Monday, May 11, 2009

The Multi-Platform Museum: Coming Live to You on May 18

You know how Ira Glass recently broadcast his radio show This American Life live to movie theaters across North America? Next week, I'm doing something way less cool and way more convenient. I'm doing a workshop with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History which includes a public lecture on "the multi-platform museum" on May 18 at 3pm ET (GMT -5). Because the Smithsonian is a public institution, the lecture will be free and open to anyone, both physically at the Baird Auditorium and digitally via a live webcast (here's the link, and no it doesn't work yet but don't worry, it will).

What is a multi-platform museum? It's a place that engages with visitors through many distribution mechanisms, including exhibits, programs, and the web. Most museums already are multi-platform places, but many consider each platform to be its own discrete silo rather than part of a strategic composite. I'll be talking about museums bridging online and onsite experiences to develop relationships with visitors that are not limited to prescriptive "pre-visit," "visit," and "post-visit" events or transactions. We'll talk about how to extrapolate your museum's mission into a roadmap for engaging with visitors in new ways, and we'll discuss how to analyze and evaluate what content experiences are right for different platforms. I'll share examples around personalization, behind-the-scenes connections, visitor participation on the floor, and of course, giant squid. The focus will be on the Smithsonian, which has a unique position as a national institution with over 20 venues, but many examples and design strategies are applicable to a broad range of museums.

I've been working with these ideas and museums for a long time, but this will be the first time I'm working with a place as big, complex, and bureaucratic as the Smithsonian. I usually try to push myself to think about social engagement from the perspective of the smallest museum with the most limited budget. But this is an opportunity to think big. What do you think the Smithsonian should be doing to engage more deeply and broadly with the public? What does the mission to "increase and diffuse knowledge" mean to you in this multi-platform world?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments and I will try to integrate them into my talk. I hope you'll be able to join me on March 18, digitally or physically. If you'd like more information about the event and whether large pom-poms are allowed in the auditorium, please contact Michael Mason at masonm (at) si (dot) edu.

15 comments, add yours!:

Anonymous said...

Hi Nina. Is there any way that we can be reminded about the digital broadcast and link closer to the 18th? (perhaps you say you will?). I've made a reference, but ....

Paul Orselli said...

Hi Nina,

Might I commend to your attention the blog, "Today in Tentacles"
(authored by an Emerging Museum Professional)which deals with squids/museums/art/natural history/Web 2.0 which should cover just about all the Smithsonian angles...

Good luck with your talk. Break a leg! (or tentacle...)

Smithsonian said...

If you want to be reminded, follow @Smithsonian on Twitter. We'll remind you day-of. ;-)

Den Spitzhacke said...

This presentation sounds great Nina. I'll be there digitally.

I am glad to see the Smithsonian is working on accessibility to their collection. Wayne Clough is whipping them into shape! I can't wait to see what kind of grand project you come up with.

Other museums, ahem, IMA, take notes. Any museum that can efficiently multi-platform is doing many things right...and doing them simultaneously.

Matt said...

Looking forward to your talk - will we need any special software to view it online?

Liz said...

Hi Nina,

I'm really looking forward to this talk...I'll be tuning in online.

I'd be interested to hear you discuss what multi-platform options are available to teachers and school groups. With the strict requirements of No Child Left Behind and the current economy, many teachers do not have the time or funding to bring their students to a museum. Many museum educators are trying to extend the field trip experience by providing "pre-visit" and "post-visit" activities for teachers to use within the classroom. Usually, these are in the form of activity guides or handouts because teachers can easily access these documents online, download and print them; furthermore, they are easily utilized in a classroom setting.

If you are talking about how museums can bridge onsite and online experiences beyond "pre-visit" and "post-visit" actvities, how would you suggest a large institution like the Smithsonian provide multiplatform experiences to teachers who cannot easily access online experiences because their classrooms have limited computers and internet access?

Angelina said...

Hi Nina
Between 2005 and 2008 we ran a research project in conjunction with 6 Australian cultural organisations which looked specifically at the creation and distribution of cultural content across multiple platforms.

Some of the findings which might be of value included:
- many institutions have such strong silos that the idea of multiplatform content is simply too daunting
- multiplatform strategies are complex and multi-disciplinary, requiring a shared language and shared understanding of outcomes
- the development of strategic planning methods is critical and very difficult!

Multiplatform content creation and distribution is a no-brainer in our sector - particularly in times of global financial pressure. Until there is a real impetus to make EVERY activity valuable across the value chain of distribution, it will remain an activity which the creators of blockbuster exhibitions do well and the rest of us wonder about!

Good luck with the talk!

Alice said...

I'd like to see that research project Angelina. Is there any way to get a pdf?

Emily said...

Hi Nina,

It's funny- this topic just came up in a conversation at work. Although I know this focuses in the Smithsonian, I'd love to see examples or hear strategies for mid-sized organizations. It seems like implementing multi-platform strategies would be more challenging working at a place with a fraction of their budget and where the topic of who "owns" a project often comes up.

Angelina said...

Hi Alice
YOu can find a summary of the papers we developed during the project at

If you contact me at I can provide a pdf of the 'New Literacy New Audiences' paper which summarises that particular project in relation to multiplatform distribution!


Nina Simon said...

Thanks for sharing your summary report with the group!

I've really been struggling (in a good way) to develop the content for Monday's talk. I so rarely focus on places as big and complex as the Smithsonian, and I've had to really stretch myself to imagine how I can be most useful to them as they move forward. I think the talk will end up being quite focused on the Smithsonian since they have such a unique mission and position, but the questions of who "owns" it and the role of solely virtual visitors will definitely come up!

Nancy Proctor said...

We're all really excited to see you on Monday! I think it'll be a standing-room-only turn-out.

There has been a lot of work on the SI web & new media strategy wiki this week so there may be points there that you'd like to respond to: home page is also'm also rather fond of some of the ideas on these pages: may have heard this before in some of my earlier papers, but I like to think of the museum as a distributed network. It's a bit of a technical term, but implies not silos but interconnectedness and interdependency as well as deliberate redundancy of access and support, so that if any one node goes down, communication and access to the network can continue regardless. Nodes on a distributed network can share the work, and they don't all have to be owned by one entity so they belie the concept of private property and central control.

Perhaps a useful metaphor for the structure we aim at, anyway!

All the best,

Michael Edson said...

Really looking forward to your talk - - there are so many things I'd like you to think and talk about I hardly know where to begin! One of the biggies we're struggling with is how to connect the multi-channel model with the day-to-day work, today and in the future, of the Institution's umpteen-thousand scientists, researchers, and curators. How can these professionals use the multi-channel model to be better "increasers and diffusers of knowledge" in their own professional domains?

Knock 'em (I mean us!) dead!

Lisa Nash said...

Fantastic webcast today! I love that you use the DISNEY word with your Museum cohorts ... there's still a lot to be done to make museums really participatory and targeted-user-friendly (I think this is what you mean by the me-to-we thang) and sticky and enjoyable/repeatable. And thanks for the word of the day EDUCE.
I didn't get a chance to talk to you in person at AAM but love what you do!

Lu Harper said...

The talk was great! I'd really like to share it with it going to be online afterwards?