Yesterday I gave two ‘interactive sessions’ in probably the most beautiful room I ever worked in. Wall-high Sol LeWitt murals and wide windows with a view over central Leuven formed the backdrop for a lively discussion on digital storytelling in cultural and heritage institutions on occasion of the Mediation in Transition conference in M-Leuven.
To address the most important issue first: there is no such thing as digital storytelling. There’s only storytelling in the digital age, and frankly speaking this isn’t much different from storytelling in the age of hunters, gatherers, dinosaurs and ICQ. This doesn’t mean it cannot be challenging to tell a story people react upon online. On any given moment, hundreds of stories are unfolding around you, on Facebook, Twitter, and in niche social spaces. Many of them are much more interesting than anything a museum can possibly offer, at least, in the right here right now (because Justin Bieber might have really died this time, and you don’t want to be the last person to retweet that, do you?).
So, how do you tell a story in the digital age that stands out, captures people’s attention and gets them to act, engage with your institution?
My favourite story for quite some time now and one I’ve been showing in workshops around the world is the story of the Troy public library. The surprising twists, genuine engagement and originality of the project are a constant source of inspiration for me and I can’t get enough of it, even after having heard and told the story many times.
This week at the Dish conference in Rotterdam I gave a presentation about all the do’s and don’ts, tips and tricks, lessons and hands-on advice about crowdsourcing from my experience at the Museum of National History. Well… that’s quite a lot to talk about. All in all I came up with some 25-30 little notes, which the audience of my presentation – in a little participatory trick – had to label as do’s or don’ts.
Here’s the full list, now all as do’s, with some additional ideas that didn’t fit in the presentation. Use it to your benefit and please add your thoughts when you feel I’ve missed some.
Ask your potential participants a clear question or a clear task. A clear question is never ambiguous, unless you’re looking for (and only looking for) different ways to look at its ambiguity.
Run a couple of real-life test sessions with your question. Even if it’s an online project, ask people in the street your question and see how they respond. Change the question all the time. Once people only respond with the answers you’re looking for, you’ve found your question.
Ask a question that is meaningful to people. Questions that might be labelled emotional or highly personal are good. Not everybody will answer them, but the answers you’ll get will be so much more valuable.
Pinpoint very specific groups of people you’d like to reach with your project. Design to meet their demands and answer to their needs. Preferably, involve this target group in the design of your project.
That said: don’t exclude anyone from participating if they really want to.
Be extremely clear about your limits to what people can contribute, and keep these as limited as possible. Racism, hate, advertising and unlawful things are usually enough to exclude.
Accept all other contributions, regardless of they way in which you perceive their quality. Every time a person took the trouble to contribute to your project, this contribution is valuable (you can use peer reviewing to maintain overall high quality). Read the rest of this entry »
TED Global was way more than stunning talks. In fact, maybe the best thing was the unique blend of inspirational people I met. One of them, artist Candy Chang, makes public installations I’m sure many of you will appreciate.
Her business card says Candy likes to make cities more comfortable for people. Many of her projects close the gap between the public and the often almost intangible stuff that surrounds them. Her work connects people and asks for their contribution.
Candy’s a TED Senior Fellow which means there’s hundreds of thousands of people out there who think she rocks. And one: me. Here’re just three of her projects:
What to do with abandoned buildings? There’re hundreds of them in every city (especially once you start looking for them). For one specific building, the Polaris Building in Fairbanks, people were asked just that question. Plus, they were asked to tell their stories about the building. There’s also a website attached that asks for contributions in a refreshingly simple way. The number of contributions is overwhelming and I’m sure this will influence the future of the building.
A bit more about 2. ANP has had its historical archive of press photos online for quite some time. Unfortunately, as often with photos, its descriptions and metadata are limited. We worked together with ANP on our successful crowdsourced project Nieuwe Groeten Uit… and decided to take this one step further in the new ANP historical archive.
The INNL network connects historical collections and communities. Many of the connected websites encourage visitors to add stories and to add images to these stories. However, scanning, uploading, or arranging the rights often are too much of a barrier to adding images. The ANP archive has photos about virtually every possible topic of the Dutch history that people can tell personal stories about, which makes them very useful for people to add images to their stories.
The INNL network could do with the ANP photos, and ANP could do with context the INNL network provides, so we decided to connect them. Now, when somebody writes a story or comments, adds an article or describes an event somewhere in the INNL network, and adds an image from the ANP archive (using the redesigned wizards for adding images), this become information about the photo for ANP. Thus, by using the photos, people are describing the photos. Read the rest of this entry »
The Decemberists, last Monday in Paradiso, were pretty clear about it: If we didn’t scream at our loudest like we were being eaten alive by a whale, their last song would fail. After a full hour of brilliantly performed music, a theatrical show full of interaction and a decent number of laughs, we were more than happy to. Of course, everybody screamed, the song was a success.
An article in the New York Times advocates kids’ rule of schools. Students aged 15-17 designed their own curriculum, took on individual challenges and were responsible for a self-designed group project. “In such a setting, school capitalizes on (…) the intensity and engagement that teenagers usually reserve for sports, protest or friendship.” Not surprisingly, the kids learned, the project was a success.
Reverse engineer these successes and you’ll see participation and engagement were high because the original ownership (of music, a curriculum) was shared. People usually on the receiving end were made responsible for success or failure. They were given ownership.