Creating Meaningful Connections Through Activity Design: A Case Study with Heritage Museums & Gardens

Museum Resources
Marketing & Aud Dev Associate
Museum Resources September 20, 2017 Featured Image

People come to your museum for a reason.

But, people often have different reasons for wanting to visit. Some folks might want to study the brushstroke techniques of mid-19th century impressionist paintings, while others might want to have a stroll to see the sights. Others want programming, and a unique experience to engage with your collection.

This raises an interesting and crucial question for museums: how can you offer each guest a meaningful, customized experience, when each person’s definition of meaningful may be different?

Returning To The Heritage Museums & Gardens for A Second Audience Engagement Workshop

Last year, we traveled to Sandwich, MA to give an in-depth audience engagement workshop at Heritage Museums & Gardens (HMG).

There, we helped docents at the HMG use their individual perspectives to create meaningful personal connections with their museum’s collection and visitors. We also taught techniques and a narrative framework to catch and hold the attention of guests throughout tours.

Recently, we were lucky enough to head back to the HMG for a second audience engagement workshop, and build upon a solid storytelling foundation.

Adding Practical Tools To An Already-Solid Foundation At Heritage Museums & Gardens

The goal of last year’s workshop was to teach HMG’s interpretive staff how to get people interested in objects. One part of that included the 5 Elements Of A Hack – our framework for high-level storytelling. Over the past year, HMG’s interpreters and docents benefitted greatly from learning that narrative structure.

This year, Heritage Museums & Gardens chose to bring us in for a second workshop because they were looking to deepen that initial engagement with their audiences, and make sure their audience’s memories of the institution were lasting and meaningful. HMG also wanted to add more activities and context to the interpretation they’ve been working on since our last training.

Since last year’s workshop had already set a solid foundation for their docents, this time we were able to go even deeper and cover a wide range of advanced concepts including activity design and scaffolding – our framework for the deliberate and strategic timing of stories and activities for maximum engagement over the course of a tour.

And because HMG’s interpreters were already familiar with our foundational strategies from last year’s training, we started with a lot of common ground and shared vocabulary that allowed us to work faster and have more impact during our time together.

Many of today’s visitors want a more participatory experience, where they feel invested in the stories and spaces of the museum. These visitors don’t simply want to be “told” about an exhibit, they want to be able to forge personal connections with the pieces on display on their own terms.

Activities are one of our favorite methods for creating meaningful connections between visitors and institutions. We regularly consult with museums to teach techniques that encourage visitors to verbalize their feelings in an open and non-threatening environment, explore the museum kinesthetically, and use the technology in their own pocket to make visitors more comfortable in the museum and expand the possibilities with which they can creatively engage with your collection.

One of the workshop’s focal points included our VIP guides Dustin, Jen, Kate, and Harry demonstrating our favorite museum activities for HMG staff and coaching them through creating their own, providing feedback along the way.

The Exponential Value Benefits Of Follow-Up Workshops

We care about the museums we work with and love building long-term relationships with museums.

Like our work with Heritage Museums & Gardens demonstrates, there are many benefits to hosting multiple workshops with us at your institution. If we’re already familiar with your space and know your staff, we can spend more of our time together working on high-level strategies. We can pick up from where we left off last time, dive deeper into the topics discussed during the last training, and provide feedback about all of the new implementations you’ve made since.

And perhaps most importantly, collaborating through multiple workshops gives us the chance to craft a more meaningful visitor experience for each person that comes to your institution.

“I would totally recommend working with you guys. You’re very responsive, and very easy to work with. And like I said, the way that you guys work with museums, it’s obvious that you love the things and you just want people to connect on a different level and get those people who aren’t interested interested, and that’s what all museums are struggling with right now… I would recommend you highly to any of my colleagues who were interested.”

-Allie Mulrow, the Manager of Interpretive Programs at Heritage Museums & Gardens

Want to know more about our Audience Engagement Workshops? Email us at [email protected].


written with 💖 by Julia Kennedy

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