For the last 6 months I’ve been working with Alan Hook on a project called ‘This is Our Playground’, a couple of weeks ago we held a Hack Day at the Ulster Museum as part of this project.
What & Why?
This is Our Playground is a project that was developed in response to the very traditional museum sector in Northern Ireland. To put the sector into context, no museum in Northern Ireland has a blog, relative to England few museums utilise social media platforms, no museums have or our in the process of developing an app. No museums use 3rd party apps such as foursquare or Scvngr to engage with visitors. To date a key regional digital development fund CIIF (Creative Industries Innovation Fund) has received no applications from museums, or developers working with museums.
Yet despite the lack of digital innovation, Northern Ireland has some brilliant, indeed award winning museums. Whilst on the one hand my research looks at why digital uptake and innovation is so low, I was also keen for my research to challenge traditional museum practice.
Developing a Hack Day
Keen to develop new interactive experiences within a very traditional museum sector, we decided to train the next generation of museum professionals and interactive designers to produce site specific experiences. Interactive Media Arts BA (hons) students and Museum Studies MA students attended a number of lectures and workshops on creating interactive experiences for museum visitors. Building on the classroom based teaching students then took part in a 12 hour hack day at the Ulster Museum.
The interactive experiences developed by students question the notion of play in the museum, and recontextualise the collections and gallery spaces to create new modes for the public to investigate and interrogate the spaces of the museum and develop new dialogues with the exhibits. You can see what they came up with here>>
A unique feature of this project is the limited involvement of the museum, whilst aware that the hack day was taking place the museum was not directly involved in the planning or running of the event, instead students observed the normal museums rules and regulations, and in many ways looked and behaved like traditional visitors.
The aim of this project is to work outside the traditionally slow, often bureaucratic management structure of museums as a means to explore how time constrained working can facilitate innovation within museums.
For myself and Alan the Hack Day was as much about refining the format as it was the actual hacks produced by students.
Following the hack day we have taken the students outcomes to a number of strategic bodies and are looking at ways to roll out this format to museum professionals with a view to developing digitally engaged museum practice in Northern Ireland.
This project was about doing stuff, rather than sitting in meetings. Now we have developed our own examples we can move conversations with museums and strategic bodies forward.
The benefit of making first, asking permission after has on this occasion proved fruitful and we are really excited that we can now begin to develop work in partnership with museums.
What we have learnt so far
Sometimes we spend so long talking about making, that the process of making itself gets overlooked. This project puts the process of making first.
Having context specific examples opens doors for future work. Using museums in Northern Ireland to demonstrate how museums in Northern Ireland could use digital technologies to engage with visitors makes a really convincing argument. All to often I had been using international examples, and local museums simply couldn’t relate.
It seems that some photos of students pitching their ideas is a good way to end this post,
All of their ideas our CC by attribution so if you would like to develop them get in touch with me, I know they would love to hear from you.