We’re speaking to Marge Ainsley, a well-respected arts and heritage consultant, specialising in museum evaluation, audience research and communication for museums, libraries and theatres. Today we talk about how to develop insight, build your in-house expertise and communicate more effectively with your audiences.
Today’s podcast guest has spent the last 12 years helping a vast range of museums, galleries, libraries and theatres to understand their audiences and develop insight.
She was previously voted one of the top 50 freelancers in the UK, is a IPSE Ambassador of the Year Finalist and also helps to run the Museum Freelance Network. It’s safe to say that Marge Ainsley’s insight in bringing audiences and organisations closer together is second to none.
A few things we talk about:
Heads up, this podcast was recorded in 2019, so there’s a few things mentioned that might be a little out of context.
We experienced a few technical difficulties - nevertheless, you're going to learn plenty from this brilliant interview.
The ‘great guy’ we mention at the end of the podcast who helped us with your survey is Adam Pearson, of Pearson Insight.
One tiny blooper - 0.08 we say Marge was voted top 500 freelancers in the UK, however it was one of the top 50. Still an incredible achievement!
Kelly Molson: Welcome to Skip the Queue, a podcast that celebrates professionals working in the visitor attraction sector. What do we mean by visitor attractions? Well, it's an umbrella term for a huge range of exciting organisations that are must sees. Think museums, theme parks, zoos, farms, heritage sites, tour providers, escape rooms and much, much more. They're tourist hotspots or much loved local establishments that educate, engage and excite the general public.
Kelly Molson: Those who work in visitor attractions often pour their heart and soul into providing exceptional experiences for others. In our opinion, they don't get the recognition that they deserve for this. We want to change this. Each episode, we'll share the journeys of inspiring leaders. We'll celebrate their achievements and dig deeper into what really makes their attractions successful both offline and digitally.
Kelly Molson: Listen and be inspired as industry leaders share their innovative ideas, services and approaches. There's plenty of valuable information you can take away and put into action to create better experiences for your own guests.
Kelly Molson: Your hosts for this podcast are myself, Kelly Molson, and Paul Wright. We're the co-founders of Rubber Cheese, an award winning digital agency that builds remarkable systems and websites for visitor attractions. Find out how we can create a better experience for you and your guests at rubbercheese.com. Search 'Skip the Queue' on iTunes and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links every episode, and more, over on our website rubbercheese.com/podcast. We hope that you enjoy these interviews, and if there's anyone you think we should be talking to, please do send us a message.
Kelly Molson: Marge Ainsley, it is so lovely to have you on the Skip the Queue podcast this morning, so thank you for joining us.
Marge Ainsley: Well thank you for having me.
Kelly Molson: Now we want to talk a little bit about ... Well, we want to talk a lot about what you do and how you work within the cultural, museum and visitor attraction sectors. So can you just tell us a little bit about what you do?
Marge Ainsley: So I've been freelance 11 years this year, and I tend to work with museums, galleries, theatres, archives, visitor attractions, heritage sites, helping them with their marketing audience development and visitor research or evaluation work.
Marge Ainsley: So I suppose if I gave you a sense of an every day or an every week, that could look like me going and working with, say, an independent museum who don't have in-house expertise in audience development or visitor research, and supporting them either strategically or very practically. It could be training them as an organisation as well, through to working on large capital projects. So I get involved in a lot of museum refurbishments where there needs to be a lot of upfront visitor research, especially with people who aren't using those places at the moment.
Marge Ainsley: So I can be one day working with a collection in a very small, independent museum in the middle of nowhere, through to a really big, well funded organisation the next day. So it's a real big mix.
Kelly Molson: And when you talk about kind of communication and evaluation work that you do for them, can you give us an example of how you specifically helped one of those organisations?
Marge Ainsley: It could be something as simple as working with an organisation on their copywriting. So for example, whether that's their interpretation or whether it's marketing collateral where they don't have that kind of copywriting expertise in-house, or it could be ... For example, I worked on Silverstone Experience, which is about to open this year, working right before any of the concepts were designed for that new attraction on non-user research and user research. So that could be talking to potential audiences about what they want to see in that attraction and where they go now, how they would work out how to get there. All that kind of concept testing work.
Marge Ainsley: So it could be something very, very practical with an attraction that's already open, through to looking at one that isn't open yet and what people want to get out of their experience. So it's a real range.
Paul Wright: What process do you go through to do the research?
Marge Ainsley: Sometimes I work by myself, but if it's a big project I'll work with a team of associates. And so it might be that we work with, say, an exhibition design company who come up with the concepts and we kind of scrutinise those and look at who the target audiences are. And then once we've worked out who the target audiences are, we would then go out to those.
