In the world of museum events, the old-school methods of managing and creating content – tracking changes in a Word document and emailing it around, for example – simply don’t cut it anymore. In today’s world, efficiency is at the heart of any good event, product or digital output. Clunky, irritating, “whoops, we’re editing the wrong version” tools aren’t good enough.
When dealing with cultural heritage content, issues like complicated event procedures, gnarly exhibition timelines or museum object stories typically need a lot of eyeballs and a lot of editing before they’re finished, so the more effective the tools you have at your disposal, the better.
However, as soon as you try to figure out what you need to use and why, you’re presented with an enormous range of competing services. Most of them are free, or have a free tier and most of them carry the same “always on, get at them from anywhere” traits -after a while you’ll find the whole lot blur together into a fog.
Let’s try to unpick things a little.
In my experience running cultural heritage projects, there are three main app categories that every serious digital content producer should have at their disposal. I have my own favourites for the specific apps themselves, which I mention below, but the software you choose will depend on your own preferred ways of working.
1. Task / Project Management
Firstly, it is important to note that in some situations, task management can sit separate to project management – there are things like “walk the dog” which won’t be part of a bigger picture (although your dog might disagree…).
In a work situation though, it is relatively rare that a task sits in isolation – it is normally part of a longer and more complicated workstream which requires a focus on dependencies, timescales, owners, urgency, deadlines and so on. That’s why I have bundled task and project management together here.
There are a multitude of apps out there to do this – hundreds, possibly thousands or more. The fact that the phrase “I’m creating a task/project management app” is an in-joke amongst geeks helps confirm this!
Nonetheless, having a solid, shareable, easy-to-use task/project management app which lets you articulate what you need to do in order to get from where you are to an end goal is absolutely crucial.
My personal choice in this is Teamwork – a project management app with an extremely powerful set of integrations with tools like Google Docs, for example. It will probably be overkill if you just want to manage tasks, but if you need to manage a full project, and need people to collaborate with, it’s pretty great.
2. Notes / ideas
Note-taking apps are almost as common as project management and task apps. The basic requirement is that you need a tool that allows you to pop down free-form thoughts as they come to you.
Additionally, you need to be able to access them from all your devices at all times and it is crucial that they have some kind of easy to use system to ensure you can find your notes later on. This might be in the form of tagging/categories, a hierarchy, search or all of these elements combined.
Being able to share notes is also useful, as is having a nice export function so you can extract your notes and import them into whatever other software you use.
My favourite is Evernote but Google’s excellent Keep is well worth considering too, especially given how it integrates with other Google products.
There are a plethora of tools available now to replace Word and Excel – but if you already use tools like Insync which keeps your Google Drive files synced with files on your desktop, or Office 365 which does similarly clever things with your desktop and Microsoft’s online suite, you won’t need to. You can basically keep editing using your existing software and all content will be synced online -once it is synced, you can share and collaborate on documents as needed.
Dropbox sits somewhere in the mix here – they not only sync documents but have a new feature called Dropbox Paper which lets you edit in-browser.
Once you begin to understand the power of editing online, you may find it hard to go back – nowadays I keep and edit all my documents in Google Drive/Docs and would find it hard to go back to the clunkiness of Word!
Making sure your tools are right for you
Whatever apps you choose for each of these categories, it’s really important to consider a few key things which will ensure you continue to benefit from the tools you choose.
It sounds like a buzzword, but what sustainability is really about is using tools that you trust. That means you need your content to be safe, backed-up and exportable in case the company that provides the app goes bust or starts charging a huge amount of money for their service.
Fit with your (email) workflow
This is absolutely critical – if your tools don’t fit effectively with the way you work on a daily basis, you’ll never get comfortable with them. In my experience, almost everyone’s daily workflow revolves around email and certainly the apps I use are all “emailable”. I can create a task, a note or a document by simply emailing a secret address for each one.
For tasks, in particular, this is absolutely invaluable – when a client emails me with something I can’t deal with immediately, I can just forward on the email to my task app ready for me to think about it at a later date.
Ease of use
This one can’t be stressed enough either – if you hate your tools, you won’t use them, it’s as simple as that. Make sure you spend a bit of time testing a particular tool before you dive straight in. The fact that most tools are free, or at least have a free demo, is helpful for trialling different options.
As you may know, especially if you work in a museum or other non-profit, time is precious. It helps enormously to use tools that make elements of your content or event workflow simpler. Even tiny improvements to a complicated system can improve that system hugely – there is no doubt you will save time and effort as you and your colleagues start to become familiar with this way of working.