Samir Patel, VP, Creative Delivery, Blue State Digital spoke at MuseumNext Geneva in April 2015 about telling epic stories of our day in museums. How can digital storytelling create deeper engagement between museums and their audiences.
Samir Patel: Thanks, Karl. My name’s Samir. I work for Blue State Digital. It’s interesting – I kind of changed around some of my slides last night, after seeing some of the other presentations, and you’re going to get an intentionally low tech, simple experience, and I’ll explain why throughout this presentation.
First of all, bit of housekeeping. This is our Twitter handle, @bsd. This is my email address – feel free to use both, if you have any questions about anything in here, now or after the fact, please do get in touch, and please Tweet @bsd anytime during this.
First, I want to tell you a story, of course. 2008, in the United States, the republican national convention – this was when John McCain was running against Obama, and this is something we heard at that convention.
Male Voice: We worked as a community organiser. He worked – I said … I said … Okay, okay, maybe this is the first problem on the resume. He worked as a community organiser.
Samir: So, during that convention, you had John McCain; you had Sarah Palin at that same convention – by the way, The Good Villain, if you’re into storytelling, Sarah Palin – you had both of them kind of mocking Obama’s experience. So, then came this email sent out by the Obama campaign, just a couple of hours, maybe an hour or two after those speeches, and it’s from the campaign advisor, David Plouffe, and basically what it says is, I wasn’t planning on sending a response, but [after what we just saw], I had to. Ordinary people have a role to play in our political process, and community organising is how ordinary people respond to out of touch politicians and their failed policies.
This email, this simple piece of black and white text, raised more money than any other email had done during that campaign, millions and millions of dollars. Basically, it also had to do with the narrative of this campaign, which basically was about a break from traditional candidates, and a focus on activism and community.
I’m going to come back to this a bit later, but it emphasised what I want to talk about today, which is not amazing, in museum technology and touchscreen displays, and [eye beacons] and wearables, and so forth. Instead, I’m going to talk about the power of digital from a different standpoint, and also the power of narrative.
It helps to know a little bit about Blue State Digital – we work with non-profits, advocacy groups and brands, lots of cultural institutions we work with. We did work with Obama – we were the digital … we did all the digital work for Obama, and ultimately, what we do is, we engage and we mobilise communities. So, even for the brands we work with, we’re not really selling products; we’re thinking about how to harness the shared passions of their fans and their communities, towards something greater.
Storytelling plays a big part of what we do. I think that museums can learn a lot from the advocacy approach of many other organisations. What we do know about storytelling, and what you’re going to hear – and you’re going to hear some similarities with the previous presentation, which was great, and I’m going to try to take it to some more specifics, and offer a framework for how you can put some of those really great principles that Christian laid out, into action.
So, we know that storytelling’s physical, and when you actually scan people’s brains when they’re watching stories, what it shows us is that they’re no longer spectators, as if they’re just looking at something, their brains show activity that they’re a participant in the action, that they’re actually involved in it.
So, we know that there’s the power of stories, and when you look around and research stories, and so forth … So, I have a filmmaking background – I did a master’s degree in film, also, and I did loads of research; my thesis was about convergence of digital and storytelling, and all these mediums and everything. I did a lot of research, and you’ll find there’re plenty of articles, as I’m sure all of you know, plenty of research out there, that talks about the power of storytelling, and how it applies to various industries; they’ll tell you about how your brand is a story, and they’ll tell you about the six elements of story, or seven, or whatever it may be. They’ll talk about story structure, [unintelligible 00:57:21] structure; they’ll mention experts like Sid Field, Robert McQuay, even Aristotle, Joseph Campbell.
Then, you’ll get definitions about what a story is, and you, working for a museum, might read this and think, oh, this is really interesting and fascinating, and so forth. This quote is actually from a publication called Public Relations Tactics – this isn’t from some expert of anything, so it just tells you everyone is talking about the story. And, to be honest, how helpful is that really, for you, at a museum? I think a lot of this talk about story is often just instinctual. What we’ve found from the museums we work with, is that you have really good people at your museum who know how to tell a story, and you have loads and loads of ideas. Museums are not lacking ideas. There’s no museum I’ve came into where we’ve suddenly brought ideas that they hadn’t been percolating, or some form of an idea, or something, that they’d been thinking about.
