Studying Museum Social Networks

I've seen many examples of the ways in which digital technologies make it very easy to study the social networks of organizations and institutions. Studying email messages lets businesses follow the paths that information takes through their organizations - to answer questions such as 'who interacts with who?' Social networking websites like Facebook let researchers study people's friendships and relationships with each other.
How can we study social networks in a museum space? Do we even want to? A recent chat with Rich Ling, led us both to conclude that mobile phones might be a great way to study the social networks that exist inside a museum. This is more of an idea, than a specific plan, but...

Imagine we are able to give phones to everyone inside a museum. These phones would be both location aware (where in the museum is the user?) as well as proximity aware (who is the user next to?). With these phones, I'm really proposing a research methodology to examine the social network inside a museum. For this study, then, lets also imagine that we have a group of school children visiting the museum with specific small group tasks. We would use the information captured through the phones (described above) as well as visitor dialogue and action (possibly captured through the phones as well), to gain a detailed understanding of the social networks in the museum.

We would be able to learn: who is interacting with whom, the types of interactions as well as where in the museum these interactions are occurring.

With this information, we would be able to:
  • identify the places where collaboration most occurs, and design and enhance those spaces
  • understand the role that museum staff have in visitor interactions in order to help them better facilitate learning (and play)
  • design school group activities that are grounded in the way children move through a museum
  • refine the use of mobile devices in museums
  • refine exhibit placement within a museum spaces
  • gain a better framework of social learning in museums

Why not?


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