Marge Ainsley: So, for example, it could be ... I spend a lot of time sitting in [inaudible 00:05:55] with families. So I'll go out to particular areas where those target audiences are and just talk to them. So it could be me being in a soft play centre talking to families. For example, just [inaudible 00:06:09] the larger organisations.
Marge Ainsley: I do a lot of work for libraries, so recently I've been going and talking to families about why do or don't they use their local library service. Did they know that there's an arts and cultural offer at their local library service? How do they typically find out about activities in their area? So that, for me, is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job actually; going out and talking to people who don't engage with us at the moment and working out what those barriers are.
Marge Ainsley: So that practical process is from working out who they are, using data to inform where those people are located, going to those locations, drawing up a discussion guide with relevant questions and then going through that process of interviewing them and analysing the data afterwards and then presenting it back to the client. That could be anything from a library organisation, an archive, a huge capital project, but it's still pretty much the same process.
Kelly Molson: So I guess if you're working with an organisation that's kind of already up and running, for example, you would be brought in if they had a challenge with engaging with people that aren't necessarily coming to their museum or their visitor attraction already, and they want to be able to put an offering together for them. So they might bring you in at that point?
Marge Ainsley: Yeah, that's right. So a lot of the organisations I work for, they're kind of saying, "Well, we know we're getting this type of visitor coming through the doors. How do we either get more of them, or how do we get the kind of lapsed people to come back?"
Marge Ainsley: So sometimes when I go out and I'm talking to different kinds of potential visitors, some of those may have gone to a museum or gone to a library as a kid years and years ago, or gone for a visit once and never gone back again. So it's about finding out what their perceptions are, why they've not been back enough. You know, you'll come up against perceptions such as, "Well, it was like this when I went as a school child on a school trip 25 years ago and I've never been back since." Or, "Isn't that the place that they have weddings? Why would I want to go there?" You know, they've just got maybe a mismatch in terms of perception, or they don't really understand the 2019 version of what that organisation looks like.
Marge Ainsley: So, for example, a lot of the work I do with libraries at the moment is to kind of get that 21st perception about libraries out because a lot of people, I think, still perceive libraries to be those places where we have to be really, really quiet, whereas many of them have got a really vibrant cultural offer.
Marge Ainsley: So it's just about kind of understanding what those barriers are and those perceptions, and then working out with the libraries ... And I suppose this is the other part of my job, kind of audience development, what we call audience development planning ... Working with them to create different kinds of strategies really to engage those people who don't have a level of awareness, or have an incorrect perception I suppose of what that place is like now.
Kelly Molson: That bit must be quite exciting for you as well, because you get to see a real kind of change in perception and you get to see the progress that that organisation can make with the help that you've been able to support them with.
Marge Ainsley: Yeah, that's right. And I think one of the most interesting bits actually at the moment is around the difference that these organisations are making to people's health and wellbeing. So you've probably seen a lot in the media and out there in terms of data around social prescribing and the fact that actually, people are now recognising the value that museums and galleries and other cultural organisations can have on our everyday lives and how important they are in terms of contributing to the amazing places that we live.
Marge Ainsley: And so when I go and ... The other side of my work is evaluating projects, so I don't just do the kind of, why aren't people visiting? I do a lot of evaluation of projects as well. It's really interesting when you talk to people about the difference that these places and projects are making to their lives. So, for example, I was running a discussion group not so long ago where it was a group of people who were real advocates for this particular organisation. They were just talking quite frankly and openly with me about how they'd never left the house before, they had real anxiety problems, they might not even get dressed in the daytime and this particular place, they'd managed to be persuaded to go to this cultural activity and cultural provision that was happening, and how it had just totally turned their life around.
Marge Ainsley: One gentleman had written on a card and left it at the workshop and it said this particular project had saved his life. It's those type of research groups that you just think, "Oh, this is why the jobs that we do in the art sector." So yeah, it is really interesting. You know, it's not always about the positives either. A lot of my work is about working out what's failed and why. That's an area I think we're starting to get a little bit better on in terms of evaluation and the cultural sector. It's still not quite there yet.
Marge Ainsley: And what I mean by that is when I work with a client, often ... Of course they're interested in advocacy around their project as well and what's worked really well. But often, it's been a bit of a battle in terms of getting people to talk openly about what's not worked, and I think there's a few reasons for that. Some of it's around not wanting to be seen as failing. Some of it's around funders of projects not releasing the [inaudible 00:11:50] of money until you've submitted an evaluation report. There's a lot going on there, but we've seen a shift change in that recently.
Marge Ainsley: And so a lot of my work is about looking at, "Okay, where were the challenges? Where were the issues on that? And what have you learned? What are we going to do differently next time?" And a lot of organisations as well, they're not just waiting to do evaluation at the end of the project. So more and more I'm encouraging people to really kind of use that what we call formative evaluation, so really looking across a project period. Say it's like 18 months, really looking right from kind of quarter of the way through, half the way through and all the rest of it at what's working well and not, and then actually reporting that back in to make a change during a project rather than waiting until the end when it's all kind of done.
