Writing participant information for Ethics approval

Today I’m trying to finish all the documentation I need to Ethics Committee approval for the Chawton Untours. Right now, I’m looking in particular at the information sheet I’ll give participants before they agree to be part of the experiment. Looking at and writing all this over and over again mains me sort of “sense-blind”, and so though I think this is all written in plain English and is understandable to the man on the street, I’m not sure. So I thought I’d share it here. If there’s anything you think doesn’t make sense, drop me a line in the comments, please:

Participant Information Sheet

Study title: Responsive Heritage Narratives

 

[There’s a bunch of reference number stuff which I won’t bother blog readers with]

Your participant number: _______

Please read this information carefully before deciding to take part in this research. If you are happy to participate you will be asked to sign a consent form.

What is the research about?

For my PhD I’m researching how museums and heritage sites might be able to give every visitor an experience better tailored towards their needs, rather than the “one-size-fits-all” experience offered by guidebooks and exhibitions and even the current generation of interactive guides and apps.

Why have I been chosen?

As a visitor to Chawton you represent the sort of person that might visit any museum, historic house or other heritage site. This research does not involve people under sixteen.

What will happen to me if I take part?

You will participate in an “Untour”. You are free to wander around the house as you might when visiting any historic site. The difference is that you/your group) will be followed by an “Unguide” who, in each location where you pause, will trigger some storytelling. The Unguide may show you something to read, read something out to you, or remotely activate lights, sounds that will help tell the story of the place. The Unguide is not a tour guide, and will not tell you where to go next or what to look at. You are in control. You may ask the Unguide questions, but the Unguide may not be able to answer all of them. The Untour should take no longer than 40 minutes.

The Unguide will keep a note of your interests and behaviours throughout the Untour and you may be filmed. Any video will be confidential, anonymously analysed and deleted. At the end of the Untour you will also be asked to complete a confidential, anonymous survey.

Are there any benefits in my taking part?

I hope you will learn something about the house and library here at Chawton. The experiment will tell you a story about the place which, though composed of historical facts, will be unique: tailored to your interests, and not quite the same as any other group’s.

Are there any risks involved?

There are no risks beyond those of an everyday visit to a historic house.

Will my participation be confidential?

Your Untour will necessarily take place when Chawton is open to the public, and other people, not least other participants taking their own Untours, will be able to see that you are participating. But we don’t need your name, address or other identifying information (except on the consent form). You will have a participant number, which we will use to anonymously link the Unguide’s notes, your questionnaire responses and any video evidence. All data will be kept confidentially on secure servers university servers, and deleted when the research is completed.

What happens if I change my mind?

You can end the Untour at any point. If, after the event, you decide you do not wish the evidence gathered during your Untour to be used in the analysis you can contact me (by email: [address]) quoting your participant number. I will delete/destroy any associated notes, forms, or recordings and inform you when I have done so.

What happens if something goes wrong?

In the unlikely case of concern or complaint, you should contact the Chair of the Faculty Ethics Committee [contact details]

Where can I get more information?

If you want to know more you can contact me direct at [email], or if you would like to read more about the background to my research, visit my blog http://www.memetechnology.org

 

 

 

Mind Control and responsive narrative

Among the mince pies and over-cooked turkey over Christmas, I managed to find a little time to read an interesting paper. #Scanners: Exploring the Control of Adaptive Films using Brain-Computer Interaction shows once again, that the cool people are all at the University of Nottingham. What these particular four cool guys did was put a mini cinema in an old caravan. But this particular cinema wasn’t showing an ordinary film. Rather, the “film was created with four parallel channels of footage, where blinking and levels of attention and meditation, as recorded by a commercially available EEG device, affected which footage participants saw.”

Building on research in Brain Computer Interface (BCI) the team worked with an artist to create a filmed narrative that “ran for 16 minutes, progressing through 18 scenes. However, each scene was filmed as four distinct layers, two showing different views of the central protagonist’s external Reality and the other two showing different views of their internal dream-world.” Which layers each viewer saw was selected by the EEG device, for rather by the viewers’ blinks and states of “attention” or “meditation” as recorded by the device. The authors admit to some skepticism from the research community about the accuracy of the device in question, but that was not what as being tested here. Rather, they were interested in the viewers’ awareness of the ability to control the narrative, and their reaction to that awareness.

