Example: tailoring digital content to users

I really liked this from The Drum – after signing up (free of charge) to get to their website content, I was given three options of what they can do for me:

The design is clean, with clear calls to action.

It’s a simple concept, easy for a user to do and feel like it’s something that benefits them – information tailored to what they are most interested in.

And of course for the organisation an opportunity to flag some of their products and services and get a useful layer of user insight about each of their preferences.

The Drum is a global media platform and the biggest marketing website in Europe so you’d expect them to get it right. But this approach could easily be scaled up and down and be transferred to cultural organisations’ websites and e-newsletters to establish what their users and audiences are most interested in e.g. visiting, buying a ticket, finding out about events, doing some research, being inspired and then curating relevant content to them as a result. No doubt some of the bigger cultural organisations already do this for e-newsletter sign-ups, but I’ve not seen it frequently and certainly not on their websites. Would love to see examples if anyone has any case studies?

End of week testimonial

On Wednesday I delivered the findings of a substantial piece of audience consultation on behalf of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library in Norwich. The project team and trustees were so receptive to the findings – they listened, they got it, they’re excited about the possibilities and ready for the challenge.

It was so encouraging to see, as audience development and consultation is new to the organisation. It was a meaningful project and one I feel privileged to have contributed to. I was delighted to receive this note from the client today:

“Congratulations and a huge thank you from of all of the Governors and staff for a very thorough, well planned and executed piece of work.  It will not only inform and underpin the immediate project but, most importantly, the development of the offer as the Library moves forward. […] Thank you once again for all of your work and skill in bringing together such a helpful piece of work.”

Richard Hill, project manager, The 2nd Air Division Memorial Library

About the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library

The Memorial Library is a really special and unique place. It was set up to honour the nearly 7,000 Americans in the Second Air Division who lost their lives during the Second World War in bombing campaigns against Nazi Germany from their Norfolk and Suffolk bases.

It is intended to be a living memorial, to not only be a tribute to those Americans who were killed, but also to act as an educational and friendship bridge between the UK and USA.

Audience consultation project for the Memorial Library

However the organisation recognised the need to increase and broaden its visitor base. I was commissioned to undertake a programme of front-end user, non-user and stakeholder consultation to help the Trust to understand:

  • the Library’s current user profile
  • barriers to engagement from non-users
  • what both sets of audiences would like to see from a redeveloped Memorial Library.

The work involved a feedback station in the Library, a series of focus groups, telephone interviews with stakeholders, an online survey, face-to-face interviews with users of the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library (the Memorial Library is housed within it) and two public consultation events.

Tips on running staff reflection workshops

One of my pet bug-bears is project evaluation for the sake of it, as a tickbox exercise.

Done well, there’s so much value that can be mined at the end of projects. And yet I see some organisations just evaluating on the basis of funders’ requirements, with no thought to how they can genuinely learn from the experience in a practical way going forward.

Rather than just focussing on ‘what we’ve done’, I champion an approach that identifies lessons learned and implications for future projects. I want to ensure that good practice is recognised and embedded in organisations, and we avoid duplicating mistakes.

Benefits of a staff reflection workshop:

A staff reflection workshop can be a really useful way of capturing transferable lessons. Done well it can:

  • Be a safe space and valued opportunity for participants to have their voices heard
  • Help to deepen understanding, collaborative working and relationships amongst the participants
  • Enable team members to bounce ideas off each other
  • Uncover a wealth of insights and ideas
  • Be the basis for a best practice guide for future projects
  • Give participants a sense of buy-in and ownership of the best practice guidance
  • Be a method to help team members reach consensus
  • Act as a type of closure on a project for participants
  • Be fun and engaging!

But a session needs careful preparation and facilitation so that it remains constructive and productive and doesn’t degenerate into a whinge-fest, go off tangent for a long period of time or is dominated by a minority.

I have organised and facilitated reflection workshops for a range of different organisations, where participants have comprised members of different internal departments, teams and different organisations.

Here are my top tips for running a constructive team reflection session:

1. Have a clear purpose and scope

Be clear on the purpose of the session and what outputs and outcomes you want. Communicate this to all participants to ensure everyone takes part from the same starting point and to manage expectations. Everyone should know what the session seeks to do, what it’s not going to cover and what their role will be.

2. Participants

Encourage all the key project contributors to take part so that the session reflects a broad range of perspectives. People are busy and booked up, so plan ahead and explain the value in the session and how the outcomes will be used.

Be mindful of any hierarchy in your organisation or clashing personalities that may limit someone’s ability or confidence in speaking and sharing their thoughts. Seating arrangements could help with this, as could the choice and ordering of exercises (e.g. start with something that involves smaller group discussions and/or writing ideas on cards or Post-It Notes.

3. Structure

The structure will depend on many factors including the session purpose and length, and the number of participants. Aim for a balance so that you have time to cover the key ground but still allow enough flexibility and slack for discussions and contributions that are relevant but perhaps not expected.

