Case Study: Ensuring Canada’s Dinosaur Museum Doesn’t Go Extinct (The Royal Tyrrell Museum)

Carly Syms - Team Lead for Marketing & Customer Service

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It’s pretty cool when you consider it — being able to stand beside a Diplodocus. So you’d think any museum dedicated entirely to dinosaurs and their stories would be an automatic audience magnet, right?

Well, not quite.

Royal Tyrrell Museum
Zak and Dustin ready to take on the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Does Your Museum Suffer From Balance Control?

Canada’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology had run into a bit of a problem, and they weren’t alone. As the museum-going population begins to age, museums around the globe are having a harder and harder time bringing in their desired audience – millennials.

The Royal Tyrrell—better known as “Canada’s Dinosaur Museum”—is named for Joseph Burr Tyrrell, a geologist who in 1884 stumbled upon the Red Deer River Valley’s first recognized dinosaur fossil while hunting for beds of coal. With one of the world’s biggest collections of fossils (they have more than 130,000 of them!), the museum is an automatic draw for fans of all things paleontological, but the museum was struggling to engage audiences that weren’t already big science buffs. Museum officials found themselves wondering how to attract the highly-coveted millennial population, and that’s when they called us.

Compounding this challenge, staff wanted to ensure they could capture this new audience without alienating those who are already passionate about the museum.

Case Study: How The Royal Tyrrell Got Its Groove Back

The Royal Tyrrell’s dilemma was a problem that Museum Hack was ready and willing to tackle. Our audience development team packed their bags and headed deep into the heart of Alberta to help breathe new life into Canada’s dinosaurs.

Museum Hackers Dustin Growick and Zak Martellucci designed a professional development workshop on audience engagement aimed at helping Royal Tyrrell staff find the their voice in an attempt to court new museum patrons.

Dustin and Zak met with staff members from all areas of the museum, including education, distance learning, and security.  They discussed the unique challenges faced at the Royal Tyrrell, and how we could adapt our techniques to best fit their needs. They then held a four-hour workshop for museum staff on our methods of audience engagement with a special focus on how to make these techniques unique to Canada’s dinosaurs. 

Dustin and Zak with a staff member of the Royal Tyrrell

Together, Royal Tyrrell staff and our team tested new modes of engagement to help attract the dinosaur holdouts while still appealing to the museum’s core base. Dustin and Zak modeled inquiry-based narrative techniques, interactive activities, smart use of smart phones, an kinesthetic modes of engagement.

The Royal Tyrrell’s blog on their experience with us summed it up best:

The day began, not with Dustin and Zak lecturing our staff in a classroom, but by bringing our team into the Museum’s galleries and experiencing the space as if we were visitors. We howled with our dire wolf because winter is coming. We stood under our elasmosaur and discussed the dirty scientific feud that developed when the species was first unveiled (seriously, go look up the Bone Wars right now, it’s fantastic). We received wildly scientifically inaccurate plastic dinosaurs, were tasked with finding their match in our galleries, and taking a selfie with it.

Those, and the many other activities of the workshop, are not what you would expect from a traditional museum experience. Learning about the Museum Hack style challenged us as interpreters to expand the possibilities of how we connect visitors to science. Mixing mind-blowing scientific facts with fun ‘ice breakers’ creates engagement that is memorable and demands a return visit to learn more.

 

During the workshop, we first demonstrated various techniques and styles of engagement. Next, Royal Tyrrell staff were tasked with testing and prototyping their new understandings. We gave the staff freedom to experiment with several different avenues of engagement and narrative construction, allowing each person to figure out exactly what style best fits the needs of their specific audience, and—perhaps even more importantly—the audiences that they aren’t attracting.

At least not yet…

Royal Tyrrell Museum staff with a T-Rex skeleton

Royal Tyrrell staff were now ready to make personal connections with guests through telling passion-based stories about the museum and its objects. With a new commitment to creating real and meaningful connections with guests, and, in turn, connecting guests in a genuine way with the museum, there’s no doubt that while dinosaurs (and Museum Hack’s workshop!) have gone extinct, the Royal Tyrrell Museum will bring these magnificent creatures and their stories to life for years to come.

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