I was interested in the paper for two reasons. First of all, their conclusions touch upon an observation I made very early in in my own research, looking at Ghosts in the Garden, I got a small number (therefore not a very robust sample) of users of that interactive narrative to fill out a short questionnaire, and I was surprised by the number of respondents who were not aware that they could control (were controlling) the story through the choices they made. The #Scanners team noticed a similar variation in awareness, but more than that, they found that “while the BCI based adaptation made the experience more immersive for many viewers, thinking about control often brought them out of the experience.”

They conclude that “a traditional belief in HCI is that Direct Manipulation (being able to control exactly what you want to control) sits at the top of both these dimensions. We examined, however, how users deviate from line, and enjoyed the experience more by either not knowing exactly how it worked, or by giving up control and becoming re-immersed in the experience. […] these deviations from the line between knowledge and conscious control over interaction are most interesting design opportunities to explore within future BCI adaptive multimedia experiences.”

With which, I think I agree.

The other reason the paper interests me is that they described their research as “Performance-Led Research in the Wild” and pointed me towards another paper to read.

Ethics approval – a word to the wise

I’m doing my ERGO application today. That’s the University’s Ethics risk and approval system, and they’ve worked hard to make it as simple as possible, but it does take time. And so its time to pass on a useful tip to those starting out on their PhD studies. This is the third approval I will have got (and I’m pretty sure to get it, its low risk ethics-wise), during my time here. I made the mistake of applying for each bit of research that I wanted to do separately, with a relatively short expiry time. Once for some on-line data collection, the results of which which will feature in my thesis. Once for some recorded oral interviews which didn’t really get anywhere, and which probably won’t feature in the end.

But what I should have done is apply for the whole of my research, at the beginning, and set the expiry date for when I expected to finish my PhD. I didn’t realize that I time that I could do so, but as I go through the risk assessment for the third time, I realise that I’m ticking pretty much the same boxes each time. I guess I might have thought, back then, that the nature of my research could drastically change, based on what I had learned in the early years, but it hasn’t. And even if it had, I bet its easier to update the one approval that to do (as I have) three.

Update: Though, when I get to the question “Does the research involve working with: […] Class 3B or 4 lasers?” I’m disappointed that, apart from the “Yes” and “No” options, there isn’t also “I wish!”

 

P.O.R.T.U.S is go!

A week or two back, I had an interesting conversation with my supervisor, which I didn’t think I should mention on-line until, today, he invoked the “inverse fight club rule”. So I can now reveal that P.O.R.T.U.S stands for Portus Open Research Technologies User Study – yes, I know, as Graeme said “recursive-acronym-me-up baby.” This isn’t the Portus Project, but but it does ride on the back of that work, and (we hope) it will also work to the Portus Project’s benefit.

P.O.R.T.U.S is a small pilot project to explore better signposting to open research, so (for example) people interested in the BBC Documentary Rome’s Lost Empire, (which coincidentally is repeated TONIGHT folks, hence my urgency in getting this post out) might find their way to the Portus Project website, the FutureLearn MOOC,  the plethora of academics papers available free through ePrints (this one for example) or even raw data.

Though the pilot project will use the Portus Project itself as a test bed, we’re keen to apply the learning to Cultural Heritage of all types. To which end I’m looking to organise a workshop bringing together cultural heritage organisations, the commercial companies that build interpretation and learning for them, and open source data providers like universities.

The research questions include:

  • What are the creative digital business (particularly but not exclusively in cultural heritage context) opportunities provided by aligning diverse open scholarship information?
  • What are the challenges?
  • Does the pilot implementation of this for the Portus Project offer anything to creative digital businesses?

The budget for this pilot project is small, and that means the workshop will have limited places, but if you are working with digital engagement, at or for cultural heritage sites and museums,. and would like to attend, drop me a note in the comments.

