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In conversation with Gillian Raymond

We’re delighted that Gillian Raymond the Digital Manager at the National Portrait Gallery will be speaking at MuseumNext Australia 2018 in March. We caught up with her to find out more about her work and what she’ll be speaking about in Brisbane.

What’s your role at the National Portrait Gallery?
I’m the Digital Manager, which in a small institution (by national cultural institution standards; just 49 staff) means I have a hand in most things digital; strategy, content development, social media, app development, exhibition displays and other duties as required! My co-presenter, Alana, is our wonderful Digital Learning Coordinator who manages our virtual excursions program, digital learning resources, accessibility programs and has worked closely with me on the development of Headhunt!

National Portrait Gallery

You’re speaking at MuseumNext about a project called Headhunt, can you tell us about it?
Headhunt! arose out of Australian Research Council grant in partnership with several other cultural institutions and the University of Canberra back in 2012. It had the worthy, albeit somewhat vague, aim of creating some kind of mobile locative tool to enhance children’s engagement during a visit to cultural institutions. At the end of the grant period we had a lot of great research, but still no concrete form for the tool. Simultaneous, the Portrait Gallery had a very practical problem we needed to solve; as we are frequently at capacity for our facilitated school groups, how do we manage (dare I say control?) the hundreds of unbooked school groups who visit the Gallery each year? And how do we ensure they have the same quality of interaction that the facilitated groups receive? Our partnership with our mobile application developers, Stripy Sock, gave us the technical confidence to aim for the holy grail of creating an engaging locative group mobile experience within the Gallery.

What are the challenges of producing something like this?
In a nutshell; time, money, infrastructure, technology and internal marketing; not necessarily in that order. Probably the biggest challenge was the complex tech build; the magic of the application relies on a complicated combination of wifi, iBeacons and iOS native image recognition to draw information about the portraits on display from a database that is updated in real-time. Another major feature is that several groups of children are able to ‘tap on’ and connect their device with that of their carer/teacher so they can independently direct their experience through the Gallery, whilst still sharing their location and progress with their supervisor, who is then more confidently able to direct the discussion at the end. Hordes of independently roaming children was also a bit of a culture shock for our security staff!

If you were to do it again, what do you think you’d do differently?
We’d probably try and have the absolute final working version of the application (is there actually such a thing?) completely finished prior to presenting it at a national conference (I’m only half-kidding…). We learned a lot of lessons from this project, but that is probably the most interesting part of our presentation, so you’ll have to join us in Brisbane to hear all about it!

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