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Research

This week, I’m in Fort Worth, Texas, for iConference13, a conference on library and information science. One of my missions has been to get a clearer idea of what this whole LIS (as it’s known in the parlance) thing and being an iSchool is about. Actually, we’re quite a large group coming from my institution, as RSLIS will be taking part in arranging next year’s conference in Berlin, and yes, going west with my lovely colleagues has been a large part of the experience as well. But the conference has also been very informative, and given me a better insight into the breadth and kinds of topics examined in an information science perspective, and into the methods used and approaches taken. Still, I have to admit that I feel a little more like a fish out of water here compared to my experience at Museums and the Web a couple of years ago. So while I’m starting to see how my research may relate to a wider understanding of information science, as embraced by RSLIS if not so pronounced in this conference, it’s still not my home turf. And maybe it doesn’t have to be.

Today’s session of choice was focused on theoretical frameworks and the social context of information, as presented by a panel of early career scholars. Thursday morning, I joined a very interesting roundtable session, where 3 scholars received critique on second draft papers. For an academia rookie like me, this was a very interesting introduction to the peer review process and how editing decisions may inform research development. Plus the papers submitted by Mette Skov and Dorte Madsen sounded very interesting, so I will look forward to reading them in full. Wednesday, seeing my supervisor Lennart Björneborn present his and Toine Bogers’ research on experiences of serendipity as shared on Twitter was a pleasure, not only for the interesting perspectives in the research, but also for their relaxed presentation style and well structured ppt. (So, thumbs up, Lennart, I know that you will be reading this!) And Tuesday’s workshop on Digital Youth in led to some meaty discussions about how to involve the young people we are trying to understand in the upcoming summit and whether we really know what we are doing? 

Plan-Play-Pleasure-Pause
But the session that has most reverberated with me was the alternative event hosted by Theresa D. Anderson, Leanne Bowler, Lisa Nathan & Eileen Trauth. Buildig on Anderson’s ‘4 P heutistic’, the session centered on a discussion of creative information practices, and how to use and understand them in a scholarly research context.

IMG_0222IMG_0223Snapshots of boards presenting the Plan-Play-Pressure-Pause heuristic

In short, the idea is that whilst most scholars are acutely aware of the pressures in the field – meeting deadlines, publishing your research, teaching, meeting institutional targets etc. – and will probably also know how to plan accordingly, the value of a playful approach to research and exploration and the importance of pausing in order to contemplate and refresh are easily overlooked or overruled. For a more detailed account, see the video lecture Shapeshifters – Culturing Innovation  and read Anderson, T.D. (2011). Beyond eureka moments: supporting the invisible work of creativity and innovation. Information Research, 16(1) paper 471

For me, this is a confirmation of the approach I am already using, as my research to date has been very much about playing around, trying to get an understanding of my field and the possibilities and problems in it not through a thoroughly structured study, but by exploring many facets and engaging in all sorts of activities. Now this research will not translate into solid data, but it still very much deepens and informs my understanding, which I believe is crucial, even if it still leaves my with a challenge in constructing and describing a solid empirical ground for my research. It will come. And my hope is that perhaps I can use studies and frameworks such as Anderson’s to describe and validate what I’m doing. And remind me to savour the pauses too!

Cowgirl spirit
So, for me, my visit to The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame here in Fort Worth was also part of my research. And good fun too, even if it didn’t quite live up to my high expectations, kinda kitchy, kinda quaint. What was interesting about the museum, apart from the cowgirl glamour, was that it had quite a lot of interactive exhibits. In the country music section, for instance, little diner jukebox setups allowed you to listen to a short presentation of and a track by some of the greatest female country singers (so to get into that cowgirl spirit, here’s a little Patsy Cline gem for y’all). And in  a display of cowgirl outfits, you could get the actual exhibit to change by swiping a touch screen.

