Mississippi, location of the prehistoric Poverty Point Culture’s Jaketown site.  The bulk of the site remains in private hands and is routinely collected by avocational archaeologists.  In my presentations, I talked about the distributional patterns of artifact types at other Poverty Point culture sites.  Attendees heads nodded in agreement about such patterns at Jaketown as well.  After the talk, several of the collectors would tell me about the patterns they noted.  We visited a bit, then I packed up my slides and drove the several hours back home to northeast Louisiana.  I went back the next year for Archaeology Month with the same general story, resulting in more nodding heads, and more talks and visiting after the presentation – but despite my suggestions, none of the collectors thought to actually record the location of their newly collected materials.  In hindsight, it’s probably the height of professional arrogance to think that a once a year preaching the Archaeology Gospel should result in everyone being saved.
  • This comes full circle back to the conversation with my colleague on how to measure success.  First, such changes likely are measurable only over extended periods of time.  Perhaps the point is that we really should not expect more from Archaeology Month/Week events than success as measured by attendance data.  Perhaps the real success is the extent that we use the Archaeology Day event as an opportunity to begin building a relationship with folks on an engaged and long-term basis where the less tangible measures can be made.
  • We seem to have a choice –  if we are expecting more substantive successes, then we likely will need to begin investing in more long-term strategies and commitments.  For example, at the C.H. Nash Museum, we have gone from 5-10 people showing up for our monthly Volunteer Day events to over 40 this past month.  We can talk about our short supply of staff and competing priorities, but building engaged relationships with these volunteers flows directly through our Mission Statement.  To do otherwise is counter to our mission.  The more sustained engagement today with the 40 is where we will develop the stakeholders who down the road will become advocates and participate in the Museum’s Mission.
  • So, in addition to attendance and revenue numbers, are good measures of success the number of volunteer hours over time, feedbacks in social media, number of letters written to elected officials on cultural resource preservation, and so forth?

How do you measure your success in public outreach?

Museum Engagement – Call for Papers

Something a bit different this week.  Below is a Call for Papers for a session I am organizing for the Society for Applied Anthropology at the Annual Meeting in the Spring of 2011.  Let me know if you have an interest in submitting a proposal for the session – or pass the call along to others.  I will appreciate any thoughts or suggestions on the general concept.

Call for Papers: Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Meeting Seattle, Washington (March 30 – April 2, 2011)

Session Title: Museum Engagement and Applied Anthropology

Session Organizer: Robert P. Connolly (University of Memphis)

The session is conceptually framed around The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon and the contribution that applied anthropologists bring to the discussion.  Simon (2010:ii-iii) defines a participatory institution as:

a place where visitors can create, share, and connect with each other around content. Create means that visitors contribute their own ideas, objects, and creative expression to the institution and to each other. Share means that people discuss, take home, remix, and redistribute both what they see and what they make during their visit. Connect means that visitors socialize with other people—staff and visitors—who share their particular interests. Around content means that visitors’ conversations and creations focus on the evidence, objects, and ideas most important to the institution in question.

The session aims to discuss participation in the building of sustained and engaged relationships and the methodological and theoretic contributions of applied anthropology to the process.
Relevant questions session papers may address include:

  • As cultural institutions how can museums demonstrate their value and relevance in the 21st Century?
  • Can museums serve as “third places” for social engagement?
  • What is the relevancy between shifting demographics and museum inclusivity in community engagement?
  • How do theoretic orientations, such as the constructivist approach and free-choice learning inform on the Participatory Museum.
  • How does the Participatory Museum influence the authority of voice in both content and function of cultural institutions?
  • What can applied anthropologists add to the discussion of Participatory Museums?
  • How can museums function as dynamic venues for sustained and engaged relationships with a diversity of communities.

Although papers are not required to remain within the parameters of Simon’s discourse, for reference, her book is available at:

http://www.participatorymuseum.org/


If you are interested in participating, please send a brief summary of your proposed contribution to Robert Connolly at rcnnolly@memphis.edu by September 1, or before.

The Networked Nonprofit

I previously posted about Beth Kanter’s blog and Allison Fine’s Social Good podcast.  Together, they just published The Networked Nonprofit, a volume that brings together the basics of their message on social media.

So, how is this relevant to Archaeology, Museums or Outreach?  A few thoughts.  First, archaeologists, somewhat begrudgingly in many instances, are coming to embrace the digital age.  A good bit of our internet presence is geared toward dissemination of information to other archaeologists.  For example, here in Tennessee, Kevin Smith maintains an excellent resource with the Tennessee Archaeology Network.  Of late, archeologists are starting to push info out to the public in a digital format.  For example, Panamerican Consultants recent Lamar Terrace webpage is an excellent resource written and designed with a general readership in mind.

