17 December 2006

Dutch heritage conference highlights lack of audience understanding

Be the first to share

Dutch heritage conference
Last week Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken spoke at a cultural heritage conference in the Netherlands on audience research and playful interfaces. It was a revealing experience.

Current practices in people-centred design, user research and participatory processes have barely affected Dutch cultural institutions.

Culture and heritage institutions have a supply driven approach, and this applies also to their digital and online services. They do a lot, but know virtually nothing about the demand: their (potential) audience’s size, composition, habits, values, needs and expectations, and on what that might mean for the online offerings and the relation between online and offline. They have no empirical tools to gain such understandings and often see demand driven approaches as a threat to their core mission.

Visit our site

This is confirmed by the report “Visit our site” (“Bezoek onze site”) published last week by the social and cultural planning office of the Dutch Government (available as pdf in Dutch only). The report provides an overview of the current state of digitisation of the cultural “supply” (i.e. the enormous amount of materials that together constitute the Dutch cultural heritage), in order to make it “available” to a wider audience.

The introduction already reveals the main issue: “Given the amount of materials, not everything can be digitised”, and therefore “experts set priorities based on the demand of the audience — the presumed demand that is, because information on audience demand is scarce.” [My translation]

“A main reason for digitisation is the wish to make cultural contents available to a wider audience. However most institutions know little about the demand, i.e. the needs and expectations of their visitors, and therefore have no idea to what extent the information they supply addresses a demand.”

The report shows quite clearly that web statistics and a few occasional surveys are about the only information that Dutch cultural institutions have about their online audiences. The various chapters have long sections describing the information that institutions supply and short ones on what they know about their audiences, and this applies across the board: theatre, visual arts and architecture, music, cinema, multimedia, museums, archives, monuments, archeology, and public broadcasting, with libraries perhaps being somewhat of an exception.

The lack of insight in current people research practices is also revealed by the report itself. In a final chapter it addresses the “three methods to understand how cultural information is used on the internet”, which turn out to be web statistics, audience questionnaires and interviews, and general opinion polls. The report doesn’t acknowledge the qualitative research methods that provide an insight in what people actually do rather than what they say they do, such as contextual inquiries, ethnography, task and flow analysis, shadowing, card storing, etc.

Click to the past

“Click to the past” (“Klik naar het verleden”) is the title of a 2006 report (also available as pdf) published by the same Dutch government office. It provides probably the best available insight on the users of digital heritage information online. It is based on a doctoral dissertation by Henrieke Wubs, one of the report authors.

A statistical (cluster) analysis of a national survey of the Dutch population (2003) identified a number of user types, depending on their interest and participation in cultural heritage. The survey, which was wide-ranging and covered many aspects of social and cultural involvement, assessed both physical and virtual visits to cultural institutions.

The clusters are: all rounders (4% of the population), which are very active lovers of the cultural heritage, art lovers (8%), members of cultural heritage organisations (5.6%), collectors (8%), browsers (9%), family visitors (16%), day tourists (11%), passive readers (8%), and the non-active population (30%).

The cluster analysis was then refined through focus group conversations, with the participants representing each of the clusters that were identified. The rich qualitative data provide probably the best available insight into habits, values, needs and expectations of the (potential) Dutch cultural audience.

Museum examples

Revealing were a series of conference presentations on the latest tools developed by top Dutch museums. The world-renowned Rijksmuseum for instance experiments a lot with new online tools, including AJAX applications, rss feeds, widgets and educational games. But they just push things online, based on a hit-and-miss approach, hoping that people will like it.

Villa Koopzicht

One welcome exception was the presentation by serial entrepreneur Jeroen Loeffen of Villa Koopzicht.

Loeffen is a serial entrepreneur. His latest venture is based on a very simple platform to create user- or community-generated web journals. He has been implementing this bottom-up communications approach first in schools and in networks of children and youngsters, learning a great deal about these digital natives in the process.

But he has also convinced the Dutch Postal Services (KPN) and a major insurance company to apply the same system for their own internal communications.

Interestingly, Loeffen confirms that these user-generated journals in a very short time become the dominant communications channels of the organisations involved, who are usually not prepared for this. Senior management are having the most problems with these channels they do not control and see them often as threats. Loeffen’s key task at the moment is consulting management in making a major cultural leap.