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And then, of course, there was the bronc ride. A silly affair, but sweet, where you could have a little video done of yourself as a rodeo rider, mixed in with some vintage film clips which you could then download from the website. Not sure if it really gave me a deeper understanding of the cowgirl spirit (overall, the experience was more hall of fame than museum, as the history of the women of the wild west was not explored in much detail), but it was fun and made for a nice souvenir.

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Finally, as part of a wonderful special exhibition of maverick quilts, a participatory quilt project invited contributions from visitors, a participatory museum quilting bee, if you like. Somewhat short of the craft and creativity of the quilts in the exhibition, it was still nice to see that the community had indeed engaged in this activity and submitted patches under the western boot theme.

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Hunting for auras
Another bit of extracurricular research was the ‘Now and Then’ mobile game developed by a doctoral student from University of North Texas for the iConference. Using the Aurasma app, the game offers a treasure hunt of sight in the downtown Fort Worth as well as in the cultural district and the cowtown Stockyards. Good stuff, nice idea, and what at great way to help conference participants explore the local surroundings and the latest in information techonology all at once.

Except I couldn’t get the darn thing to work. Whereas QR codes are easily readable by the mobile camera scanner, the object recognition software of the Aurasma scanner seemingly required a lot of precision to work. In other words, you had to get the excact same image as the Aura showed, which was tricky, to put it mlldly. Obviously, the person building the treasure hunt was taller than me, meaning that I had to hold up my camera in some pretty akward angles, and still then, I could only get half of them to work. Meaning that I missed out on the clues and couldn’t follow the treasure hunt. And if you did get the ‘aura’, you had to keep the camera in the same position in order to keep the connection, or the content would disappear again, which was particularly annoying with videos.

Now, I quite like the idea behind this, that you can add layers of content onto places without using QR codes or similar, heck, I might even experiment with creating my own auras to get a better understanding of how it works. But my initial expereince is that the technology does not yet hold up to this idea, and the result is very frustrating. My guess is that users less dedicated than me would have given up much sooner. So technology may have come a long way, but we’re not there yet. So, in the spirit of the wild west, it’s on the next frontier!

Tuesday was the day for the workshop with my four informants and new-found favourite ladies: Cecilie (budding designer and fashion blogger), Stine (digital strategist for Burson-Marsteller), Judi (stylist and former art educator at SMK) and Nanna (media researcher at DR with a past in the fashion industry), not to forget Line, a fellow PhD-student (Dream/Rockens Danmarkskort) who generously offered to observe and document the session. It was perfect. I’ll elaborate in a minute, but first of all I really want to express my excitement about and gratitude for their engagement and contribution, for the insights, ideas and opinions they shared and for the discussions we had. I left feeling high as a kite, truly inspired and completely spent.

My objective for the workshop was not so much data collection as generation of inspiration for my upcoming design process, and I expected to come away with a stack of post it-notes full of random ideas and a bundle of notes, viewing the video- and voice recordings merely as a backup. However, as the session progressed, and evolved more strongly as a discussive focus group than as an ideation workshop (I had prepared a guideline schedule, of course, but played it by ear, to allow for the session to flow and for the most fruitful discussions to flourish), it became clear to me that the discussions we had were so rich, that it would be a shame not to include them as data.

Of course, I am well aware that I will not be able to generalize anything from the views expressed by such a small selection of people, who furthermore cannot be seen to be representative of a wider user group. Indeed, as I discussed with Line afterwards, they were more like experts, having either professional insights into and experience with social media, fashion and museum work or educational backgrounds that informed their perspectives. On top of that, they were also all passionate about the topic as well as demonstrating high levels of reflection. So no, they weren’t your average user, but then their expertise allowed for the conversations to reach a different level, leading to exchanges that may not serve as proof, but which perfectly illustrates some of the challenges in this field. And then again, they were also ‘just’ prospective users with personal – and sometimes self-contradictory – views, preferences, habits and experiences.

