Just as our technology is learning from every input, and across our community network of clients, we want to do the same. Introducing Community Exchange, an ongoing series dedicated to providing our community with direct learnings from clients across the industries we serve.
Through this trying year, The Franklin Institute has stayed true to their mission to “inspire a passion for learning about science and technology” by finding new ways to deliver access to that information. Through this pandemic, The Franklin Institute has had to adapt, change, and adopt new technology to maintain its presence in the Philadelphia community. Read on to see how The Franklin Institute prepared and adjusted to manage and enhance the new museum experience.
Liz Wangenheim, Assistant Director of Exhibit Operations
Katie Ozeck, Digital Marketing and Analytics Manager
1. What has been your overall strategy during multiple closures?
Our top priority has been to remain actively connected with our members, donors and the public in the digital space. We have worked to accomplish this by making The Franklin Institute’s hands-on science and historical information available to broad audiences; reinforcing our reputation as a trusted source helping people from all backgrounds decode science information; and continuing to offer supplemental science learning opportunities for students and educators. After our second closure in November 2020, we also worked quickly to pivot ‘Franklin Frost’, our in-museum holiday programming, to a completely digital experience.
2. What has been your biggest challenge/concern so far?
The safety of our guests and staff has always been our primary focus, particularly when reopening in July 2020. Beginning days after the museum voluntarily closed in March we turned our attention to best practices, research and regulations being implemented for safety, and started thinking about how we might adjust our facility and operations to accommodate these new practices when we returned to in-person experiences.
3. What were the first steps your team took to start preparing the museum for reopening?
Our museum is a highly experiential, highly tactile environment. In addition to limiting capacity we had to assess each of our experiences to determine what modifications would be necessary to allow visitors to enjoy our museum safely.
4. What are some unique challenges your museum faced? Are there regional, demographic, etc. impacts?
The drop in tourism impacted our visitor-ship, and we saw many member families making weekly visits. We customized our pop up demonstrations so that they would be engaging time and time again.
5. How has technology impacted your reopening plans? And how will it fit into your plans moving forward?
While closed, we pivoted our content and experiences online so that our audience could still engage with the science content core to our mission. Online tools for collaboration became a critical part of our inter-office communication as our staff worked from home. After we reopened, we continued to make content available virtually for those not able to visit in person. Beyond the changes we made in exhibits, we made changes to the rest of our facility. This included hygiene barriers in restrooms, added auto-flush and auto sink valves in all restrooms, plentiful hand sanitizer and self-service disinfection wipes, hygiene barriers for our box office, security, and 3D demonstration staff areas. Added temperature scanning, mask-wearing. We also invested in cleaning equipment including electrostatic sprayers and UV machines.
6. Why did you specifically choose to work with Satisfi Labs and launch a virtual assistant?
Satisfi Labs approached us at the Museum Computer Network conference in San Diego in November 2019. They suggested a meeting and brought a lot of great ideas AND were willing to work within our budget. We saw a lot of potential value in using a chat service, so we decided to test it out.
7. How have our services impacted your business? Provide a specific example.
The chat service we use to work with our Facebook messenger has been incredibly helpful, most especially since we closed. There are many repeat questions that come through (tickets, hours, closure, membership, how to access our science resources, history about our museum) and by utilizing the chat function, we are able to make the experience very efficient both for our audience and our limited staff.
8. Are there any surprises or unique insights you’ve uncovered since launching your virtual assistant?
Some people seem to like simply touring through the prompts that they find, almost as a fun way to pass the time, so creating a kind of trivia game for them to play might be something fun to entertain in the future.
9. What advice can you give other museums as they manage their reopen and plan for 2021?
Be flexible! Prepare multiple courses of action, and be ready to choose the one that emerges as the best option. And, know that even after a solution has been implemented you may need to adjust to respond to new information or visitor behavior.