MCN 2017 Ignite

View from MCN2015 Ignite stage

Post by Koven Smith

For those of you who have attended MCN in the last few years, one of the highlights of the conference has been Ignite MCN, where a group of courageous-slash-foolhardy speakers dispense wisdom in lightning-fast five-minute chunks on the opening-night of the conference. Each speaker has five minutes and 20 automatically-advancing slides to enlighten-slash-entertain-slash-frighten-slash-slightly amuse hundreds of MCN attendees.

I’ve been fortunate enough to organize and host Ignite MCN for the last five years, and each year, the same thing happens: immediately after the event, several people come up to me and say, “That was great! I’m totally submitting an Ignite talk next year!” This is typically the last time I ever hear from these people. So what I’m saying is, it’s now your time to step up! Do you have something important to say? Something that you think the rest of us need to know? Are you ready to take it to the limit, one more time?

The first question I’m usually asked as the host is, what makes a good Ignite talk, and why do some submissions get picked over others? I’m glad you asked. Ignite talks are different from more traditional presentations, so of course there are many proposals that would make great presentations, but that wouldn’t necessarily work for Ignite. So here’s a brief list of the kinds of things we’re looking for when we evaluate Ignite submissions:

  • Brevity: Ignite works best when the ideas are big, bright, and communicated succinctly. A good Ignite MCN proposal should be able to get to the main idea in three sentences or less. If it takes two full paragraphs to describe the concept behind your talk, it’s probably not the right fit for Ignite MCN.

  • A fresh perspective: Ignite talks are most interesting when coming from the standpoint of, “You’ve probably never thought about X in this way before.” Or, “I’m here to change your mind about Y.” Or, “This is an aspect of museum culture that you’ve probably not given too much thought to.” Ignite talks aren’t a great place for repeating the established wisdom, or presenting a project you’ve worked on. Enlighten us, but make it quick.

  • A sense of performance: Unlike more traditional conference presentations, Ignite talks are more like performances. I’m usually looking for some sense of this in the proposal. Humor can get this across, but so can a sense of excitement and/or evangelism. If I feel like the proposal is trying hard to convince me as the reviewer, then there’s a good chance that this enthusiasm will come across in the Ignite talk as well.

  • An understanding of the format: If you’ve never given an Ignite talk before, but mention in the proposal that you want to change the format (“I want to have 50 slides instead of 20” or “I want to have videos on every slide”), that proposal will probably not make it in. It can help if you’ve attended MCN and the Ignite event before, and seen this special event with its certain aesthetic in action, so that you know what to expect.

I’m looking for 7 to 9 talks that all work well together. Sometimes this can mean that great proposals are rejected just because they don’t fit in well with the rest. If you’ve submitted a talk in the past and didn’t get in, by all means re-submit! It may be a better fit this year. You never know!

GET STARTED RIGHT NOW!

Koven J. Smith
Director of Digital Adaptation
Blanton Museum of Art
The University of Texas at Austin

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“Other” Category Unpacked: #MCN2017 Call for Proposals

A group of MCN conference attendees meet on the floor at MCN 2016

Some of the best things in #musetech start in a floor meeting at MCN conferences

 

As a candid and welcoming community, MCN has always championed innovative sessions that are willing to take risks. Last year through the “Other” Category in the Call for Proposals, the program co-chairs created the option for attendees to “propose something else” to present in New Orleans. We actively sought out, encouraged and cultivated potential session ideas that did not fit the traditional 15-minute case study, 30-minute talk, or 60-minute multi-speaker panel formats. The resulting sessions were some of the highlights from #MCN2016 in New Orleans.

We hosted a number of “Unconferences” such as Rob Weisberg’s “‘Views My Own’ Museblog Unconference” and Greg Albers and Annelisa Stephan’s “Making the Workplace You Want.” The Unconference format is a loose and informal discussion usually focusing on a particular topic, sometimes over lunch.

Another kind of alternative session is the Teach-In. Last year in New Orleans, Nikhil Trivedi organized a “Github” offshoot meeting for people interested in the basics workings of Github. Teach-Ins, much like unconferences, are informal discussions focused on knowledge or skill-sharing.

We also hosted sessions with game formats like Trish Oxford’s Power of Vulnerability in Museums session, in which a panel of 5 individuals answered probing questions about museum work culture that were chosen at random for 60 minutes.

We have hosted live podcast session’s like Chad Weinard and Jason Alderman’s The Future of Museum Technology that “took a breakneck look at the problems in dealing with legacy systems, the failings of collection management systems, the infrastructure of process, and the importance of collaboration.”

Many sessions were held under Chatham House Rule, which specifies that participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed on social media channels or other broadcasts. These sessions became a safe place, in which participants were not recorded and could speak freely.

These few examples have in common informality, interactivity, and group exploration of topics that warrant discussion and dialogue. Other ideas might include:

  • A series of grouped short ignite talks, similar to the popular opening-night event
  • Round tables with more interaction than a typical multi-speaker panel
  • Group affinity discussions
  • Hackathons and prototyping

However, this doesn’t preclude you from adding audience participation and interactivity to more typical presentation formats. Many kinds of longer presentations—such as hackathons and prototyping—with interactivity and learning opportunities can be proposed as a pre-conference workshop. And the 60-minute panel timeframe affords much potential for audience interaction and elements of workshopping. No matter which type of format you propose, think of ways to keep the audience involved!