Marge Ainsley: So that's the other aspect of the work I'm really interested in. Yeah, I've worked with quite a few really interesting organisations recently who have been really up for that kind of formative evaluation process.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. That sounds very much like kind of our agile design and development process as well-
Marge Ainsley: Yeah, [crosstalk 00:13:03].
Kelly Molson: Do a little test, yeah, and then reevaluate. So Marge, one of the large capital projects that you worked on recently has been for Silverstone Race Circuit, which is a brilliant visitor attraction, but could be quite different from the cultural sector that you're used to working with. How did you find that project? And [inaudible 00:13:23]?
Marge Ainsley: I mean, it was so exciting for me working with kind of a large commercial organisation. And so it was really interesting in terms of just how the organisation works, but also just having the opportunity to conduct visitor research on a bigger scale.
Marge Ainsley: So for example, for that project we, again, looked at who the target audiences were going to be for the new experience there, what the concepts were for the displays. But we ended up working for the whole of the Grand Prix weekend, so this is going back a couple of seasons now, right at the beginning, which was great. So we had a giant, huge marquee at the Grand Prix. Now, I'm not a massive motor sport fan, but just to have that experience of thousands and thousands of people there, so doing surveys. We had a roaming kit box that we took out and about. We got items from the collection were displayed in the marquee and we were talking to potential visitors about those were and what they found exciting and what they didn't find exciting. They were voting at that point on what the attraction might be called, what the kind of themes were.
Marge Ainsley: It was just really great to actually be in that space where there was real, passionate motor sport fans who were just actually really keen to come and talk to us. I think we had something crazy like 5000 people that we interviewed that weekend. It was something bonkers. But just having that opportunity to be at a world leading, world stage event to do that kind of research. And of course, opening soon, I think it's the end of October 2019 they're due to open, just seeing all that research come together because often I'll work on a project, and it might be an evaluation report, for example, that I do for an organisation and then I kind of deliver it and then I move on, whereas with this kind of upfront user and on-user research, more exploratory research, it's really interesting to see how that then gets used by an organisation into a capital project. So I'm really looking forward to going down there and seeing what the final result is when it opens.
Marge Ainsley: But it's the same with whatever. I mean, with the copywriting examples, you know, I worked on Merlin's SEA LIFE Centre that they're building over in Chongqing. There's these whole crazy, giant projects that I work on from afar ... I didn't have to go to China ... I work on all these really interesting, exciting projects and then I see them come to fruition. That's just a really rewarding part of my job.
Marge Ainsley: But then I also get a lot of satisfaction from working with what I call the smaller organisations that have big ambitions. I mean I work with a lot of independent museums, like I say, where they're voluntary run. They may have like one part-time member of staff, but otherwise it's volunteers that run the whole site. So for example, I'm working with Calderdale Industrial Museum in Halifax. You know, the Shoreditch of the north I think we're supposed to say now, next door to the [inaudible 00:16:31], and it's a really ambitious organisation, but they just need that little helping hand with their marketing and comms work.
Marge Ainsley: So I've got this privilege of working with those smaller organisations who have these amazing collections and amazing opportunities to engage audiences, versus those really giant, juggernaut organisations as well. And I guess that's one of the benefits of being a freelancer, isn't it? It's that variety and the different clients that you get to work with.
Kelly Molson: It is, yeah. I think one of the things that we've always thought is how much museums in the cultural sector can learn from visitor attractions and vice versa. I guess that kind of ties in with what you're saying as well, is actually, it doesn't matter the size or scale of the project that you're working on or the organisation that you're working with, they actually do have exactly the same challenges which is why you're able to help them.
Marge Ainsley: Yeah, absolutely. It would be interesting actually to talk to some of these museum organisations because some of them might not even see themselves defined as a visitor attraction. I think a lot of maybe the independent museums who are part of kind of Independent Museum Networks do, but I think a lot of organisations I work with just don't kind of categorise themselves as visitor attractions. I know that sounds a bit odd, but I just don't think they even use the same terminology.
Marge Ainsley: You know, I've been talking to you guys previously and the kind of terminology around, how do we welcome our guests? For example. Sometimes visitor attractions talk about guests. Well that word itself is quite interesting when you talk to museums because I don't think ... I'm going to say we here ... But I don't think we would ever talk about ... Well, maybe we would, but we don't always talk about museum visitors as guests because it's very much about their place, their collection. Museums are wanting to try and give the welcome to visitors, audiences, users, whatever you would call them, that it's their collection, it's their place to hang out. You know? It's of them, it's by them, it's for them.