But, what a lot of the museums we work with are missing, is a way to tie their efforts together, and a way to engage audiences around stories, and also just knowing what stories to pursue, and how do we prioritise what we want to do? How do we tell our stories? What formats do we use? And, what channels and formats are best? We find that that’s really more of the issue.
This is where we come to digital. So, over time, what digital has done is, it’s evolved storytelling – it’s taken it away from the hands of just authors and publishers, and it’s brought it to everyone. So, obviously technology made it easier for anyone to create content, not just storytellers, and it also gave us platforms that let stories spread wide and far, and so forth, and it also has given us methods of engagement that dwarf everything that came before, so, unprecedented ways to immerse yourself in a story, and to offer interactive stories.
This is the digital side of storytelling, and it’s more than just technology. There’s a lot of tactics and so forth that come into play here. Ultimately, what’s important for storytelling, as we heard previously, is what do our audiences want? We need to ask ourselves this. Also, what do we want of our audience? Just as important. What do we want our audience to feel, to remember, to do? All of this is really important when figuring out how you want to create stories. A lot of what I’m going to talk about today is online, not in museum, but I’m going to cover a bit of both.
This is a site. It’s all about a shortage of doctors in the US. I just have screenshots here, and you can scroll through this – doctorsshortage.org, I believe. And, ultimately, this site creates some characters, it lays out an issue, it walks you through the story; it has different episodes as part of this narrative; it lets you know what the issue is. Basically, at the end of the day, this is a petition. This is just getting someone to sign a petition to help influence congress – it’s still very important, to pass laws and to help support healthcare. The story is what draws people into that issue, right? Now, of course, that’s fairly easy to do when it’s a simple issue and a simple cause, but I do think there’s a lot we can learn from this.
Here’s another one for WaterAid, To Be A Girl. There’s a big issue that WaterAid is dealing with all the time, which is that scarcity of water affects girls in the developing world much more than boys. So, this campaign basically is over now, [unintelligible 01:01:17] thank you, but it raised £2 million. The way it did that was, one, it offered a quiz, so when you came to the site, and promote it on social and so forth, it asked you some questions, and as you’re answering the questions, it gave you the equivalent answers from someone on the ground in Africa, to compare your life with them, and other countries, too.
It also told stories of real girls on the ground, gathered loads of stories, and heard from people. So, we got stories from the people who are most affected, and again, this is a way of drawing people into the story, letting people feel like they’re part of a larger narrative, making them part of the story, ultimately with a goal, which was to raise money. So, for even pound raised, if you could hit a certain target, the government was going to match it, so it was a really important campaign, and they definitely hit that.
So, at Blue State Digital, the way we think is, we want to move people up what we call a ladder of engagement. So, it’s a big focus on engagement, and stories, obviously, are a really strong way to engage. This really holds true for museums, too, so going back to actions, what do you want your audience to do? What are your objectives?
That comes down to, when we talked about what stories do you prioritise, and what channels do you use, well, you do have to think about what are you trying to do? Are you trying to tell stories to build awareness? Are you trying to tell stories to drive people to visit an exhibition, to gain members, to gain supporters?
So, this requires having intent, and so if you think about this, you have number of people across … the width shows more number of people, fewer number of people at the top, and that’s how it is, right? You’ll never have as many members as you have the general public, and it should be that way. And, you should know when your audience is in each of these different stages, and you should have ways of engaging them throughout, and you should have ways of measuring throughout.
So, in terms of people that are just maybe observing, who are only aware of your museum, how do you measure that? And then, what determines when someone has moved from observing into actually following you? This is a generic ladder – there’s all kinds of specific versions, like this could be something different. Then, how do you know when they’re visiting, and how do you measure that? What tactics do you use to move people from one stage to the next? And if someone just stays in one stage, which is find, how do you continually engage them over time?
So, at Blue State, we have thousands and thousands of tried and true tactics, metrics, technology, tools, to go through this, but conceptually, it’s a good way to think because it helps you organise what you need to tell stories for, and what goals you want to get out of it.
