Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"New forms work, winds of change"

In a post just after I finished a series of workshops in Ukraine this fall, I wrote about what the four of us had learned as presenters, and promised a follow-up post on what our enthusiastic participants from dozens of museums had learned. The workshops focused in incorporating visitor voices into all aspects of museum work, with a particular emphasis on visitor voices as a way of developing and enhancing civil society. Many thanks to Eugene Chervony for his translation of survey responses.

In a pre-workshop survey, we asked people to describe personally, what they thouight “visitor voices in exhibitions” meant. Answers included:
  • Visitor’s voices is important quality index of museum activity
  • Active participants of different event, who are not standing outside, but engaged to conversation.
  • This is evaluation of museum staff activity
  • I have not enough information about this theme.
Almost all the answers were brief, with only a broad sense of what it might mean. But when we asked after the workshop, here's some of the responses we received:
  • Visitor voices is stable form of feedback between museum and its visitor for better understanding of work perspectives and for analysus of what has been done. This is changing from organization of didactical education to dialog place, where you can share your thoughts and wishes
  • Visitor voices are unique, because every audience is unique. There is no recipe for success for museum. WE need to hear visitor. For me visitor voice on exhibits - it is a new vision and understanding of people with different character, sex or age. New ideas for museum development. Visitors are important, we have hear them.
  • VV – it’s collaboration between visitor and museum, visitor and its exhibition. This collaboration has a various forms: feedbacks, reaction, gifts, personal story.
  • Taking to the consider visitor’s voices in development of exhibition and excursion planning is one of important museum tasks, for it makes museum more open and are in demand.
  • As to me, without VV it is not possible to become successful museum for we are working for public, thought social environment corrects visitors’ expectation of museum service.
  • For me it got the possibility more clearly understand the visitors’ thoughts, for our visitor our consumer in one way or another. In other words, people like candy much more then vegetable salad thought it’s more healthy, so they need to be fed both – sweet and healthy – in turns
Theory is great, but what specific tools did they learn?
  • I found out simple and available methods of visitor surveys and its necessity.
  • I understood that every museum should to find own way to rapport with visitor. 
  • There are many various ways and techniques for VV collecting, but may I realize them without money… 
  • For me the analysis of visitors’ profile was a valuable. I realized my mistakes)))
  • New forms work, wind of change.
I find in developing training--no matter where it is--that simple, low-cost methods always need to be a part of the equation.  That's particularly true in Ukraine these days.  It was exciting to see these more complex views on the topic—but as always, the proof is in the pudding. Would our museum colleagues return to their museums and do anything different? Could those winds of change really happen?  Here’s some of their plans:
  • Children and adults involvement in teamwork. Conducting evenings of memory or honor to particular theme. During these events visitors express their thoughts, excitement, joy. With these evenings you can hear the voices of visitors, the museum changed for the better.
  • Using an individual approach to visitors, by introducing the questionnaire, questionnaire creation in social networks to study the thoughts of the audience.
  • I plan to open one of the rooms in a creative workshop. So in any day any person could come, sit and work. As Christmas is soon, start with Christmas gifts
  • Step small but efficient and does not entail financial costs: board with stickers, which contained, thoughts and wishes.
  • Since our museum expositions do not have any labels, I will actively encourage visitors to ask provocative questions. 
  • Learn the experience of other museums, and from that to choose what suits us.
For me, one of the most important take-aways is the sense that visitors' voices went from an abstraction, to a more personal, deeply felt idea; a sense of empathy with and for museum visitors--and the larger community.  Equally important was the sense of creative confidence I see in the responses and the understanding that one size doesn't fit all. We provided not a single solution, but a toolkit for change.

Did anything really happen?  That's always the question--and last week I got a lovely answer via Ihor Poshyvailo, one of my co-presenters, who sent along an image from the Repin Museum, whose staff attended our workshop in Kharkiv.  They invited 6th grade visitors to write their wishes for the future on a New Year's tree made of hands, now at the museum.  My best wishes to all of you for a 2015 filled with creativity!

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