Chapter 4. Humanizing the Video: A Reflection on MCN’s Media Production Process
- Andrew Mandinach
Capturing the Spirit of MCN
For me, MCN is like a winter camp for cultural organizations. We convene annually, usually reuniting with the same faces year after year. Instead of campfires we gather around Ignite speeches, and we close out in song during karaoke. Our sessions are complemented by a plethora of additional activities including city tours and receptions. And best of all, many people form bonds that extend beyond the conference, corresponding throughout the year, both professionally and personally. While my comparison of MCN to a winter camp may come off as a lighthearted dismissal of what MCN’s organizers set out to do, it’s actually meant to encompass the broader impact that MCN has on people’s lives. To simply call it a conference doesn’t begin to describe what one takes away from MCN beyond technical training. Whether you’re a long-returning attendee or a newcomer eager to network there’s a place for you to learn, to share, and to lead. Look no further than the Ignite presentations, a high-energy series of talks where the audience support is as significant as the speaking. I don’t doubt that the name Ignite was chosen for a reason. A palpable energy is created that first night that runs throughout the course of the conference. I’d even go as far to say, it runs throughout the entire organization and makes it so easy to become involved with the MCN community. At least that’s how it happened for me.
For the past three years, I served as the conference media production chair, and it’s been my goal to try and capture the spirit of each conference and present it during the closing plenary’s end of conference highlight video. The highlight videos have become the vehicle for which we’re able to reflect on what’s been said and done by a wide range of attendees, over the course of four days, including our scholars, sponsors, mentors and mentees, and attendees of various disciplines and seniority. It’s a reflection of who we are and what we’re talking about as an organization.
I joined the media production team in 2015 and assisted in the production of the first highlight video for MCN. The directive of Anna Chiaretta Lavatelli, chairperson at that time, was to produce something that didn’t just feature conference veterans or board members, but to share experiences of folks who were like me: new and excited to learn and become involved. It’s easy enough to have leadership tell you how things are meant to be felt. It’s another to get folks to talk specifically about what excites them, what they’ve learned, and what new strategies and tactics they’ll return to their workplace with. Since then, I’ve probably produced over 100 interviews, listening to each conference and editing the takeaways. And I would say there’s been a change in the conversations taking place at MCN. Not only in what we’re talking about, but how it’s been recorded. We have gone from learning how to use our tools, to learning how to use them well, and for the benefit of others.
A History of Responding to the Needs of the MCN Community
Creating content for the benefit of the community has become the core consideration guiding the discussion on how to document the conference. And while it’s become one of the most engaging videos produced, the highlight video is only part of a much larger effort in documentation. The methods have changed, but the efforts to document have largely consisted of recording all sessions, as well as the Ignite talks, the keynote lecture and keynote in conversation; not to mention the pre-conference big idea videos. The highlight video captures the experience of the conference, and the rest serve as archival resources for the community. I think it’s worth making the distinction between the two because the highlight videos serve a very specific purpose, different than the rest of the documentation for the conference. See, it takes a lot to actually do what we do—not just capturing everything, but editing it all, and doing so in a timely manner. Our current consideration is about producing content that can be used as tools beyond the conference, but the earliest discussions were about how to document. The first MCN videos from 2011, recorded by conference volunteers, were mainly room recordings of presentations. Then in 2013, Anna started to hire & direct local videographers in order to increase bandwidth and quality. This was the first shift in our process and purpose from documentation to production, from archive to sharable resource. By 2015 our hired teams were recording every presentation from sessions to Ignites, with conference volunteers, myself included, assisting in assembling edits, organizing the massive increase in media files, and determining what a newly produced highlight video should feel like. Yet despite being able to record all sessions, viewership did follow the same upward trajectory. As a result, in 2016 all sessions were audio recorded and then transcribed to make our files more accessible, and by extension searchable. We attempted to shift from sharable resource to searchable tool.