On gamification

The Walk, which uses game mechanics such as the acquisition of badges and and interactive story, in a (failed) attempt to get me to take more walking exercise.

It’s about time I addressed the issue of Gamification. It’s a word that gets bandied about a great deal, and one which has inspiring proponents like Jane McGonigal. But what does it actually mean?

Nick Pelling lays claim (in this 2011 blog post) to coining the word in 2002 when he “began to wonder whether the kind of games user-interface I had been developing for so long could be used to turbo-charge all manner of transactions and activities on commercial electronic devices [his emphasis]– in-flight video, ATM machines, vending machines, mobile phones, etc.  Unsurprisingly, this was the point when I coined the deliberately ugly word “gamification“, by which I meant applying game-like accelerated user interface design to make electronic transactions both enjoyable and fast.” (I’m glad he calls it “deliberately ugly” – I was ready to rant on about it being a linguistically unnecessary Americanism when I first heard it. I’m over that now). Of passing interest is his 2003 consultancy web page (looking VERY Web 1.0) which announces gamification to the world. That consultancy shut up shop three years later because, broadly, no-one was interested.

Its interesting to note that what he was interested in doing was bringing game-like interfaces to electronic devices. Which, though I’m not sure he would agree, is not what gamification has come to mean. Towards the end of his post, he insists that “the underlying idea of gamification [is] making hard things easy, expressive, near-effortless to use.” Games (and computer games in particular, since this is what Pelling is talking about) may offer interfaces that are apparently easy to pick up and start playing, but they are (mostly) designed to get more difficult, that is part of the challenge of games, the challenge that contributes to (successful) games becoming intrinsically motivating.

And its motivation that is at the centre of the current use of the word. In their 2014 literature review Hamari, Koivisto and Sarsa say “gamification can be seen to have three main parts: 1) the implemented motivational affordances, 2) the resulting psychological outcomes, and 3) the further behavioral outcomes.” Their review covers 24 studies of gamification, and categorizes all the “motivational affordances” mentioned in those studies: Points; Leaderboards; Achievements/Badges; Levels; Story/Theme; Clear goals; Feedback; Rewards; Progress; and, Challenge.

These resonate with (but do not match) some of the emotional models I’ve been reading about elsewhere. Of course Points, Leaderboards, Achievements/Badges, Levels and Rewards can all be summed up with the Acquisition trigger that Sylvester mentions. Challenge exists in both models. Story and Progress fit with Sylvester’s character arc, and Theme (arguably) with his environment trigger. I’m a bit curious about “Feedback”, because, surely everything a system does in response to the user is “feedback” isn’t it?

Anyway, the Hamari et al’s thesis is that badges, a story etc (motivational affordances), should have psychological outcomes (engagement, enjoyment and yup, yer actual motivation) that change the user’s behavior, encouraging them to, for example, take more walking exercise (behavioral outcomes). Their meta-analysis of these 24 studies indicates that “gamification does produce positive effects and benefits.” But “some studies showed that the results of gamification may not be long-term, but instead could be caused due to a novelty effect.” The authors also point out that “As previous works on player motivations suggest, people in fact interact with game-like systems in different manners, and for different reasons. Thus, the experiences created by the gamifying motivational affordances are also likely to vary.”

My personal experience supports all these conclusions. Three years or so back, I took delivery of a new company car, that after a few hundred miles rewarded me with a “cup” to celebrate my fuel-efficient driving. I endeavored there-after not to lose any of the graphic flower petals each indicated things like keeping to legal speeds, not braking heavily etc which had contributed to my cup. You can chalk that up as a “positive benefit”. Other attempts have not been so successful – the insurance company Aviva have recently started to use gamification to sell and reduce the costs of car insurance. I downloaded the app out of curiosity and for the purposes of this study. It was infuriating, and lasted only a week on my phone. The novelty had obviously worn off. And about a year ago I downloaded another app, The Walk (illustrated above), I responded badly to its needless badges and dull story. I used it less and less and eventually deleted it from my phone. It was a recent bout of very high blood pressure and a stern warning from my doctor that worked better to motivate me towards a healthier lifestyle.

