2 minutes to read Posted on Tuesday November 22, 2022

Updated on Tuesday November 22, 2022

portrait of Pille Runnel

Pille Runnel

Research director , Estonian National Museum

portrait of Marzia Cerrai

Marzia Cerrai

Project manager , Fondazione Sistema Toscana

portrait of Nicole McNeilly

Nicole McNeilly

Impact Advisor , Europeana Foundation

Learning from data collection with the Me-Mind project and Estonian National Museum

The Estonian National Museum shares tips from their recent ‘Numbers Fascination’ exhibition, organised by the Me-Mind project, about how cultural heritage institutions can embed impact thinking and data collection into their exhibitions.

Person interacting with the exhibition
Title:
Number Fascination
Creator:
Domestic Data Streamers
Date:
4 May 2022
Institution:
Estonian National Museum
Country:
Estonia

The Estonian National Museum  (ENM), collaborating with creative agency Domestic Data Streamers as part of the Me-Mind project, recently closed its doors on the Number Fascination exhibition. As well as questioning, celebrating and promoting better data collection practices about impact, the exhibition served as a data collection opportunity itself. We ask Pille Runnel, research director and deputy director (Estonian National Museum), and Me-Mind project leader Marzia Cerrai (Fondazione Sistema Toscana) about what they learned and their tips for other heritage institutions that want to embed impact and data collection into their exhibitions. 

Thank you for speaking to us today! Can you tell us about the ‘Number Fascination’ exhibition, and how you collected data at it?

Through the Me-Mind project and the ‘Number Fascination’ exhibition we aimed to measure and visualise the impact of culture. We explored and explained how measuring and counting have historically evolved and how contemporary society has become a ‘datafied society’ which is heavily dependent on numbers and data analysis. While the exhibition showed the way data is linked with the digital, our interactive objects were analogue and hands-on, from playful interaction with worksheets to collectively creating a wall of coloured threads. We conducted observations and obtained additional insights into the kinds of visitors attending the exhibition and how they preferred to consume culture (for example, events, books or films). 

What did you want to achieve with the exhibition? 

The Estonian National Museum actively participates in research and learning projects. The Me-Mind project has helped us to advance how we collect and use data, not just for our internal decision-making and capacity-building, but also for how we communicate, interact and learn from our audiences. Our participation in the Museums of Impact (MOI) project has also been part of this journey, helping us to think about impact from the perspective of the organisation’s self-development and self-evaluation. 

We are still learning how to implement a richer indicator framework that could help us manage the museum in a different way. Making an exhibition on measuring and counting, including how contemporary society is ‘datafied’, and asking visitors to participate in data collection was an intervention into this status quo, pointing out that data does not only ‘belong’ to the management. 

An interactive wall in the exhibition
Title:
Number Fascination
Creator:
Domestic Data Streamers
Date:
4 May 2022
Institution:
Estonian National Museum
Country:
Estonia
An interactive wall in the exhibition

What did you learn and what are you going to do next? 

We learned that there are many data sources within the organisation which we do not use enough, because we usually focus on the data that we use to report on our KPIs. It creates the impression that impact is expressed by outputs (such as visitor numbers, publications or exhibitions). But this is not enough to inform actual planning at different levels of the organisation. Data collection can be implemented into other processes and is relevant at all stages of work. The exhibition was primarily an experiment to make this idea visible to colleagues outside the project team.

Making our own institution more aware of the opportunities of using different data sources and approaches to create new ones besides conventional visitor surveys remains a priority even after closing the exhibition. For example, curators still have to realise the value of exhibitions as an opportunity for data collection and communication. Exhibition-based data collection can also support other areas of museum work. 

The key advancement in the Me-Mind project and the exhibition was replacing one-way reporting with two-way, real-time communication. We call this info-experiences. Real-life data collection that is simultaneously collecting information and curating the experience is rewarding for both the institution and its audiences. The strength of designing these info-experiences is the interaction of the audience: their participation creates the data set, which is communicated back in a meaningful way in real-time. We are also developing the digital version of the exhibition to be used as part of educational programmes for children and young people.

A hand holiday a sheet of paper which asks 'Ku palju sa täna oled köndinud/how much have you walked today'?
Title:
Number Fascination
Creator:
Domestic Data Streamers
Date:
4 May 2022
Institution:
Estonian National Museum
Country:
Estonia
A hand holiday a sheet of paper which asks 'Ku palju sa täna oled köndinud/how much have you walked today'?

What are your top tips for heritage organisations who want to embed data collection into the experience design? 

We know that a heritage institution’s mission often responds to specific impact areas, such as the local economy, the tourism industry, education and well-being. However, organisations should collect data that is meaningful for them that shows how they are creating impact in these areas. Standard indicators might not be suitable. 

It’s important not to forget that data is something we can generate ourselves. In the Me-Mind workshops, we used tools as simple as a piece of paper and a set of stickers. It is not likely that small cultural organisations will be employing data scientists any time soon. These simple data collection methods can also serve as an enabler of the basic interpretation of data, which can be carried out without advanced skills in data analytics. However, it’s important that you have some basic skills in data collection and analysis - you will need to be able to contextualise the findings in your particular setting. 

It’s important to keep human elements at the centre of impact discussions. Data collecting and data visualisation merge into the experiences and cultural formats offered by the particular institution. For us, we could experiment with the museum exhibition format, but others might experiment with a festival or another part of their programme. 

What can we do now?

If you would like to find out more and access resources around data collection and impact in the cultural heritage sector, explore the Europeana Impact Playbook and download the Me-Mind project’s impact canvas and guidelines on data, impact and the cultural and creative industries. 

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