We are Museums 2014 – Innovation in Warsaw!

Digital Media
June 12, 2014

What happens when you gather a load of enthusiastic people together for two intense days of best-practise experience mashed up with hands-on digital service design workshops, out in beautiful museums and galleries? This is We are Museums 2014, which this year was in the lovely city of Warsaw, Poland.


Traditional celebrational festive figures in the State Ethnographic Museum, Warsaw

The event is refreshingly action-based. I had been invited with other museum professionals to give lightning-style run-downs and lead panels and discussions on digital issues, experience from real-life digital service design and management and thoughts on the impact of digital technology in people’s lives. BUT, the whole event was built around getting the largely younger museum staff attendees working together to look inside actual working Warsaw museums and tackle the very real service challenges that use of digital technology bring.

Action Learning

It was a great idea to take experience and knowledge and mix it up to get people working up transferrable solutions. I particularly liked that group working involved all aspects of service design. It was about using digital, but as in real life, the real challenges are usually not technological. They are about working productively with other people, managing change within differing social and organisational cultures and all the little things that people love, fear and ponder.

Visiting the National Museum of Poland in Warsaw to do field user research for the digital challenge workshop

The central workshop involved visiting one of several of Warsaw’s museums, speaking to staff about a real-life service challenge, then working as a team to develop representative user profiles, creative briefs and finally a worked up design for a digitally based response.

Breakout discussions

It was great to allow people to go through each of these related aspects of the work from start to finish. This meant they had to act in all the roles from researching to brief development, from commissioning to creative design process. Many had not yet had an opportunity to experience some or all of these in their professional career. It was fascinating to watch how they coped with the human factors and how digital may be new(ish) now, but it just like any other change, big or far-reaching. You have to be able to deal with the complexities of people to make anything happen

I was in Team K. Here is a (literally) paper prototype, part of our pitch for an Instagram-powered story booth, where visitors can upload (and view) stories about Gierymski’s ‘Woman with Oranges’.

We also fun testing Twitter-data-driven interactive Tweetenstein, which harvests tweet data and reacts to touch by speaking attendees’ names


What I came away with


1. New Energy

Apart from making some great new connections with European museum professionals in many countries, it was also just really invigorating. The Digital Media team at the V&A has a culture of curiosity and creative exploration – it’s essential to deal with digital change in society and culture. It was great to engage in such a positive environment here in Warsaw too. In the Zacheta National Gallery of Art enjoying 'I’ve been here; I hope the same for you. Henryk Tomaszewski'

2. Deeper sense of how I can use stories to connect people and culture

A strong theme throughout the two days was storytelling and the importance of audience ownership and engagement with the stories that surround art and other cultural objects. It was really interesting to hear many examples from a Polish perspective. The culture and history of occupation, destruction and stubborn resistance and freedom is all around you in Warsaw. In fact almost all of the historic centre of Warsaw has been rebuilt after the Nazis deliberately destroyed it. The very buildings you walk through can be seen as a type of cultural storytelling. This made me think in new ways about designing into new services features that support user stories. Notices in Warsaw celebrating 25 years of Polish Democracy This example from the State Ethnographic Museum was a beautiful and evocative piece produced with Himalayan people by photographer Martushka Fromeast from Click Academy arts group. www.storiesfromhimalayas.com/p/home.html

3. The power of simplicity in content for multiple language audiences

We are Museums 2014 was held in Warsaw. It was held in English, but attendees were all from countries where English is not the first language, many were Polish. The conference staff also were also French and Polish speakers, so I had to put some effort in, to communicate in plain English and to speak more slowly than I tend to do naturally.

I had to concentrate on the language I used in my English almost as much as the attendees did to understand me (although most of them had impressive English skills and I have no Polish or French, and only a little German!). For me this was a really good thing. It helped me to participate more thoughtfully. It also compelled to me to experience what it is like to participate in something when language is not thoroughly understood.

Detail of a Wi-Fi screen in Polish

Away from the conference, I had some challenging moments trying to work through a number of Wi-Fi connections where either the instructions were in Polish (hard) or they were in transliterated English (also hard and very much what it is like for non-native English speakers attempting to use At the V&A as many as 50% of our physical visitors are not native speakers.

4. LOADS MORE – Run down of speaker sessions, activities, comments and discussions on social media


There was far too much to cover in a single post, so I have collected the key talks and some of the tweets and images posted that reflect the main discussion points. All good conferences need a hashtag and #WAM14 had a great ring to it!. Here are selected tweets and images from the social buzz round the various activities over the two days

Who runs We are Museums?

A big shout out to Diane Drubay @DianeDrubay, Claire Solery @ClaireSolery and Zuzanna Stanska @zstanska for putting this together. They also had a small army of great people working with them. They also got great venues. The State Ethnographic Museum and the Zacheta National Gallery of Art were both beautiful and had wonderful objects on display.

About the author

Digital Media
June 12, 2014

Digital Content Delivery Manager at the V&A. Information scientist at work and hacky maker of strange things out of it.

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