Collaboration

Yesterday I attended the kick-off briefing/networking meeting for the University’s Opposites Attract Collaboration Challenge. It is an effort by the university to encourage broader cross-disciplinary collaboration, modeled on something that Bristol University have done. The challenge itself is a bit of an experiment, and we’re all feel our way a little bit.

Initially I sat at a table with Daniel and Adam. Adam is an archaeologist, so we didn’t stay together long at the table, as they wanted to mix people from different departments up. But before we join other groups, we worked on Elevator Pitches for our own research, I was very impressed by Adam’s – “Changing Rooms” for Roman Villas he said, with the practiced air of somebody who’d been touting his work around all the museums of the South West (which he had). Daniel was working on European politics, which is a hot topic might now.

Having given each other some feedback on our elevator pitches, and taken away bullet points that each of our listeners had heard us say, we moved to different tables for another challenge. Now I was sat with Anthony, a theoretical physicist, Hang, from the Business School, and Xiaotong from the school of education. First we had to distill the six bullet points that our previous audience had thought our research was about to just two. Then we had work together to propose a collaboration project that address at least one is not both of everyone’s bullet points. Not only that we had to imagine what the output might be: a game; a blog; a poster; a film or podcast; a hands-on display or installation; a live performance; or, an app (or I guess, something else entirely – hovering trampoline shoes was the example they gave from this video).

At first the task seemed impossible. Hang’s interests were about career management and the impact of the choices we make during our working lives. Anthony was working at the most mathematical end of theoretical physics, exploring better mathematical methods to interpret the problem of scale. I’d brought two very simplistic points from my research to the table: digital good and screens bad. Xiaotong was working on a gap analysis of Chinese students expectations of, and the reality of, UK higher education.

But then we had the idea of helping Xiaotong collect data for her project. We talked about the career-planning impacts that might motivate Chinese students to seek UK HE. Just for the purposes of the twenty minutes he had to discuss it, we came up with four examples – Reputation and prestige, experiencing Culture, Global Employability and Money. Then we talked about creating a mini exhibition on careers that had those four motives built into the space in four distinct locations. Rather than (or maybe actually as well as) asking students about their motivations, the exhibition would track their movement around the space, using Anthony’s machine learning algorithms to see which of the four motives they were most interested in, based upon the time they spend lingering in that area of the exhibition.

Admittedly, I feel Anthony was hard-done-by in this proposal. There wasn’t much actual cosmic physics here – he’d sacrificed his research aims, in order to contribute his mathematical expertise. And lets face it the maths wouldn’t even be very hard, not as challenging and exciting as the maths problems he’s already working on. So I think with more time we might have found something for satisfying for him, but the other three of us were pretty pleased that with just twenty minutes discussion, we’d come up with something that might contribute to our own research in different ways.

The intention wasn’t it bring this particular brainstorm to life, just to get us all thinking collaboratively. Though afterwards, Xiaotong indicated she might like to explore it further. So, I wonder if any of these ten reasons to the collaborate that the organisers cribbed from The Collaborative Researcher resource developed by Vitae would be enough to persuade Anthony to join us?

 

