21 May 2018 Attractions Management Handbook
 

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Attractions Management Handbook - All About You

Ecsite

All About You


Science centres and museums are increasingly using digital personalisation to engage visitors with content. Nathalie Caplet draws lessons from some of the science centres and exhibit design companies leading this trend

Nathalie Caplet, Cap Sciences
Visitors are keen to see their creations photo: © lee pullen
A group of young girls create their own masterpiece within At-Bristol’s Animate It! Exhibition photo: © dave pratt
The Wellcome Trust’s travelling exhibition In the Zone records your body’s activity and rest levels photo: © Technopolis the Flemish Science Centre
The Wellcome Trust’s travelling exhibition In the Zone records your body’s activity and rest levels photo: © Wellcome Trust
At Romanticum) visitors can save information collated about the Rhine for future reference at home photo: © Museon
At Romanticum visitors can save information collated about the Rhine for future reference at home photo: © P!ELmedia
The Star Wars Identities exhibition challenges visitors to build their own unique Star Wars hero
The Star Wars Identities exhibition challenges visitors to build their own unique Star Wars hero
The Star Wars Identities exhibition challenges visitors to build their own unique Star Wars hero
BodyWorks has been highly successful because it generates interesting images
Visitor tracking is highly accepted by visitors when the exhibition deals with measuring their capabilities

All marketing emails call you by your first name and all on-screen ads seem to be aware of your most secret habits. Surely these big-budget companies know what they’re doing: by addressing people personally and targeting their content well, the return on investment must be significantly higher.

Science centres and museums are now increasingly using this “personalisation” strategy to connect visitors with their content – and ultimately with science.

By providing visitors with some sort of ID on entering an exhibition (i.e. a QR code on the ticket, a bar-code on a paper bracelet or an RFID chip on a reusable card), they can be individually recognised. Depending on the objectives, showing the tag to the exhibit ID reader may adapt the content management system (CMS) to their choices, follow their interactions, record content or creations, or compare their results with those of other visitors. Visitors may even be able to connect to their own online account created during the exhibit, at home or straight away on their mobile phone.

It seems quite high-tech and expensive, but does it live up to expectation? Is it useful? At the science centre where I work – Cap Sciences in Bordeaux, France – we considered the advantages and disadvantages when we created our own personalisation strategy. I was keen to step back and ask exhibit designers and professionals from other science centres about their experiences, so I could discover the functionalities a personalised system can offer visitors and institutions.

Adapt and track
In its most basic use, a personalised system can remember the choice of language made at the beginning of a visit, which is useful in places where all content is provided in different languages, like at Technopolis – The Flemish Science Centre. Visitors to this attraction can also choose between themes or indicate their preferred learning style (more images or sound). Hub Kockelkorn, from the Netherlands’ Museon, explains that in The Hague and the Atlantikwall (an exhibit focusing on the impact the wall’s construction had on the city’s inhabitants), visitors can choose to view history from different perspectives: that of civilians, civil servants or Germans.

One advantage of using a CMS is that all content displayed (on-screen at least) is centrally controlled, making exhibits easier to implement or to modify. Another advantage for the institution is that all interactions between the visitors and the multimedia displays (triggered by a visitor’s tag) are recorded, which theoretically tells the organiser which multimedia exhibits are less often used, or whether visitors tend to stop half way through an interactive display. However, as Patricia Verheyden from Technopolis explains: “It is quite time consuming to analyse all the data and the results are not always clear, as not all exhibits require ID scanning and some naturally take more time to interact with. Furthermore, when visitors interact as a group (e.g. families) with an exhibit, only one person will scan the bracelet.”

CMS can also be used to inform a visitor at a certain point in an exhibition that they missed an exhibit, or the visitor may simply return to an exhibit and pick up where they’d left off. However, I’m not convinced that visitors will see such features as a great added bonus, whereas visitors completing a quiz or treasure hunt across an exhibition might appreciate a system that records their answers and provides an individualised overall result.

What if in the future visitors got to choose between a very didactic experience and a police enquiry storyline within the same exhibition? Would visitors stay longer or come back to try different angles like at the Atlantikwall exhibit? We don’t have enough perspective to make that analysis yet, but one thing is certain: this approach certainly requires more work from content developers!

Information accumulation
In some exhibitions, the ID tag gives visitors access to special features like a treasure hunt, but the ID is not required for the visit. In others (like Atlantikwall) the ID is necessary due to the way the exhibition was designed. In Star Wars Identities, it’s the backbone of the experience: an identity quest which challenges each visitor to build their own unique Star Wars hero. Each answer given along the visitor journey is one step towards the creation of a complete character profile, revealed at the end. Geneviève Angio-Morneau, from the gsmprjct company, is the creative director/museologist who designed the exhibition. She relates: “We saw people going back to various stations to make changes in order to readjust their profile! They could really see the impact of their choices. It’s very motivating!”

The accounts created by these personalised systems are therefore used to collect data, such as content the visitor sees in the exhibition, which can be accessed later – a sort of bookmark. But it was verified that, given the opportunity, very few visitors bookmark exhibition content during their visit and connect to their account later to access it. It only makes sense in very specific cases, like to plan a future action. For example, at Romanticum – an interactive exhibition where visitors discover the most beautiful sights of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Upper Middle Rhine Valley – “Information collected in the exhibition can be used to remember the different sights and must-sees at home. It can be recalled while planning and even during a trip,” explains its designer, Nina Sperling of Studio klv.

