NDF Conference 2016

Annual Conference of National Digital Forum (NDF)
November 22-23, 2016
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand (Wellington, NZ)
Conference program PDF
Twitter feed #NDFNZ
Recordings of sessions on NDF YouTube channel

See Cool Things to Check Out and Stand-out Presentation on my Day 1 post.

The following are my notes from the sessions I attended on day 2 of the NDF Conference. Most sessions were recorded and are available on the NDF YouTube channel.

Day 2 – Wednesday, November 23

Keynote: Ngāi Tahu Cultural Mapping Project – Takerei Norton (Ngāi Tahu Archives Team)

Norton began Day 2 of the NDF conference by stating that this is not a technical talk at all; it is more about how a community tells their story. He said that he found historical evidence through his elder that had a paragraph about a part of land from the 1800s, and they were able to get the tenure review from the government to create a conservation/preservation area of a particular lagoon. Then he had the idea to start mapping all of the Ngai Tahu cultural sites in the high country so they could try to protect more of them. At first, people were adding stickers to 30 maps with different colors of labels (green means food gathering site, blue means river, etc.). It was very laborious but also was a good activity to help people learn history and participate. Then they started taking trips to the high country and bringing 30ish people along. This became a time when they were reconnecting with their landscape.

Eventually, they ended up with over 4,000 place names on the South Island mapped on Google Earth! This is known as the Ngāi Tahu Cultural Mapping Project.

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Every place name is referenced and validated by locals. They are trying to create an official portal for Ngāi Tahu history. Almost all the sites are on Crown land, and Norton only has access to copies of the original documentation. The originals are in Auckland and Wellington – he asked what are people who want to access their tribe’s history supposed to do if they can’t get to those places? They are also making travel routes and trails on the South Island (in green lines on Google Earth). Little red rectangles are the land that was allocated to the Maori by the government (not necessarily in the same area either). It was not 10% like it was supposed to be.

He said that we owe thanks to Pakeha historians like Beattie and Taylor because without them, we wouldn’t have a lot of history. But they did make mistakes, and it’s the job of our generation to correct them and build on their work to make it better. They have to make a decision on spelling when there are discrepancies. They want schools and other groups to use this resource they’ve created. He believes that it matters that the project hasn’t been done FOR us; we’ve done it ourselves. We’ve got skin in the game.

Keynote: See New Zealand clearly: Using numbers to understand who and where we are, where we’ve been, what’s going on and where we’re heading, or Creating a Data Democracy – Lillian Grace (Figure.nz) @GracefulLillian

Grace began by asking several questions about data. How many Labrador dogs are registered in NZ? How many young people aged 20-24 that should be getting on with their lives but don’t seem to be are in certain areas? (28% in Gisborne/Hawke’s Bay)? How many NZers have there ever been?

For all of time, it’s been hard to share information widely and communicate with other people. For the first time ever, now it’s easy. Devices enable us to share information widely and communicate with lots of people in multiple directions. Back in the day, there needed to be smart people to be great leaders and digest information. Now it can be done differently. We can make decisions in different ways. People are scared to change because they think it means that what they were doing before was wrong. But she thinks that it should be seen as an opportunity instead.

We have finally moved to thinking learning to read is for everyone, but we still don’t do this with numbers. We allow the experts to figure out numbers and use them in their thinking. Figure.nz is trying to change this. She likes to think of numbers as holding stories that not everyone is capable of understanding. Why don’t we use numbers in our thinking?

Datasets were set up before the Internet, so sharing wasn’t even thought about. No standards, etc. But now, people with information are expected to make it open and share it. But this is also terrifying for people who collected datasets, because they are asked to share it and they hadn’t been thinking they would have to do that. Having datasets sorted by source and institution and country is like having a dictionary where the words are sorted by the country they originated from. It’s too hard to deal with and not very helpful to have New Zealand data trapped on each individual website.

She gave the example of her brother, a truck driver, who gets excited about knowing how many accidents happen in a certain area or certain times of year. So people understand the importance of numbers when you present them in a different way. But most people don’t use data, and most of NZ’s data isn’t used.

Figure.nz is a charity and the first organization in the world to assert that everyone can use data. Their mission is to enable everyone to make sense of data and see New Zealand clearly, in a way that inspires us forward. They charge places that have data like the Treasury or other government sites to process their data and tables. [But do these places actually want people to look closely at their numbers?…] Currently on their website you can look at a Pinterest-style page of figures. They know that at the moment, people still have to know what to search for on their website. Ex. A florist in Nelson might not just want to look at data in the floral industry, because it might be more helpful for them to look at other relevant data, such as funeral trends. We need to create a culture where people are encouraged and inspired to learn things and seek out things for themselves [yes, self-directed learning].