So, coming back to this simple email, what we’ve found is, many museums can’t do this. So, they have millions of dollars or pounds or euros invested in technology in their museum, like touchscreen displays and video walls, and so forth, but they can’t segment their audience and provide an email within a matter of hours.
This is digital, let’s be clear. If you can’t do this today, you’re not very digital. This is digital. Digital requires being responsive, requires an understanding of data, requires knowing your audience. So, it’s very important to think that way, because at the end of the day, great stories do compel people to change, or take action.
So, having a sense of that ladder of engagement is really important, because that tells you the types of actions you want to drive. Actions can be very simple – it can be as simple as someone sharing a piece of content, or they can be quite profound, in terms of someone completely changing their behaviour in the real world.
This is going to be one of the few museum conferences where you get two Lord of the Rings references in a row. So, Lord of the Rings gives us an example of many stories, as part of an overarching narrative, so we’re talking about actions, objectives, and so forth, and I want to talk about the power of narrative to tie all of this together.
So, Lord of the Rings, and other big film franchises and story franchises offer us an example of storytelling in terms of this framework. So, stories are introduced in a novel or a film; you have sequels; you have prequels. That’s broken down – oftentimes they’ll create an extension of the story into television, video games, novels, comics, and then they have online content, webisodes, games, and that can keep going down to Tweets, social posts, and so forth.
This is really the most epic stories, kind of along the left, real feature stories which form part of that narrative in the middle, and then your everyday stories along the side there. People can dip in and out of this type of narrative, right? So, if they want to, they can always go deeper into a story, but they may not. They can always immerse themselves in the worlds of a story, take time to really do that.
But, they don’t have to, and thinking back to that ladder of engagement, ultimately, ideally, this does lead somewhere, right? So, it doesn’t mean it can only lead from the epic side; it can lead from the everyday side, but ultimately, what do you want people to do as they’re engaging with your content? Do you want them to support you, to become a member, to volunteer, to tell their own story, to involve themselves in some way in your storytelling?
So, this is kind of a framework to think through, when you have all of these ideas of stories and so forth, it can help to think this way because it organises and it ties things back to an overarching narrative.
Now, it we think back to Lord of the Rings, it offers a giant narrative world that encompasses all of this, and that is important, because some of the things we’ve heard about previously, like theme, it starts to put some parameters around your storytelling. So, theme gives you a spine that ties everything together, so a theme could be Art Can Change the World, or Without Action, Climate Change will Harm the Planet – whatever it may be – there’s a core theme which often … That may be tied to the mission of your museum, may be tied to certain exhibitions you’re putting on.
Think about genre in films – we saw a clip from City Slickers, a western – a western’s going to have a shootout, it’s going to have a train, it’s going to have a saloon and so forth. It offers inherent rules to a story that people automatically are going to go along with. It also helps shape characters.
For a museum, this is true also. You can create fictional characters. Natural History Museum in London, there are dinosaurs called Dippy, Tweets. You might have experts or curators to show things behind the scenes – they can be your characters, also. They can be fiction; they can be non-fiction, but determine who’s going to be part of telling your story. And of course, your subjects themselves, artists themselves, and so forth, are characters in your story.
This is a quick example – this is something we’ve done with Google, about a free and open web. So, campaigning to make sure, based on a couple of years ago, some legislation that was being talked about in the US, to keep the internet free and open, and not under certain types of government controls – over 3 million people signed this, and they’re still signing up.
One of the reasons is, Vince Cerf, who is one of the founders of the internet, we got him to do a video that basically explains the internet, and we made Vince Cerf a character, himself.
Vince: Hi, I’m Vince Cerf. I am a father of three children, David and Bennett, and, well, the internet. Like any good father, I’m going to bend your ear with a story about my kid. When the internet was in its infancy, it was small and easy to deal with. It was a US Defence Department project managed by Bob [Kahn] and me.
Samir: So, I’m not going to walk through the whole thing, but basically, we used him as a character, and we found a way to tell the story of the internet in a matter of minutes. You should check it out. Google Vince Cerf, father of the internet.