  1. It’s fun! Collaboration gives you opportunities to work with interesting people, on research that delivers a clear benefit, on topic that really engage your enthusiasm and interest.
  2. 2. Funding Most major funding providers are keen to promote collaborative research as a means to answer bigger questions. The skills and knowledge you gain will strengthen your position to apply for future funding.
  3. Improve your research vision Developing close ties with other researchers also gives you a community with whom to discuss you current and future plans. Their feedback and suggestions will help you to enhance or redefine your vision
  4. Boost your CV A group of researchers should produce more results than an individual! With a team of people writing on various aspects on interconnected work, there is a greater chance of adding to your publication list.
  5. Connect with many people Collaborations are a good way to work with many people at once – in a few years you could work with more researchers than you would during an entire career pursuing solo projects.
  6. 6. Improve your judgment Working with new people can be risky, so you’ll need to develop your own strategies for being sure you can trust your co-workers. Once you learn how to spot evidence of integrity and trustworthiness, you’ll be well positioned to find future partners.
  7. Publish more widely Each researcher in a collaboration will want to reach their own audiences, broadening your reach if you are publishing with them. Multi-disciplinary projects are also more likely to publish in high-impact, wide readership journals.
  8. 8. Improve communication and project management skills If you are involved in helping to write a project plan and communication strategy to manage the different partners, you’ll have marketable skills for the future.
  9. 9. Learn to manage and minimise risk By having a Plan B ready and a process for monitoring progress, you are increasing the likelihood of a successful project and will learn how to establish future research in the most effective way.
  10. Develop a niche As a specialist on a project you have a chance to showcase your expertise and develop your reputation in a particular field.

Social, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual

I took a group of visitor experience managers from the South East’s larger National Trust places to visit the Tower of London yesterday. We had a great discussion with Sally Dixon-Smith and Polly Richards about their year long project to create a core story framework for the Tower which, in the end, has pretty much delivered a twenty year plan for the improvement of the visitor experience there.

One name that popped up again and again, especially when talking about audience research was Morris Hargreaves MacIntyre, the consultancy that created the National Trust’s audience segmentation years ago, and which (it seems) every museum and heritage attraction is using right now to better understand their visitors motivations and experiences.

I was interested to hear the same things coming from the Tower people that we’ve been talking about in the National Trust, so I thought it might be worth sharing, with broad brushstrokes MHM’s thinking, without (I hope) revealing any commercially sensitive information. MHM so share a lot of their philosophy on their own website, so do explore their if you are interested.

Recently, MHM have done a lot of work on people’s motivations for visiting museums and cultural heritage. And they’ve divided all those motivations into four broad groups. They are:

  • SOCIAL motivations, for example “to spend time with friends and family”;
  • INTELLECTUAL motivations like “to discover or explore nature or wildlife”;
  • EMOTIONAL motivations – “to see fascinating or awe inspiring things”; and,
  • SPIRITUAL motivations,  such as “to escape and recharge my batteries”.

What lots of places are asking MHM to do is help them ask visitors what their motivations were, before the visit, and then what they actually experienced during the visit. Then they can analyse how well the places are giving people what they want, or even exceeding peoples expectations and giving them something more than they came for.

All of which I’ve become quite familiar with, because this is something the National Trust and MHM have been discussing  for some time. But yesterday I also heard at the Tower a language that I have coincidentally only just heard being discussed within the National Trust. And that is MHM’s classification of “how we provide visitors with the opportunity to construct their own meaning from a visit”. They talk of four (again – they must like fours) categories of “construct devices”:

  • EXPLICIT – More traditional forms of interpretation such as introduction/text panels, object labels, introductory videos, room/gallery  sheets and visitor guides.
  • EMBEDDED – Interpretation which is explicit, but in a format which is in keeping with the room. For example, period designed newspaper articles, radio broadcasts, letters and newsreels.
  • HIDDEN – Interpretation requires discovery. It is hidden inside furniture and within drawers, underneath objects, using directional audio.
  • HUMAN – Guided tours,workshops, living history and costumed interpreters.

The conversation at the Tower was revolving around the HUMAN “devices” – I’d arranged the visit through my old friend Chris Gidlow, head of live interpretation. But what particularly grabs my interest for my own research is the idea of HIDDEN interpretation. In a way, my Responsive Environment ideas are all about places revealing hidden interpretation.

Scalar

Today, I’ve been thinking about a story-telling tool to help me “break” the stories of a site for the experiment I’ve been rethinking. I think I’m looking for something that meets the following criteria:

  • Collaborative – more than one author
  • Handles all sorts of media types
  • Includes tags
  • Allows the author(s) to see and manipulate the links between “Natoms” in networks
  • Ability to turn some tags into narrative order (to create my “kernels”)
  • Works with ontologies (eg OWL)
  • Complies with data standards (eg RDF)

(There may be more criteria – can anyone suggest any?).

