VisitorBox: a toolkit to support ideation of novel visiting experiences

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: School of Computer Science

Abstract

The VisitorBox project will produce a toolkit that combines physical ideation cards with a mobile app and web-based idea repository to enable heritage organisations to rapidly generate and share ideas for new visitor experiences. This Follow-on Fund project addresses the 'Digital Transformations in the Arts and Humanities' theme and will forge impact through commercialization and knowledge exchange. It builds on research undertaken by the project team as well as research and impact collaborations with our external partners. These partners are chosen from different segments of the regional and national heritage economy; they represent curators and collection managers with differing training backgrounds, all keen to harness digital technologies to enhance access to and engagement with their collection assets.
VisitorBox presents an unanticipated pathway to impact that has emerged from the AHRC international network Data - Asset - Method (DAM network: AH/J006963/1). This network identified the barriers that prevent our stakeholders operating in the culture economy from accessing digital technologies. The main barrier is the stakeholders' lack of an overview of available technologies, and their low confidence and expertise to experiment with such technologies, especially at the early stages of design and prototyping.
The network findings align in particular with our experience of collaborating with partners in the heritage sector, including in the context of three EU-funded projects. We want to bring to bear our knowledge and the expertise gained through the network to overcome the barriers of harnessing digital technologies in this specific sector. Our aim is to respond to one explicit demand of our heritage partners in the domain of visitor engagement, which is their key means of intellectual and commercial exploitation: to have access to their own design and prototyping exploration tools and so scale up the impact of our research and consultancy.
Researchers and partners (including the Nottingham Castle and Galleries, the National Videogame Arcade, the D.H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum, Nottingham's UNESCO City of Literature, and the National Trust) will work together as co-producers of VisitorBox. The tool-set will consist of a set of ideation cards. These physical playing cards represent individual design concepts, technologies, user types, and visiting activities; the cards encapsulate comprehensive engagement design and humanities thinking, reflected in the rules for playing them. The cards will allow players (e.g. curators) to produce new ideas quickly but without compromising on methodological depth.
Alongside the card deck VisitorBox will include a mobile app, allowing players to scan individual cards or card combinations to capture ideas and curatorial trajectories in digital form. Players will be able to upload these digital ideas to an interactive website, the VisitorBox repository, and share them with their colleagues, or with trusted partners. Users will also be able to gain access to a rich set of digital resources that will support project refinement and execution.
The project will evidence the value of the toolkit through co-production with our partners in six design workshops and additional piloting with twenty national and international heritage organisations. Feedback from these activities will inform the development of a sustainable business model for VisitorBox. We will promote VisitorBox along with our business plan at high-profile sectoral events in Europe and the US, and within the teaching programme of a leading US HE organisation.
The project will be led by an early-career researcher - Dr Ben Bedwell - to establish him as a research leader at the interface of Computer Science and the Humanities. The project team has a strong track record of developing challenge-driven technologies for arts and humanities practitioners; it involves the lead investigators of the DAM network, Lorenz and Benford.