Data, scores and results that visitors self-generate by answering surveys and playing games can be interesting to the visitor, particularly if shown in comparison with others or overall results. It can be displayed in real time in the exhibit and accessed on visitors’ accounts. These data can also be of interest to the institution and even scientists if a questionnaire is set up for research purposes.

Surf the selfie wave
Undoubtedly, what people are most interested in is themselves! How about sharing a photo of yourself in the exhibition? This is a feature that some systems offer(ed), but as the Norwegian centre Vilvite noted: visitors now use their smartphone for this! What the institution offers needs to go one step further.

The Wellcome Trust’s In the Zone travelling exhibition (designed and delivered by the At-Bristol science centre in the UK) encouraged visitors to explore how their bodies work during sport, activity, movement and rest. Data were recorded (e.g. heart rate, reaction time) and the visitors were filmed during a range of tests and exercises, including running and jumping. A two-minute video was automatically compiled with personal data, interspersed with scientific explanations, and a link was emailed to the visitors. This is the sort of content that visitors will connect back online: 35 per cent of those who visited watched their video (a very high connection rate compared with a few per cent in some cases). This kind of personal data gets shared via social media, giving more visibility to an exhibition.

“Visitor tracking is successful and highly accepted by visitors, when the exhibition deals with measuring the visitors capabilities and generating funny and interesting images/videos,” comments Kalle Ruff from Hüttinger, referring in particular to BodyWorks, an exhibition his company developed for the Glasgow Science Centre in Scotland.

Visitors are keen on seeing their creations. Another good example from At-Bristol is the exhibition Animate-it, in which visitors become animators for the day. In general, if visitors are encouraged to use their creative skills to generate a unique production in an exhibition, be it an object (which can be photographed) or a digital file, it is most likely they will be eager to save it and share it. This is a perfect opportunity to connect with our visitors after their visit.

Recall, share, replay“Extending the engagement beyond our physical building is valuable in delivering our mission of ‘engaging the public with science’,” states Ian Wilson from Glasgow Science Centre. At-Bristol consultant Harry White agrees: “Visitors have limited time to read content or play complex games while in our building. However once they are at home they might log on to a personal webpage, first to see the content they have created, but whilst they are there, they are more likely to read content or get involved with complex games or follow up open ended activities.”

Furthermore, “if the visitor goes online, it will create a more lasting memory, by recalling the experience of the onsite visit,” adds Dan Bird, Wellcome Trust public engagement fellow.

At Cap Sciences in Bordeaux, we designed a personalisation software called CYou. We released it in 2014 as an open-source for institutions to adapt to their own needs (navinum.net).

“Our strategy involves gamification”, explains Vincent Jouanneau. “The visitor’s account records the interactions in several exhibitions, at events and with online content. The type and depth of the interactions (e.g. game scores) translate into points or medals and statuses on each visitor’s profile. It provides not only a layer of fun and incentive (e.g. access to discounts), but an overall connection with each visitor.”

In charge of digital personalisation at Cap Sciences, Sébastien Cursan reflects on the link between visitors, the institution, and the content: “We can get inspired by relationship marketing, which in the case of culture, could focus on content and profile rather than consumer goods. The marketing team should be able to closely monitor recorded interaction data and order specific content, length of visit to content developers, and therefore permanently fine tune the offer.”

A secure future
“We know that the biggest danger is the technology getting in the way of the visit, disrupting the social context or physically hindering the visitor or being just too darn hard to understand and use,” points out Emma Cook from At-Bristol. In addition to the setting, it is the social experience and physical interactions that make a visit to a science centre special, and this must be kept in mind when adding more touch-screens and digital interactions.

Furthermore, on the exhibition floor, the on-screen content (level, language, scenario) may only be adapted to the person whose ID tag triggered its display and not to other visitors around. While providing targeted content to some, we could hinder access to content for others! For the content to be accessible, the ergonomics and the responsiveness need to be perfect. Non-digital natives should quickly find their way around and younger visitors will require a fast system!

While designing the visitor experience and the scenario of the exhibition, we need to be aware that “all too often the use of technology places the visitor in receive mode rather than co-creating,” warns Dan Bird. “Ownership of the experience is an essential pathway to building a relationship with the institution and science.” Sharing the experience is also important, so the personalised content needs to be adapted to engage groups, such as friends and family.

At the Experimentarium in Copenhagen, a new exhibition on physical activities (called PULS) offers a system which can be used by several people and create a collective memory.

Regarding online content design and interaction, Bird stresses: “Some companies are investing millions to crack how to connect people with content online. If we think of the potential impact, we can’t afford not to exploit it. My concern is that science centres and museums will be left out because of costs. Some can’t even afford to have a mobile compatible website! What we put online is in competition with the rest of the web! We really need to be smart about our resources and work more collaboratively as an industry.”

Nonetheless, most science centres try to be “personal”, with explainers being our most versatile personalisation tools. Despite the significant financial investment (equipment, maintenance, staff skills) and the major changes it implies to our way of working, digital personalisation is a fantastic opportunity, and I agree with Emma Cook when she states: “I think it will stop being a trend and become a key part of engaging visitors with exciting and meaningful content. I’m convinced that success lies with combining conversation, personalisation and creativity.”


About the author:
Nathalie Caplet is scientific resources and international relations manager at French science centre, Cap Sciences in Bordeaux. As such, she’s very involved in the European science centre and museum network (Ecsite), in particular as a member of its editorial board.

Originally published in Attractions Handbook 2015 issue 1

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