So, first of all, I thought Twine, which can do the Network thing, and the Kernel order thing, and I’ve even “broken” a story with it. But its not collaborative (well, it may be in version two) and doesn’t handle different media easily – I did get it to handle music (just about), but its not easy.

So then I got into the sort of software academics use to build their data networks. But the learning curve on most of them looks pretty steep. Then I remembered hearing about Scalar. Scalar looks quite interesting. It’s built to make interactive e-book multimedia dissertations really, but it might do the job I need. It works with OWL and RDF, uses, tags, makes narrative paths and does some very pretty network visualisations. Its definitely collaborative and handles lots of media types.

What I haven’t worked out is whether I can make the paths conditional (which I think I need) and wehther it can publish to a stand alone file, or whether it requires a web-connection. If it does require a web connection, then I can’t use it during the experiment, because I’m not likely to have we access anywhere where the experiment takes place.

Anyway its worth a deeper look, and maybe a play-around with.

What PhD supervisors are for

I had a great chat with my supervisor on Thursday, after helping out with a Masters seminar. As regular readers may have worked out, I’ve been having a great deal of trouble trying to get a coherent testable design to test out of my half-formed ideas and lofty ideals.

The problem was trying to think of a cheap way to test some of the theory I’ve come up with. I’d got hung up on trying to think of a way to track visitors round a site and test their reactions to that. Until I solved that I was handwaving the issues of breaking the story into natoms, and balancing the conflicting needs of multiple visits in the same space. Those two problems both felt more within my comfort zone. The problem is that I’m not a technologist, that bit is so far out of my comfort zone that I’d need to enlist (or pay for) one. On top of that, the tech itself isn’t that cheap – getting a wifi network into some of the heritage places I know, with their thick stone walls and sheer scale, isn’t about buying just one wifi router.

I’d mentioned the other problems (particularly in the one of negotiating conflicting needs) in the seminar. (The students had been reading about a variety of museum interpretation experiments for their “homework” and we discussed the common issue that many of the experiments focussed on the issue of a visitor in isolation, and hadn’t thought enough about multiple users in the same space). Afterwards I spent twenty minutes with Graeme, my supervisor, in his office. I felt he’d finally got what I’d been trying to say about a “responsive” environment, and his interest was particularly focused on the two issues I’d handwaved. We talked about low-tech ways or exploring both of those, and of course THAT’S what I should be doing, not worrying about the tech. These are both things I can do (I think!) rather than something I can’t .

So by the end of our chat, when Graeme had to return to his students we’d worked out the rudiments of a simple experiment.

  • What I need is a relatively small heritage site, but the possibility of lots of choices about routes, lots of intersections between spaces. What Hiller calls a low depth configuration (that last link is to a fancy new on-line edition of the book, by the way. It’s worth a read).
  • I need to work with the experts/curators of that site to “break” the stories. Break is a script-writing term, but it feels particularly appropriate when thinking about cutting the stories up into the smallest possible narrative atoms. (Although maybe “natomise” is better!)
  • Then I need to set up the site to simulate some of responsiveness that a more complex system might offer. Concealed Bluetooth speakers for example, or  switches like these that can be controlled by Bluetooth.
  • Finally, rather than try and create the digital system that tracks visitors and serves them ephemeral natoms, I can do a limited experiment with two or more humans following visitors around and remotely throwing the switches that might light particular areas of the room, play sounds or what ever other interventions we can come up with. The humans take the place of the server, and when they come together, negotiate which of their visitors gets the priority. Graeme suggested a system of tokens that the human followers could show each other – but the beauty of this concept is that the methods of negotiating could become part of the results of the experiment! The key thing is to explain to the participants that the person following them around isn’t giving them a guided tour, they can ask questions of him/her, but s/he isn’t going to lead their experience.

So, now I have a a thing that it is possible to do, with minimal help and with a minimal budget. And its a thing that I can clearly see has aims that come of the research I’ve done, and results that inform platonic ideal responsive environment I have in my head. If it works, it will hopefully inspire someone else to think about automating it.

