Big data is not just for big museums

Over the past year, I have been researching how museums can use big data to improve the visitor experience. Tonight, I will present my research at the Harvard Extension School Thesis Symposium. The following is the abstract of my thesis published in April:

Building upon the three visitor experience contexts identified by museum researchers John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking, this thesis identifies the possible integration points, where common data exists, and how to relate the data despite an institution’s original or legacy non-relational databases. By identifying the integration points between personal, sociocultural and physical databases, museums may alter the collection of visitor information and the data sets of museum objects and people to access and analyze this data alongside each other to determine actionable insights to improve the visitor’s museum experience. The methodology outlined in this thesis may be applied to an individual museum and potential networks of museums linked by geography or specialty.

Not all elements and metrics identifying the museum experience will be relevant for each museum. Cultural institutions need to map the visitor experience and align the touch points with the appropriate contexts. Museums have the opportunity to combine visitor information with artifact information to create a rich base of knowledge that could positively inform exhibit design, marketing efforts, and interactive visitor experiences that span multiple touch points in and outside of the physical museum space. The way to take advantage of this opportunity is to change visitor information collection processes and database design and allow employees across the museum to access this data. This will help them understand how context and empathy can be added to data so the organization can make better business decisions reflecting the needs, challenges and desires of their community at the intersection of personal, sociocultural, and physical contexts.

Over the next several months, I will be expanding my thesis topic, sharing my research, and exploring the concepts I was not able to publish in my thesis. The interactive experience is the holy grail for cultural institutions and is achievable. Think big, act small.

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