How would you create an on demand experience for museums?

When I was a child growing up in England we had four television channels, and if I wanted to watch my favourite programme I had to wait for it to appear on my parents television set at the time which it was broadcast.

My children live in a different world, a place where broadcasting has evolved to meet and often exceed to expectations of the public. In the UK, our public broadcaster the BBC has in recent years led this evolution, with iPlayer, an on demand service which allows me to view there programmes online, on mobile or on television with the click of a button.

The service is incredibly popular, with 1 in 4 people in the UK saying they view more television via iPlayer and similar services than regular TV. In an age when the public increasingly expect services on demand at a time and place that suites them, this public service (BBC) is delivering an excellent service.

The traditional model of a museum is similar to that of television. The museum opens its doors at set times and ‘broadcasts’ through a set channel. The public are expected to be there if they wish to participate in the experience.

What we are now seeing (or need to see) is a shift towards an iPlayer model. The museum needs to move beyond expecting people to come to them, and see the value in taking their knowledge to their audiences in a format which fits in to peoples lives.

This does not only mean investing in technology (though I believe that is key), but rethinking opening hours and taking collections beyond the walls of the institution. Many institutions are doing this, yet I still find myself standing frustrated at the doors of a closed museum on a Sunday afternoon.

How would you create an on demand experience for museums?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Take over an empty shop in a shopping center and take the museum to people who might never visit spend time.
  • Open later (even if it means you open later) so people can visit after work.
  • Invest in digital capacity (technology and staff) and use the web and apps to be open 24/7.
  • Open up your collection data through API’s to allow others to find ways to share your collection.
  • Use free channels like Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Pinterest etc to take your museum beyond its walls.

I’d love to hear your ideas on how we can create an on demand museum, so please leave a comment with your thoughts.

13 Responses to “How would you create an on demand experience for museums?”

  1. Carolyn says:

    I think there are quite a bit of museums staying open late, creating apps and using social media. It might be time to start thinking about creating museum experiences through technology and social media. There are probably a few examples of this out there, but as someone in a long-distance relationship, I keep thinking of how nice it might be to do a digital museum visit. Perhaps museums could publish something similar to teacher guides that allow people to have more exciting digital museum experiences.

  2. Jim Richardson says:

    Hi Caroline.

    Your right, many institutions are taking some of the steps mentioned and reading what I’ve writing afresh after receiving your comment, I realised that perhaps the more interesting point is how can we move all museums in this direction?

    Rather then a teachers guide for creating more exciting digital museum experiences, we need a guide for museums to produce this?

  3. Jim – what a great discussion topic!
    Whilst not disagreeing with the vision to include more technology to meet the needs of different demographics and to provide more inclusive experiences (ultimately more numbers and greater education)… I am not sure the iPlayer analogy is the route to this.
    I consider TV to be a commodity – it is everywhere and the user chooses when and what and how to experience it – demand already exists and the market has to provide mediums and entertainment to fulfil this. The same is happening with music with LastFM, Spotify etc – but these are takign the value out of the content.
    I think that The Museum must still exist and adapt to represent a high value experience (not a commodity). Through change and adapting this will create more demand without de-valuing.
    Of course this transition is happening and traditional and new media will continue in parallel. Do you think the NextMuseum is as a commodity or as a value experience?

  4. Hi Chrispin

    Thanks for getting involved in the conversation, you make some good points.

    I guess it depends on what the museum is trying to achieve. I think your right that the reason that most people visit a museum is to do with experience, but also education, inspiration, social, spiritual etc.

    The visit delivers these, but it is also possible for a museum to offer for example an educational experience remotely. I don’t see this as replacing museum visits, but as being additional routes to achieve their missions.

    Is it possible to deliver ondemand digital learning experiences which can be really valuable to people, I believe it is.

    Some good examples exist, but still 99% of resources are focused on the building, when the opportunities beyond this are huge.

    You mentioned MuseumNext, and I think our conference is an interesting example. This event is about experience, education, inspiration and networking.

    While attending the event is the ideal experience, we have also started to share films of the presentations online and this on demand service has the potential to educate and inspire those who could not make it to Barcelona.

    Within hours of putting the films online we reached a point where more people had viewed the presentations online than made it to the conference.