Next, from  the Museum end, the digital presence is more firmly in place, largely due to the public orientation of the institutions.  Finally, the relevancy of the Outreach component to digital media is often perceived as a means for cheap product or event promotion and a resource to make money.  This perception is akin to my earlier post on the Myth of Volunteers as Free Labor.  Rather, as an outreach tool, social networking provides an opportunity to truly engage with audiences in new ways, build community, relationships, and carry a mission forward – all of which can produce increased revenues attendance, but it’s not free.  Oh . . . and all the above in combination – Archaeology, Museums & Outreach – pretty much operate in the nonprofit world.

So why is the Networked Nonprofit relevant?  In a short 200 pages (inclusive of notes, glossary, resources, and index) of highly accessible and well-illustrated discussion, Kanter and Fine lead readers through the process of conceptualizing an organization’s coming into the age of social networking.  From initially addressing the Luddite myths of this newfangled digital thing, such as “Our constituents aren’t on-line . . . Face-to-face isn’t important anymore . . . social media isn’t core to our work . . using social media is hard . . . and time-consuming (pp. 8-9)” the authors present a clear and concise discussion of social networking and building networked communities.  For example, in Chapter 5 – Listening, Engaging and Building Relationships – the authors walk the reader through the utility and process of becoming networked.  The last section of the book deals with the mechanics of functioning as a networked nonprofit.

The book contains lots of case studies and most chapters end with very useful reflection questions.  The 20 pages of end notes and resources is largely composed of on-line references.  The book is ideal for the beginner to social networking and also for those who have worked at this for a while in a piecemeal hit or miss fashion.  I consider myself in the latter camp and have simply decided that the potential of social networking is incredible and it’s time to really get serious about the process in a strategic long-term way.  The Networked Nonprofit is a tool to frame those discussions.

So, I come back to asking what has all this got to do with Archaeology, Museums and Outreach?  I am convinced that viewing our discipline’s institutions as networked nonprofits is important – and perhaps a considerably more than Kanter and Fine perceive as well.  True, their case studies tend to focus more on social issue organizations, charities, causes, and so forth.  However, the application to the nonprofit nature of Museums and the growth of public or applied archaeology/anthropology is quite relevant.  I suspect that other disciplines will use the The Networked Nonprofit as they build on-line networked communities and relationships.

You can review the first few chapters of The Networked Nonprofit online at amazon.com  – see if Kanter and Fine’s approach works for you.

Gaming & Museums

In early 2009, the Center for the Future of Museums hosted a webcast lecture by Jane McGonigal on Gaming and the Future of Museums.  The gist of the presentation was that given the amount of time folks, particularly the youth, invest in playing online games, how could museums tap into this trend to further their mission?

A load of archaeological sites host games of varying quality.  The Society for American Archaeology’s  Fun for all Ages lists some game pages.  Mr. Donn provides a whole suite of archaeological online games from the very simple to the reasonably complex  At Colonial Williamsburg the Dirt Detective is a very simple and straightforward educational attempt.

Perhaps more along the line that McGonigal advocates are several other games:

Wolf Quest is available in both Mac and PC formats and provides an action game environment with education on wolf ecology.  Players track scents, mate, and pretty much do just about everything a wolf does during its life cycle.  Although I am not an expert on wolf biology, the game appears authentic and does not rely on glitz to keep the player engaged.  I cannot imagine playing at this game for a bit and not coming away considerably more knowledgable about wolves – and it’s a free download.

The McCord Museum in Montreal provides historic era gaming options to online visitors.  McCord uses an increasingly popular option for museums in online gaming that allows the visitor to “tag” items on display to develop more reliable and robust keyword searches.  The McCord Museum games also include role-playing, observation, and quiz type games.  Overall, the McCord Museum offerings are quite engaging and provide a considerable information on the historic era Montreal and interacts with their broader on-line presence.  For example, the quiz game includes an image of an Iroquois headdress, ultimately connecting to the digital collections catalogue containing 40 odd other headdresses curated by the Museum.  Less complex than Wolf Quest, McCord-type offerings can be created through basic Dreamweaver programming skills.

Perhaps the most low-tech but ultimately the most community engaging gaming is the recently launched Interrobang a joint project of Nuvana, Microsoft, and the Smithsonian.  Interrobang is geared toward K-12 grades who choose real-time missions from those listed on the Interrobang site.  In collaboration with other team members, players develop a plan to achieve the mission.  The team then performs the mission, uploads documentation to the website and describes the experience.  Missions are regularly added to the Interrobang website and include Trash Reincarnated where players visit a recycling center and gather information on the recycle process from curbside bin to ultimate reuse.  In State of Song players create, perform, and video document songs to teach the names, capitals, and features of U.S. states.  Teams receive points for each completed mission along with badges and listing of team scores on the web page.  Interrobang gaming is aimed at problem solving.  The on-line presence is quite low-tech and manageable with a minimum of digital experience.  It’s not clear how successful Interrobang has been during its brief lifespan, however, the content seems completely in-line with McGonigal’s approach to on-line gaming and museums.

What is your experience with on-line gaming, archaeology, and museums?