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ST-Bern Museum of Communication
Monday 12 September 2022 08:39

Photo : Suisse Tourisme, Nicole Schafer photo & film

As part of her Bachelor's degree in Tourism, Mégane Cuennet, a student at the HES-SO Valais-Wallis, was interested in the challenges and the management of new technologies in cultural places such as museums.
Thirteen experts from nine different museums were interviewed in order to evaluate their management and their strategy regarding the use of technology in the context of an exhibition. The nine museums surveyed are located in Switzerland, in various geographical areas. In addition, the aim was to have a diversity in terms of size and type of institution, in order to have a better representation of museums throughout the country.

Practices in the museums

Of the nine museums surveyed, seven use technological tools in their exhibitions. Among the technological tools, we find common tools such as audio guides, various projections or interactive terminals. More innovative tools such as augmented reality, virtual reality or applications are used in some of the museums interviewed, but are not yet very present in these institutions. Other techniques can be observed, such as video mapping at the Opale Foundation in Lens or robots at the Museum of Communication in Bern.

At the same time, the benchmark analysis of 60 Swiss and foreign museums shows that the "bigger" the museum, the more it benefits from advanced technological tools. This is particularly the case for the latest generation of tools (augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, holograms, applications, etc.). Archaeological and history museums are the institutions where technology is most represented. The comparative study reveals that foreign museums offer more technological tools in their exhibitions than Swiss museums.

Advantages of introducing technological tools 

For the majority of institutions, the use of technological tools is essential to create added value for visitors. Indeed, technology makes it possible to convey a message in an easier way and to present a quantity of information in a limited space, leaving the visitor free to choose the content to be viewed. Furthermore, technology allows professionals to easily modify and expand the content of their offer, giving them even more flexibility.

Challenges related to the implementation of technological tools 

With regard to these challenges, several elements emerged from the interviews. One of the challenges faced by museums is to have a good balance between the technological offer and the offline through an exhibition, while providing some added value and taking into account the needs of consumers. In addition, it is important for institutions not to fall into the "gadget" side of using certain tools, as mentioned by several interviewees. Therefore, the majority of museums stressed that the content of an exhibition takes precedence over the choice of a technological support. Another major issue is finding the right partners to work with and having a skilled in-house workforce to carry out technology-related projects.

Influence of technology on the visitor experience

Overall, technology has a positive influence on the visitor journey. It complements the core elements of an exhibit. In some cases, it allows the visitor to better understand certain messages conveyed through an exhibit. Furthermore, a majority of the people questioned attest that, to a certain degree, technological means improve the consumer's experience. Indeed, the visitor has the possibility of being an actor of his visit and can enjoy an interactive and immersive experience. While being active, the visitor will have a better memorization capacity. 

General challenges for museums

The great challenge for cultural institutions is to remain attractive to their public. They must be competitive, innovative, agile and above all able to renew themselves. To maximize the visitor's experience, these cultural institutions need to understand and respond to the needs of increasingly demanding and volatile consumers, for whom access to a wide range of offers is easy. Most of the museums interviewed offer not only exhibition spaces but also catering areas, conferences, meetings with artists or educational workshops, in order to expand their offer to visitors. 

Recommendations for the museum industry

Based on these observations, the author makes a few (non-exhaustive) recommendations for museum experts. First, before introducing a technological solution in an exhibition, a deep reflection related to the content or the theme to be presented is necessary to define the adequate tool to propose to the visitors. Indeed, this priority must be given before considering any technology that can support an exhibition. It is then essential to have a customer orientation and to focus on understanding their needs. The objective is to identify and evaluate the most appropriate tools, the amount of technology desired and how the technology can add value to the visit. On the other hand, cultural institutions are advised to engage the services of qualified staff and reliable and available partners when introducing technology. Finally, collaboration between museums can be effective in sharing experience, exchanging resources, or repurposing technology from one museum to another.

General context of the research work

According to the Network of European Museum Organizations, digital technologies have not only found their place in our daily lives, but also in cultural institutions such as museums. With more than 1'053 entities in the country, the density of Swiss museums is one of the highest in the world in relation to the number of inhabitants. Generally speaking, museums are well appreciated by the population since more than 70% of Swiss citizens visit at least one cultural institution per year. It is therefore safe to say that the museum offer in Switzerland is of considerable importance.

As far as the tourism industry is concerned, cultural tourism is increasingly in demand. Museums are in demand as tourist attractions and create substantial added value for the sector. Like other sectors, museums face the challenge of renewing their clientele: attracting new visitors, arousing their interest and of course meeting their needs. This is all the more important if we consider generations Y and Z, who represent the public of tomorrow. In general, this part of the population is technology-oriented and relatively comfortable with its use.

A summary of Mégane Cuennet's bachelor thesis, as well as its complete version, are available for download below.

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