Call for submissions: Epic Fail at Museums & the Web 2012, San Diego

Jane Finnis (Culture24) and I are hosting the closing plenary at Museums & the Web in San Diego this year. We’ve called it Epic Fail and we’re going to be shining a light on the failures that we individually and we collectively have had as project teams, institutions, and maybe even the sector as a whole.

Inspired by the valuable lessons we’ve learned personally from over-sharing our own failures on our blogs, and the growing trend in the non-profit and social enterprise sectors to share analyse, and learn from failures – we think the time has come for Museums and the Web to recognise the important role that documenting failures plays in making our community stronger.


Well, taking a cue from FailFaire, there are many common reasons for failure in the non-profit sector –

1. The project wasn’t right for the organisation (or the organisation wasn’t right for the project)
2. Tech is search of a problem
3. Must-be-invented-here syndrome
4. Know thy end-users
5. Trying to please donors rather than beneficiaries (and chasing small pots of money)
6. Forgetting people
7. Feature creep
8. Lack of a backup plan
9. Not connecting with local needs
10. Not knowing when to say goodbye

Sound familiar? I thought so.

So . . .

We’re doing a call out for ‘failures’ to be featured in our closed door session (that means no tweeting, no live blogging).

Each Fail will present a short 7-10 minute slot followed by 10 minutes panel and open-mic discussion. Each Fail needs to be presented by someone who worked on the project – this isn’t a crit-room – and we want you to feel comfortable enough to be honest and open. We want you to explore the reasons why you thought the project was a failure, diagnose where it went wrong, what would you do differently, and then collectively discuss the key lessons for future projects of a similar nature or targeting similar people.

Maybe, like me, you did an early project with QR codes that didn’t take into account the lighting situation in your exhibition, not to mention the lack of wifi? Or maybe a mobile App that you forgot to negotiate signage for the exhibition space? Or an amazing content management system that failed to address the internal culture and workflow for content production and ended up not being used?

In fact in my career, I can’t think of any project that hasn’t had its own share of failure. But in most cases I’ve been able to address the problem and iterate, or, if necessary, as they say in the startup game, ‘pivot‘.

The more significant the failure, the better is its potential to be an agent of change.

So, if you are coming to Museums and the Web in San Diego in April this year, get in touch to nominate your project for a spot! We promise to create a safe environment for sharing these important lessons and end this year’s conference on a high.

Get in touch with the Fail Team – epicfail [at] freshandnew [dot] org

Museum blogging

Six weeks in and Cooper-Hewitt Labs launches

The last six weeks have been a bit of a blur – settling into a new city, a new job, trying to find proper coffee nearby (still unsuccessful!). As you do in a new job, my first weeks have been spent looking at the lie of the land and analysing the data available about the land itself (and configuring better data collection tools if the data you have isn’t suitably illuminating).

The Cooper-Hewitt has just closed its last exhibition for a little while and the focus is firmly on the museum’s re-building and getting all the back of house digital infrastructure up to date and in order.

The question that underpins most of what comes after that is clearly – “how can a museum make the most of online and digital operations when its buildings are closed?”.

So . . .

Today we launched a new blog over at the Cooper-Hewitt – Cooper-Hewitt Labs. This one focusses on the work my team is doing – and the challenges that lie ahead. Being the Labs, we’re going to be undertaking a range of experiments that we’re going to need your help with, as well as offering some opportunities to intern with us (hint! hint!).

Go check out the Cooper-Hewitt Labs. (And don’t forget to leave a little offering for the tanuki while you are there.)

(awesome animated gif by Fealoki!)