Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Digital Relationships: Creating Meaningful and New Relationships with Audiences

  Harriet Cameron (2018 cohort)

Museums and galleries have always adapted to reflect the society and times within which they exist [1]. In the contemporary world, there are an increasing number of challenges facing these institutions to not only maintain their relevance, but to protect and enhance relationships with their audiences. The Nottingham Contemporary [2] is one such institution looking to utilise technology as a way of developing new and more meaningful relationships with their audience.

This project will help museums and galleries to understand and evolve the ways they view and interact with their audiences in response to these shifting societal pressures. It will also provide a means for museums and galleries to be leaders in the changing face of transparent data collection and donation, recognising their historical position at the forefront of societal transformation.

In order to understand existing relationships, a deeper understanding of museum and gallery experience is required. By applying John Falk’s Museum Visitor Experience model [3], this will be explored in terms of identity [4] and sense of place [5]. Sense of place will shape the understanding of how people access, relate to and interact with museums and galleries, and identity will shape the understanding of why.

Providing a new means to understand audiences beyond typical demographic data, will allow museums to better accommodate the needs, goals and motivations of their audiences, creating a deeper relationship between audience and venue. This will allow museums to continue their important work in showcasing culture in a way that is accessible, impactful and relevant.

With the requirement for adaptation and evolution in mind, three questions have been developed to address some of these challenges:

  • What is the perceived value of audience data, and can a transparent data collection/donation process create trust in a symbiotic relationship which benefits both audience and venues?
  • How can a deeper understanding of audiences’ situated data on attitudes, beliefs, habits and cultural interactions (place-based identity) be utilised by the venue to provide a more meaningful, personalised experience to the audience in return for their data?
  • Is it possible to digitally recreate the place-based identity of museum audiences as extrapolated from their data, and can that provide a platform for a long-term relationship between audience and venue?

Using an exploratory, sequential design, this project will examine the existing relationships between venues and audiences, explore what past or current interventions have done in regards to enhancing these relationships, and investigate how transparent, novel data collection can change the relationship to be more long-term, meaningful and mutually beneficial to all.


[1] E. Hooper-Greenhill, Museums and their visitors. London: Routledge, 1994.

[2] Nottingham Contemporary. (2019, 04/03/2019). Homepage. Available: https://www.nottinghamcontemporary.org/

[3] J. H. Falk, Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, 2009, p. 301.

[4] J. H. Falk, "Contextualizing Falk's Identity-Related Visitor Motivation Model," Visitor Studies, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 141-157, 2011/07/01 2011.

[5] H. Graham, R. Mason, and A. Newman, "Literature Review: historic environment, sense of place, and social capital," International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne2009, Available: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/182155/, Accessed on: 03/01/2019.

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/L015463/1) and Nottingham Contemporary.