So now I have a task of transcribing the entire 3 hours! Still, with the help of Line’s excellent and elaborate notes, I can sum up the session for now:

Evaluation of probes and digital participation
First up, the informants were asked to evaluate their experience with the probes. They all agreed that the presentation of the probe package was appealing and that the tasks were fun. And that what they really enjoyed was the analogue-ness and tactile quality of the tasks (the use of the term ‘analogue’ is an example of how this group had not only personal experience with, but also a detached perspective on and vocabulary for discussing new media). As so many other things in their professional and personal activities involved the use of a computer, the probe represented a nice change from that. Also the analogue tasks were easier to dip into, whereas the digital tasks – that most participants had avoided – felt cumbersome, timeconsuming and somewhat forced. Asked if they saw this as a general /potential barrier for participation in museum set tasks on social media platforms (e.g. collective Pinterest boards) they concurred. As Nanna pointed out, rather than trying to design for interaction on their own platforms or even their own domains within existing social media platforms, museums should try to engage in the conversations and streams already in flow.

As for the museum visit, only Stine had gone (Cecile had already been before the interview took place), whilst Nanna and Judi explained that they had not been able to fit it into their schedules, as a museum visit is a considerable activity. As Stine had downloaded and brought along the Designmuseum mobile app, this lead to a discussion about the need for any mediation tool to truly add value to the visit, and the often misguided predeliction for developing apps, when a mobile optimated website would have been a better option.

Following on from this evaluation, the informants were asked to spend five minutes noting down their immediate thoughts on and ideas for the the topic individually. After this, I did a brief presentation of my project (field, questions and research design), and an introduction to some of the perspectives that could inform one’s thinking about the field accompanied by visuals.

The participants asked good questions into my research interests and hypothesis, however, as the concepts introduced in the presentation were not taken up later in the discussion (one of the reasons for presenting my project was to establish a shared understanding and some communal references, as well as clarifying what project they were part of and how) perhaps this presentation was too long.

Museum types
Next came a discussion of the potential users and their context dependent motivations for visiting museums or pursuing their interest through other means, exemplified by the five museum types suggested by John Falk (in Drotner et al 2011: Det Interaktive Museum): The enthusiast, driven by a specialist and perhaps professional knowledge and interest; the experience hunter, seeking out the ‘big game’ cultural hotspots; the explorer, searching for delightful discoveries; the facilitator, focusing on making the visit a succesful social event; and the escapist, using the museum to recharge or find spiritual meaning. My intention with this excercise was to inform my future development of personas to design for, but the discussion led to little tangible information about the specific types. I even tried provoking the issue a little by asking what these types would be like as superheroes, but that didn’t turn out super useful. Instead, the participants’ sentiment echoed the point made by Falk; that these are more like roles than types, ones you dip into and out of or find yourself in, depending on your life situation and the context, company and topic exhibited. Overall, however, they would rather design for the enthusiast and the explorer than for the other types of motivation (as would probably most museum educators).

What do we want to be social about?
When I interviewed Stine before the summer, she told me that one of her key points when advising about the development of social business models was to ask yourself the question ‘What do we want to be social about’? (unfortunately I can only come up with this poor translation, that is a lot clunkier than the Danish ‘Hvad vil vi være sociale omkring?’. ‘What is our social object?‘ sounds better, but I’m not sure if that is quite right either. Thoughts, Stine?). This question has lingered with me since, and inspired the next exercise on the potential for and value of social interaction between Designmuseum Denmark and its users.

Again, the consensus was that the museum should try to socialize where the social interaction is already happening. Aggregation of content, via algorithms trawling for #tags for instance, was deemed a viable approach, if only you could get people to agree on which tags to use [this idea is reminiscent of the Twitter concept being developed by SMK, see presentation by Merete Sanderhoff at MuseumNext ] Another suggestion was some sort of personalization, turning yourself into an exhibtion (like the FB timeline precursor ‘Exhibition of me’), and playing to the narcissist in us all by displaying the feed of ‘#todays outfit’ etc in the museum. The concept of ‘second screen’ (and how the  second screen sometimes became the first, as the online conversations around a given program were what pulled you in, rather than the program content itself) was discussed (again a professional terminology). Other inspiration sources included GetGlue, iPhotoCap and #fredagsbog.

