Evaluation project testimonial

I’m all about evaluation that makes a difference, that has an impact and people will act on, so I was delighted to receive this testimonial from Laura Turnage (Programme Manager, Secondary Schools) at the Museum of London who I delivered an evaluation project for:

“It was a delight working with Christina. She successfully navigated and evaluated a complicated schools project which included the participation and feedback from more than ten project partners. Importantly for us her tenacity in contacting the school made sure they responded and their feedback was included in the final report! Her facilitation of the partner reflection workshop was transformative. It continues to be spoken about for its effectiveness in identifying the sticking points within the project and creating collaborative solutions.”

I undertook the evaluation of a school study day which was a collaborative project run by members of the Culture Mile Learning partnership (including the Museum of London) over several years. The work included facilitating a staff reflection workshop, student and teacher evaluation forms and partner interviews.

I’ve written a blog on running internal reflection workshops, something that I love doing, especially when the results are deemed “transformative”!

12-month annual museum passes: what is the rate of return?

Back in early May I asked the Twitter hive: “For museums with a free return visit within 12 months: does anyone know an average, examples or research of the proportion of visitors who take this up?”

I was keen to benchmark a client’s figures and get a bit more context to explore whether aiming to raise their rate of return was a realistic – and desirable – prospect.

I promised to share the responses (where I was given permission to do so), so here goes!

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MuseumNext takeaways

MuseumNext takeaways

I’ve been following along to #MuseumNext conferences on social media for a few years and they always have a great buzz around them. So when MuseumNext founder Jim Richardson created an early bird freelance offer to this year’s London conference, I (and many other freelancers) jumped at the chance to attend.

In fact, Jim called it an “invasion of freelancers” and we had about 40 freelancers at our Museum Freelance social meet-up on day 1 from across the UK, America, Iceland, Denmark, Spain, Holland, Turkey and more! Some left inspired to set up something similar to Museum Freelance on their patch. This is brilliant news, as a thriving supportive community is such a boost for freelancers.

Some of the crew at the Museum Freelance meet-up at Museum Next
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Reflections on Agents of Change – the Museum Freelance conference

A cancelled meeting means I’ve finally got the chance to finish my blog post on the third annual Museum Freelance conference held in Manchester in March. I organised it with Marge Ainsley as a conference dedicated to freelancers working with museums, heritage sites, libraries and archives.

My key takeaways were:

  • Be yourself and be authentic
  • It’s ok to make mistakes – learn from them
  • Question your purpose, what do you want to be, what do YOU want to do?
  • The importance of online networks – join them, get involved in them
  • Change can be positive
  • Being “unemployable” is great!
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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:

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Marketing strategy work with Jane Austen’s House Museum

I’m really excited to start work with Jane Austen’s House Museum in Hampshire on a marketing strategy project. It’s part of a broader range of work funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Resilient Heritage grant, aimed at improving the resilience of the museum by auditing and improving several key areas of operations, one of which is marketing. The project kick-off also coincides beautifully with my current bookclub read which is Persuasion by Jane Austen!

Agents of Change: our third annual Museum Freelance conference

It’s just six weeks to go until the third annual conference organised by freelancers (Marge Ainsley and me), for freelancers.

Museum Freelance conference promotional image

New for this year is a Manchester location, and a series of fringe and social events wrapping around the conference day itself.

But the purpose of the event remains the same. Firstly it’s an opportunity for freelancers working in the cultural sector (and those thinking about it) to:

  • get together and get to know each other;
  • share stories, tips and issues with each other in a safe and friendly space;
  • learn from a range of interesting and inspiring speakers;
  • spend time out of the office reflecting on and developing their business at an affordable event.

And secondly there are broader benefits:

  • the event raises the profile of freelancers as a valuable and critical part of the workforce in the cultural sector;
  • the event develops the skills and confidence of freelancers and consultants, who can thereby contribute more effectively to the sector;
  • it’s an opportunity for the Museum Freelance team to better get to know our community and thereby cater more to their needs in the future.

Some of the feedback from last year’s event included:

“I thought this was the most useful conference I’ve ever attended. Everything was directly relevant to me, the speakers were inspirational and I got to meet great people. I look forward to coming again next year.”

“Brilliantly well organised. Great to meet new people. Valuable resource for the freelance community.”

“It was really enjoyable, and the delegates were really nice! It was lovely to feel part of a ‘team’!”

“Great to have a safe space to talk about issues that everyone understands without worrying what impression it gives to a potential client!”

50 freelancers have already booked on and we look forward to welcoming them and some more to the event in March. Hope to see you there? Book now to join us.

Lessons on content marketing

Yesterday I read an interesting article on Medium about how a change in editorial strategy — from blogging to magazine-style storytelling — has enabled Wellcome Collection to reach and engage more people. The content sits under the heading of ‘Stories‘ on their website.

The piece was written by Jennifer Staves, digital content manager at Wellcome Collection, and I spotted it thanks to a share on Twitter by Tom Scott, head of digital there.

I mainly work with small and medium-sized cultural organisations, but even if organisations don’t have a team, expertise or budget that are comparable to Wellcome Collection, I think there are some key lessons in the article that are universal.

I’ve put together five transferable tips which I share when delivering training on content marketing and that the piece on Wellcome Collection highlights:

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