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Meaningful Personalization of Hybrid Virtual Museum Experiences Through Gifting and Appropriation

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - GIFT (Meaningful Personalization of Hybrid Virtual Museum Experiences Through Gifting and Appropriation)

Reporting period: 2018-01-01 to 2019-12-31

A main challenge with the development of virtual museums is establishing meaningful user experiences which allow for personal, complex and playful encounters with art and cultural heritage. The GIFT project approached this challenge through prototypes for interpersonal experiences through digital gifting and playful appropriation: Technologies that accommodate the complex ways in which users may confront art and heritage content, and which engage users to participate and share experiences that are both playful and profound.

The GIFT project worked to achieve this through a practice-based research collaboration between prominent artists, museums and researchers, to develop, test and validate prototypes that allow visitors to create and share highly personal encounters with digital cultural heritage. Drawing on learning from this process we also developed a framework with theory, tools, design guidelines and best practice recommendations for hybrid museum experiences.

The project had three main objectives:
1. Develop our theoretical understanding of meaningful personalization of hybrid virtual museum experiences for appropriation and sharing
2. Develop new formats for meaningful personalization of hybrid virtual museum experiences through gifting and appropriation
3. Develop a framework with tools and guidelines for meaningful personalization of hybrid virtual museum experiences
The GIFT project delivered important results for all three objectives.

Objective 1 - theoretical understanding

Our theoretical work explored a number of concepts, through a high number of scholarly publications. Regarding the concept of hybrid experiences, we have explored a number of notions of hybridity: Physical and digital, personal and public, hybrid gifting, hybrid products, as well as hybrid museum practices. Other important concepts include interpersonal museum experiences, and social and introspective play. Finally, we have developed methods for making theory relevant for design, through concepts such as 'sensitising scenarios' and 'resident theorist'. At the end of the project period there has been published a high number of papers from the project, including 6 CHI papers, several international journal publications, and a book proposal has been conditionally accepted by a well-renowned academic publisher.

Objective 2 - new formats

The project has designed a number of new formats for hybrid museum experiences, in particular:

Gift, a web app by Blast Theory. Has been publicly deployed in the Munch Museum (Norway), Royal Pavilion & Museums (UK) and the Museum of Applied Art (Serbia). Negotiations are ongoing with several other museums. The app has been studied and analysed in a CHI paper.

Emotion mapping through the Sensitive Pictures web app by NextGame. This app has been developed and trialled at the Munch Museum. Negotiations are underway about deploying this as a visitor experience in a major museum in Serbia.

Social and introspective play: Never Let Me Go by Karin Ryding from the IT University of Copenhagen. This experimental web app explores an original approach to achieving two seemingly contradictory goals: facilitating increased engagement through (social) playfulness, while not distracting from the exhibitions and also allowing for contemplative, transformative experiences. The experience has been tested in several museums, and formed the basis of a CHI paper.

Storytelling artefacts: VRtefacts by researchers from the University of Nottingham. This experimental experience focuses on augmenting physical objects with digital media so that they can capture stories from and tell stories to visitors. Visitors don a virtual reality headset so that they can manipulate 3D models of chosen objects while at the same time holding a 3D printed facsimiles of the same objects as physical props, resulting in an unusual visual and tactile experience. As they feel and manipulate the objects, they are encouraged to relate stories that establish personally meaningful connections to them which are then captured and connected to the object for other visitors to hear later on. The approach has been iteratively developed and trialled at multiple partner museums including the National Video Game Arcade (UK), National Museum in Belgrade, and Derby Silk Mill Museum UK).

Objective 3 - framework

Work in the project has resulted in tools, guidelines and recommendations that are presented in the website This framework addresses the challenge: How can we bridge the gap between academic research and the practice of museum professionals working with facilitating visitor experiences with digital content?

The development of the framework has been highly collaborative and user-centered work, including artistic and academic experiments with real-world deployments “in the wild”, as well as an extensive action research process with 10 prominent museums in Europe and the US.

The framework includes all the tools from the technical Toolbox work package in the project. Rather than a monolithic platform, this is a collection of tools at varying stages of maturity, some iteratively developed and tested, some more recent experiments. An important innovation in this work has been the use of prototypes to generate data visualisations about user behaviour with hybrid museum experiences, drawing a path towards data-driven design in museums.

The website has been extensively co-created with a large number of museum partners, and evaluated through the networks of Culture24 and Europeana. These partners offer a series of best practice recommendations, referred to in the site as “Ways of working”.

The website also includes a number of low-tech tools for supporting design and planning processes.
The project has had significant impact for both the project’s primary target audience - the cultural heritage sector - as well as for academic researchers, creative industries and the public at large. The cultural heritage sector will benefit primarily from the prototypes and the framework. Several prototypes from the project have been deployed to the public in museums in three different countries. Further exploitation of prototypes is being explored with a number of museum partners. Museums may also benefit from design tools and best practice recommendations offered as part of the framework. In one museum, work with the action research part of GIFT led to the establishment of an internal “digital think tank” which has become a permanent part of the organisation offering advice to the museum’s management. Finally, the cultural heritage sector may also benefit from the book that is under publication, which is targeted in particular at museum professionals and students.

Designers and other professionals in the creative industries will benefit from the tools and the documentation offered in the framework when carrying out work targeting the museum sector. Academic audiences will benefit from the wide range of scholarly publications coming out of the project, covering both Human-Computer Interaction research, design and museum technology. Finally, the public at large will benefit when prototypes, tools and design knowledge from the project is used to create innovative hybrid museum experiences, helping to increase European citizens' curiosity for art and their understanding of cultural heritage.