Case study : Ireland

Support groups who are less able to visit the museum physically, such as asylum seekers and children with serious illnesses, to access collections and share their own perspectives. Make perspectives available online and in the museum. Encourage visitors to think about universal, personal themes such as family to make interconnections across groups.


Mary visits the art museum on her own. She is an engaged visitor, visiting the museum multiple times annually, often she plans to visit a particular exhibition via the museum’s website, but then spontaneously explores other exhibitions and experiences at the museum when she happens to be physically on-site. As she passes through the reception area, a member of the museum’s visitor experience team invites Mary to interact with the digital system set up in the museum’s dedicated Response Room. The Response Room is equipped with touch screens and display technology. This digital system helps Mary to choose artefacts within the museum collection which relate to a theme that interests her: “family”. The system allows her to tag the virtual collection using themes and concepts which she thinks will be helpful in exploring the theme and she shares it with other users. While Mary identifies relevant artefacts that she is interested in, the system also provides her with examples of artefacts that other visitors have identified around this theme. Some of the other visitors’ selections complement Mary’s interests, but some contrast with and challenge Mary’s feelings about the theme. She uses insights gained from thinking about these contrasting responses to edit her selection and to add new artefacts to her collection.

The system is available to other users through different types of external organisations which partner with the museum’s engagement and learning programme. For example:

  • HEED Poster Project. This project concerns discrimination and inequality in Dublin City, including Direct Provision, the homeless emergency, and disability. Posters are created through conversations with individuals and groups highlighting issues of discrimination such as disabled access to transport.
  • Glucksman gallery, Cork. Working with children living in Direct Provision to work with artists to develop innovative installations from recyclables and natural materials.
  • Helium Arts. Bringing culture to children who due to illness are not able to attend the museum. Helium Arts collaborates with children and young people living with illness in community settings across the country, using filmmaking, music, artmaking, puppetry.
  • Crocosmia × is a collaborative art project with asylum seekers living in Ireland that brings art, poetry and horticulture together in workshops leading up to site-specific public artworks in IMMA.

Mark is an educational officer with the museum and knows from the system that there is a second level school class arriving this afternoon. He sees that the class has requested to tour an exhibition in which one of the artworks addresses the theme of “family”. The class is visiting purely to gain information related to a question that may be asked in their state art examination later that term. When the tour finishes, Mark invites the class to visit the Response Room. There the students along with their teacher Karen, use the system to explore the theme of “family”. Mark shows the class how they can use the touch interfaces in the room or to use the system with their own devices. They can also see museum artefacts that are not currently on physical display or on-site but relate to the theme “family”. They can engage with both Mary’s input and, also, the tags created by participants from the Crocosmia × project with asylum seekers. Karen connects to the system later on with her mobile device and begins to use it to explore some artefacts which do not conform to her own sense of “family”. She is particularly affected by seeing one of the other participant’s selections and she shares this with her class back in the school context.

The aim of this case study is to investigate how lightweight, digitally enabled forms of interpretation can be used to: (i) provide new forms of engagement for current IMMA visitors; (ii) provide participatory experiences for those excluded from physically visiting the museum (e.g. due to illness) or excluded from European and Irish culture (e.g. asylum seekers living in Direct Provision); (iii) facilitate perspective taking across the excluded communities and the general population; (iv) provide a data source that can support further research and analysis (e.g. into visitor responses to the collection). In order to enable participation in a way that is without barriers and has personal relevance to those taking part, interpretative activities will be built around life events familiar across cultures and generations and their associated themes and roles. For example, this could involve selecting and commenting on works of art related to family, bereavement, love, education, health or work. This draws on work in psychology on the ubiquity of life events and their importance to autobiographical memory, and therefore autobiographical stories. Work on this task will involve the following sub-tasks. 1) Co-design of interpretative activities. Interpretive activities will be developed that appeal to the participating groups. This will involve working with WP2 in developing appropriate visitor response activities (e.g. collecting, tagging, storytelling) that can be used variously on-site or at a distance. Themes (e.g. family) and prompts (e.g. “select an artwork that reflects your family life”) will be developed that participants wish to engage with and share. Interpretative activities will be supported by interface technologies (WP5) and help to enhance rather than distract from appreciation of the artworks. This subtask will also involve setting up appropriate ways of accessing digital artworks (e.g. from the Collection Management System) and storing and managing responses (drawing on WP4). Support will be provided for access and interpretation of museum objects that are on show, in storage and outside of IMMA’s collection. 2) Co-design of perspective taking activities. Contributed interpretations will be aggregated, analysed and visualised in order to assist citizens in making and taking perspectives on the content. Co-design processes, drawing on WP2, will consider what types of visualisation promote uptake and understanding of the materials. User-defined and automated tagging of text (plus other extracted features such as sentiment) will provide candidate dimensions according to which the interpretations can be navigated and visualised. User and group modelling components (WP3) will assist in identifying patterns across the interpretations that can facilitate understanding and cohsensions, such as illustrating the variety of responses within a community (e.g. the general visitor population having a range of views on family life) or commonalities across communities (e.g. similar family themes across migrant and non-migrant communities). Drawing on WP6, this work will also co-design the scripting or sequencing of activities (e.g. whether to see the responses of others before or after making your own decision). Onsite activities will be co-designed for installation within the museum family room (response room) in the form of interactive digital displays. 3) Co-design of research and analysis activities. Work will be conducted with museum staff to understand how the accumulated interpretation data can be used as a resource by the museum staff to understand how visitors respond to their collection and museum programming. Analyses of visitor responses will be shared with others, including the external partner organisations, to explore research-based uses of the information. 4) Evaluation of findings. A mixed methods approach will be taken to the evaluation of the case study investigating factors such as user acceptance, depth of engagement, changes in attitude and knowledge, aesthetics and usability. This will involve a range of instruments including data logs, observation, interviews and surveys.
Service blueprint of the case study in Irish Museum of Modern Art, Ireland.