Youth, digital agency and encounters with the past and present – Louise Saunders (UNITEC)

 Louise Saunders was filling in for the originally-scheduled speaker. She said that she started as a student, became a leader, and then got published  [great trajectory for young students]. She was in a Communications class that had an assignment to make a community-based oral history project on WWI because of the centenary. It aimed to introduce students (outside of fields like history or cultural studies) to digital storytelling and content, to help them build a transmedia narrative. Her group produced an interactive exhibit called Help Me Tell My Story (www.helpmetellmystory.co.nz). She mentioned that ePress at Unitech is an online publishing platform. The rest of the projects can be seen at www.morethanawar.com.

Even though they considered themselves marvellous Communications students, they quickly realized they didn’t have much digital technology skills, so had to partner with back-end and front-end developers [again reiterating the importance of digital literacy]. She said it was probably the best learning experience they had as students. Students in the class not from New Zealand (like those from Asian countries) said that participating in this activity meant that they could actually relate to the First World War. Once they had something to focus on (WWI), all the things they had been learning about in their degree really came to life (blogging, social media, etc.). Before it was just like ‘blah social media’, etc. Leith Haarhoff asked a question about how the logistics between GLAM and academia worked and if there were any problems. Saunders said that the issues were usually about who would take responsibility but they were always worked out. Strong leadership is needed to see the project through.

A model for relevant technology programming in libraries – Leith Haarhoff (Palmerston North Libraries) and Tyler Benson (Massey School of Engineering)

Haarhoff and Benson took turns discussing the Technology Summer Challenge and Technology Challenge project that involved the Massey School of Engineering and Palmerston North Libraries. Haarhoff began by talking about problems that face the world and then looking at how these can catalyze a solution. There is a pressure on libraries to prove relevance and do that through technology. He said they feel pressure to use 3-D printing and new technologies but don’t necessarily know why. Research shows that 75% of primary school kids are loving STEM, then something happens in the translation to their NCEA choices and it goes down to 25%. Massey is not getting enough students.

Benson is an engineer and made the comment that he was glad to see so many ‘older’ people who know technology in the audience, that it was a great environment to be in [some of them may have been a bit ruffled over that comment!]. He explained that the Technology Challenge used 3-D printers to make stuff and kids were dragging their parents to come over and participate. There was good energy. He saw five factors that made it successful: Real-world context; Hands-on experiments [tinkering]; Peer-to-peer interaction and group collaboration (challenge/problem/project-based learning); Interaction with parents/parental involvement; and Key mentors that are committed. What they learned was that the library can help facilitate the STEM program. This was a key aspect. The library might have the stuff but doesn’t know how to use it in a very advanced way. By bringing in engineering students, this then leads to more expertise around the local city (like engineers who know how to use 3-D printers). One question was about whether there was any transference of skills to library staff. Someone did learn how to solder. If you’re interested in something, it doesn’t take that long to learn a new skill. People felt a lot more confident by the second time.

A fireside chat with Seb Chan in conversation with Courtney Johnston (Chan from ACMI, @sebchan; Johnston from DOWSE Art Museum, @auchmill)

Chan said that he used to say that virtual visitors need to be paid attention to just like physical visitors. Now he realizes that they are differently important. The fact is we are spending more time on screens. Mobile hasn’t reduced the time on screens but has actually increased it. Americans spend about 8 hours on average a day on screens (according to new Pew research).

He discussed a difference between museums in the UK, Australia, NZ which have the idea that things are for the public, and museums in the U.S. There, the nonprofit educational aspect is why donations to museums incur a tax benefit. This seems more paternalistic than NZ and Australia. Chan thinks that the U.S. is a decade ahead in museum practice but a decade behind in terms of funding that practice. The certainty of financial security isn’t there. There are much larger boards with stakeholders (up to 40+). There is also the sense that “digital is done”. It was a way to be seen to be showing innovation but wasn’t necessarily about a structural change. He gave a case study of Cooper Hewitt.

Whenever we do digital projects, we never spend enough time marketing them. You need to demonstrate that your organization is outward-facing. Institutions need to be looking out to the world. We need to get out there. People don’t look down here. We’re far away.

Johnston asked a final question about visitor research vs. surveillance. There are issues of privacy and harvesting data with no real purpose. She says, don’t collect data if you don’t need to (how many people walk by a building with a phone, example).

Panel: Labs and incubators for the rest of us

Tui Te Hau (Mahuki lab at Te Papa) @Mahuki_TePapa
Seb Chan (ACMI) @sebchan
Julia Kaganskiy (New Inc.) @juliaxgulia
Paula Bray (DXLab at State Library NSW) @paulabray

ACMIx at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is a new coworking space (for filmmakers, VR developers, gamers, etc.) for making connections, fostering ideas, and building a community. It has been open for seven months now and has two universities in Melbourne that have postgrads and academics in this space as well.