This year, we are also interested in sessions/activities that will enrich the program and conference experience including but not limited to open yoga sessions, running groups, museum pillow talk, drum circles, and silent discos. Please consider space limitations/requirements, extra equipment and costs when proposing these sessions.

In the end all great “Other” sessions begin with an idea or concept a group wants to explore, no matter how mundane or taboo it may seem. The MCN co-chairs are more than willing to talk through your proposal ideas and help devise the best session format to explore.

#MCN2017’s Call for Proposals opens April 1st!  

Don’t hesitate to reach out to program@mcn.edu with your questions, comments, and ideas.

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Cooking up the MCN 2017 Theme with 50+ Chefs in the Kitchen

Photo of the Heinz History Center

 

After days of virtual sharing, commiserating, wordsmithing, and voting, the MCN 2017 theme has arrived!

 

MCN 2017: Looking Back, Thinking Forward, Taking Action

 

Every year, MCN explores topics of relevance to museum practitioners working with, or affected by, digital media and technology. In 2017, MCN will focus on how museums can use technology to innovate and emphasize transparency, individual action, and institutional bravery. We are interested in cases where a creating an open museum culture encourages bold action to confront challenges in our field, our communities, and our society, including issues of diversity and inclusion.  

Submissions on any topic from people at all levels of the institution and all parts of the field are welcome, and we especially encourage proposals that present new ideas to leverage technologies which help museums evolve, create institutional partnerships outside the sector, and use lessons from the past to act for the future.

The forty-four members of the program committee represent various areas of expertise in institutions of different sizes and types, from locations in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. They spent two hectic weeks on Basecamp compiling their individual perspectives of what is relevant, meaningful, and critical to the future of the sector. That 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the Museum Computer Network as an organization gave the discussion special resonance, especially in light of political and social turmoil around the world and its impact on the museum field.

To start the discussion, committees members were presented with a few open ended statements to consider:

  • “What MCN50 means to me is …”
  • “What interests me in the field is …”
  • “What work outside of the museum sector is informing your work and would help other museum practitioners with their work?”

The group mused on how the view of technology in the museum had changed over the past 50 years, from a thing apart from museum practice—though a view all-too-often still present in our institutions—to something intertwined with the everyday work of museum professionals. What will technology mean to us, and our visitors and remote audiences in another 50 years?

Libraries (which are now represented in the MCN community), game design, theater design, and the growing organizational culture field all were cited as influencing the way the committee members viewed their own museum work. And many members were naturally interested in how technology can impact visitor experience, contribute to a sense of playfulness and joy for visitors and staff alike, and build equity and dismantle oppressive structures that museums are often a part of.

After a week of sharing, dozens of points and threads of discussion were distilled into several large ideas:

  • Bringing actionable steps back to our museums
  • Inclusiveness and advocacy        
  • Museum technology and solving problems         
  • Innovation, Change, and Progress           
  • Being Brave and Bold    
  • Welcoming   
  • Openness and transparency

Another round of discussion ensued, including a cameo appearance from the haiku exercise from last year’s committee. Committee members wrestled with wording around a commitment to action and bravery—were these matters for individual attendees? For their institutions? For society?

The committee then voted on 65 variations of the potential theme in a semifinal round, leading to a final vote on six possibilities. The vote was close, reflecting the many concerns that committee members have in viewing the role of technology in the museum field.

Ultimately, the honor went to “MCN 2017: Looking Back, Thinking Forward, Taking Action.” (To take a page from the Oscars, we won’t call the other finalists losers, and all reflected an interest in openness, action, and bravery.)

As the program committee moves on to discuss keynote speakers and other conference questions—not to mention preparing for the joyous onslaught of proposals later this spring!—the spirit of this nearly-50-person conversation will continue to enliven the preparation for MCN 2017 in Pittsburgh. The co-chairs can’t thank the committee members enough!

As you consider what type of presentations to propose, keep in mind the “other” category. While most presentations will fit into 15-minute case study, 30-minute talk, or 60-minute multi-speaker panel formats, we are open to ideas. Some that we have held, or considered in the past, for you to propose:

  • “Unconferences”: more informal discussions usually focusing on a particular topic, sometimes over lunch. Last year we had an unconference on “views-my-own” bloggers in the museum field.
  • A series of grouped short ignite talks, similar to the popular opening-night event.
  • Round tables, but consider how this differs from simply a multi-speaker panel.
  • Remember that many kinds of longer formats such as hackathons and prototyping can be proposed as a workshop, provided there is opportunity for interactivity and learning.
  • In fact, a 60-minute time frame affords many opportunities for interactivity, workshopping, etc., with the audience. Think of ways to keep the audience involved!
  • Group or affinity discussions

We can’t wait to see proposals from across the field and from staff at all levels of their institutions. Attending MCN is great, but participating in a presentation is a great way to have a voice in the many discussions so important to museums today.

 

Your friendly co-chairs,

Trish Oxford

Jennifer Foley

Rob Weisberg  

 

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