Museum Data and What to Do With It: Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh

Source: Dashboard Webpage at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh

Source: Dashboard Webpage at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh

The management of big data is a growing concern for all businesses, and non-profits are no exceptions. This research series “Museum Data and What to Do With It” explores how different types of museum organizations in Pittsburgh use their data. Data collection is an imperative in today’s economy; the lack of data collection results in ineffective and costly operations and marketing efforts. However, data collection is just the first step; what museums do with their data is the key to harnessing the power of Big Data and helping organizations succeed. This article, based on interviews with Jeffrey Inscho, the leader of the Innovation Studio at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh; Cari Maslow, Senior Director of Donor Relations and Membership for Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh; and Brad Stephenson, Director of Marketing at Carnegie Museum of Art, takes a look at how these Pittsburgh museums utilize data

Art Tracks: The Provenance Data

The Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) is one of the four museums that make up the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh (CMP).  Improving digital sophistication and integrating data is a priority for CMP.  For example, the CMOA project Art Tracks is attempting to structure provenance data so that curators, scholars, and software developers can create visualizations and answer questions that would be difficult (or impossible) to answer without computer assistance. Currently there is not a universal structure for provenance data that is available to the developers. The American Alliance of Museums’ suggested guidelines, widely used across museums, are not specific enough to allow for automated extraction of the structured data contained within provenance texts across different institutions in the arts industry. Opening up and unifying the structure of this data will allow professionals to search records, create visualizations, and conduct aggregated research. Furthermore, it will give the public access to collections, so they can see extraordinary manuscripts close up on screen, online or in a gallery.

The Dashboard: Web Analytics Across Four Museums

The integration of provenance data is just a glimpse into how this institution uses their data. The same goal of integration applies to online data as well. The new CMP “Digital Metrics Dashboard” was developed by the Innovation Studio to measure different dimensions of quantitative data from the web. There were no easily-accessible or integrated web or social media analytics prior to the Dashboard, nor was there any way to overlay other data with the actual attendance data. This Dashboard can be accessed by the public online, and it displays data ranging from page views, online user counts, admissions, and social media interactions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram across all four museums. The transparency and the cross-comparison functionality of this data helps the leaders of CMP to make data-informed decisions.

Once the data was integrated, the staff started to see relationships and how different factors interact with one another. Additionally, all the code written to create the Dashboard is open-sourced and available to the public here. According to Inscho, releasing open source code is the Innovation Studio’s way of giving back to the community and other non-profits that are struggling with limited resources and skill-sets.

Visitor and Membership Data

Members form the primary base of data records at CMP. Maslow, the Senior Director of Donor Relations and Membership, said that her team works to make sure that the messaging to all members makes sense, and that members aren’t getting too many emails in any given week. CMP asks visitors about their interests when signing up for memberships as well, and they gather information from observing the visitors’ purchasing history. The goal is to use these indicators on the customers’ records to create a flow of information that’s both logical and manageable.

Currently, emails and zip codes are the only information collected at the admissions desk. To fill in the blanks, a series of welcome emails are scheduled and sent to the first-time visitors. The welcome emails gather feedback on the visitor’s first-time experience and then invites them to provide more personalized information. The more detailed the responses are, the more refined CMP’s data profiles become. Actions visitors take, such as signing their children up to summer camps, also help to further refine their profiles. CMP then uses these data profiles to send out different targeted email messaging that fits each individual’s needs and interests. For example, data points such as the last visit date and the location become important reference when constructing the annual membership renewal letters. 

We can have lots of data and report on it, but it’s important to have those reports available promptly so people have the information they need when they need it to make decisions
— Cari Maslow

Many organizations use multiple software packages that each track different aspects of their constituents. CMP’s data flows between three primary software programs: Raiser’s Edge, Luminate and Siriusware. Even though each system works well by itself, it can be time-consuming to analyze the data across platforms. According to Maslow, one of the on-going projects at CMP is building a data warehouse, a multi-dimensional database or a virtual storage unit that houses diverse transactional and operational data sets. Currently, there are some limitations as to how much information can be exchanged between different systems. Many tasks to interpret the data across systems can be done manually, but it is time-consuming and not sustainable.  A data warehouse will allow the CMP to pull diverse data from the three current systems into one space and expand on-demand real-time reporting.

However, implementing a data warehouse is a complicated process. According to Techsoup, it requires technical skills and a considerable investment: a minimum of 80 hours for modest systems and up to hundreds or even thousands of hours for very complex systems. Currently, a four-person team is working with CMP’s IT department on this project. The ultimate goal is to make sure there is the data report the management need to take actions. “We can have lots of data and report on it, but it’s important to have those reports available promptly so people have the information they need when they need it to make decisions,” said Maslow.  

Qualitative Data, Customer Service and More

Qualitative data, such as customer feedback is equally crucial in helping CMP shaping the overall visitor experience. Stephenson mentioned that he looks to Disney as a role model of excellent customer service and searches for ways to apply it in a museum setting:

“Customer service is about getting feedback, and using that feedback as soon as possible. Demographic information is very important, but we don’t always want to ask that up front. We want to restructure the way we ask questions and to ask first about their feedback. It shows the visitors that, first and for most, we care about their experience here.”

Qualitative feedback collected through surveys and in-person interactions with visitors also affect program offerings. For example, CMOA has built several programs based on audience feedback that focus on social experiences and serve as a soft entry point for new visitors. Events like Silent Disco and Hot Mass on Third Thursdays bring new audiences to CMOA.

Customer service is about getting feedback, and using that feedback as soon as possible
— Brad Stephenson

Even facility management data can potentially help with shaping better visitor experience in a museum. At the present, CMP does not have a framework for uniquely identifying physical spaces across the museums. Once this functionality is established, there are possibilities to develop a way-finding app for visitors. Another possibility would be to create an engagement app that shows visitors where to find objects that are newly on display since their last visit. To achieve these results, CMP would need a holistic plan to implement the technology needed and lay the groundwork for integrating the data.

Though it can be a long and tedious process, only when data integration is complete will CMP utilize all the resources it possesses to their full potential. “The implementation of these kinds of technology strategies is going to be fundamental for the future of museums,” said Inscho, “We want the modern museum experience to be vibrant, organic and ever changing – we need structured and accessible data to do that. We want our data to help weave compelling narratives across our museums and tell the stories of what makes CMP so special.” 


Thumbnail image by Martin Grandjean, licensed under Creative Commons.