MuseumCamp 2014: Activating an Online Community

October 16, 2014
Rebecca Ratzkin

At the end of July, Sean and I went to Santa Cruz to participate in the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History‘s MuseumCamp 2014. The camp took place over three and a half days, attracting over one hundred campers from around the world to create, implement, and analyze evaluations of social impact. Indicators ranged from social bonding at a Jerry Garcia concert, to the relationship between technology and experiences in nature, to social bridging at MAH. Sean and I served as counselors, helping several teams navigate through the process.

A handful of participants wrote about their experience and general takeaways via blog posts afterwards. There are many insightful posts which have enhanced my own reflection and learning. For this brief post, I’d like to focus on participant engagement. However, I’d like to use the word “activation” instead, referring to how MuseumCampers and counselors talked, shared, provoked, and responded to each other within the framework of the program.

MuseumCamp began with solicitation for applications via Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 blog and the Santa Cruz MAH website. After the final participant selection, Nina created a MuseumCamp Facebook Group, the hub of connection and communication for all campers. Campers quickly started using the Facebook Group for coordinating travel and logistics with fellow campers, sharing articles in advance, and meeting up with each other at other conferences and events. During camp, participants posted inspiring photographs of various activities and cheered others on as they went through their days.

What has been most surprising and fulfilling to me is the amount of activity the Facebook Group has fostered in subsequent months. Campers continue to post to the group even months after the experience. They’ve shared evaluation studies and articles, invited others to upcoming arts events and participatory art projects, reflected on their experience, and set up face-to-face social events to reconnect. MuseumCamp has had a significant ripple effect on participants, exposing them to evaluation techniques through a creative community-based learning experience, but also by providing an ongoing forum for new friends and colleagues to continue building their relationships and discover more “activation” opportunities.

For a list of participants blog posts, click here.

Some more take-aways from MuseumCamp:

Action research makes the experience fun and fulfilling for respondents/participant and research alike. One of the methods we promote is participatory in-depth interviewing. It is participatory because we ask the client to participate in the actual interviewing of their own audiences, donors, and/or community members, and thereby increasing their learning. Hearing from the horse’s mouth increases the likelihood that constituent feedback will have a lasting impact on the organization.

Surveys are a form of conversation. As Nina says, stay away from the word “survey”. We do a lot of surveying here at WolfBrown. It is useful, and often quite necessary, and everyone understands what a survey is, for the most part. However, many people steer clear of participating in surveys on principle, and some clients prefer to avoid surveys as a method altogether. I’d advise all of us to start thinking of “surveying” more as a conversation. You ask questions; people respond. Hopefully, through social media tools and our new respondent interface for the dashboard, organizations will continue this conversation by sharing how participants responded to questions (e.g., “This is how you and others said the program made you feel:” — and then displaying a word cloud of reported emotions).

Getting away is important. MuseumCamp forced all of us to set aside three whole days of time to one task — developing, implementing, and analyzing an evaluation of social impact. As others alluded to, the length of time (two days of workshops, rather than just one) helped increase individual learning, whether or not the research was effective or successful. Many came from out of town and had no other options, really, but to concentrate on this experience. By committing to MuseumCamp, we gave ourselves permission to do nothing else but absorb, learn, and experiment. When do you get to do that in your day-to-day work life? Shifting between doing and absorbing/experimenting is difficult, but rewarding. I often find myself behind in my blog readings because other activities take priority. But when I have a chance to get away, or take the time to dedicate one-half or a whole day to reading and reflection, I have a greater chance of retaining the information — and subsequently being able to translate and use that information for future work. I am currently working on developing shared learning experiences for a group of arts organizations in the Bay Area, and with my collaborator, Sheena Johnson, Program Fellow at Hewlett Foundation, have planned to facilitate half- to full-day off-site “retreat” experiences for each Learning Circle or Group that we establish.