What we learned about impact through Team-Based Inquiry

Author: Nicole McNeilly

This is the second blog of a series dedicated to how Team-Based Inquiry (TBI) is being used in the Mingei project and what we are learning from it. In Mingei, each heritage partner and Waag have completed several TBI cycles, setting out a different research question, collecting and analysing the data, and implementing improvements each time. Each TBI cycle has examined different topics and led to new insights. Having introduced TBI already, we now explore some of the insights generated and what this means for organisational impact, as well as setting out recommendations to help you use TBI in your work. 

Using TBI to improve the museum visitor experience

The Mingei partners at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers (CNAM) wanted to know why, of the many exhibitions that are part of the materials gallery (one of seven thematic galleries in the museum), the glass exhibitions were attracting so few visitors and how they could focus the visiting public’s attention more on the materials gallery. The question stemmed from the perception that the Mingei project’s focus on the digitisation of the intangible aspects of the craft of glassmaking would help to bring in more visitors, but that the layout of the museum itself, or something else, might be getting in the way.

They collected data through a series of interviews with mediators and demonstrators from the museum’s Public Department. These professionals had in-depth and direct knowledge about the visitors’ experiences that they could share. They also organised a visit with the person in the museum tasked with making changes to the museum layout. The data they collected led to practical changes being proposed: for example, a plan for renovating the flooring, improving audio-guide systems, and adding labelling and signals around the gallery. 

Asking TBI questions to help improve the visitor experience with museum digital applications

The Chios Mastic Museum investigated how instructions for three newly-installed digital applications could be improved for museum visitors. The TBI cycle was launched at the same time as these installations were being formally evaluated. One of the biggest challenges was how not to over-survey the audience. It was agreed to conduct the TBI survey once the preliminary evaluation data had been collected. Gathering data through three sessions of staff observation and surveys of museum visitors, they identified a number of areas where they could improve the instructions for the applications, including, for example, guidance on where to stand to activate a certain type of app. They also identified a clear need for museum professionals to remain on hand to answer questions and to guide visitors in how to use the apps. This is important, as it was observed that visitors often do not spend much time trying to learn how an app works. 

Colleagues at the Chios Mastic Museum also asked the question of ‘To what extent do the museum professionals understand how the digital applications work, feel comfortable using them and can explain their use to visitors and new colleagues?’. Danae Kaplanidi, scientific consultant at the Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation (PIOP), reports on what they learned in a special blog post where she identifies that the question addresses a gap in the existing research literature, as well as helping the museum better train and supports its professionals in the use and demonstration of digital applications in the museum exhibition setting. 

Using TBI to harness good practice in communications and dissemination more effective

While Waag colleagues are coaching the heritage partners through the TBI cycles, we also undertook our own TBI cycles. Finding ourselves at a critical point in the project – our need to create impact through dissemination and communication – we dedicated ourselves to precisely that topic. We asked the question: what makes impactful and effective communication and dissemination in EU-funded projects?

Word cloud generated by asking survey respondents to answer ‘What five words would you use to describe great and impactful project communication and dissemination?’.

We found eight problems with the current state of play with European funding projects communications, dissemination and exploitation, ranging from the short-term nature of project funding to project outputs (e.g. reports) not being designed appropriately for their audiences. We identified three solutions: 

  • Know your target audience: talk to and with them
  • Tell open, impactful, people-centred stories with substance 
  • Plan long-term project legacy in a practical way

Each solution is presented alongside a series of tips and recommendations. You can read these in more detail in our blogs exploring what makes impactful communications and dissemination and how to measure the impact of communications, dissemination and exploitation in EU-funded projects. The findings are being widely shared across project and partner communication channels as well as on those channels where the original survey was published. 

Turning a challenge into an opportunity in data collection 

Data collection is an inevitable part of a TBI cycle, but what happens if you haven’t collected data from your audiences before? 

This was one challenge for the Haus der Seidencultur (HdS). Run entirely by volunteers, all of whom are retired, the museum lacks many of the resources other museums might enjoy. They asked the question of how to improve the experience of the non-guided museum visitor experience. Since re-opening after the first Covid lockdowns, they had been trying to informally collect more feedback from visitors, benefitting from the thoughts shared in the visitor book as well as the great personal connections made by guides with tour groups. Everything that was shared, however informally, was fed into the TBI cycle. The findings led the team to propose to capture and share more information about each museum exhibit with guests by creating QR codes as part of the Mingei pilot installation.

What was the organisational and professional impact of the Mingei TBI cycles? 

As a method of generating new knowledge and creating practical improvements, the TBI cycle has been a great asset in the Mingei project. We found three relevant themes that emerged as a result of the TBI cycles, no matter how different the context of the other heritage partners might be. 

The first was around informal data collection opportunities. The second was on the security of the digital devices that are being used in the exhibition pilots in the three museums. How can a museum ensure that its technology remains safely in place while creating the best and most enjoyable experience for visitors? The third was around how to train museum professionals on how to use the applications and new digital technologies. 

In addition to these very positive shared learnings, we can summarise some of the outcomes that have resulted from the Mingei TBI cycles as follows: 

  • Attracting new users and those interested in heritage craft.
  • Improved communication within the museum settings.
  • Improved communication in the Mingei project setting.
  • Potential future impact as a result of the wider awareness of the Mingei project’s developed resources.
  • Better communications, dissemination and exploitation planning and delivery in future projects.
  • New solutions to tricky problems (because the TBI cycles are a new tool in the professionals’ ‘toolbox’).
  • Improved user experience for museum visitors using the digital applications and exploring the museum setting.

How can we improve the use and impact of TBI cycles in processes of digital transformation? 

‘The whole TBI process was not a procedure that we had implemented before. Nevertheless, it proved to be very useful when it comes to providing answers in a participative – bottom up approach and it has helped us in defining improvements in our decision making processes.’ heritage partner feedback

The cyclical and iterative nature of TBI, as well as its focus on answering the research question as a team, makes it suitable in a context of proactive partnership and skills development in processes of digital transformation, where the focus is not only on the results but the impact created through the process. TBI is a tool that can answer, in a simple way, much bigger questions relating to key stakeholders and key questions facing heritage crafts organisations in the contemporary, digital, context.

Tips and recommendations for the effective use of the TBI methodology 

  • – Present clear instructions and an overview of the process from the beginning for all involved. 
  • – Get people involved who have the agency to implement the changes that will be recommended through the TBI cycle.
  • – Involve as many colleagues as possible in the introduction to and delivery of TBI cycles, so that everyone feels comfortable to take part. 
  • – Start small and progress to bigger questions over time. 
  • – Keep it lean and light-touch (this is a key attribute of the TBI cycle over other processes). 

Read more about team-based inquiry in the Mingei Hands-on Guide!