Thursday, February 11, 2010

Few Conversations in Museums? Really? How Come?

If you read this blog, are friends with me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter, you know that I've been running a contest to win a free registration (worth to non-members $205) to the 2010 Museums in Conversation conference,  in Albany, NY, in April,  a joint effort of the Museum Association of New York and the Upstate History Alliance.  I invited you to submit a 150 word or LESS description of any kind of museum conversation--betweeen visitors, staff, board, volunteers--a real or imagined--conversation about anything.

Like many of you, I spend lots of time in museums--and as those who know me in person know I love to spend lots of time talking--but I also love to spend time listening, so I thought this was a great way for museum colleagues to reflect on their work in a way that really was about engaging with others, not just saying, "I love museums because...."

Imagine my astonishment when I only received a small number of entries.  I know many people knew about the opportunity--thanks to UHA and MANY,  who regularly promoted on their Facebook pages and lists,  and to those--including Bob Beatty at AASLH who retweeted it.  I know more than 500 New Yorkers took a look at my blog during the time the contest was running.

A special thanks to those who took the time to enter--stay tuned and we'll announce a winner soon.

So,  what's the deal?  I want to hear from you, my readers about why so few entries.  Tell me why you didn't enter, or if you're from somewhere else,  I'd love to hear your speculations about why so I can learn.  Nina Simon has written thoughtfully about framing the right questions for visitor participation--and perhaps my question just wasn't framed in the right way.

Here's some possibilities:
  • Question framed in the wrong way?  How could it be better?
  • Too hard a question requiring thought?
  • Too long to write?
  • Too busy?
  • Have enough money and don't need funding to attend conferences? Really--we'd all love to meet you!
  • Not interested in professional development?
  • Never listen to museum conversations?
Tell me why!


swagner711 said...

I liked the open and evocative nature of the question. I answered once but wanted to send in several conversations (I wasn't clear if multiple comments were legal). But it was great fun - caused lots of conversations in my head -- imagined, remembered) but decided to use it as an opportunity to work out a short interpretive piece for the Underground Railroad Room in our house museum. Thanks for the opportunity. Felt like a good exercise to get ready for the conference. Sally Roesch Wagner, Matilda Joslyn Gage Center, Fayetteville, NY.

Jean Guthrie said...

I would love to come to the conference. They are always so great. I thought it was a generous offer and fair question. I didn't respond for a lot of reasons-too busy dealing with a robbery at "our" museum, probably too much work thinking about an answer that sounded clever enough! Even feeling anxious that this blog entry sounds "good enough." Feel like I am too busy with making a living or doing other things to come to the conference this year anyway.
It might have been helpful to ask it differently. I kind of think this is the challenge. How can you get someone's attention long enough to consider answering questions? It's demanding to be creative! It might have been a little too vague. Might have been helpful to lead with a "finish this statement" or something. The email arrives with 50 others and you can't respond to everything. Zing! Later! Move on! Sorry Linda-I love talking with you!

Anonymous said...

I would love to have sat down to write a response. Unfortunately, critical issues that will determine the future of my organization are coming to a head right now. There was nothing wrong with your question. I just needed more time to consider it and right now my time deficit is as stresssful than the projected deficit for my museum.

LCBrisson said...

I seriously considered participating, but realistically couldn't have attended regardless. It did get me thinking, and so has this post.

I also started to retweet, but then saw that Nina Simon had. I have few followers on Twitter, and of the museum people I know I have, all wisely follow Nina as well.

It was a great idea!

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a clever, thought-provoking idea, and generous on your part! Equally important, you challenged people, whether they participated or not, to think about the conference topic AND perhaps even reflect upon conversations they may have heard, or had.

L F said...

I had not seen your blog at the time the contest was open, but even if I had I probably would not have entered. This is because, even with free attendance to the conference, it is located too far away for me to attend easily. Participation in the contest would require a person: to be close enough to the conference to attend, to have enough time off to attend, and to have heard of the contest.

In addition, there is another possible factor: many people may have an aversion to entering contests. When I was a kid I used to put entries into every "mail in this form to win a prize" sweepstakes that I came across, but as I got older and developed a better sense of what the odds meant, I stopped.

My gut reaction to contests is that the easier they are to enter, the more people are likely to enter, the more difficult the odds, and ultimately the more random the selection is likely to be. Long, involved application processes like scholarships and grants cut down on the number of responses, raise the odds of winning, and remove a lot of the randomness - I can improve the chances of a grant application by designing it more carefully, whereas there is no way to improve a mail-in ticket's chances of winning. A 150-word application has the connotation of being closer to the mail-in-ticket end of the spectrum, meaning that I would (rightly or wrongly) feel that I had less room to influence my entry's chances of winning.

Linda Norris said...

Thanks everyone, for such good thoughts and analysis about my venture in contest-holding! I learned some things about how a process might work (useful here and in other contexts I suspect) and appreciate the idea that, even without entering, it encouraged some thinking and conversation. I'll consider another contest one of these days, perhaps but this winner to be announced soon!