Asked what the museum could contribute to the conversations, both Judith and Cecilie agreed that they could show another side to the fashion story than what is usually presented in fashion media. Judith brought up a great example in the subversive photographs by artist Jens Haaning, with captions describing the outfits mirroring those of fashion shots.

Another wish was to be able to access and play with a digitized version of the museum collection, mixing new looks etc. This idea somewhat contradicted the agreement earlier on that the museum should join the conversation rather than try to set new tasks. A suggested solution for merging the two, i.e. to attract users to a new ‘service’ was to learn from the way Spotify entered the Danish market by way of Facebook.

Social platforms
I took this as a cue to introduce an excercise I had been a little uncertain about, knowing that focusing on the platforms can detract from the question of content and motivation. However, as it turned out, the conversations prompted by the social media symbol cards were very interesting.

The key, of course, is deciding what you want to achieve, understanding – asking? – your users and then choose the appropriate platform. The participants did however gravitate towards Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, again arguing that this is where the users already are. Whilst some enjoyed using Path, it was still a small community of private parties, and Flickr is loosing ground with the growing popularity of Instagram. As for YouTube, the group seemed to agree that perhaps a private channel would be preferable.

As I was keen not to forget the non-sociable aspects of mobile media, and tried asking if perhaps a podwalk or similar would be an interesting way to go. The idea was quickly rejected however, as Judi pointed out that musical soundtracks for exhibitions were rarely adapted. Perhaps all the talk about social interactionn also made it hard to forget that focus during this workshop. Gamification, as examplified by Foursquare, was also debated, yet, as fashion has no geolocation, it was hard to see how this concept would apply to this field.

Ideation
After a short break, in which the conversations continued, we moved on to the ideas-generation part of the workshop. The initial thoughts, written down in the beginning of the workshop included questions on how to bring the ephemeral into the museum, how the museum can share its treasures without needing you to come to the museum, and how everyday fashion and not least the personal relationship with fashion can be brought into or exposed through the museum.

Cecilie came up with an idea for displaying honour plaques around town to commemorate significant fashion events (think ‘Here, in 1964, a Mary Quant costumer first wore the mini-skirt’), which was well received and elaborated on by the group, and also suggested a public photo booth where people could have their outfit photographed for the museum collection (if people were willing to have their photos taken in ‘Kussomaten‘, it is likely that you could get them to contribute street style shots for a historical collection as Stine commented). However, as Judi pointed out, such contributions would also require a lot of editing on the part of the museum, to ensure quality, which again would raise the question of who has the authority to select, and what happens to the multiplicity of voices when they are censored. Still, the museum should have an expertise that is different from that of the magazines or the bloggers.

Another important contribution from the museum, as defined by the group, is the great narrative – tying information together to form a story, an argument, a unison – something that you won’t necessarily be able to piece together yourself out there on the internet. And overall, they were more interested in the material culture in the museum, the chance to experience e.g. a variety of fabrics or building materrials, than in a digital overlay.

DAC and the Danish Designcenter where brought forward as examples of this type of exhibtion, whereas Designmuseum Danmark (which holds a substantial textile collection, that was originally collected with that kind of use in mind) was perceived as being a bit old fashioned. Even the prospect of the development of a museum for fashion within DMD was regarded with some scepticism. Louisiana, on the other hand, seemed to be everyone’s favourite museum, and was mentioned on numerous occasions.

And so, after three hours of passionate banter, the workshop came to a close, and with the help of these great characters, I had collected a rich material to inform my continued investigations. 

