Pille Runnel (Estonian National Museum), Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt (Malmö University), Agnes Aljas (Estonian National Museum), Krista Lepik (University of Tartu / Lund University)

Using Data To Understand The User Perspective Of The Digital Objects And Displays In The Museum Exhibition

Museums have invested huge sums of money to digitise their collections, and more and more often digital objects, displays, touch-boards, interactive games and other elements are used to bring the digital collections to the museum space. The same digital objects can also be used to collect data about the visitor activities and this information can potentially be used to understand the visitor engagement with these objects. The aim of this presentation is to discuss the possibilities of using data collected by the digital objects in order to understand the user engagement with the digital objects.

Museums have traditionally been holders and systematisers of large amounts of data. The collections have both material (heritage and historical objects) and immaterial (meta-data, stories, accompanying narratives, research/curatorial interpretations) data. At the same time, museums today have not been equally interested in collecting the data relating to the visitors. Only in the recent times, systematic and critical attempts have been made to understand the visitors by using different kinds of data, both collected automatically (Palmieroux) as well as asked from visitors with different survey technologies (e.g. Kenderdine). However, the data collected by the digital displays has not been discussed from the perspective of its usefulness for understanding visitor interaction and engagement.

Estonian National Museum opened in 2016 with 2 permanent exhibitions: Estonian exhibition “Encounters” and Finno-Ugric exhibition “Echo of the Urals”. Exhibitions differ in their concepts, design and offer to different visitor types diverse museum experiences. In both exhibition the physical objects are in the focus, but both of these exhibitions also use of digital content and resources. However, the use of digital materials across these exhibitions differ.

In both exhibitions the use of digital materials has been carefully chosen by the curators and designers. The aim of these digital technologies within the exhibition has been to make the exhibition experience more interactive. At the same time, the aim from the museum side has been to keep the digital exhibits sustainable from the maintenance perspective for the upcoming years. The digital displays are chosen in the way that they support the exhibition narrative. Digital elements in the exhibition space aim also to extend the exhibition by making collections (photos, films etc. digital materials) available for the visitors. This means that visitors have access to bigger and more diverse collections. Extended use of digital collections can also be seen as a way to reduce the role of curator as the access provider or editor of the materials. The digital displays support visitor in being more active deciders then passive viewers. For example in the Encounters visitors can see the whole collection of 3000 photos of the Estonian everyday life from the years 1913, 1914 and help visitors to interact with the source material themselves and make their own interpretations.

The digital displays are also used in order to combine different materials, for example in “Encounters” and in “Echo of the Urals” visitors can see from archive materials and films, photos, fiction, and other varied materials of one cultural event. The presentation of social relations or social networks in digital screens helps to make more sense of the different relationships of people from 150 years ago and how these have been related to the historical events related to nation building. Some of the digital displays use the curated collections to display more knowledge, more materials and help to visualise hypothesis. From the museum perspective, digital layers allow for richer, deeper and more nuanced story-telling within the exhibition space, compared to the exhibition without digital layers.

But do visitors appreciate this? Can they use and understand the curatorial intent and how does visitor engagement look in the museum? Do the digital displays support the profounder engagement with the content? And does the information collected by the digital exhibits allow for more detailed understanding of the visitor engagement?

In the context of the Estonian National Museum, the engagement with the digital displays can be analysed daily through the logs of e-tickets for language change system, which show the displays use and visitor journeys in the exhibition. This analysis indicates and helps to understand which topics have been relevant to different visitors. We will also attempt to gather log data from the different touch-tables and other digital displays where such log data can be collected.

This data will be compared and contrasted to the data from visitor observations. To explore the potential and the individual usage experience of multi-touch tables, interactive and participatory screens the visitor observations and interviews with visitors about the usage of exhibitions were conducted. The presentation aims to understand the potential of the log-data collected by the digital objects in order to understand the visitor interaction. Traditional observation and interview data will complement the data, but can also be used to better understand the limitations of the automated data collections.