Marge Ainsley: There's this whole campaign and initiative that I should mention really, called OF/BY/FOR ALL. It's run by a woman called Nina Simon over in The States, and it's this kind of concept about if you're wanting to be a real inclusive museum, you need to be of the people, by the people, for the people, that kind of thing. And so this whole guest terminology, I think, around visitor attractions doesn't almost maybe sit well with that because we don't want them to be guests. We want them to feel like it's theirs. I don't know. I don't know what you guys think of that, but I think there's something interesting there with the terminology between the two.
Paul Wright: That's got to be difficult if you're writing copy for, say, websites as well, especially in terms of say SEO, search engine [inaudible 00:19:24] and what you actually say. It's a real minefield, I suppose.
Marge Ainsley: Yeah, absolutely. And I think there's a big job to be done around tone of voice actually.
Marge Ainsley: It's something I do help museums with in terms of their brand and kind of the copy and tone of voice and their values, because I think, again, it comes back to some of the challenges that particularly museums face that I work with. I mean, they're doing an amazing job with the resources they have, but if you imagine an independent museum that is volunteer run, that doesn't necessarily have marketing expertise in-house and then just layering on that even ability to copyright effectively on a website. Or not even thinking about the tone of voice element, just actually thinking about the fact that when you write copy for web, it's different to print. That's just not potentially on their radar.
Marge Ainsley: So I think that is actually a challenge for a lot of the museums that I work with, just purely because they don't have that capacity and expertise. And you know, I'm not digital marketing expert, I don't do a lot of digital work these days, but we do still see that kind of approach by museums of like, say, with social media, "We must setup every single channel that we should do with social media," because again, that expertise isn't there, rather than just thinking, "Right, let's get our own website in order first and get that looking and working effectively on mobile," and those kind of things.
Marge Ainsley: But it is purely down to capacity and knowledge. They have to prioritise looking after the collections and getting the doors open. Some of these places I work, they're only opening one or two days a week potentially and rostering on a whole set of volunteers to be able to open. So it's very different. You talk about, say, Silverstone where they've been recruiting for the new experience and they'll have a full team. That versus the kind of independent museums that I work with where there's just a couple of them. It's really, really tricky and I'm just dead proud of those ones for just achieving what they can and they're doing so much good work. But I guess that's where I come in, isn't it? In supporting them with it.
Marge Ainsley: But yeah, tone of voice and the way that museums are selling themselves I think, and the USPs as well. So I do do a lot of work with museums where they might have five or six different sites all under the same banner. I spend a lot of time working out with them, "Well is it everything for everyone? Who's the target audience for all of these different sites? Is the messaging different? What are the features versus the benefits of those individual sites?" But yeah, I'm not sure that they would be referring to people as guests anyway.
Paul Wright: How often do you review their copy?
Marge Ainsley: It depends what the project is. I mean I'm working with a group of museums in Cheshire at the moment and we did a kind of a print audit the other day looking at their What's On brochure like, for example. We pull apart other people's brochures and we look at theirs and we think about target audiences, and we look at kind of the copy and imagery and what they're wanting to say.
Marge Ainsley: But that's part of a whole program I'm working with them on audience development, so it depends on the project. If it's, say, like a training session I'll tend to run that. So I'll do training on copywriting, brand and tone of voice. That's kind of separate. But with audience development, that's just such a broad piece of work.
Marge Ainsley: So for example, I might get involved in writing audience development strategy. People often get marketing and audience development confused, or they might think very differently about the two, and it all comes down to semantics. I mean, most people, if you were to ask them, would say, "Well, marketing is kind of the numbers. It's the bums on seats. It's the getting people through the door," whereas the audience development is not just more visitors, but diversifying those visitors as well, diversifying those audiences.
Marge Ainsley: When we sit down and do an audience development strategy, we really involve everybody from across the organisation because it could be, you know, programming, it could be collections, it could be the comms, it could be anything in terms of the interpretation. It's a whole range, all those different kinds of things that I can do to diversify the audiences. It can be internal as well, so making sure the staff are trained.
Marge Ainsley: So when I'm doing audience development strategic planning, the copywriting and the kind of messaging just forms one part of that piece of work which takes place over quite a long period of time. And then ultimately, it's either some kind of audience development manual or practical guide. Definitely not an 80 page strategy that sits on a shelf. It needs to be something proactive that that organisation uses.
Marge Ainsley: So it's a real small part, whereas if I was working, say, on copywriting for SEA LIFE Centre Chongqing, their entire seahorse gallery for example, that's me just focused on that piece of work and it's just purely to do with copywriting or copy editing. So I'm kind of hopscotching around a little bit, but that's just reflecting my portfolio I suppose and the different types of work that I do.