Feedback
As Stine pointed out, it would have been interesting to have been able to see what the other participants had contributed via the probes (and so we ended the evening with a visit to my office to marvel at the wall). I had not fascilitated this knowledgesharing, and not even invited by participants to respond to the blogpost I made about the returns. Good point, and I do apologize! And please, Stine, Judi, Cecilie, Nanna and Line – if you can spare a moment and have a comment on how you experienced the workshop or have had other thoughts on the topic since then, do drop me a comment here. It would be great to hear from you! And be warned that I will probably contact you again when I’ve come up with concepts that need scrutinizing by you expert minds (but don’t worry, I won’t hold you to your declaration of interest, feel free to turn me down if it’s no longer relevant for you).

This week, Desingmusem Danmark (DMD) announced that Realdania will fund a project exploring the potential for developing a museum for fashion and textiles within DMD. From the press release on designmuseum.dk : (See also article on the project on berlingske.dk )

”Vi er meget begejstrede for, at Realdania har muliggjort en grundig og tilbundsgående undersøgelse af mulighederne for at åbne et mode- og tekstilmuseum. Designmuseum Danmark har med sin store tekstilsamling og med sit nyere modefokus – på forsknings- såvel som udstillingsområdet – et virkelig spændende potentiale for at udvikle en helt særlig platform, hvor udstillinger, forskning, events og brancheaktiviteter kan forenes. Et mode- og tekstilmuseum vil også vække stor interesse hos nye museumsbrugere og styrke kendskabet til mode og tekstil som en vigtig del af vores kulturarv”, siger museumsdirektør Anne-Louise Sommer.

“We are very excited that Realdania has made possible a thorough investigation into the possibilities of opening a museum for fashion and textiles. Designmuseum Denmark, with its considerable textile collection and the recent focus on fashion – in research as well as through exhibitions – has an exciting potential for developing a unique platform, where exhibitions, research, events and activities related to the fashion industry can be united. A museum for fashion and textiles would also attract the attention of a new museum audience and strengthen the appreciation of fashion and textiles as an important part of our cultural heritage” says museum director Anne-Louise Sommer.

Yesterday, I met with Marie Riegels Melchior, post doc fashion researcher at Designmuseum Denmark, to exchange updates and discuss the future of fashion at the museum. For her, the prospect of an actual museum for fashion and textiles would be the perfect fruition of the museum’s commitment to fashion as a focus area, securing public visibility and access, but also, and as importantly, making it possible to establish the museum as a hub for fashion research.

This aspect, the museum as a research institution and museum mediation as research communication, is key in Marie’s recommendations for the development of the fashion field within DMD, as based in her study on international fashion museums. (As the recommmendation part of the report is internal, I will have to ask director Anne-Louise Sommer if I can read it, and thus so far I can only refer to the knowledge I have from my meetings with Marie). Her vision is therefore that the museum would be able to attract funding and employ researchers for research projects on fashion.

She described how the rhetorics around the ‘five pillars of museum practice’ – the objective for museums to collect, register, preserve, research and mediate/communicate, as laid down in Museumsloven §2 and in accordance with ICOM’s museum definition, stating that museums acquire, conserve, research, communicate and exhibits natural and cultural heritage – has led to an understanding that this order of listing is also the ‘natural order’ of museum work, following the object from entry into the museum to public display. As she points out, however, this isn’t or shouldn’t necessarily be the way to understand and organize the work carried out by museums. Instead, the starting point should be research based, grounded in the exploration of relevant research questions. These could relate to the existing collection, or could lead to acquisition of new artefacts or data, but should first and foremost be motivated by a desire to better understand and promote the heritage that the institutions represent. (This dissection of the implications of the rhetorics, how a simple list order comes to define an understanding, really struck a note with me – must find out if this is Marie’s own interpretation or if there is another source I should quote on this).

This led to a discussion on the woes and virtues of new museology – again often described or understood (by me, too) as a shift in focus from one end of the spectrum or process, the collection, to the other, the exhibition and its audience, but missing out that crucial middle, the research, reducing exhibitions to popularist consumer events in the experience economy, at worst.

