May 2021 SIG Corner: Data & Insights SIG.

By Chris Unitt, Founder of One Further and co-chair of the Data & Insights SIG.

It’s been a busy time in the world of museum data and insights, with changes happening on lots of different fronts. Here’s an overview of what’s been going on.

We all know that pandemic-related closures accelerated the trend towards digital and remote delivery. New methods and initiatives have been required to gather and analyze the data needed for decision making.

We’re also feeling the effects of the push and pull between the technology (with new tools and techniques coming available) and societal attitudes (sometimes translated in legislation) as we consider whether and how the power of the tech giants should be tempered.

Evaluating the changes of the past year

With all of the recent upheaval, we’ve all been left grasping for answers. Happily, a few organisations have stepped in to conduct studies for the good of the sector.

Culture Track, a collaboration between LaPlaca Cohen and Slover Linett, sought quick answers to a range of urgent questions about the place of the arts and culture in the lives of Americans.

In the UK, the Insights Alliance (in which One Further is a partner) has surveyed arts attenders month-by-month through the Culture Restart project. This has provided data on how soon audiences will return to venues and how they’ve engaged with digital content in the meantime.

MCN has played an important role, with several useful conversations at the most recent conference. The Data & Insights SIG also hosted a recent webinar with Marty and Grace from Spellerberg Associates. They updated us on their research on recent museum website traffic trends.

In addition to these sector-wide studies, everyone’s also been trying to make sense of the data collected at their own institutions.

Discussions at the 2020 MCN Virtual Conference and in the Data & Insights SIG circled back a few times to the kinds of metrics that we should be using to understand online audience behaviour.

None has been more fraught than the question of ‘how are supposed to measure attendance of online events, when every video platform counts views in different ways?’

New technologies

Hype around ‘big data’ has tailed off a little since it peaked a few years back but, in the meantime, the tools that allow us to wrangle larger datasets have been made more accessible.

The cost of cloud storage and computing has come down to incredibly low levels. Machine learning tools are often bundled in too, making them easier than ever to deploy. Something that would’ve required a computer science degree just a few years ago can now be accomplished with a few YouTube tutorials and a credit card (I may be exaggerating slightly, but not much).

Interestingly, work by The Museums + AI Network has revealed that, as yet, the use of such techniques within museums is “currently very limited due to the lack of resources and the inaccuracies created by algorithms.” There’s potentially more to come there.

More prosaically, a new version of Google Analytics has been released with some useful upgrades and the ability to export everything into a data warehouse (seeing a trend?). That’s a change that’s likely to touch everyone.

A changing approach to privacy

All of this begs a few questions. What does such technological advancement mean for us a society? Are we happy with how the data and rights of private citizens are being traded? How do we feel about who is benefiting from all of this?

In some parts of the world, conversation has progressed into regulation. Everyone working in a museum in Europe will have come across terms like GDPR and ePrivacy. That wave is rolling around to other countries too.

In the meantime, privacy has been seized upon as a core proposition by the likes of Apple, DuckDuckGo, and Brave. This has provoked a response from the other browsers who don’t want to find themselves on the wrong side of a losing argument.

This, and Apple’s recent anti-tracking moves in iOS 14.5, have forced ad platforms to change their approaches.

For better? For worse? It depends on your point of view. Things certainly aren’t boring at the moment.

Interested in joining the conversation? 

To join the Data & Insights SIG, please fill out this form. The group brings together a community of professionals with an interest in areas of data collection, usage, insights, analytics, and more. By pooling our experiences, we help provide a space for our members to share knowledge, seek help, and explore opportunities. 

We look forward to hearing from you!

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