His main recommendation to the cultural heritage sector: if you really want to go for participatory processes and give your audience a say, be prepared to fundamentally change your institutions.

Be the first to share
10 March 2017
How many users are enough in user research?
The British consumer cooperative Co-op uses both qualitative and quantitative approaches to make decisions about products. While quantitative research is best when you want to understand the scale of something (such as how many users …
2 March 2017
Understanding life’s speed from an anthropological perspective
The latest issue of the Cultural Anthropology journal features a new contribution to the journal’s Openings and Retrospectives section: an Openings collection, "Speed," edited by Vincent Duclos, Tomás Sánchez Criado, and Vinh-Kim Nguyen. In their …
2 March 2017
[Report] How US youth navigate the news landscape
Yesterday, the New York research institute Data & Society released the report How Youth Navigate the News Landscape (download) that explores how young people use mobile devices, messaging apps, and social media to consume breaking …
1 March 2017
[OECD Publication] Behavioural Insights and Public Policy
Behavioural Insights and Public Policy: Lessons from Around the World OECD, March 2017 408 pages “Behavioural insights”, or insights derived from the behavioural and social sciences, including decision making, psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, organisational and group behaviour, are …
28 February 2017
How technology gets us hooked
From a young age, humans love to press buttons that light up and make a noise. The thrill of positive feedback lies at the heart of addiction to gambling, games, and social media, reports Adam …
26 January 2017
New toolkit to create digital government services
The UK's Government Digital Service has launched a service toolkit that aims to be a one stop shop for service design resources (reports PublicTechnology). The toolkit is a single page on GOV.UK that provides links to …
25 January 2017
[OECD Report] Use of Behavioural Insights in Consumer Policy
Use of Behavioural Insights in Consumer Policy OECD 20 Jan 2017 48 pages Over the past decade, behavioural insights have helped make consumer policies more evidence-based and effective. This report examines how behavioural insights have been used by …
19 January 2017
Anthropologist Sally Applin on the automation of qualitative methods
Anthropology and its methodologies cannot easily be automated. However, both design and engineering based organizations are attempting it. Anthropologist Sally A. Applin argues that this is based in part on historic legacy systems, a misunderstanding …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

12 January 2017
Experientia’s CITYOPT project awarded prestigious French award for its sustainable development design

Following the 2016 Smart Innovation Award at “FIMBACTE Trophées du Cadre de vie”, the CITYOPT project has once again been recognized, this time in the prestigious French design competition: “Observeur du Design 2017”, in the Service Design category. In June 2016, CITYOPT won the first stage of the Observeur du Design. Now the project has […]

1 December 2016
More on upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities

Last month Putting People First announced the upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities in Nice France. Meanwhile we are pleased to announce the full event agenda (see below). This event will feature professionals from leading research institutes and industry gathering to present key initiatives which combine Energy Efficiency and Service Design […]

29 October 2016
Upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities

Invitation to the International Conference on Design & Sustainable Innovation for SmartCities Nice (France) 8 December 2016 On the 8th December 2016, the CITYOPT project will host an international conference on Design and sustainable innovation for SmartCities, at the Centre Universitaire Méditerranéen, France. An open invitation to attend is offered to people and organisations who […]

28 October 2016
Experientia’s President, Michele Visciòla, panel judge for MacArthur Foundation’s “100&Change” competition

The 100&Change is an international competition and a landmark opportunity for thinkers and designers to tackle critical challenges affecting the world. Michele Visciòla will be one of the panel of expert judges who will select which project is worthy of the $100 million grant. 100&Change is the MacArthur Foundation competition – launched this year for […]

5 September 2016
Great engine, but the fuel seems poor. Discussing insight development in corporate marketing

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) contains a lengthy essay, entitled Building an Insights Engine, on how Unilever has created the organizational capabilities to “transform data into insights about consumers’ motivations and to turn those insights into strategy.” The article was written by Frank van den Driest and Keith Weed of a […]

29 August 2016
Experientia discussing ethnography and patient-centricity at EPIC 2016

This week Experientia joins our colleagues and peers in Minneapolis at EPIC 2016, the premier international gathering on ethnography and design in industry. The theme for the conference this year is Pathmaking, emphasizing the power of ethnography to create transformative innovation, growth and strategic success for companies, industries and communities. On the second day of […]

See all articles