This gave me a chance to vent one of my pet rants of the moment, on a potentially problematic tendency that occured to me as I was preparing an abstract for a seminar and paper on museum research, namely the dominance of social science methodology in current (Danish) museum research (see recent report from Dansk Center for Museumsforskning). In my opinion, this demand for meassurable (also if qualitative) empirical data, and that whole research tradition and way of thinking is both a result of but also a contributor to the heavy focus on user’s experiences and motivations, that sort of becomes a self-feeding mechanism, and fails to adress the humanist questions that should still be at the core of museology. As indicated, this notion is still at rant stage, an irritant, but one I am curious to explore further in the writing of the paper for the seminar. And, of course, my own preference for and grounding in the humanities also affects my thinking on this point.

According to Marie, the tradition for not only research into museums but research in museums is particularly strong in the anglo-saxon world, where especially the large institutions like V&A and the Met are staffed to a large extent by scholars, and thus are able to present exhibitions that represent original research as well as offering sensational aesthetic experiences. Of course, they have the funding to do so, still, the dedication to spend same funding on academic research is essential.

I really like this emphasis on the museum as research institution and mediation as research communication, and I would like to build this into my project. Although in some ways my starting point in the exploration for the use-potential of mobile and social media for museum mediation, the outset in platforms and use, places me way out on the mediation and user focus end of the scale, my research interest, as described in my vlog presentation, is really more about the implications of the user focus and new media for museums and museology. As one of the senior researchers asked me to confirm yesterday after my presentation, I’m sort of aiming for a discourse analysis, albeit in a roundabout way, as I believe that adressing these issues via design will produce a new perspective.
Particularly my inspiration from critical design may help me push this aspect, as it allows me to explore concepts for mediation that are grounded in research or aim to communicate research perspectives.

As it happened, yesterdays lecture at the museum – I currently follow an open university lecture series on fashion at DMD, partly to get an insight into current fashion research, partly to see how the museum, and others, present their field to the general public – was a presentation by Maria McKinney Valentin of her research into trend theory. Using Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome theory as a basis for understanding the nature of trends, she introduced five perspectives on the mechanisms behind the visual manifestations of trends: social mechanisms (trickle up, down and across, social capital and communities of taste); neomania, as described by Barthes, and the postmodern supermarket of style; the market drive; Zeitgeist reflections, and finally seduction in its varying permutations. Choosing ‘homeless chic’ as an example case, she provoked some exasperated responses from the audience (around 20 mainly 50+ women, unsurprisingly), who were clearly basing their criticism (of the look, not the lecture) in personal experience and taste, and not willing or able to take a helicopter perspective on the overall field.

(Whilst this is probably to be expected in an open university course, these ladies are not alone in sticking to the personal perspective, as this brilliant piece by Fiona Duncan How to Write About Dressing Well: The Truth About Fashion Criticism – a call for fashion journalists and -academics to take their field seriously and produce writing on a par with that representing other cultural fields – points out. I digress, but there are some good points in the article that are worth looking into. Note to self).

Finishing up, Maria McKinney-Valentin said that her ambition for the lecture was that it might enable us to see the trends that we encounter on the street in a new light, to use the tools and perspectives she presented us with to dissect the visual manifestations of trends and understand the underlying mechanisms that drive them.

Now, I don’t know how to turn this into a mobile mediation concept. Yet. But it is exactly this kind of thing that I was/am hoping to find a way of doing – providing a lens (or prism, the image that Maria used in her presentation) for seeing fashion in a new light, or x-rayed, in context. And so the link to or outset in research is suddenly the obvious starting point.

Just presented my project to my institute. In preparation, I decided to do a video of the presentation rather than try to write about it, as it is centered around this diagram of my research field and research design, and therefore works better in visual form. Capturing how I see and present my project at this stage will also be useful later on, as I can compare the future development and findings to my preconceptions and outset.