This history highlights how our process to document the conference goes beyond just creating an archive of information. The evolving considerations that I have weighed for the past three years, same as Anna before me, and now Kathryn Quigley after me, reflect the evolving nature of our industry. Video producers throughout the field are asking the same questions. How do we tell the stories of our organizations through the voices of those organizations? Our challenges to document the conference demonstrate the fact that humanizing our digital projects isn’t something that happens overnight. It is a long process that takes time to implement, test, and adapt to responses. The question is no longer about our capability to do so. In 2017, I facilitated the hiring of a full-time MCN videography team. Until this point the hired teams turned over each year, and it was the job of MCN video volunteers to ensure that MCN’s voice was not lost in the newly formalized documentation process. This new-found permanence has allowed us to build upon our work and rather than reinvent the wheel each year. While preserving and archiving our conference is important, recording conference sessions has proven to not be as useful a tool as we imagined—at least not in the way we’ve been producing them. If viewership isn’t there, it begs the question: do we keep recording sessions like we’ve been doing? For me the answer is connected to the shift in the conversations we’re hearing, a shift from professional development to what I think can be called professional wellness.
Moving from Professional Development to Professional Wellness
This idea of collective wellness stems from a quote that Tim Svenonius makes in the 2015 highlight video. He says “we’re giving ourselves, we’re giving one another, permission to talk about some things that are just not discussed that much in museum communities.”1 Referring to the political/global “undercurrents” as Seema Rao appropriately goes on to describe them, Tim literally signaled how social change had inextricably become part of MCN’s conversations. Or at least he did so on record for the first time. Initially we gave ourselves permission to have the conversations between sessions. And I would say we continue to do so through sessions following Chatham House Rule. A year after Tim’s remark, Chatham House Rule started to impact our production workflow. For the first time the discussion became about not recording a session. “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”2 What started as being asked to not record a session or two, has become an official format for session proposals, taken on by the organization. The increase in sessions following Chatham House Rule and other alternative presentation styles demonstrate a growing desire among attendees to sharing more openly and authentically with each other. Sessions across the board have moved from case studies demonstrating how org ‘X’ caught lightning in a bottle, to providing toolkits that enabled attendees to capture their own lightning in a bottle.
If people come to MCN for the professional development, they stay for the support. I guess that can be said of any organization, but to talk about what we learn at MCN is to talk about the community we learn it with. A good example of this is illustrated in the un-conference open mic sessions that took place on the last day of this year’s conference. The session I attended started with a simple question written on an easel pad: “what are you reading?” Facilitated by Seema Rao and Adrienne Lalli Hills, the discussion evolved from compiling a list of professional reading materials, to addressing the ways and reasons people publish—or don’t - their scholarship.3 This session and the broader decision to program an un-conference open-mic demonstrates how MCN empowers attendees to check in with others. We recharge as we exchange ideas, work through institutional roadblocks, and push the limits of our own capabilities.
These types of sessions are cathartic, they’re supportive, and they’re imbued with self-care. And when I refer to self, I refer to a collective self of a community working to heal its members. An example of this, and one that followed Chatham House Rule was the session, ‘The In-Between: How to Facilitate Interdepartmental Collaboration from the Institutional Middle.’ Carissa Dougherty, Amanda Dearolph, Ellice Engdahl, Lisel Record, Mark McKay, and Victoria Portway started by introducing themselves and identified six types of management/team communication scenarios experienced by people in an “in between” position. After defining an in-between position as, “a position where you take on the role of translator, liaison, and/or cheerleader to break down silos and foster digital literacy among coworkers,” attendees self-selected a group to join and discuss.4 The only issue with this session was that too many people identified with too many of the topics the various groups were discussing. It’s important to note that this was officially listed on the MCN website as a “workshop-roundtable-therapy-session.” This wasn’t a formal presentation on communication best-practices in complicated workplaces. It was a discussion amongst colleagues to provide different perspectives for various scenarios examining the nuances of interdepartmental collaboration. People were able to share genuine concerns and frustrations. They were heard and recognized. Take that and follow it up with Susan Edwards, Michelle Grohe, and Kathryn Quigley’s session, “Talk to Your Visitors: DIY Human-Centered Research” and you’ve got yourself quite the self-empowering day.5 Okay, they were on two different days, but you get the point. Their three case studies demonstrated how human-centered design could be used as a way to connect with visitors. And demonstrate they did. Participants engaged in active listening exercises and conducted empathy interviews in the room for the purpose taking feedback home, not just instructions.