Kelly Molson: So you've been freelancing for 10 years now?
Marge Ainsley: Yeah, 11.
Kelly Molson: 11 years.
Marge Ainsley: Yeah, don't forget that one.
Kelly Molson: 11 years of freelancing. So we know ourselves from running a busy agency how complex it can be, how many balls you're juggling at any time. But one of the amazing things that you do is you actually set up the Museum Freelance Network. Can you tell us how did that even come about? Because it sounds like you're busy enough.
Marge Ainsley: Yeah, I've got quite a few side projects, but then you ask any freelancer and they've got a list of side projects as long as their arm. But I didn't actually set it up. So it was Christina Lister and Laura Crossley set it up about four years ago and then I came on board quite soon after they started it to give them a helping hand really.
Marge Ainsley: Ultimately, in a nutshell, the network was really setup to kind of champion and support and lobby for freelancers working within the cultural sector. So we specifically focus on freelancers working in museums, libraries, archives, galleries and heritage sites.
Marge Ainsley: Gosh, the community's grown substantially in those four years really. We have an annual conference where we have around 80 to 90 delegates coming along to that. We run a training workshop every three months for people who are new to freelancing, or thinking about freelancing. We've been amazed how popular that is.
Marge Ainsley: I suppose one of the things we do with Museum Freelance, we're collaboration rather than competition. So it's not about, "Well, I've done that. Why would I say to that person how I've done it?" It's about supporting each other. And so when you come to conference, or if you come to a training workshop, or indeed if you're on the community ... So we have like a LinkedIn group which has got about, I think it's 800 we've got on there now. We have regular Q & As on Twitter and on social media as well. If you get involved you'll notice that we're very much about thinking like a business. So it's not, even though it's specifically focused on freelancers within the cultural sector, it's very much about those broad business skills that everybody needs as a freelancer.
Marge Ainsley: So at the conference, whether you're someone who's a visitor services expert, or visitor experiences expert, or whether you're an archivist, or whether you're a painting restorer, or a marketing freelancer, it doesn't matter. It's all kind of ... I don't want to use the word generic, that's not quite right, but it's broad. So we'll have talks about coaching and health and wellbeing. We'll have talks about finance. We'll have talks about staying motivated as a freelancer.
Marge Ainsley: So it's really broad. And we set it up and have continued it because we just felt that that was missing in terms of specifically the cultural sector. And so we're there not to just support freelancers, but kind of do that lobbying behind the scenes as well that wasn't happening. And what I mean by that is making sure that we have a seta around the table when it comes to new strategies and new policies being developed by organisations such as the Museums Association, or the Association for Independent Museums. These kind of larger membership organisations. Arts Council England have got a consultation out at the moment on their next five year strategy, so how do we make sure that freelancers are part of that discussion?
Marge Ainsley: One of the things that we're doing at the moment is we recognise that there isn't a lot of robust data and research out there about specifically museums and galleries and those kind of cultural organisation's freelancers. There's plenty there in terms of, say, creative industries around, what does that freelance landscape look like? Who are they? Where do they live? What kinds of people are they? What are they charging? What are they working on? But nothing really similar exists in the cultural sector.
Marge Ainsley: So at the moment, we're working on kind of a mapping survey that we're going to be sending out which will hopefully give us that data we need, that shows us kind of not just what the demographics are like and what people are charging, but also gives us the opportunity to look at what the challenges are that are facing freelancers within our sector. And then to be able to use that data to be a bit more informed in terms of that lobbying, or informed in terms of our own evaluation.
Marge Ainsley: So for example, with our conference at the moment, we don't know if the people coming to conference are representative of the museum freelance sector at large. So hopefully having a mapping survey that tells us more about those things will be useful for us as well as for other organisations working with freelancers in the sector.
Paul Wright: The data from this survey, when is it going to be released?
Marge Ainsley: So we're hoping to put the survey out in the new year. We're working on it at the moment, so yeah, watch this space. I should say ... And Christina will be listening to this, I'm sure ... She will say, "Don't forget, it's just us." We are volunteer run. We're not a membership organisation, so everything that we do with Museum Freelance, whether it's the conference, the kind of community side of things that we do, it's just me and one other person at the moment.
Marge Ainsley: So we're tied to the time we have outside of our client work as to how much that we take on. But you know, we're both really passionate really about just kind of keeping it going and keeping support in the freelancers that are out there, because yes, there are the wider networks like Being Freelance and Freelance Heroes and Doing It For The Kids, and all of those that are there to support freelancers working across sectors, but there isn't really anyone there to fight the corner of cultural freelancers.
