Working at the Manchester Museum and the Whitworth the timing of the DMA, coming as it does at a really busy time, has in many ways been ideal for me.
The reopening of the Whitworth after a £15m capital redevelopment in February has brought a buzz of activity ever since and as I write we’re in the running for Museum of The Year.
This has of course meant that finding time is an even bigger challenge than usual but it has also lead to more scope for activity and experimentation.
Sessions with Shelley Bernstein and Sara Devine from Brooklyn Museum were truly inspirational and have helped me to rethink and reevaluate many, if not most, of the ways I work. The Agile Samurai by Johnathan Rasmusson, a book recommended during their session has become invaluable.
My assigned Mentor, Tom Beardshaw, proved to be fantastic in terms of expertise and a great source of support. Already I can honestly say this part of the experience gave me new perspective and insight into my practice and actual tools to approach new projects and new ways of working.
I can’t thank Tom enough for his clarity and congruence. Given the metaphors in The Agile Samurai I also hope Tom doesn’t mind me visualising his face on at least one iteration of the master sensei!
Perhaps even more importantly than the master sensei – even at these early stages of Action Learning Sets I’m incredibly excited by the ideas, passion and commitment of the other Fellows on the course. I’m looking forward to seeing where the process takes us and where we take each other.
My planned experiments have shifted a little since my initial thoughts but the essence remains. One is to look at ways of literally reframing Instagram images, responding to calls to action presented via low tech means.
The other is to experiment with how visitors can communicate via movement with museum technology – and without the need for their own device.
On the surface both are non digital but with digital technology and related thinking embedded within.
I was already a fan of Agile methodology, but having had the opportunity to carve out projects to work with it’s been pretty revelatory. Given the cultural funding landscape I have always felt a genuine responsibility to ensure we achieve value for outlay (including staff time) – even moreso in leaner years.
As well as the appeal as I see it, it helped me to identify a quantifiable cost saving in terms of a major web project. This suggested outline was music to the ears of staff and stakeholders who could easily understand the real benefit of short manageable sprints – and also easily count the financial benefit as this departure from an old approach has saved an expenditure of tens of thousands. There will still be a cost. It may still be in the tens of thousands but the rinse and repeat iterative nature of the approach means the project will be built more sustainably.
Even in the short term I don’t expect this saving to be free – either of cost or of risk. In fact the risk of failure and the ways to learn from this has been one of the most impactful learning points to date for me on the DMA.