MCN 2019 Preview: Towards a new Conference Experience


No two MCN annual conferences are ever the same. Year after year, we review the feedback from the last conference to shape the next one. The changes we make are always important but not necessarily noticeable to most attendees. This year however, the suggestions led us to rethink the standard blueprint of the schedule, resulting in some significant alterations to what you’ve been accustomed to in past conferences.

In planning for MCN 2019, we prioritized the following takeaways as they emerged at the top of the list from last year’s conference feedback:

  • Too many concurrent and conflicting sessions left many feeling overwhelmed and frustrated that they couldn’t make sessions they really wanted to be at (we’ve been hearing this for a long time);
  • A desire to consider fewer but stronger and more varied sessions overall;
  • More shared experiences, more participatory and interactive conversations;
  • More hands-on, ‘How-to’ type sessions as well as workshops throughout the week;
  • A user-friendly program schedule to make it easier for attendees to select what they want to attend;
  • More time for socializing and networking, as always;
  • A need to reconsider Friday, as attendance tends to erode fast translating into very low turnouts in sessions scheduled that day, which is unfair to these presenters.

We heard you. We’re making important changes to the program as a result. But first, the theme.

“Interface: Communities + Museums”

The first order of business for the Program Committee is to look for predominant issues affecting the sector to define a theme. Following a vigorous debate among all the members of the Program Committee, Melissa Mair and Seema Rao distilled the various viewpoints into a simple formula: “Interface: Communities + Museums”.

For MCN 2019, we invite proposals that will explore the ways technology, platforms, and communities interface in museums. Often we create devices and design experiences to connect with audiences. We build networks with users and systems. We devise and revise channels to overcome obstacles. Bringing people, technology, and collections together, these interfaces are rich with challenges and opportunities that are worth exploring. Let’s look into the many ways communities and museums intertwine, face challenges, and adapt. What platforms—human and technological—have made museums more responsive? How does collaboration factor into innovation? What interfaces most impact your institution and benefit your community?

Interfacing—in all its forms—will anchor the general conversations at the conference; however, we welcome proposals on whatever topic is meaningful to you. Envisioning a world in which all museums are empowered digitally to achieve their missions, MCN wants to hear from you how making technology choices empowers you in your work.

However, we also welcome proposals on whatever topic is meaningful to you at the moment.

What’s new?

Arrive early, leave earlier!

This year, we’re starting the conference slightly earlier, offering more experiences on Tuesday afternoon. The conference will also end at lunchtime on Friday, giving you plenty of time to make your flight home, or extend your stay in San Diego 🏖.

New session types and a more diverse schedule

Perhaps the most dramatic change—you’ll notice a more varied program schedule. We are mixing session types to stimulate conversations and create more networking opportunities. While Tuesday will still play host to a number of tours and workshops, we’ll spread out more workshops over 3 days. Find one to attend, even if you can’t get there on Tuesday morning.

Let’s start each day together: Plenary Panels

In addition to the traditional Keynote address on Wednesday morning, we’ll start Thursday and Friday morning with panel discussions and Q&As in a plenary format, and a morning brief to update attendees of the days’ events. By gathering all the attendees together at the start of each day, we look to get everyone on the same page and generate discussions about topics affecting the sector at large.

Improved, user-friendly program schedule

To help you navigate sessions, all sessions will be 1) assigned a primary and a secondary track (out of five: Content, Experience, Strategy, Systems, Evaluation), and 2) labeled with several tags. These tags include practice related tags (e.g. AI, interpretation, social media, DAM, etc.) and event ones (e.g. Chatham House Rule, SIG-sponsored, etc.). You’ll also find ‘Session Outcomes’ listed on the program. Together we hope these changes help you curate your own conference schedule.

You asked for it—get ready for Deep Dives

You asked for more hands-on, interactive and participatory experiences. So we’re prototyping a new session type called ‘Deep Dive’. Deep Dives are facilitated extended sessions designed to be stimulating, interactive, and hands-on and are open to call for proposals. They offer an opportunity for attendees to think and learn more deeply about a particular topic or skill with your peers. All Deep Dive sessions are scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Space is limited and requires advance sign-up (but at no extra charge!). Deep Dives will take place onsite at the hotel and we’re working on making one happen at a local museum (More to come on that).

Social and networking events

The new program will also feature a number of new opportunities for attendees to catch-up and connect. Tuesday afternoon will host the traditional Welcome Session, as well as other open-house type sessions for attendees to learn more about MCN and network with others in the field. Vendors can also join the conversation. We’re moving the Museum Reception to Thursday evening instead of Tuesday, so we can spend more time in the Sponsor Hall to connect with vendors and colleagues during the ‘Vendors’ Happy Hour’.

Enhanced DEAI accommodations

Given MCN’s strategic commitment to embed Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion in everything it does, we’ll continue to expand accommodations around DEAI at the conference. These include gender neutral bathrooms, pronoun options, acknowledgements of local tribes, improved accessibility guidelines, ensuring our Friendly Space Policy is conspicuously displayed, and more.

The Classics

The program will continue to feature many of your favorite sessions: Workshops, Keynote and 30 and 60 minute sessions, as well as the ability to submit other session types.

And of course, Ignite MCN, a staple since 2012, though this year, we’ll be asking Ignite speakers to share their unique perspective around a central theme or question—one topic, multiple perspectives. We believe this approach will make for a more cohesive and engaging experience.


So there you are. We hope you’ll be as excited as we are about the changes we’re making for the November conference and that you’ll feel inspired to submit proposals. As always, Call for Proposals for MCN 2019 will be open from April 1 through April 30.

Stay tuned for a more comprehensive post to be published here by March 22, in which we will explain each session type and submission requirements for MCN 2019.

Lastly, join us in thanking the members of this year’s Conference Program Committee for their time, enthusiasm and invaluable contributions: we couldn’t pull this together without them.


Andrea Ledesma, Andrea Montiel de Shuman, and Eric Longo
Co-Chairs, MCN 2019 Conference Program Committee