Marge Ainsley: So things that everyone is picking up on, payment for freelancers and being paid on time and things like that, but also looking at how organisations within the cultural sector can work more effectively with freelancers as well. So this isn't us ... And we very much position ourselves like this ... This isn't us having a moan about freelancing at all. We do a lot of celebrating about freelancing. But it's also about mutualness, it's reciprocal, so we do a lot of work with organisations within the cultural sector supporting them in terms of how to write a decent freelance brief, understanding fees and what to charge, what the budget should be.
Marge Ainsley: So like Christina, this week she's off to the Museum Association conference talking to museums there about how to work best with freelancers. So it's not just us supporting the freelancers, we also work with organisations as well on what they can do to help and how that can make their lives easier and their work more effective too.
Kelly Molson: This is something that we've talked about at great length independently of this podcast, Marge, isn't it? When we met up in London a few months ago we discussed the tendering process, particularly around cultural organisations and how that could potentially be improved. So it's lovely to hear that you are actually actively involved in working with those organisations to be able to make positive change in that area.
Marge Ainsley: Yeah, and I think we have to kind of recognise that some organisations, especially again, the smaller independent ones that I would work with, you know, they haven't got lots of experience in working with freelancers. They might not have written a brief before, so it is about helping them. And also thinking about stuff as a freelancer that makes sense to you around, "Well, I need two weeks to put a proposal together," or, "I should be interviewed on Skype. Do I need to be interviewed? What's the process between when the brief goes out to when I'm supposed to be starting the contract?"
Marge Ainsley: That's normal to us. We know what our timescales are, but an organisation who isn't used to working with freelancers might not have the same understanding of that. Similarly just like that language as well. So one thing that we are doing quite a lot of championing of at the moment is making sure that organisations know that when something is a freelance role versus when it should be a paid full-time or part-time PAYE member of stuff.
Marge Ainsley: So you'll see a lot of language around jobs or job specification, or you might see a brief that has a full long list of, "You must be here at this time and you must do this work," which will all fall foul of HMRC's, "This is not a freelance job. It should be an actual paid position." And that's not them necessarily on purpose trying to get away with a freelance contract when it should be in-house where they would pay for NI and all the rest of it. It's just, I would say, 99.9% of the cases we see, it's just naivety on behalf of the organisation just not understanding the difference between the two and the rules that exist around there in terms of HMRC. I won't go into those, but you know.
Marge Ainsley: I think the organisations that we've supported with it and when we've done talks at conferences about it, the museums are welcoming that support because again, it's just not been there really. But there is only so much that we can do and we've got so many ambitions for the network. Yeah, watch this space.
Kelly Molson: We absolutely will, Marge.
Paul Wright: I'd like to talk a little bit about surveys. We've had a bit of experience lately trying to put one together and I thought it was going to be quite easy to do, but actually it was really, really, really, really difficult.
Marge Ainsley: Yeah. Yeah, I mean I'm a qual rather than a quant girl, I have to say. Give me a discussion guide and a consultation group any day rather than a survey.
Paul Wright: Yeah.
Marge Ainsley: But you know, I find that within some of the work I do it needs a mixed methodology, so I do put together surveys and I do train people as well in terms of evaluation research methods. So I have a whole session in the afternoon about what makes a good and a bad survey. That's quite an eyeopening part of the session.
Marge Ainsley: But I guess, for me, when I see a really awful survey, there's a few things. It's typically if someone doesn't actually have a really good grasp on what their research objectives are in the first place, what it is they're trying to find out. I always say to people, "Measure what matters. Why are you asking that question?" And I'll go through a survey audit with people if they've already got one and I'm like, "So what are you actually doing with the results from that question?" And they go, "Well, I don't know. It's just been like that since 2008." I'm like, "Right, okay."
Marge Ainsley: It's about actually putting together that, what is it we want to find out? What are the research or evaluation objectives from the offset, and designing the questions effectively from that. So there's a little bit there in terms of sometimes people just kind of stick their finger in the air and go, "We'll ask this for no reason."
Marge Ainsley: I also see some horrendous surveys in terms of the questions. So there might be double questions, or there might be questions that don't make any sense, they're in the wrong order, surveys too long and you give up, especially if it's on mobile these days. You know, people will design a survey on some free software and then bash it out and it's all you've got to do endless scrolling, or they put pictures in that never load up because they're too big. There's a lot to think about really in terms of the overall look as well as the questions and how it works across different platforms.
Marge Ainsley: So that would be another thing I would say; think about where people are filling that survey in. Think about how long they've got. We'll see random introductions as well to surveys, or no introductions at all. So you must kind of tell people what the point of this survey is. You know, are you going to incentives it? If you are going to incentivise it, then you need to be looking at the Market Research Society's code of conduct around incentives and how that works. Are you collecting data from the surveys as well? Are you within GDPR?