So, these epic stories and these big narratives, they stand the test of time. They’re the biggest stories out there. They add a greater understanding to individual stories, and they’re driven by a theme.
We work with this framework with many types of clients, but museums are inherently suited for this framework, because museum exhibitions represent many of the epic stories of our past, present, and future, in and of themselves, so these are almost built in to the way museums think.
Then there’s these feature stories, big showpiece story. They’re angles on an epic, and they’re narrative strands that make up … that are part of your epic story, and then you have these everyday stories, which are more fleeting, they’re easily digestible; they’re entry points into those features, and the concept of entry points is really important, because that’s the power of the internet, that’s the power of online – you can have entry points all over the place, suited for different audiences, that bring people into your content and into your world.
Everyday is truly everyday, so phone reporting. It amazes me that museums don’t do more of this, don’t just … There’s incredible things happening at the museum all the time behind the scenes – shoot 30 seconds on your iPhone and get it uploaded onto your Facebook page. People love behind the scenes. Every museum we go to, they always wonder what’s happening behind the scenes.
And, important to have calls to action, or links to more, so you can always dive deeper, if you want. This is an example I love to use. This is a Vine video by GE, called Six Second Science, so it’s just showing a reaction, and I forget what it is, the reaction of something being put into [the milk]. This little Vine video has been viewed over 2 million times, been liked over 300,000 times, and if you want a good example of who’s doing interesting storytelling online, have a look at what GE does. It’s pretty fascinating.
NPR, famous radio in the US, they have a news channel; they have a fact of the day they’re doing on Snapchat – you watch it for ten seconds, it disappears, but it’s bringing them into a new audience that doesn’t normally listen to NPR.
So, if we think about this framework, and we’re just touching upon it today, given time – of course there’s a lot more detail here, but let’s take a science museum example. So, their narrative world, they may be doing something about life underwater – let’s say that’s an exhibition that they’re doing. So, there are characters of scientists, there are actual animals underwater, there are fishermen, communities that live along the coast, and the theme is very much around sustainability.
Their epic story, what can life under water teach us about life on land, and maybe that is the story of an exhibition, not saying an epic has to equal an exhibition. Then, they may have a few kind of angles on that story. This can even be in a museum, in exhibitions, these can be sections of a physical exhibition, these can be stories online that you want to tell, but pretty robust stories that are stories and features in and of themselves, and then they have everyday ways of getting people engaged with the story, and again, you can just grab a glimpse of this as an everyday story, or you could go deeper and deeper and deeper.
Then, factoring in your audiences adds another layer. So, some audiences – you’ve got to figure out which ones are most relevant for which stories you’re telling, and that helps you define the appropriate channel, so as the NPR example, Snapchat’s bringing in a whole new audience that wouldn’t normally listen to them.
For those of you familiar with agile methodologies, which also uses the term epics, that’s also a way to think about how you create content within your museum, and thinking about epics, and tying things into work streams, and going through them really quickly.
So again, there’s no magic definition of what an epic is. It’s simply a way of grouping your efforts, and then breaking it down and tying them together. So, it means that you operate more like a newsroom or a TV writer’s room, having more of a film background – everything on this picture right here has a purpose. Every colour means something, every character means something. It’s how people construct stories, people who deal with narrative all the time, and what can we learn from that as a museum, how can we bring some of those principles into how we approach and tackle content?
Now, it’s not just about creating content – it’s about testing and optimising, so you have to factor in your audience, knowing what you know about your audience, and your business objectives, thinking of that ladder of engagement, and what you’re trying to achieve.
So, again, digital means data; it means measurement, testing, learning, optimising, and I’m sure many of you will understand this inherently – it’s about investment versus flexibility, so ideally, we’re in the lower left here. What I almost always see is you’re in the upper right. So, how do you make sure that even when you do invest in technology, it’s something that’s easy to adapt and easy to change? We put so much effort into creating exhibitions, and then the exhibition launches, and that’s it, but how do we keep engaging during that, and can you change, both physically and online, can you change direction during an exhibition?
