Imperial War Museum Image of Social Interpretation Blog title

A conversation unfolds

The Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture, funded by Nesta, AHRC and ACE, is funding two teams of researchers to investigate the SICE project. Our team consists of Gabriella Giannachi, Professor of Performance and New Media at the University of Exeter; Peter Tolmie, Senior Ethnographic Consultant for the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham; Steve Benford, Professor of Collaborative Computing in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Nottingham; and Derek McAuley, Professor of Digital Economy in the School of Computer Science and Director of Horizon, an interdisciplinary research institute funded through the RCUK Digital Economy programme.

The Social Interpretation project’s core research questions are:

  1. Does applying social media models to cultural collections successfully increase engagement and reach?
  2. Is it possible to quantify the risks of different moderation opportunities digitally and physically?

Our team, whose project is entitled Info-Objects: embedding objects with audience interpretation, will also research the following questions:

  1. What does ‘engagement’ mean in this context?
  2. In what contexts do visitors choose to become functional advocates?
  3. What do audiences gain from social interpretation?

These questions will allow us to build on our research into the user experience and develop new frameworks on user engagement in the museological context that are specifically focussed on the application of social media models to collection interpretation. Our principal means of investigation will be two ethnographies, which we will conduct between April and September and which we hope will tell us about visitor behaviours and interactions at IWM. For these, we will simply be joining people on their visit to the museum, watching them closely and making notes about what they do. Where necessary we will also be asking them questions if it is hard to get at their reasoning about things in any other way.

Let’s swap roles for a minute. Let’s imagine that you are carrying out an ethnography, that I am the subject of that ethnography, and that I am looking at either one of the objects pictured in this post.

Now it might well be that how I approach the object and the things I say to other people who are with me make it obvious why I am looking at it and what I am getting out of looking at it. But it might also sometimes be the case that you will need to ask me more to get at these things: Why have you chosen to look at this particular object? Are there things about it that especially interest you? What has the object brought to mind? What is there about it you would really like to comment upon? This especially matters if I have spent a long time stood there looking at it. This is the place where a conversation should unfold. And if there is no-one else there I am talking to then you should be the person I am talking to instead.

Gabriella Giannachi
Professor of Performance and New Media
University of Exeter

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