Scottish Heritage Partnership: Immersive Experiences

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: College of Arts

Abstract

Core Research Question: How successful have approaches to immersive technologies at major heritage sites in Scotland been currently, both in terms of outcomes against business plan expectations and in terms of visitor response, and what kinds of future development are supported by the evidence?

Research Methods: The proposed Research Methods in this initial pilot phase will lay the groundwork for the exploration of the effectiveness and potential of the core Immersive Technology Research Question.

Under the guidance of the PI and research team, the pilot project RA will set up a questionnaire to test visitor response to the immersive dimensions of the Culloden, Robert Burns Museum and Bannockburn sites, as well as at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow (which has secured one of the highest -if not the highest-non-traditional museum audience in the UK) and the National Library of Scotland at Kelvin Hall. In parallel, they will set up observations and a focus group round the proposed collections and policy developments at Newhailes by the National Trust for Scotland. These approaches will follow the methodology used by the PI's CDA to evaluate audience response among the 60 000 visitors to the When Glasgow Flourished exhibition in 2014 and by the PI's Beyond Text RA to evaluate responses to the material Burns January exhibition in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow in 2010 and 2011; and by the CI Economou's RA in three different immersive exhibitions in Rome, Athens, and Ename as part of the Marie Curie CHIRON project between 2005-2008 (Economou & Pujol Tost 2011). The project team will identify audience focus groups from the existing visitor and client contact base of the partner organizations, and will explore their visitor experience while also exposing them to new developments in Immersive Experience technology. Consideration will be given to the development of future 'Smart' response evaluations, such as Fitbit and smartphone visitor response monitoring.

Immersive experiences are means of 'composing' memory (that is, creating the conditions in which the memories which are publicly expressed are those which are formulated within a range of socially acceptable contexts. In the motorized era, trails have fulfilled the same function of embedding preferred memory narratives, while immersive experiences-delivered in part or whole through the medium of technology-strive to present a fusion of memory, place and performance to create a close and lasting relationship of visitor memory to the experience purchased by the visit. Immersive technologies have (although research on this is not yet developed and its development is a key component of the proposed partnership) arguably similar effects to electronic mass media in the composure of memory, but effects which are possibly delivered in stronger and more lasting terms.

We will also work with Soluis as our digital partner, to create a decision-making model for policy and audience development.

Research Context: The research context is that of both the recent rapid growth of the heritage sector, and within that the centrality of cutting edge immersive experiences for tourism, the heritage industry and audience development The development of immersive experiences at 'fantasy' venues such as the London, York, Blackpool and Edinburgh 'Dungeons' from Merlin Entertainments is a connected activity. Some of these visitor experiences are relatively recent, and audience feedback is at an early stage: however, there is some evidence that fully or predominantly CGI immersive experiences such as Bannockburn are less appealing and effective to a comprehensive audience demographic than they are to particular groups.

Research Outputs: Website, a policy paper, a risk assessment, a visualization decision making tool and presentations at the AHRC Showcase, and connected events-e.g. presentations at DH conferences and a media/social media strategy.

Planned Impact

Beneficiaries from this research and means by which they might benefit:

Who might benefit from this research?

1. The academic and educational community in archaeology, art history, history, heritage and museum studies
How might they benefit ? Through the research in audiences, the related methodology developed, and the efficacy/potential of immersive experiences underpinning the policy paper in this area to be published. Research will also be integrated into teaching (including teaching relating to vocational and professional development within the heritage field) at the University of Glasgow, such as the UG Information Studies Digital Media and Information Studies and MSc in Museum Studies, which is taught in Kelvin Hall. The aim would be to incorporate leading edge work into the training and practices of a new generation of researchers and cultural heritage professionals.

2. Local and national government
How might they benefit? Through the publication of evidence driven policy documents and through meetings (some already planned) on the importance of right sizing, right scaling and right orienting immersive technology experiences for the future success of visitor attractions and economic growth.

3. The National Trust for Scotland and other heritage, collections and related tourist attractions
How might they benefit? Through the publication of evidence-driven research, meetings and in the NTS's case in particular the continuing consultancy of the PI on the right shaping of their future immersive strategy, and a better alignment of digital providers with that strategy. The PI is engaged directly with the NTS's planes for Newhailes, which have been initiated through a £2.4M garden development, including immersive experiences which are being market tested in 2018.

4. Glasgow Museums
How might they benefit? Through additional audience research which will support their leading position in pioneering and inclusive audience demographic.

5. Glasgow City Council (no known as Glasgow City Government)
How might they benefit? Through evidence supporting their Inclusive Growth strategy for the Creative Economy and the Cultural zone round Kelvin Hall, which is linked to City Deal developments from 2019, combined with PI meetings with Council officials and the leader of the Council, Susan Aitken.

6. The National Library of Scotland
How might it benefit? Through evidence evaluating the use of their Moving Image Archive at Kelvin Hall by different audience groups and with respect to the project's engagement with the audience data pertaining to their wider digital strategy, and the two way discussion arising from that.

7. The Immersive Technology related industry.
How might they benefit? Through evidence supporting a better alignment of their work to audience and customer requirements: currently, heritage site immersive redevelopment can be quite 'visionary' and not based on audience needs. This will include contact with immersive technology and creative industry companies in Europe (using for example, CI Economou's partners of the H2020 EMOTIVE project in France, Ireland, and Italy).

8. The media.
How might they benefit? The PI will set up a Comms strategy with the University of Glasgow Comms office, to promote a greater understanding of the links between cultural tourism and economic growth more broadly.

9. The general public and the economy.
How might it benefit? Through research which underpins higher quality and more appropriately targeted immersive experiences at cultural visitor sites, and a greater awareness of the economic impact and the associated benefits accruing to the economic development of local communities. As an SME with some 90 employees and a global profile, our digital partner Soluis should also benefit.

Publications

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