Bridging a digital divide – or trying to.
On Saturday 23rd July 2011 I hosted the first #hiddenbedford event which was part of the Bedford Busking Festival. #hiddenbedford isn’t an Art Gallery & Museum project, it’s a community collective with an ambition to map the hidden highlights of Bedford’s cultural landscape. The Art Gallery & Museum is involved, as are Library Services and Archive services – we’re working together with a common aim to reach new audiences and help them engage with the heritage resources available to them, but also, with the aim of discovering new things about the place we live. Find out more about #hiddenbedford here. No one is an expert and everyone has stories and knowledge to share. There was another aim to the first #hiddenbedford event – to bridge a digital divide, introducing those with no experience of services available on smartphones to Flook, QR Codes, and other such delights. We aim to share.
How did it go?
The event was Bedford’s oldest streets: a Hidden Bedford QR Code Tour. We did very little promotion – just a few tweets, a bit of Facebook and a few posters kindly put up in pubs, cafes, independent shops and the Tourist Information Centre. All this was done just a few days before the vent was to be held. But in spite of late notice and little promotion the tour was fully booked. There were about 15 people (if I don’t count the friends and colleagues who came along for moral support). I know this may not seem many, but I felt it represented a real success.
We added information, photographs, sketches and maps to the #hiddenbedford blog, with one post for each stop on the tour. We then made QR Codes for each stop, and put them in place.
Now, I’m not by any stretch a professional tour guide. But the tour lasted about an hour, I think I managed to say everything, and people seemed to enjoy it. We had hard copies of the information and copies of the photographs, drawings and maps to help those without smartphones. But we hoped people would be able to share phones as well.
Some of the images are also on Flook, which seems a fun way for people to discover historic information. The QR Codes are still in situ so people can take the tour independently if they wish. One of the ideas of #hiddenbedford is to get content on lots of services, since it doesn’t really require a great investment. This way people might discover all sorts of things about the town, and then add to that information more or less by accident.
Was it a success?
Some elements of the tour were successful. We attracted a broad range of people. Whilst the content of the tour was all about Saxons, it was presented in a contemporary, informal way and this broadened the appeal of the traditional historic tour. Photographs, maps and drawings do help people to visualise so any way we can use these in talks and tours is good. The QR Codes all worked well. I know that many people dislike the codes that can seem clunky and often look ugly. But nothing else does the same job – to connect information to a place or thing – in such an inexpensive, speedy way.
What would you do differently?
Only a minority of the people on the tour had smartphones, and some of those that did have them, didn’t have QR Code readers or didn’t want to download one. It is tempting to get drawn in by all the talk of the growth of the mobile Internet, but we have to listen to our audiences as well. If we want to use QR Codes or other technologies to add extra resources to museum interpretation, or to get our collections out and about, we have to provide an equivalent low-tech resource or find ways to enable these resources to be truly accessible.
As I said, I’m not a professional tour guide and the tour had a ramshackle quality that could certainly be improved.
We’ve had some lovely feedback, but I didn’t do any serious evaluation, or even a feedback form. So I’ve got no real way of knowing how people found out about the tour, why they came, if they enjoyed it etc. This was definitely an oversight.
Well, we’re planning an event for August. It’s probably going to involve lots of old maps and some colour coded stickers. Quite geeky then. It’s all about mapping your experience of Bedford. Favourite things? Least favourite? Reminiscences? What ever your thoughts on the town – we want to know.
Keep an eye on the #hiddenbedford blog for news.