We returned to the Grant Museum of Zoology earlier this month to meet with Jack Ashby, Museum Manager and Claire Ross, PhD researcher, to discuss how the museum has used Qrator to engage with their audiences. The Grant Museum moved to a new building two and a half years ago and they wanted to incorporate visitors’ voices into the displays. As part of UCL, the Grant is often used as a test bed for different projects and researchers ideas, and Qrator was formed based on one of Claire’s ideas, that when visitors come to a museum they want to participate. They started off using QR Codes and Tales of Things in order to gather visitors’ voices, however, this was unsuccessful as visitors’ stories about natural history collections are not that interesting and aren’t really alternative voices. Qrator addressed the need to get visitors voices onto objects by posing questions about the displays and the function of the museum, rather than the objects themselves. Jack focused on the content side and came up with questions, whilst Claire researched the audience engagement and usability side of the project.
The team at the Grant decided to ask questions that would inspire answers that really informed the research done at the museum, in order to inform their own practice, but also to spark ideas from visitors that they may not have thought about otherwise. Each question has four levels of interpretation: a title; the question; a 60 word introduction that frames why they’re asking the question; and the visitors’ responses – how other visitors have answered the question. The original intention was to change the questions every two months and give feedback of what visitors thought and what the museum would do with the information shared. In practice, it was too hard to analyse the data and it was difficult to condense visitors’ responses- some engaged but didn’t come to a clear cut answer. Next time, the team indicated that they would not include sub-questions in the 60 word introductions, as some visitors were confused as to which question to answer. Another issue was that the headings are the only thing you see on screen when typing your response, so visitors often just responded to the headings, for example ‘Humans vs. Animals’.
The uptake has been very successful, with one in three visitors leaving a comment. There has been a high uptake of on-topic comments. Comments fall into three categories: those responding to the questions; general museum notebook comments; and visitor ‘noise’. All comments are posted live, with a small bit of post-moderation and there is a swear filter. It takes around 15 minutes a day to moderate the comments, which is done by the visitor services staff. One issue us that if you delete something from the system, it disappears completely and consequently there are no records of how many comments have been removed either by the swear filter or by visitor services during their moderation.
Visitors can also comment on Twitter, using QR codes in the museum and on the website. However, if you tweet it comes up on all the iPad’s, so they can’t collect the comments along with their relevant questions. Every week the museum tweets a couple of comments which is very successful, and gets a considerable amount of response. The use of the QR codes has been less successful, the presence of the iPad’s means that there is little reason for visitors to use their own devices. They have also found that it’s rare for users to contribute on the website.
Recently, we went over to the Imperial War Museum North to have a look at how they approach digital interaction in their galleries. In one example, visitors were faced with QR codes next to certain objects, upon scanning; they were invited to download an app which then allowed you to comment on the object, answering a specific question related to that object. This, in theory, we thought was a great idea. But if you don’t have a smartphone, or didn’t want to spend the time downloading an app or QR code reader, the barriers to access proved to be too great. For this reason, we feel Qrator is a great way for visitors to respond to our displays and questions in the museum- the iPad is ready to be used, so the barriers to access are minimal.
In order to remove barriers to access the Qrator team purposefully didn’t ask for visitors’ names as research has shown that this seriously decreases the number of visitors willing to participate- only 1 in 100 will access when faced with this barrier. As an added design feature, the team wanted to have threaded comments but this didn’t come about due to time restraints. However, Claire Ross did a similar project at the Imperial War Museum and found that visitors didn’t use threaded comments – people don’t mind responding to their friends but they don’t like doing it to other visitors.
Qrator was designed so that it wouldn’t detract from the displays if visitors didn’t want to use it. From visitor observations, they noticed that of those that do stop, some just want to read other visitors’ responses, and some want to comment. Those that comment spend around 2-3 minutes and mostly it is a social experience, with groups of people using them, pointing at objects and commenting. One interesting point is that one iPad is getting twice as many comments as the others; the team at the Grant aren’t sure if it is because of the location of the iPad or because it is a very engaging question.
When considering the technological aspect of the project, Jack and Claire spoke about the problems surrounding iPad’s, including the fact that they need to be updated every year- for this reason, a touch screen PC might be better option. This is something that we need to consider for our project, especially with regards to future-proofing and sustainability.
During the course of our discussion, we had a bit of a light bulb moment as to why our experiment using post-it’s in the galleries had been unsuccessful. Claire and Jack mentioned that they also use Qrator at the Museum of Brands, which, like the Grant Museum, doesn’t have much labelled interpretation and therefore makes the iPad’s stand out. Visitors need space to think about the questions brought up during the museum experience, so Qrator have deliberately placed the iPad’s where there’s not much other interpretation. We have found that we’ve had strong responses outside our galleries (where there is space to think), but not in the galleries (where there is a lot of other ‘noise’ with interpretation panels, objects and labels). This is something to consider throughout the our Play Your Part project.