Marge Ainsley: There's so many things to think about and I think that's why often you'll get external or independent evaluators or research people to give you a hand because people will say to me, "Why are you charging me this amount of time to put a survey together?" And they're really surprised about how long it takes to design a decent survey.
Marge Ainsley: And I suppose just as a final point on that, because I could go on all day about surveys, is to test it. The amount of time I say to people, "Did you try this out before sending it to a mailing list of 50,000 people?" And they're like, "Oh no, we've not done that." It's the best thing that you can do. You know, I've been writing surveys a long time and I still make mistakes in them in terms of maybe the wording isn't right, or a question isn't phrased properly, or maybe the order isn't quite right or the routing doesn't work.
Marge Ainsley: So the best thing that you can do is test it, whether that's on a colleague or a member of the target audience you're aiming for, just to give it a bit of a sense check because without fail, there will be something. There will be something with it.
Paul Wright: Thanks for that. I wish we had talked to you before.
Kelly Molson: I have to say, we did ask the experts in the end. We got a great guy in to help us.
Marge Ainsley: I might be able to guess who that is.
Paul Wright: It definitely took us a lot longer than we expected. It was one of those things where we started it and then it was only until we got really deep into it we just realised, "We really need some help with this."
Marge Ainsley: Yeah. I think that's the thing as well. And when I go and do the training, a lot of the projects that I work on I will always build in some element of training because ... And it might be doing myself out of future work, but the kinds of organisations I work with, they are being restructured, they are having their budgets cut left, right and centre and they're not going to be able to afford to buy in a freelancer or an independent or a consultant all the time, and so just having that training where they can embed those skills. If I can leave them with something sustainable, then that to me, that's great. That's what I want.
Marge Ainsley: So a lot of the time at training, we pull those surveys apart, but I also give them the skills in terms of how to write it, what pitfalls to look out for, but also how to analyse it as well and how to write it up. Because I think the other thing with it is we're awash with data, aren't we? We're awash with giant 100 page reports and big data and all this data around us, but it's really hard to cut through that. And so a lot of the time I'm kind of teaching organisations about how to not just analyse their data, but how to present it and how to tell a story as well.
Kelly Molson: So we're coming up towards the end of the podcast, Marge, but there's a few extra questions we want to run by you. One of the things that you talk about is about being really interested in creating connections. What we wanted to ask you is, from your understanding and research, what do you think that people really want from organisations in the cultural sector? And when we say people, we mean visitors.
Marge Ainsley: I think it depends who the target audience is, doesn't it? I mean I do a lot of work with families who they are simply looking for a wet weather afternoon activity that is free. But it doesn't really matter which visitor you talk to, they're wanting that welcoming space. They're wanting somewhere where they can learn, somewhere that they can take time out. Somewhere where they can be entertained.
Marge Ainsley: We talk a lot about motivation within arts and culture, and I think we can probably do a lot better in terms of tapping into those motivations as well. I mean, I'll give you a really good example. Recently, you might have seen it in the media, the Harris Museum in Preston, they have partnered up with their local NHS Trust ... So it's like an NHS Foundation Trust, and that particular branch of it's called the Lancashire Recovery College ... And every Monday now, they've partnered with them to basically work out of the museum. So on a Monday you can go and do all these different types of health and wellbeing activities, for example.
Marge Ainsley: I think people ... I don't know if they know this or it's just us putting this on them, but I think some people are wanting this ... It's just that space that is within their community. So you know before I was talking about the OF/BY/FOR ALL, just changing the perception of museums not being stuffy, not being unwelcoming places, places that are for the likes of them. I think one aside of that is this sense of community. Whether you're going there for a social experience, having a cup of tea, whether you're going to do yoga, or whether you're going to do a kind of art and therapy event like this Monday at the Harris.
Marge Ainsley: Manchester Art Gallery ... I'm talking to you from Manchester here ... They have a kind of an And Breathe space where you can go and just sit and contemplate the work. Those kind of safe spaces where you can just take a breather from busy lifestyle.
Marge Ainsley: So think people are wanting different things depending on which target audiences they are, but I think more and more we are, and I think should be, looking at museums ... I'm conscious I've talked a lot about museums, but museums as spaces that the community feels are for them. I don't know whether that's answered your question.
Kelly Molson: No, no, it does and it's a really interesting discussion. I saw something actually on Twitter a couple of days ago ... And I will find who Tweeted this and I will credit them in the show notes ... But they talked a lot about museums and cultural spaces opening themselves up as co-working spaces. And I thought, "What a brilliant idea."
Marge Ainsley: Yeah, no, I was in on that conversation actually.
Kelly Molson: Oh, great.
Marge Ainsley: I linked in to Battersea, because Battersea Arts Center have opening up a co-working space. In fact, they were presenting at the IPSE National Freelancer's Day this last year about their work.