Planned Impact

The proposed Follow-on Funding project exploits previous research findings for knowledge exchange and commercialisation along an unanticipated pathway to impact. Through co-production activity with partners in the heritage sector we will create VisitorBox, a tool-set for designing and delivering visitor experiences that will yield economic, cultural, and social benefit. Our product will provide heritage organisations with design skills and technological understanding; it will support them in their efforts, alone and in collaboration with their peers, to expand and enhance public cultural engagement and understanding.
The project aims to deliver impact at local, national, and international level. Access to VisitorBox will empower heritage institutions - regardless of their size, skills profiles, and budget - to access a tool-set that:
a) Gives institutions a handle on the effective exploitation of their cultural assets for culture and heritage tourism, which in Nottingham alone - with 12m visitors per year - is worth an estimated £466m;
b) Supports institutions in creating a vibrant and attractive cultural offering, well integrated within the regional visiting economy, and so improve cultural understanding and social well-being;
c) Provides opportunity for building up, via the online repository, a record of institutional design processes while accessing the expertise of a community of practitioners at other institutions;
d) Offers those heritage partners who are co-producing VisitorBox (those who attend the 6 design workshops, in addition to the 20 who receive VisitorBox for use independently) the opportunity to grow, through reflection on and appropriation of their practices, their design expertise and gain higher visibility within the community of heritage institutions, nationally and internationally.
VisitorBox will enable local institutions to realise the aim of a joint-up approach of all heritage stakeholders, detailed in the Nottingham Heritage Strategy 2015-230. The city provides an ideal crucible for creating the initial version of VisitorBox because the project coincides with two major local initiatives: Nottingham Castle's £29.4m redevelopment (2016-2020), and the award of UNESCO City of Literature status to Nottingham. These activities provide us with access to a critical mass of local heritage organisations keen to invigorate their approach to visitor engagement.
The Nottingham case study will provide a strong, coherent basis for marketing VisitorBox to heritage organisations elsewhere in the UK and internationally facing similar technological challenges. The project includes activities specifically designed to adapt VisitorBox to requirements in other settings and so forge impact nationally and internationally:
a) Partnership with the National Trust allows us to explore how VisitorBox might be rolled out across site teams within a larger heritage organization and serve as a standard tool for visitor experience development at scale. By working with the Trust we have opportunity for upskilling 70,000 volunteers who play an active role in developing and implementing new visitor experiences; we could shape cultural engagement at national scale because experiences developed through VisitorBox may be delivered to the Trust's more than 4 million members.
b) Working with the University of Illinois (UoI) at Urbana-Champagne and their students gives us the opportunity to study the potential for VisitorBox to be used for the training of future heritage professionals; their Library and Information Science courses are rated no. 1 in the US.
c) Dissemination at high-profile conferences in the US (Museums and the Web) and Europe (Ecsite) will ensure that we can promote VisitorBox to opinion leaders from HEI and non-HEI stakeholders in the heritage sector.
d) Members of the wider UNESCO Creative Cities network will benefit from the sharing of VisitorBox and the example of its use within the city of Nottingham.

Publications

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Description This funding has allowed the team to produce a new tool: a deck of cards and simple game rules. The deck condenses a large amount of knowledge around public engagement and the visitor experiences into a form that can be easily and provocatively played out by a group during a lunch break, meeting or workshop, producing clear ideas for new visitor experiences. The game rules alternately encourage players to think "blue-sky" to generate ideas outside their comfort zone, then equip the players to sift through those ideas to focus on those ideas that have real-world value. This builds on established notions of divergent and convergent thinking from design, e.g. as encouraged by the Design Council in their "double-diamond" model.
