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iSay: Visitor-generated content in Heritage Institutions

Grant Holder: Giasemi Vavoula, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

Co-applicant: Dr Jenny Kidd

Funder: AHRC

Period: August 2012 to December 2013

Museums and other heritage institutions often invite their visitors to contribute content to museum collections and exhibitions for a variety of purposes: to gather feedback and assess the effectiveness of their exhibitions, to enrich their collections with first-hand accounts of experiences with their objects, or simply to engage their audiences in interactions with their contents at a deeper level. Such examples date almost a century back, however, the whole notion of visitor- generated content has taken on completely new meaning with the advent of the social web. Users of the social web (including social networking sites, blogs, wikis, etc.) increasingly expect to be asked for their opinions and comments and to be offered opportunities to actively contribute rather than passively consume online content. Heritage institutions are already responding to this with a variety of projects that seek content from their online and/or on-site audiences.

This network will provide a forum for heritage institutions, academics and developers who are experienced in, or have an interest in visitor-generated content, to exchange experiences, to identify critical issues and challenges in this area, to map future research agendas, and to encourage good practice in this area. Of particular interest to the network are issues of ownership and IPR over the generated content, as well as the ethical challenges of soliciting, using and disposing of visitor content. Four structured events will focus on the following topics:

  • The Shape of Things: New and Emerging Technology
  • Enabled Models of Participation through visitor-generated content
  • "It's my content 2.0"
  • IPR, ownership and ethics
  • "But it's my content too"
  • Democracy, trust and moderation
  • The Shape of Things to Come

The events are intended to delineate and advance the debate over visitor-generated content versus institutional content as well as to unveil possible synergies. In doing so, they will contribute significantly to our understanding of the issues and challenges involved in integrating visitor content within heritage institutions, and will advance our practices and approaches.

Research Outputs

Journal articles
Edited collection to be published as an open access book
Conference paper
Grant applications

Research Impact

1. Museum and Heritage Site Professionals: On the basis of the various LIVE Museum outputs there is a demonstrable need for debate and dialogue across the themes identified; themes with particular contemporary currency. Articulating the role and use-value of Visitor-Generated Content is crucial, especially when issues around ethics, ownership, authority and representation are at stake.

2. Feeding into public policy on the nature and role of digital heritage: Interpretation of our heritage through digital technologies and artefacts are no doubt of fascination and concern across the cultural sector. As intangible and e-tangible heritages are increasingly being recognised, and visitor-generated content sought, questions are raised about how to collect, curate and make sense of contributions from the public. This has wider significance and could feed into policy around the wider use of science and technology (at DCMS level), and discourse about the future direction of cultural policy more broadly.

3. Enhancing the visitor/user experience and creativity: Participants in the network events will be encouraged to reflect upon their own (and their institutions) ethics and responsibilities in practice related to visitor-generated content. This could alter quite fundamentally future work in this area, and the nature of the visitor experience in the future.

4. Increasing the effectiveness and relevance of heritage institutions: Museums are increasingly (especially in the current landscape) being required to evidence their vitality and relevance to their publics. In the past, there has often been a gulf in understanding between the institution and it constituents. More nuanced and ethical use of (and reflection on) visitor-generated content of all varieties will indicate a more genuine two- way dialogue and increased intimacy in engagement on both sides, helping to make that case more vivid.

5. Informing software and hardware development in the field of museum informatics: The understandings and discussion emerging from the network could well inform and influence the future shape, feel and use-value of hardware and software in this field. The findings of this project will be disseminated amongst those working at the sharp end of design and delivery in this area through trade fairs, publications and existing networks. The research proposals that form outcomes of the project will be able to impact still further in this regard.

Related Links:

The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

Digital Engagement Network

Art of Memory