There is White Water Ahead

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Tim Grove

Tim Grove

Making decisions about technology sometimes feels like an extended whitewater rafting trip with all whitewater and no stretches of calm water. Careful, thoughtful planning seems an impossible goal with the always changing currents of technology. The recent Horizon Reports, Museum Edition (2010 and 2011) offer a good starting point. The reports, produced by an international panel of museum, education and technology experts, focus on technology within a context of museum education and interpretation. They also identify the top technologies that we can expect to see in a wide market in the next few years. Most of my colleagues agree that the reports accurately reflect the current state of museums and technology. Granted, there is a wide spectrum of adoption when it comes to technology and many factors affect adoption, – including funding, expertise, and a leader’s vision. Yet, any institution, no matter its size and budget, must decide how many scarce resources to devote to technology projects.

Over the past fifteen years or so I have had the opportunity to explore the fascinating intersection of education and technology. I’ve worked for history museums that were willing to ask challenging questions and to take the time to try to figure out the Web and other new media. I’ve rolled up my sleeves to work on all kinds of Web-related projects. I’m not a techie and do not own the latest high-tech gadgets. I see myself as a big-picture person who tries to observe trends and find ways to help history organizations meet the tremendous technology demands they face.

It’s Your Turn

In keeping with the idea of the Horizon Report, I offer ten suggestions for history organizations struggling with adopting technology.

  • Do you have other suggestions to add to the list?
  • How do you approach the tough decisions about technology at your institution?
  • How do you stay informed about technological trends?

Jump in and share below.


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  1. Max van Balgooy 05. Apr, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

    Tim: Your ten suggestions all provide great advice. At the recent Webwise conference, one of the moderators noted that staff with “technology” in their titles are just beginning to appear at the executive level–a recognition that digital technologies are one of the major assets to be managed at the highest level, just like finance or public programs.

    If I had to choose the most important issue of the ten you listed, I’d combine #2 and #9 into one–that is, experiment and pilot new technologies but make sure your decisions are based on some visitor research and you have an easy exit strategy. For example, don’t adopt QR codes and place them all over your exhibits and brochures without asking your visitors if they regularly scan QR codes with their smartphones (I bet less than 15% of them do). Your time may have been better used to create a Facebook page or reorganize your website (I bet more than 50% of your visitors went to the internet to plan their visit).

    And to stay on top of tech trends, along with the Pew Internet and American Life reports that you mentioned, I watch the CNET TV shows (–alas, the Buzz Report has just ended its 7-year run) and listen to the Marketplace Tech Report podcast (

  2. Tina Didreckson 07. Apr, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    I work part-time at our local county museum. Our budget $112k per year, barely pays our part-time staff and keeps the lights on. We have a network, public ip, and use social media but there are only so many hours in the day.

    How do I encourage our director to implement yet another program we have to take the time and funds to start and operate? How do we get people to join as members, visit our physical location to access information in our archive and our exhiblts if we give it away free virtually? I really struggle with this on a daily basis.

    • Tim 11. Apr, 2012 at 8:59 am #

      Those are tough challenges for sure. While it’s easy to think of technology as “just another thing to add to an already full plate,” smaller organizations should avoid thinking this way. Granted there is a steep learning curve sometimes, that is not always the case. Thinking strategically about technology might mean working with a local university to use free (open source) software to set up an online crowdsourcing project (see previous column in this site) where some of your members/board could work with your collections. The result of this work, online, could attract others who might not normally be involved. Technology can have a domino effect and can expand audiences. You should think in terms of one project at a time or you will get overwhelmed.

  3. Jessica Wobig 12. Apr, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    #4 seems to be the most significant to me.
    Helping stakeholders through this consideration also seems to be the most difficult.

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