People are more likely to speak up once they’ve already spoken, but for some people the first time can be difficult. So see if you can start with a simple round-the-table introduction or ice-breaker that’s appropriate for your group. For example:

  • everyone introduces themselves if they don’t already know everyone in the room
  • ask a short question about the project like ‘What was your role in the project?’ or ‘What is your favourite memory of the project?’
  • or ask something unrelated to the project (as long as it’s something everyone can answer).

A ‘car park’ is a good idea to set up. It captures any points participants raise that aren’t directly relevant to the discussions at that point in time and therefore risk being a tangent. You want to ensure that the discussion remains focussed, but you don’t want to lose the point raised or the motivation of the person who raised it. You can therefore suggest it’s added to a sheet called ‘car park’ where you ‘park’ ideas that you can come back to later on. Then make sure you do return to those ideas later on…

4. Tone

Set the tone of the session. Make it clear that it’s not about apportioning blame or pointing the finger at anyone. It’s not about dwelling on mistakes and issues, but rather identifying how the team can learn constructively from the project and bring this forward in the future. It’s also a useful environment for sharing perspectives, findings and ideas as not everyone experiences a project in the same way.

5. Logistics

Space and timing are important. If a project has been particularly difficult or political, a new and neutral venue can be useful. 2-3 hours is a good amount of time (with a comfort break) and if you need more time, a lunchbreak which allows people to get some fresh air and move around a bit can help provide a boost if attention and energy is flagging. Drinks and snacks are always appreciated!

How seating is arranged will depend on numbers, room size and the structure of the session. Sitting in a U-shape, boardroom style or smaller cabaret-style tables tends to be more conducive to working co-operatively compared to theatre or classroom style.

6. Timing

If a session is done immediately after an event or straight after a big project deadline, it can be harder for participants to think about the bigger picture as they are still so entrenched in the nitty gritty of the project. But if you leave it too long (several months), you may find that some participants can’t recall the detail and some may already have moved on (both mentally and in their roles) – so find a balance between the two.

7. Ground rules

Agree a set of ground rules before you start, for example:

  • Respect each other’s points of view
  • One person to speak at a time
  • There are no right or wrong answers, you are looking for people’s perspectives
  • Having a ‘car park’.

8. Format and exercise ideas

The format of the session needs to be tailored to the session’s purpose. I tend to base sessions around the Institute of Cultural Affairs’ Focussed Conversation Method and Consensus Workshop Method.

For staff reflection workshops I’ve drilled it down into 3 ‘whats’:

  • Identifying WHAT happened in a project
  • Agreeing the implications of this – the SO WHAT
  • Then coming up with answers to WHAT NEXT? How can we apply these findings and implications in future?

For example, participants identify strengths and challenges of a project, then come up with what this means – what are the implications of these points and how can participants build on the strengths and mitigate against the challenges happening again in the future? I often start participants in smaller groups and end with a discussion as a whole group.

Space permitting, I love using a ‘Sticky Wall’ because:

  • it captures everyone’s ideas visibly on the wall so you can get the whole picture as the discussions play out
  • you can move cards around and group them once they are up
  • participants can put up cards with their ideas themselves, which gets them moving and people find fun!
A ‘Sticky Wall’ in action

9. Facilitation

An impartial and experienced facilitator will develop the workshop itself, act as an unbiased guide, pace the session appropriately and navigate any issues. Participants will also know they don’t have any biases or agenda. Get in touch if you’re interested in finding out more or would like to discuss a staff reflection project.

However if your budget doesn’t stretch to professional facilitation then make sure you agree on the structure, ground rules and timings. Appoint someone to act as a facilitator, perhaps someone from another department or partner organisation who doesn’t have such a vested interest in the session.

I’d love to hear other tips for similar sessions – what works for you?

If you’re interested in finding out more about the facilitation tools I mentioned, I highly recommend the Institute of Cultural Affairs’ Group Facilitation Methods course as a starter. They have rates for charities and freelancers and you can buy a Sticky Wall from them too.

My takeaways from the SHARE Museums East conference

Last week I went to SHARE Museums East’s annual conference held at the stunning Firstsite gallery in Colchester, aimed at people working in and with museums in the East of England. The theme was ‘Embrace, Empower, Employ’.

I was there as a delegate and also as a representative of the Museum Freelance Network, presenting a break-out session on Working with Freelancers aimed at museums’ representatives and hosting a Museum Freelance stand with fellow consultant Claire Adler in the breaks. It’s great that SHARE recognises the importance of freelancers and consultants to our sector and provided a platform for us to develop relationships between the network and museums in the region.

As ever with cultural sector conferences, delegates’ and speakers’ passion, dedication and quest for learning and sharing really came across during the day.