Physically, can you move things around, if traffic isn’t happening the way you think? Can you provide a new video halfway through on a touchscreen, rather than always showing the same one? And, can you give people reasons to return? The humble audio guide that most museums have, or used to have, and now we’re moving more to apps and so forth, could be really powerful if it wasn’t one size fits all, right? If you offered many different choices for audio guides, if you offered a music guide, if you offered one for children, if you offered the comedian’s tour of your museum and a scientific tour, and the artist’s tour, and so forth, you’re giving people a reason to come back. Ideally, in a way, it’s easy to evolve.
So, to sum up, when we worked with the Natural History Museum, and apologies to my friends out there from NHM, this wasn’t what engaged us. This is a big, sort of, video touchscreen. Well, it’s been there for years, hard to change, quite fixed, and so forth. This is what engaged us. This is Ollie. He’s been in the museum for over 40 years, and helps look after their specimens and collections. So, this is down in the basement – amazing stories down here. They have Charles Darwin’s notebooks, and one of a kind … They have a collection of 80 million objects, one of a kind things down here, and the stories from down here are incredible.
That’s what people want to know about. People just want to see – you saw the Vine video – give me a six second video of whatever Ollie is looking at today. That doesn’t require fancy, expensive technology, but it does require a sense of narrative; it does require knowing where to put your stories, and where to invest your time when you’re telling stories. I think we all know, it’s the epic stories of our time can inspire the next generation, and that’s what this is about. Again, this is my email address – feel free to contact me with any questions. Thank you.
Presenter: Thank you very much, Samir. So, I’m sure that in every museum there’s a lot of stories still hidden, and like treasures, can be raised, but I hope you have some questions now, also after this great presentation. Really? Ah, one question.
Male Voice: Thanks for all the presentations. [Unintelligible 01:18:00]. Samir, could you touch a bit more on adding a layer by the audience, because it was an interesting thought, also, because a lot of the talks earlier have been about the museum as a framework and as a platform, but could you state examples or thoughts on that?
Samir Patel: Yes, so the layer of the audience is very much about … It’s not being one size fits all, and you do have two approaches. You can hone in on one audience, or you can create content for multiple audiences. But, I think you have to factor in that you are … for a museum like the Natural History Museum, huge family audience, but what people don’t realise is, actually, there’s a huge adult contemporary audience going there as well, because it’s in London, because it’s a tourist attraction, and so forth. So, when you create content, you do, and should, factor that in.
So, that idea of everyday stories, and even this idea of epics and features, there may be some that are applicable for some audiences, versus others. If your overall narrative is to engage people on a theme, there’s many entry points into that. So, could you be doing something for a younger audience in a way that’s more applicable to them, while also having things like late night events, and tapping into partnerships with certain contemporary arts organisations, to attract the older audience? So, there’s a layer of audience in everything where, when you identify all your stories, there’s almost a colour coding to each of them, so what audience is most applicable to this kind of story, and that should again tie back to your objectives – well, if we want to grow a certain audience, then we’re going to have to reach out to them.
People and organisations today, you need to go where your audiences are – you can’t expect them to come to you. There’s too much things competing for people’s attention, and that means – again, the NPR example, go to channels that people are already using, and that doesn’t have to take a lot of time and investment.
Female Voice: Thank you very much for that. It was very interesting. This may be a badly formulated question, so bear with me. I’m curious as to your experience with, maybe, something that could be called disruptive stories. I’ve been thinking a lot about inequality, and how digital hasn’t really solved that problem, solved the problem, perhaps, of participation, but it hasn’t really solved the … People participate more in the same patterns as they participate outside of digital, and I wonder whether part of it is whether the storytelling paradigm just keeps perpetuating the same values, or the same idea of one character going up the system, has agency, plot, conflict, and [unintelligible 01:21:01], and whether we need different stories, in a way, that give us an imagination for how to deal with bigger metanarratives.
I don’t know if I’m making myself clear, but when I think of the networks of challenge associated with things that museums deal with, like climate change and poverty, and inequality, and security, and all those things, it just seems like our storytelling structure doesn’t work with that anymore, it doesn’t help us to figure out what we do as individuals through all that content. In a way, I guess I’m sort of thinking, museums have all this content, and we have all this stuff happening, and stories are a really powerful tool, and do we have any ways of maybe changing that format, or finding an equally compelling way to help us deal with it?
