Being online now: culture, creativity and community
Last week I had the honour of being invited to attend the 8th annual National Digital Forum conference, held at the national museum Te Papa in Wellington, New Zealand. The NDF is truly a “GLAM sector” body and its continued growth is testament to the importance that the digital world has across the whole cultural sector – not just in museums or libraries etc. It was a fantastically professional conference – buzzing with potential and people huddled in corners talking about how they could get their institution to be more digitally accessible. Awesome.
I was invited to give a short presentation as part of an opening day plenary session panel that was all about setting the scene with some diverse examples that fit the theme of the conference. This was my presentation:
Recalling that the audience was a GLAM audience – I made sure to make the point that Wikimedians are just beginning to “learn how to play well with others” and that we’re not pretending that we have all the answers. I find that the GLAM sector is (by and large) vaguely uneasy about the whole “Wikipedia thing” and that a recognition of fallibility on our behalf goes some way to making us look less scary (see also my previous posts “content liberation” and “making Wikipedia GLAM-friendly“).
The first Keynote presentation was from the savvy Daniel Incandela (@danielincandela) the Director of New Media, Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA). By complete chance I happened to be sitting next to Daniel on the flight over from Sydney and I recognised him by his tweet that I had seen just before I turned off my phone:
I read that and realised that I too was in a Qantas exit row – next to a guy with an American accent and a laptop that had a document with keywords like “digital” highlighted on it. Spooky eh?
Daniel’s beautifully laid-back presentation was an exploration of some of the myriad projects that the IMA has been undertaking to bridge the gap between digital culture and “real world” cultural interaction. Also, it emphasised the need for technology to be used to build connections and express a personality rather than being and end in itself.
One of the things I personally took away from this speech was the IMA’s “Dashboard“. This is a project of the IMA that enforces Organisational Transparency and is something that I challenge the Wikimedia Foundation to look at instituting itself. To quote their own website, the Dashboard is a visualisation project in “…an ongoing effort to measure various aspects of the Museum’s performance.”
The second Keynote was by the gregarious Jane Finnins (@Janefinnis, blog) from Culture24 in Britain – whom I had the pleasure of meeting not two weeks before when in London. Culture24 is a cultural heritage online service that provides, among other things, listings of cultural events geographically/thematically and also teachers’ resources. Her presentation discussed the way that the organisation has changed over the years to try to reach the rapidly changing needs of the digital society looking for a cultural fix! Unfortunately I can’t find the slides online (although, apparently the sessions were filmed) but it was very interesting to see the iterative process that Culture24 went through to design their website to be useful to their *actual* visitors rather than producing a one sized-fits-all template. Their ability to do all the re-design work and then realise that the internet had moved on in the meantime is something that the Wikimedia world is still grappling with – Wikimedia’s usability projects are just starting to take stock of where we have to go in order to catch up with the usability expectations of the non-tech savvy (but still internet enabled) public.
The final Keynote was delivered by the indefatigable Nina Simon (@ninaksimon) – she of the *can’t recommend it too highly* Museum 2.0 blog. The presentation itself was a list of home-truths about making projects work (like “align the project with the mission statement” and “chose the right tools for the job”) but she brought these messages home with such fantastic examples that really made them resonate.
Oh – and she ended her presentation with A.Giant.Gong.
Seriously, every conference should end like this. With a big Indonesian gong, suspended from the ceiling on stage. Nina asked everyone to get out two business cards of their own and write on no.1 something they need professionally. On card no.2 they would write something that they can offer professionally. People were then asked to circulate around the room and try to make a pair of cards match. If they did, come up on stage, and….
Thanks go especially to Courtney Johnston (@auchmill) for organising the show, Paul Reynolds (@littlehigh) for helping me get there, and of course Philipa Tocker from Museums Aotearoa for letting me stay.
The specific outcome of this conference is the creation of this Ning space to host conversations specific to the New Zealand digital culture sector:
I must admit, I’m no fan of Nings in general – they’re an unwieldy beast and symptomatic of a perceived need to “own the conversation” – but this one appears to have been taken up with surprising speed. Good luck to it and good luck to the NDF!