By producing a tool that can be given out to organisations for use without hand-holding or technical guidance, we have learnt a great deal about the value of the card-game format as a mechanism for encouraging groups to have open and honest conversations about how they engage with visitors, what audience research they need to do before making decisions, what agendas they are working towards, and - based on all of this - are then able to make more effective decisions about investing in new visitor experiences. Practically-speaking we have seen how the physical nature of cards encourage group members to take turns and respect one another's right to speak during discussions, how they are used to physically gesture to convey people's opinions, and how they can be an effective memory prompt. We have also demonstrated that the game rules encourage players to generate ideas outside their comfort zone, while giving them the capability to assess the value of those ideas to determine whether or not going outside their comfort zone adds value. All organisations that we have engaged with have expressed their appreciation for the framework that the VisitorBox deck and rules provides, valuing this over traditional "unconstrained" brainstorming methods.
Finally we have begun to show how data generated as many people use VisitorBox can give us a higher-level understanding of how players use the cards, and thus give us insights into how the cultural industry as a whole thinks about the design of visitor experiences. For example, we have seen trends emerge over many games of VisitorBox towards players identifying "high cost of entry" as a barrier to visitors. Researchers at the University of Nottingham are continuing to explore different ways to analyse this game-play data, and we expect valuable research outputs in the near future, as well as possible policy insights.
Exploitation Route The VisitorBox cards and game-play rules are now freely available for others to use and modify under a Creative Commons license, via visitorbox.org. A wide range of organisations are actively using VisitorBox to continue to generate ideas, but also to train partners in creative thinking. We continue to encourage this, and - where possible - provide support for any organisations who make contact and request more active support in use of the toolkit.
The technology underlying the toolkit allows new decks of cards to be easily made and prepared for printing. We are not publicly advertising this capability as a service, but it does allow us to work with colleagues and other organisations to tailor the cards if there is a compelling case to do so.
We are also collaborating with research colleagues at University of Nottingham to provide data for research into data-driven creative thinking.
Sectors Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description The VisitorBox toolkit has been used by 40+ organisations from the cultural, creative and leisure sectors since its first trial release in 2018. These organisations have encountered the toolkit either as partners in the project (where they have helped develop it, as well as use it), through sector workshops/conferences (where we have run training sessions), or through programmes such as Culture24's Let's Get Real (in which the toolkit has been a training component). All organisations have been given the opportunity to take away one or more decks of the VisitorBox cards to use as and when they please; all organisations that took part in engagement activities reported new or changed ways of thinking about how they engage with their current and new audiences, and some of those who took cards away have reported embedding the VisitorBox activity into their internal idea-generating/strategy processes. Three organisations have reported using the toolkit to train their partners in creative thinking; one of these - Culture24 - has used the toolkit in their Let's Get Real programme, which aims to change other organisations' practices to enhance the social value they deliver. Beyond organisations, the toolkit has also been used by other academic researchers to engage new non-academic partners and encourage impactful changes in their practices, and also to teach University students creativity methods as a means of preparing them for employment in cultural, creative, IT and leisure sectors. Finally, the toolkit has been customised for use within University of Nottingham to help researchers critique their research practices, with the aim of raising their standards of research safety and data management.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Shaped practice and recommendations arising from Culture24's Let's Get Real Programme
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact VisitorBox was provided as one of the tools in Culture24's 6th and 7th iterations of their Let's Get Real Programme. These two iterations have led 30 participants from 20+ different organisations on a journey of open and honest enquiry, seeking to shift the 'digital change' debate from just evaluating metrics of success or better understanding audiences, to also exploring how to work in more joined-up ways and build digital confidence. The focus has been on giving these organisations tools to better contribute to positive social change in their local area.
URL https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/8226734/let-s-get-real-6-culture-24-rgb-single-page-pdf-10-5-meg?da...
 
