In May 2020, two months into lockdown, the Museum of London launched Museum of Fundon, a digital resource composed of playful activities and prompts for families to use at home.
Here’s an insight into the practices and choices that informed our approach to it.
1. Start with your audiences
Don’t get hung up on questions about formats. Always ask first: ‘Who is this for? What do they want?’
Before responding to the impact of Covid-19, we took time to reflect and discuss how we could best serve Londoners in the current situation. We used in-house expertise and relationships with others to better understand specific communities’ wants and needs, and how we might help meet them. This approach is why we’ve shifted our focus to become Museum for London – active and supportive.
Remember that needs may not be digital at all. We’ve worked with our Culture Mile partners to help develop play packs for young people which have been distributed via food banks and community centres, providing materials to families who may not have online access or play resources during lockdown.
But we’ve certainly shifted energy and imagination from on-site programming onto digital offerings, interactions and conversations. As part of this we’ve revamped and rebranded our online offer for families at home as Museum of Fundon - to make loud and clear to families that we’re still here for them, doing what we do best.
2. Ask, don’t assume
Some of the families we spoke to were desperate for activities that didn’t involve screens, so our new Museum of Fundon content has focused on arts and crafts, dressing up and other creative prompts and challenges. We’re still working on screen-based content, but we’re more conscious of this balance.#
We heard there was a need for things that parents/carers, under-5s and primary-school-aged children could do together at home, so we’re developing a series of videos and activities called Rhymes in Time, which blend performance with historical insights to explore the meaning of well-known nursery rhymes.
Instead of running our popular Great Fire of London live stream (for Key Stage 1) in a single hour, we’ve split it into three half-hour afternoon sessions, as we’ve been told by the audience that parents/carers are looking for structured learning activities after lunch but want something short enough to hold their children’s attention.
Learning projects use the Story of Change model: pinpointing exactly who a project or product is for; why it matters to them; how we’ll go about it; and what form it should take.
We run drafts past each other to make sure that our thinking is sound and evidence-based.
3. Use what you already have
Museum of Fundon has borrowed from years’ worth of tried and tested activities delivered at the Museum of London and the Museum of London Docklands. As well as saving us time and energy coming up with new ideas, we already knew these would be practical and popular. They’d just not been shared digitally before.
We’re also lucky to have amassed a large selection of resources for teachers and students over time, many of which have now been repurposed for use in a family setting too. Their variety helps ensure that we appeal to a range of ages and abilities.
4. See what you can do in house
Our most popular digital learning resources – the Great Fire of London game, Minecraft experience and interactive story on fireoflondon.org.uk - were developed on five figure budgets and get more than 750,000 hits a year.
But they were special projects to mark the 350th anniversary of the fire, made with partners and additional funding. They’re our only resources to cost anywhere near that.
An interactive map about life in London during the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age was used more than 1,500 times in May and was created in PowerPoint, with an add-on to convert it to HTML that cost around £100.
The same solution was used to create a pre-history online quiz, and we might use it to develop a mystery object interactive that will cost us nothing.
Now is a great time to skill up. Video editing, 3D modelling, live streaming, GIF making – these are all relevant disciplines you can teach yourself at home.
5. Budget for marketing
With the museum’s physical doors closed, our marketing team have rallied behind our digital offer, and it shows.
In May, 73% of visits to our Museum of Fundon webpage came via Google Ads (Google Display Network and Google Paid Search), with a fivefold increase in visits the week the campaign went live. It’s now the most visited page on the website after our homepage.
Pay Per Click advertising and our non-profit Google Ad Grant give us a better chance of reaching families who wouldn’t have considered using museum websites before - an exciting prospect for an organisation seeking as diverse an audience as possible.
We’re also sharing Museum of Fundon activities on Twitter and Facebook, but, crucially, all with budget attached. It seems essential to spend on the platform to attain a worthwhile reach, however strong your following.
6. See the bigger picture
Online resources aren’t everything. As practitioners have been saying for years, digital is not a separate category of work but part of the same toolbox as everything else that institutions use to engage people.
We visualise engagement with schools, for example, as a many-layered cake: broad, shallow layers lower down represent the simple, less-involved impacts many students can "have a slice of" through off-the-shelf products. Online resources are great for this, on-demand and unlimited-use, but so too are live streams and printed resources.
Increasingly deeper layers higher up the cake signify more involved relationships – projects with particular schools or groups of young people – that offer greater impact but have fewer "slices" to share out.
Digital platforms are helping these to continue. School 21 in Stratford, one of our Champion Schools with whom we have closer relationships, asked us for real world experiences we could engage their students with. We’ve joined their virtual school programme with several online projects informing our thinking about displays for our new museum at West Smithfield – a win-win.
Our approach (before, during and beyond lockdown) is probably best summed up by the approach taken by our Memories of London team. They’ve circulated printed activity packs for people living with dementia, their carers and loved ones.
These are also available online so they’re open to all, and complemented by podcasts, videos and scheduled online chats on the same themes. Digital and physical working together, to support real needs, and hopefully bring joy.
Ashley March is the digital editor (learning) at the Museum of London