    Could the same be true of a museum experience. The visit is the ideal, and reaches one audience, but the virtual allows far greater reach?

    What do you think?

  5. Carey Normand says:

    I agree with the ideas expressed in the previous comments.

    The use of appropriate technology, especially mobile technologies, will inevitably be the future for museums to connect with their communities. But, the V&A Dundee, must be much more ambitious and embrace it’s communities in real as well as virtual time.

    Accessibility is not just about opening times – though these are important- but about cultural beliefs about belonging and connectedness. The real challenge is to reach those who don’t feel that museums are about them or for them. If technology can bridge this gap then the project will be successful.

  6. Hi Carey

    I am glad to hear that technology is playing a major role in V&A Dundee. Louise and Georgina both spoke about creating a very innovative institution when I spoke to them at MuseumNext Edinburgh and on a subsequent visit to see them in Dundee.

    This presentation I gave about the museum of the future at a conference in the Gulf goes further in explaining my thoughts on the role of digital in a new institution:

    I am really excited to see the V&A Dundee take shape. The place is close to my heart, having studied at Duncan of Jordanstone many years ago.

  7. Jim,

    Good analogy with the attendence/access views at the MuseumNext conference – I think we are probably in agreement at the end of the day – the education, the access and the new technology (obviously our area of interest is around here) running in parallel with classic medium, hence I’ll end by echoing your comment again:

    “Is it possible to deliver on demand digital learning experiences which can be really valuable to people? I believe it is.” — Crispin

    • Jim Richardson says:

      Thanks Crispin. Now we just need to persuade a few museum directors of that…

  8. Claire says:

    Thanks for writing this Jim, lots to think about.

    What struck me straight away, particularly with the BBC iPlayer theme, is The Space ( It claims to be on demand access to the arts. But I’m not too sure it achieves it. For me, The Space, is a very good representation of what the BBC do very well – broadcast. But is that really what audiences want? Another broadcast medium? Museums are more than broadcast, therefore is it possible to create an on demand fully participatory experience? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, if something along the lines of The Space in a museums context would be the first step to a fully on demand museum. Or is that going the wrong way entirely?

  9. Jim Richardson says:

    Hi Claire

    The Space does sound really interesting and I am keen to learn more about it. It seemed from what Jeremy Hunt said last week, that he expects museums to participate in this project.

    It would be nice to see some museums playing with a similar concept. I was thinking at the weekend that the way museums are funded perhaps makes that kind of innovation harder to achieve.

    We need a new ‘entrepreneurial’ museum outside of the funding loop, which has the freedom to try something like this and fail… or maybe I am going off on a huge tangent…

    Your point about what audiences want is key, and I don’t think anyone has an answer to that yet.

  10. Claire says:

    Oh crikey yes, alternative funding streams or a funding shake up is required to make innovation flourish. Particularly if museums want to look at other sectors for ideas. Using on demand and the iPlayer is a great starting point to see how concepts and practicalities can transfer over to museums.

    I’m part of 1 of the Arts Council England, AHRC and Nesta R&D funded projects, and this was a really interesting way to pilot new digital innovation projects. Hopefully there will be more funding opportunities like this in the future. Its hard to create something new if museums don’t have either the funding, strategic planning of the stakeholder buy in to try an untested concept.

  11. Sherry says:

    In Topeka, Kansas, we are developing our library and art gallery with our “digital branch.” This is a way to deliver our library and gallery serves over the web. (Our gallery is part of our library.) We are using social networking to promote our exhibits, and create an archive of our exhibits. If people can’t come to the exhibit, but they can see the images and installation online. Our hope is to get our art collection searchable and online the way our card catalog is. Is it the same? No, seeing the real thing is always different. We find that seeing things online does inspire people to visit our museum and see it “live.”

  12. charlotteshj says:

    What great ideas! I became fascinated with your bullet one and three.

    Could they be combined? Why not take the digital museum to the streets in a new way? We often think “digital outdoor” as apps etc. and for some reason “digital onsite” as something much more immersive.

    I think, that AR will get much more immersiveness into the “digital outdoor” experience. And how great it would be, if it was possible to connect with live people while using it. Something a bit like the Street Museums we allready know – only with museumstaff and other users to interact with.