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Social Interpretation: Mobilising staff

Men of a Territorial Army Anti-Aircraft Battery training on a 3 inch anti-aircraft gun, aircraft height finder and predictor in their drill hall.

I was really very interested to read this post on the success of going mobile in museums lying in the hands of Visitor Services departments.  The usual museum visitor neither knows nor cares about the machinations and politications of getting a project like Social Interpretation off the ground. They don’t much care about budgets, stakeholders, design sign-offs, advisory committees, and mobile phone icon debates. Or any of that stuff. They care, or they remember, their experience in the museum – of which mobile is going to become a more and more common part.

For the SI project, we have chatted, involved and erm, groomed, the IWM Visitor Services department from the start. As the people who will ultimately advocate our products on the museum floor it feels only right that we listen to what the Visitor Service Assistants (VSA’s) have to say and in return let them know as much about what we are doing as is possible and practical and useful.

We have some training sessions for IWM’s VSA staff coming up, just prior to the first Social Interpretation roll out of comment kiosks and QR codes in the A Family in Wartime exhibition from 5 April. The training plan is to let the VSA’s loose on the kiosks and codes themselves – to play, comment, ask us questions. We need to let them know as much as possible for them to be able to tell visitors what they, in turn, can do.

The biggie is how to deal with post-moderated commenting. What if an offensive comment ‘sits’ there for all to see? How to explain that the power is in the visitors’ hands to deal with that comment? And that the comments are the visitors and not the museums’ voice? The VSA’s should also be in a position to help any interested but technologically awkward visitors to use the kiosks to comment. Or how to scan a QR code and what content they might get in return. We are printing postcards to tell visitors about the free Wi-Fi and how to scan QR codes. VSA’s will hopefully hand them out and help people interact with the strange bar-cody things.

And finally VSA’s should know how to put inquiring visitors the way of the disclaimers and T&C’s on the kiosks, that might answer their questions about what is going on with comments and what could happen to theirs, should they choose to take part.

The VSA staff are the front line, public face of the Social Interpretation project and success does indeed lie heavily on them knowing whereof we speak. They’ll also have to field, first hand, questions about what all this socially stuff means. So we’ll keep our ear to the ground and check back with the VSA’s to see how they find it all. Good or bad. Annoying, liberating, frustrating or just a no-brainer of a great idea, and why didn’t museums do it sooner? Fingers (and phone lines) crossed it is the latter.

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