Video as a Mirror of the Organization
This year’s theme follows a long history of working to advance the field by focusing on empowering the people who utilize the tools of the trade, rather than the tools themselves. Before attending my first MCN in 2014, I thought session tracks would be segregated by field of interest: the social media kids in one room; the video kids in another; the educators in another. While it’s not to say that doesn’t occur, what I didn’t realize was the power of the conversations that take place between sessions. Funny enough, it’s come to be the space I remember most, organizing and conducting interviews for the highlight videos. More and more we’re seeing MCN provide opportunities for people to learn beyond traditional conference formats. There’s something for everyone, because everyone is able—and encouraged—to speak up and take action. Look no further than the session, “Don’t Retweet This: Social Media Open Mic 3.0 (UNCONFERENCE).”6 What started as a happy hour for social media managers turned into an unconference session that’s taken place the past three years—with new hosts continuing the conversation this past year.
These in-between sessions are powerful because they fuse the energy of the Ignite talks with trade-speak, social justice with academic rigor, professional development with community activism. At MCN there’s room for everyone to get involved and lend their voice/experience in order to help create opportunities to learn. We’re able to develop our ideas to a greater extent, in the company of collaborators. I can confidently say that MCN helped me develop, and continues to enhance, my professional skill set. Part of that has to do with my involvement with the organization. The role has brought its challenges, but it’s ultimately given me a lens through which to watch this rapidly changing field. We talk about humanizing the museum, but really, we’re humanizing the humans in the museums. Through empathy trainings, therapy sessions, and tons of PowerPoint slides, together we present in those often-wacky named rooms with and for our colleagues, all the while empowering each other to leave the conference more enlightened and uplifted than when we first arrived. It’s precisely for these reasons that as someone who now works tangentially to the field in higher education, it is easy to come back to my annual winter camp for cultural organizations.
- Museum Computer Network, MCN 2015 Highlights, YouTube, 7 Nov. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=3i7WBYCr208 (accessed February 19, 2019). ↩
- “Chatham House Rules,” Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Dec. 7, 2018, http://www.chathamhouse.org/chatham-house-rule (accessed February 16, 2019). ↩
- Adrienne Lalli Hills and Seema Rao, “Humanizing the Un-conference: Get the Lead Out!,” Unconference Session, Museum Computer Network Conference, Denver, CO, 2018. ↩
- Amanda Dearolph, Carissa Dougherty, Ellice Engdahl, Mark McKay, Victoria Portway, and Lisel Record, “The In-Between: How to facilitate interdepartmental collaboration from the institutional middle,” Conference Presentation, Museum Computer Network Conference, Denver, CO, 2018, https://bit.ly/2Yh5eLl (accessed February 19, 2019). ↩
- Susan Edwards, Michele Grohe, and Kathryn Quigley, “ Talk to Your Visitors: DIY Human-Centered Research,” Conference Presentation, Museum Computer Network Conference, Denver, CO, 2018, https://bit.ly/2Yg11Hp (accessed February 19, 2019). ↩
- Alex Light and Jonathan Munar, “Don’t Retweet This: Social Media Open Mic 3.0 (UNCONFERENCE),” Conference Presentation, Museum Computer Network Conference, Denver, CO, 2018, https://bit.ly/2umBLl6 (accessed February 19, 2019). ↩
- “Chatham House Rules.” Chatham House. The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Dec. 7, 2018, http://www.chathamhouse.org/chatham-house-rule (accessed February 16, 2019).
- Dearolph, Amanda, Carissa Dougherty, Ellice Engdahl, Mark McKay, Victoria Portway, and Lisel Record. “The In-Between: How to facilitate interdepartmental collaboration from the institutional middle.” Conference Presentation. Museum Computer Network Conference, Denver, CO, 2018. https://bit.ly/2Yh5eLl (accessed February 19, 2019).
- Edwards, Susan, Michele Grohe, and Kathryn Quigley. “Talk to Your Visitors: DIY Human-Centered Research.” Conference Presentation. Museum Computer Network Conference, Denver, CO, 2018. https://bit.ly/2Yg11Hp (accessed February 19, 2019).
- Hills, Adrienne Lalli and Seema Rao. “Humanizing the Un-conference: Get the Lead Out!.” Unconference Session. Museum Computer Network Conference, Denver, CO, 2018.
- Light, Alex, and Jonathan Munar. “Don’t Retweet This: Social Media Open Mic 3.0 (UNCONFERENCE).” Conference Presentation. Museum Computer Network Conference, Denver, CO, 2018. https://bit.ly/2umBLl6 (accessed February 19, 2019).
- Museum Computer Network. MCN 2015 Highlights. YouTube. 7 Nov. 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3i7WBYCr208 (accessed February 19, 2019).