That’s what supervisors are for!

 

Music in Interpretation

Jeanice asked me before Christmas about academic study of how music impacts heritage interpretation. My first response was “there is none” (and I stand by that), but it did make me dig out a couple of papers that I’d found and not included in my literature review. And on reflection, I think I may indeed go back an add one of them in.

The first was Musical Technology and the Interpretation of Heritage, a conference keynote speech given by Keith Swanwick, and published in 2001 by the International Journal of Music Education. That there publication is the clue that this isn’t really about heritage interpretation (as I’m defining it) at all, but rather about cultural transmission through music, and especially through music teaching. I left it in my notes because it references information and digital technology but, re-reading it for Jeanice, I realise it doesn’t do anything with that reference, apart from equating music itself with ICT as a mode of cultural transmission.

There’s some discussion of compositions created with cultural transmission as an intent, which may be interesting for some later study, but it doesn’t give the overview of music as museum/cultural heritage-site media that the title promised.

More interesting is this paper, from the V&A’s on-line research journal. The paper explores the development of a collaborative project between the Royal College of Music and the V&A, involving new recordings of period music for the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. The first thing that strikes me is that the galleries opened in 2009, and yet the project was conceived in 2002. Sometimes I wish I worked for an organisation that gave such projects a similar about of time to gestate.

Drawing on all their front end evaluation, and the debates on learning styles and segmentation that have taken place over the years, the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries team were keen to offer visitors a “multi-sensory framework […] incorporating opportunities for tactile experience, active hands-on learning and varied strategies for helping visitors to decode medieval and Renaissance art actively.” This included audio as well as film and other digital media.

This is where the quote that, on reflection, I think I should at the very least include in my literature review. It comes from a footnote, and usefully sums up my fruitless search for literature on music in cultural heritage sites:

Music in museums has not been the focus of detailed study or writing.

The article goes on to round up various ways in which music is used in (general, not museums of music) interpretation, for example, places where popular music of the twentieth century is used to help immerse visitors in a particular decade. Of particular interest is The Book of the Dead: Journey to the Afterlife, a British Museum exhibition for which, “…a musical soundtrack was commissioned to heighten emotional effect at a key moment in the exhibition narrative.” I might have to try and find out more about that commission.

The V&A actually included two exhibitions in their music making. While the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries were being developed, the museum ran a temporary exhibition called At Home In Renaissance Italy, for which 24 pieces were recorded and played ambiently in rotation. “Evaluations demonstrated an overwhelmingly positive response to the music from the visitor’s point of view” but also highlighted some of the problems, not least of which was that some people (especially staff who have to hear it non-stop) really don’t like ambient music. This evaluation informed how the music project developed for the permanent gallery.

The plan had been to use pre-existing recordings “that could help visitors to imagine the medieval and Renaissance worlds and to convey emotion and feeling.” But as the curatorial research developed, it became apparent that there were opportunities to use music that hadn’t previously been recorded, but that was directly connected to the objects and stories of the exhibition. Because “evaluation of audio provision in the V&A’s British Galleries demonstrated that audio-tracks were less effective without a strong connection to immediately adjacent objects or displays” the museum decided upon benches equipped with touch-screens and good quality headphones as “audio-points” where a user could sit a browse music related to what they could see in front of them. Each piece faded out after a minute or two, to ensure a reasonable rate of churn of listeners, but the complete pieces were available from the V&A website, for those that wished to listen to them complete.

Sadly the evaluation had too wide a remit to explore in depth visitors’ responses to the music. All they could say was that it “showed that a high percentage of users engage with the audio-points, a strong indication that they are valued by visitors.” I would have liked to have discovered how well the music achieved their aims of conveying emotion and feeling. They do conclude however that “The increasing ownership of smartphones and MP3 players is rapidly increasing the options for museums to deliver music in gallery spaces and the number of ways in which visitors can choose to engage with it.”

So we need to see some more research about how its used an its impact on the visitor experience.