Samir Patel: Yes, so at some point, when I was talking about the idea of having actions, and what do you want people to do, a lot of storytelling is a bit of broadcasting, so you’re giving a message out. The next four minutes now, and it ties back in terms of [unintelligible 01:22:08] her roots in politics and activism, is getting people involved.
So, how much do we think about, once someone leaves the museum, what is the experience that carries forth, and what do we want them to do? So, for Natural History Museum, how do we involve people in nature, and how do we get people to think about protecting nature, and so forth? So, at some point, there’s an element of almost grassroots activism, and involving people, and often in a physical way.
So, that can be things like events, but that can even be … NHM has this great app called Leaf Snap, which I think they intended it for maybe a bit more of a niche audience, but actually, the power of that, it’s quite interesting – you can go out anywhere you are in nature and take a picture of a leaf, of a tree, and it’ll identify what it is. There’s so much potential to do things like that, that bring your principles and what you believe in out into the everyday world, and maybe spark an interest that wouldn’t otherwise be there.
Then, yes, there’s a whole … I won’t even get into how we organise for grassroots involvement, but that’s politics, and that’s charities, and those are these campaigns, and that does come down to having a clear sense of what you want to achieve.
So, museums – I remember Jake from the local project saying this yesterday – museums are inherently conservative, and they’re afraid to take a stand, and I think that’s wrong, frankly, and I think it doesn’t have to be a controversial stand, but museums are the holders of a lot of our culture today, and if they don’t do something with that and engage people, they will lose people along the way, because people are interested in learning more, and so I do think it’s important – they have to have a sense of what they want people to do, and that should tie back to an overall mission. Without that, yes, you are just creating stories and content with no real purpose.
Presenter: Any more questions? Yes, over there.
Lucimara: Hi, Lucimara Letelier from British Council Brazil. I was just wondering, when you were talking about storytelling, the NGO in the non-profit sector, it’s very effective for individual giving fundraising – you gave some examples, and most of the programmes for fundraising for museums, for individuals, are based on subscriptions, membership, and major donors, and I was wondering if you have seen an example that actually would go for storytelling in community engagement, community outreach? There are wonderful stories out there, education programmes – aren’t they being used for individual [give] engagement in museums for fundraising? What is your word on this?
Samir Patel: So, I’m sure people have examples, but I’m going to be really harsh and say no. Those stories do exist, and I think it tends to be quite a niche thing, so you can go to a museum’s membership page, and you can see pictures of things they’re doing out in the community, but that story is not being told, and people aren’t being engaged with that, and that does come back to the previous question, the core mission of the museum, and how you want to involve people in that. That should be an overall, overarching narrative, that everything you do is tied into.
So, I think the reason why NGOs and stuff are much better at it is, a lot of it tends to be, kind of, crisis moments, and a lot of it tends to be, if we don’t raise money by this date … and you can appeal to people’s base emotions, but that doesn’t mean that museums couldn’t do something similar, but in a way that works for museums.
I mean, the future of our planet, it’s a pretty big issue, and again, it comes down to, do museums want to take a stand about this, and do they want to engage people around this? And, do they want to tie their mission, or certain values, to their membership offering, for example? A membership offering right now is tied to, you’ll get discounts on your admissions, but does it unlock something else? Does it tap into this bigger conversation? I’m sure other people might have examples, but I don’t.
Presenter: Any more questions? I have one question, which is not specifically museums, but as you mentioned, the Obama campaign, which in my impression, influenced enormously the way we go on in engagement of people, in the way we try to get money, that also got into the museums. Do you expect that we will have another kind of revolution with this campaign now, with the election coming up?