Here are my four main takeaways from the day:

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Greener freelancing

Last month Bridget McKenzie guest-hosted a Museum Freelance chat on Twitter on the topic of ‘green’ freelancing.

Bridget is the director of Flow Associates and founder of Climate Museum UK, a mobile museum creatively stirring response to climate emergency and Everyday Ecocide which exposes ecoblindness, erasure of other species and climate denial in media and culture.

We only scratched the surface in the 45 minutes on Twitter, but it felt like a good start to get a conversation going.

Some examples of green freelancing practice people raised were:

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End of project reflection

I recently completed a project working with the Science Museum Group to facilitate and capture staff feedback and reflections on their group-wide learning projects. This fed into a best practice guide and toolkit for the Group’s four museums to use in the future.

It was a fascinating project, and fantastic to see time being set aside for reflection and staff contributions being sought, valued and used.

It got me thinking about my own reflection and project evaluation when client projects come to an end. Whilst I always look back on them and think about them, this has never been a formalised or written-down process.

So I decided to create a simple reflection sheet that I now use at the end of each project, which:

  1. enables me to reflect in a more structured, constructive and consistent way;
  2. identifies lessons for future work to help me improve what I do, how I work, and mitigate similar future issues;
  3. ultimately feeds into business planning work, continually helping me to identify my strengths and preferences in terms of types of work and how I work.

If anyone is interested in having a look or using the sheet, you are welcome to download it as a Word or PDF document and I’d be really interested to hear what methods other freelancers and consultants use.

Train the Trainer: Train the Freelancer

I’ve recently returned from a two-day Train the Trainer course in London with the College of Public Speaking. Whilst I do a fair amount of learning from my office (reading, online network discussions, the odd webinar and online course), it reminded me how valuable it is to get out of the office, really dedicate time and focus on training and learn in a practical way with other participants.

The course:

  • provided plenty of strategies, models and ideas I can implement and use in my training;
  • forced me to step out of my comfort zone as we had to practise presenting in front of the group, watch the film back and be critiqued;
  • gave me the opportunity to take time away from the office to think and reflect.

As a bonus it also provided two professional trainer certifications (with The Institute of Leadership & Management and NCFE).

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5 things I’ve learnt about freelancing in my first 5 years as a freelancer

I’ve recently spent some time reflecting back on my first five years of freelancing. It’s been quite a ride and I’ve learnt A LOT. About business. About the cultural sector. About myself.

Here are 5 lessons I’ve learnt and tips I would give to newbie freelancers:

  1. Be assertive and proactive

Don’t spend hours desperately scrolling on social media hoping that opportunities will come to you. Hunt down tenders and briefs out there, make speculative approaches, get out and about, get involved in online and ‘real’ communities (e.g. #museumfreelance and #museumhour on Twitter), comment and have opinions, write a blog.

Make sure people know who you are, what you can do and how you can help them. Don’t be afraid to hustle and don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials and shout about your achievements – if you don’t, no one will and people aren’t mindreaders!

Learn how to say ‘no’, question things that don’t sound right or you think could be improved and don’t take rejection too personally. These are still a work in progress for me but I’ve found they get easier over time with experience. Learning to say ‘no’ was a theme from one of our 2017 Museum Freelance event speakers, business coach Anna Lundberg, and she has a guide on this that is worth checking out.

  1. Plan, evaluate and reflect

Treat your business as a client or project like any other. Schedule some time to look at your finances, do some marketing, identify your training needs, review how things are going and so on.

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“See research as the start of something”

Takeaways from the Museum Association’s MP seminar on Getting to Know You: Using Visitor Data Intelligently at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, 20 September 2017.

Yesterday I spoke at this one-day conference which aimed to explore the different ways data can be used, from diversifying audiences and supporting fundraising to planning exhibitions and events.

My  topic was ‘Demystifying non-user consultation’, talking about how museums can undertake their own research with people and organisations who aren’t currently engaging with them or their services. My aim was to share practical tips and methods that cost very little and could be carried out by museum staff or volunteers. You can find links to links that I referred to in my presentation here.

Here are a few takeaways from some of the other presentations of the day, linked to Twitter accounts: Continue reading

Flintspiration inspiration

In 2015 the Norwich Historic Churches Trust (NHCT) committed to:

  • Playing a major role in Norwich’s tourism offer by presenting the Trust’s portfolio of churches and their architectural, historical and cultural significance in a way which is accessible, exciting and relevant;
  • Developing the Trust’s infrastructure and resources to enable it to deliver an extended programme of public benefits.

This led to a successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant of £68,400 to devise and deliver what became Flintspiration, a long weekend of events for all ages celebrating Norwich’s outstanding collection of medieval churches, their role in the city over the centuries and their importance as heritage assets, community and cultural venues and places of worship today. It took place on Saturday 29 April to Bank Holiday Monday 1 May 2017.  Continue reading