Making content more human by improving our collecting practices

by Daniel Martin, Head of Curatorship and Curator of Making, Derby Museums

In connection to the GIFT Action Research, we wanted to explore how we might make our collections metadata more human to have a better tool for creating human-centred experiences. We found that we actually didn’t have to reinvent the wheel: Small editorial changes to our forms and systems could encourage curators to focus more on human-centred information when collecting objects.

What did you want to find out?

We wanted to find out how we might make collections metadata more human as a means of creating people-centred interpretation, narrative and sustainable documentation around collections.

What did you do?

We worked through our existing entry processes, entry forms and digital Collections Management System (CMS) to see if they were fit for purpose. We then trialled new forms and acquisition conversation prompts for curatorial staff to begin gathering more human-centred information at the point of entry.

Was it successful?

At this point, it’s hard to tell. The process has only been running for a comparatively short time but the latest records do contain more narrative and people-centred information.

What did you learn?

That reinventing the wheel is not necessary to make meaningful changes to organisational processes. And that our museum is uniquely placed and run in terms of being responsive and open to changes like these – this may not be possible across the museum sector.

What surprised you?

That staff felt these existing processes needed updating but no-one had voiced this in the curatorial forums we already have in place. We need to encourage even more openness than we do.

What methods or tools did you use?

Derby Museums’ Human Centred Design Handbook.

What other resources did you use?

The accrediation scheme for UK museums to ensure that we’re statutorily compliant when changing core collections processes.