Samir Patel: I mean, not so much in this election coming up, but I think what won’t surprise me is, one day, and it’ll probably be in California, some young person will run for politics and will crowdsource their campaign, and they’ll basically say, ‘Everyone that votes for me, we’re going to vote by committee, and I promise that every issue that I go for as part of government, I’ll put out to the power of this crowd, and we’ll vote on it, and that will be what happens’. So, I think the power of crowds is becoming really, really interesting and important. The power of data – although, to be honest, we’re already there – we work with the Labour Party in the UK, and I’m sure we’ll do work in the US soon, but that’s already quite sophisticated, in terms of what we do.
So, I think it’s going to be, now that you can track things at such a minute level, and segment things, [unintelligible 01:27:41] like how do you harness the power of these crowds? I think devolving the power out to the people, I think is going to be an interesting thing that we see happen over the next, kind of … a bit longer term, but it’ll happen.
Presenter: Well, thank you again to all three of this panel. I think it was a very … Oh, one more question, okay.
Male Voice: I’m just curious about the relationship between the power of crowds and this notion that was brought up at the beginning of not trying to serve everybody, but to serve the kind of core, the big idea, if either of you have response to that. Is it a balancing act? Is it impossible? Does it matter how big or how small you are? I’m sure there was an answer [in every way], but I respond to this idea, this future where the guy solves everything by committee, but I feel like we’ve gone through a lot of human history with not so great results, with examples of that. So, what is either of your reactions to that?
Christian: Well, in terms of the power of crowds, we’re seeing, just from a museum example – I won’t jump into the political piece of it, because that’s not really my business, but I think the epic themes, the idea – these are evergreen ideas. I mean, nature, and how we’re trying to understand our world, are things that we’ve always been struggling with, and I think we just have to find, tap into a new narrative to engage people.
I think there’s lots of space for that to happen in a crowd, and get the conversation going. We’re seeing it on a lot of projects that we’re working on, in terms of, for example, music – we work with a lot of musicians, whether it’s Les Paul or Ozzy Osbourne, we work with a lot of different … a wide range. So, music’s inherently changing – that’s part of the conversation. We’re using crowds in that way to talk about it, but the music itself is very powerful, because it’s still social. It’s still reflecting what’s going on with big issues. So, I think there’s a way to do … But we’re going to see continuing to balance it, because I don’t think it’s one or the other.
Samir Patel: Yes, and I think, if you as a member of the public want to tap into the power of crowds in a completely open way, you have a great way to do that. It’s called the internet, and we go to museums because it is curated, and I think that’s important, and I think that in anything, whatever we … So, we’re a design company – anything we design, whether that’s a digital service, a website, or a campaign, or anything, we think about engagement, and I think, in order to engage, you have to know your audience.
And, I do think museums have to know their audience – I don’t think there’s one right or wrong way, but you do have to know who you want to talk to, and what you want to get out of them, and also, what they want out of you. And, if you want to open up to a large audience that’s untapped, you have the power to do that, but storytelling is curation, right? Again, that whole idea of broadcast – if you’re going to tell stories, you do have, and you should have something to offer, and that is ideally what people want.
Male Voice: I would like to add something. I think one thing that we have to be aware of is that museums are very trusted organisations. We’re more trusted than universities, and I guess that’s because we have the real stuff, and we know a lot about the real stuff, but it’s also something that’s very fragile. So, I would not be in favour of taking a stand as a museum, because history tells us that we’re usually wrong when we take a stand. But, I would be in favour of being engaged.
So, I think what we can do in museums is offer a lot of leads to stories, and engaging people. It’s one of the reasons why we chose to steer people towards Nature is Awesome, because it will give them enough leads to make up their own minds, if they want to preserve nature or not, or if they want to donate to an organisation. I think that is, for a museum, that’s better than taking a stand and saying, okay, it’s people that destroy this planet, and we really have to stand up against it. That’s other organisations that do that, although I may think about it like that myself, it’s not the museum’s role. It’s giving all these leads to all these stories, and let people make up their own minds.
Presenter : Well, once again, thank you very much, all three of you. I think it was a very great afternoon, and I think, really, yes, another applause.
Samir Patel, VP, Creative Delivery, Blue State Digital spoke at MuseumNext Geneva in April 2015 about telling epic stories of our day in museums. How can digital storytelling create deeper engagement between museums and their audiences.