Title VisitorBox 
Description VisitorBox is a creativity toolkit for cultural & heritage organisations, consisting of a deck of ideation cards, structured card-playing activity, mobile app for activity support, and online respository for ideas resulting from the card-playing activity 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact VisitorBox has been used by non-academic partners of the (impact-focused) VisitorBox project in workshops to generate new ideas for visitor experiences, and by non-academic partners in other impact and research projects, notably the EU-funded GIFT project where staff from a number of UK and EU-based museums have used the toolkit. 
URL https://visitorbox.org
 
Description AHRC Connected Communities Heritage Network conference workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Ran a workshop as part of the programme for the AHRC Connected Communities Heritage Network conference, giving participants a chance to try using VisitorBox, resulting in most participants taking away a deck of cards to use as part of their practice
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Action Research workshop for GIFT project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In the GIFT research project, a strand of action research involved bringing in professional practitioners and 3rd sector organisations from the heritage sector to act as participants in a design process. As part of this design process, the participants used VisitorBox to learn a new creative design method, and then to develop new ideas for visitor experiences that they went on to prototype and test with their visitors.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Consultation workshop with Surface Gallery 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Day-long consultancy with 5 members of staff at Surface Gallery, using the VisitorBox toolkit to understand their current issues around marketing, and to design possible solutions. Resulted in a set of actions for Surface Gallery to gather evidence and trial a new approach to marketing
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Demonstration at COMPASS conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to demo the VisitorBox toolkit at the COMPASS Conference, organised by and held at the San Francisco Exploratorium. COMPASS attendees included staff from major US and international culture and arts venues, policymakers, professional practitioners, and academic researchers working on technologies for arts and culture. Multiple requests for further information and copies of the toolkit were made as a result of the demo.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description German university collection leaders: workshop for 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We ran 2 2hr workshops as part of the annual conference of the German society of university collection leaders, in which we trialled the BETA- version of Visitorbox. Participants worked through the inidividual stages of the Visitorbox game in groups of 3s and 4s, concentrating on case study challenges.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description HeritageDot conference workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Ran a workshop as part of the programme for the HeritageDot conference, giving participants a chance to try using VisitorBox, resulting in most participants taking away a deck of cards to use as part of their practice
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Ideation training session at Digital Tools and Methods workshop for SMEs 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We ran sessions during two workshops aimed at raising digital capabilities within local SMEs operating in the creative industries. Staff from local SMEs (as well as some 3rd sector and freelancers) were trained to use the VisitorBox toolkit to generate ideas for new visitor engagement activities. These workshops formed part of an ERDF-funded programme of activities to improve the performance of SMEs in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Ideation training workshop for Professional Services staff 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Ran a training workshop for University of Nottingham staff in "professional services" job families, as part of an internal conference, where participants used a customised deck of cards (built via the VisitorBox toolkit) to generate ideas for ways to collaborate across job families to help achieve their organisation's goals
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Ideation workshop for staff from multiple National Trust properties 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact National Trust used VisitorBox to help staff from 8 regional properties to generate ideas for new visitor experiences. A subset of these ideas are now being taken forward to plan trials with visitors.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Invited research and teaching workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Invited to give a talk and practical session on VisitorBox and its role in the development of heritage engagement for staff and pupils from Justus Liebig University Giessen (Germany), resulting in requests for access to the toolkit for use in research projects, industry engagement and further teaching
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited teaching sessions at University of Illinois 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited to deliver a week of hands-on teaching sessions for University of Illinois Information Science and Museum Studies students at the iSchool in Urbana-Champaign. The sessions involved students using the VisitorBox toolkit to understand design issues in arts & culture venues; representatives from local venues were also invited to participate as guests, resulting in requests for further information about the toolkit and requests to participate in further teaching sessions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Let's Get Real toolkit workshop with Culture24 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Invited by Culture24 to deliver a VisitorBox training session as part of the 6th year of their Let's Get Real programme. LGR is attended by a selection of high-profile arts & culture venues from across the UK, during which they learn a range of techniques for evaluating and enhancing the social impact of their operations. As a result of the session, several attending organisations took away decks of the VisitorBox cards and have subsequently used them within their organisations to influence decision-making.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Let's Get Real toolkit workshop with Culture24 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Invited by Culture24 to deliver a VisitorBox training session as part of the 7th year of their Let's Get Real programme. LGR is attended by a selection of high-profile arts & culture venues from across the UK, during which they learn a range of techniques for evaluating and enhancing the social impact of their operations. As a result of the session, several attending organisations took away decks of the VisitorBox cards and have subsequently used them within their organisations to influence decision-making.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Museum Matters conference workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Ran a workshop as part of the programme for the Museum Matters conference, giving participants a chance to try using VisitorBox, resulting in most participants taking away a deck of cards to use as part of their practice
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Partnership workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact 12 members of regional stakeholders (3rd sector organisations, professional practitioners and businesses) attended a pair of initial partnership workshops in December 2017 to learn about the purpose of the project, kick off the development of the VisitorBox toolkit and determine how to steer the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Research data management workshops for University staff 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A deck of ideation cards (built on the VisitorBox toolkit) are being used in an ongoing programme of training workshops for research and research support staff at University of Nottingham, helping them map out the flow of research data in their research projects, and to identify ways to handle data more responsibly.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
 
Description Toolkit trial and development workshop with DH Lawrence Birthplace Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact 4 members of staff used the initial VisitorBox cards to examine the current state of visitor experiences at the DH Lawrence Birthplace Museum. As a result they designed a set of ideas for new visitor experiences to trial over the summer
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Toolkit trial and development workshop with Holocaust museums group 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact 30 members of staff from Holocaust museums around the world participated in a VisitorBox toolkit workshop to ideate new forms of visitor experience and explore cultural differences towards Holocaust heritage and visiting. Participants took away VisitorBox decks and requested to be involved in future training.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Toolkit trial and development workshop with National Trust 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact 4 members of staff used the initial VisitorBox cards to examine the current state of visitor experiences at National Trust's Tattershall Castle property. As a result they designed a set of ideas for new visitor experiences to trial in 2019, and made immediate changes to the layout of the Castle's atrium
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Toolkit trial and development workshop with Nottingham Theatre Royal and Concert Hall 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact 15 PhD students from the Horizon Digital Economy Centre for Doctoral Training collaborated with 6 staff and volunteers from Nottingham Theatre Royal and Concert Hall to use the VisitorBox toolkit to design new visitor experiences for the Theatre. While the students learned how to apply design thinking to a specific use case, the TRCH staff took away concrete ideas for new visitor experiences and will turn one of these into a funding proposal
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Toolkit trial workshop with Nottingham Theatre Royal and Concert Hall 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact 15 PhD students from the Horizon Digital Economy Centre for Doctoral Training collaborated with 6 staff and volunteers from Nottingham Theatre Royal and Concert Hall to use the VisitorBox toolkit to design new visitor experiences for the Theatre. While the students learned how to apply design thinking to a specific use case, the TRCH staff took away concrete ideas for new visitor experiences and will turn one of these into a funding proposal
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019