Mahuki at the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand is an innovation incubator.The Mahuki outreach program works with tertiary institutions, the start-up ecosystem, and the wider community. They provide $20,000 funding for teams. They get 6% equity in the businesses so are invested in their success. There is a priority on diversity (gender, Māori, Pasifika).

Kaganskiy runs New Inc., founded by the New Museum in New York. They have 8,000 sq. ft. with 100 creative practitioners. It seemed like every area had an incubator lab except for the arts. Artists lacked business and entrepreurial skills to stay in NY. It costs $600 a month for full time or $350 for part-time, so people pay for desk space. They are trying to offer scholarships and funding for those without means.

Bray talked about the DXLab at the State Library of New South Wales, which is more about Digital Humanities research than being an incubator program.

Question: Why are labs important? How can they be sustainable?

Kaganskiy: It extends the public service that your museum is doing for the community. It is sustainable because of membership fees (60-70% of operational budget) and they have some foundational funding as well.

Chan: Working with universities has removed the need to do things like build labs or studios (specialist physical resources).

Te Hau: They embrace fast failing, so speed is a good thing. Then people can move on to another project.

Q: What does success look like? How do you measure this?

Chan: They need to cultivate an alumni program like universities do, so they can help show the influence they have. The first step is making the lab and naming it. Then it takes more work to go from there.

Te Hau: They are hoping that 8 out of 10 will finish the program (looking like they are on track to do so).

There was a question from Andy Neale: What about organizations that won’t set up these incubators? Kaganskiy responded that these were filling a gap and a need. They weren’t competing with things that were already there. She thinks that the community value-add aspect is the most important. There was a question about whether or not incubators try to encourage people to use their content. It seems to depend on whether they are connected to an institution. New Inc. isn’t a collecting institution, but ACMI does encourage people in incubator to use museum space and ‘try out’ exhibits.

Should you start an incubator? Consider these factors: Real Estate, Community Value-Add, Strategic Partnerships, Business Model, Experiment and Iterate.

Keynote: Incubating culture and creative economies – Julia Kaganskiy (New Inc.) @juliaxgulia @Newinc

Kaganskiy mentioned the ‘Color the Temple’ activity at the Met Museum (Egyptian art being lit up with light). She highly recommended the MoMA R&D website/blog.

She said that incubators can help breathe life into struggling communities. They are most effective when they are site-specific and situated in a specific community. By the year 2020, 40% of the workforce will be freelance. Innovation doesn’t just come from the Sciences. It comes from the Arts too!

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Virtual Reality is really hot at New Inc. right now. She gave a brief look at some of the exciting ideas coming out of the incubator.

Monegraph is trying to make it easier to share digital works.

Print All Over Me turns virtual designs into real world objects. It is run by a brother and sister duo. After this, the next year they started Kokowa, an easy tool to create 3-D environments. The process is still quite hard, so their startup made a drag and drop interface tool. You can view it cross-platform.

Artiphon is designed to make music really accessible for beginners. It can scale with you as you grow. Professional musicians could use it as well.

Micromuseums are another interesting concept. It is a mobile museum about 6 ft. high by 3 ft. wide, features 15 exhibitions, and is designed to go into places like DMVs and hospital waiting rooms that are classified as dehumanized zones.

Powerplnt is giving free art lessons to teens in Harlem.

Disability is a focus at New Inc. as well. Alice Sheppard is working on a new performance with ramps that she wants to disseminate. For her it is very much an advocacy project.

Elia Life (Education, Literary, and Independence for All) wants to redesign Braille to be more intuitive, because currently it’s very difficult to learn.

Kaganskiy discussed how we need to re-envision the incubator model to foster cultural value not just capital value. They initially had social impact as one of their objectives or focus areas, but then they decided to take it out because it was such a weighty term. But it has ended up happening anyway and has been something they support. Museums act as a credentialler and when connected with an incubator are possibly even more important than physical space.

Closing Remarks – Matthew Oliver (Chair, NDF Board) @talkingtothecan

Oliver offered some reflections on the tumultuous year, including the death of the icon David Bowie and the assault on human decency that Trump brings. Is it the end of Parliamentary democracy; do we need a discussion on neoliberalism? Our sector (cultural heritage) needs to be involved in these conversations. We need to help build society and communities where people want to help each other [empathy]. The future is about building a better world where hate can’t survive. He mentioned issues like sexism. He said that we need to stop trying to prove we’re relevant and just get on with our work. Then the award winners were announced, and the conference was over.