Marge Ainsley: And so yeah, I think it comes down to the museum's purpose ultimately, doesn't it? And what they believe that they stand for. I'm not suggesting that every single museum and gallery is going to want to be everything to everybody, or behave in a particular way and become a community centre. But from my perspective, certainly with audience development and with getting people to engage with our collections and engage with us as organisations, we've got to be more open, we've got to be more responsive to what those audiences are looking and what their needs are. Break down these barriers around, you know, "Not for the likes of me."
Marge Ainsley: We talk in the cultural sector a lot about audiences are hard to reach. I kind of stamp my foot a bit about that because I don't think they're hard to reach, I think we're the ones that are hard to reach, you know? So I think there's so many good projects and organisations out there doing amazing things in terms of audience development, but I think we've still got a way to go in terms of just changing that perception around what a museum could and can be.
Marge Ainsley: When you go to somewhere like the Whitworth here in Manchester and they've got a beautiful park outside where they combine a visit to the park and poetry in the park with what's happening inside the museum and are linking the two. You go to other places and there's amazing events and workshops going on to help the local community members who've got English as a second language and they use the paintings and the collection to support that language development. There's so many good projects. But it is something that I know is going to be a hot topic in the sector at the moment about that sense of community.
Marge Ainsley: If you want a good example of this, if you look up Philbrook Museum in Oklahoma, there's a guy, the director there spoke a big museum conference called Museum Next, and he spoke at this conference about how they've totally revolutionised this historic house in the middle of what is quite a deprived area in Tulsa in Oklahoma. Just little changes that they've made to make the community feel like it's a place for the, rather than a place that isn't and it's for people who are rich and have loads of money to go and visit.
Marge Ainsley: Little things like when the director started, they weren't allowed food in the gardens. It's got these beautiful gardens around it. So he just turned that on its head and started doing barbecue burger Fridays, and they have hundreds of the local community go now. They're closed on Mondays, but then they put this kind of Me Time Monday into place where members of the local community could kind of pitch to come and spend the whole day in the museum by themselves, like whilst the staff are there. The whole museum's shut and they just can blog and they can draw and they can do what they want.
Marge Ainsley: They've changed little things like the retail offers, so rather than selling stuff that no one wants they sell like paracetamol and nappies. Just really little changes, but it's revolutionised the way the community perceive that museum and it has made them feel like they're welcome there.
Marge Ainsley: I think that's really what we need to do more of in the sector, and that's why I love working with audience development and audience development strategy because it's not necessarily the typical things that you would have on a marketing and communications plan. It's not, "Let's change the leaflet." There's a bit of that. There's a bit of, "Is the leaflet going to the right place? What are we doing with our website?" But there's a lot more in terms of audience development like going out to people, bringing the collection and taking it out to people, working with particular community partners to access different groups. So there's a lot more to audience development than just, "Are we distributing our leaflets in the right places?"
Kelly Molson: And it kind of comes full circle to what we talked about earlier about creating connections. It is really about creating connections between those people and that organisation and that venue, and how they can use it to support them as part of their own personal development, which is just lovely.
Marge Ainsley: Yeah, it's exactly that. I mean within a work context, for me, it could mean getting organisations to work better with their partners, or facilitating meetings internally to get teams working more effectively.
Marge Ainsley: So another side of my work which we've not touched upon, it is a facilitation. So I will get asked to go and help on away days and meetings so that they can kind of just take a step back from actually running them themselves. So that connections could be just getting organisations to work better together as well, get better communication between the staff, or it could be like we've talked about; those connections in terms of getting museums to understand their non-user audiences a bit better by going and doing that research, or getting them to do the research.
Marge Ainsley: I'm working some organisations at the moment where I've kind of given them some homework to go out to particular marketplaces and actually stand and talk to people. And you'll find quite a few museums do this now. It's kind of like back to the shop floor, because a lot of office staff don't have that opportunity to go and talk to visitors. So people will roster whatever level of the organisation you're on, you'll go and do a visitor services job for an hour every so often just because then you really do get a sense of what people are talking about, what they're struggling with in the museum and just have that connection with them.
Marge Ainsley: I've always had this thing really around, whether it's my personal or professional life, about creating connections, and I suppose that's why I really enjoy what I do too.
Kelly Molson: Marge, thank you. We have absolutely loved speaking to you today. We're going to write up all the show notes, everything that you've discussed and all the things that you've mentioned we'll link to and we'll give everyone shout outs too. But thank you for your time. We've had a great time.
Marge Ainsley: You're very welcome. Thank you.
Kelly Molson: You can find links and notes from this episode and more over on our website, rubbercheese.com/podcast, or search Skip the Queue on iTunes and Spotify to subscribe. Please remember to leave a rating. It helps other people find us.
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