The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is a forum for the nation
to present, explore and preserve the heritage of its cultures and
knowledge of the natural environment in order to better understand
and treasure the past, enrich the present and meet the challenges
of the future.
This forum is provided in many ways, most obviously through:
- Exhibitions offering visitor engagement and lively debate
- Research, Scholarship and Matauranga Maori drives
- Public programmes, events and presentations.
All these, and every other activity of Te Papa, is firmly based on
the Four corporate principles -
bi-cultural: reflecting the two languages and the dual knowledge
value systems of the partners to the founding 1840 Treaty of Waitangi;
Speaking with authority: reliable, consistent, sourced, objectively
neutral. Waharoa to/from other knowledge sources. Scholarship.
Commercially positive: market effectiveness. Cost/benefit. Process
efficiency. Set-up cost. Vs. operating costs. Marginal costs.
Customer-focus: seamless access. Not necessarily collection-based.
Common-use searching terms.
How can a single museum like this aim to be a forum for a nation
A good dictionary definition of a Forum is: a meeting or medium for
open discussion or debate.
The exciting buzz of people engaging in the Te Papa experience since
the new building opened on February 14th 1998 is good evidence
that the museum is well positioned to be this kind of forum. There
is the stimulating mix of: people and objects; objects and interpretation;
objects in contexts; objects and their interpretation telling stories;
people enquiring further into the museum knowledge resource. The task
now is to build on this start: to attract and retain customer loyalty,
to secure repeat visitation and to develop new business opportunities.
There is a striking contrast between the long build-up from the Colonial
Museum of 1856 to the Te Papa which opened in 1998, and the short
life history of the World Wide Web, let alone of the even shorter
timespan of the use of the Web by museums. Te Papa is the beneficiary
of what is surely one of the great co-incidences of our age: the new
building coming to maturity at exactly the same as the Web
becomes truly mainstream. One commentator - Paul Reynolds, writing
in NZ Infotech Weekly on Monday February 9 1998 - even placed
the co-incidence to the same month, February 1998. Reynolds saw that
"as far as the Internet is concerned, historians of the birth
of the digital age might well look back and extract from [these events]
moments when massive change occurs". Those two events were particular
points in, firstly, the battle between Microsoft and the US justice
system and secondly, White House proposals to "improve the management
of Internet names and addresses".
The key point about this great co-incidence is that all the principles,
concepts and ideas underpinning Te Papa, which I have outlined above,
are as equally relevant to its use of the Web as they are to its new
building. The Web can complement the building -not a museum without
walls, but a museum beyond the walls, giving increased access to its
collections and its knowledge resources without prejudice to the core
task of secure, trans-generational preservation. The Web becomes one
more medium for enabling the function of being a forum for the nation
to be realised.
Well, yes - but HOW exactly? First we need to look at some context.
In 1997 Esa Saarinen, a philosopher from Finland, identified four
force fields now affecting cultural agencies. Each of these is reflected
in Te Papa's corporate principles, and each reinforces the value of
a sound Web presence in the museum.
- The heritage industry - the heritage of stories and ideas,
as well as of artifacts
- The commercial force field - market economics setting the framework
- The force field of museology - the changing notion of the museum
in relation especially to items and to stories.
- Integrity as an underlying force field: a place in which argument
/ evocation can be staged productively. The growth of new knowledge
depends on the "clash of information", on debate and enquiry:
and so on the dictionary definition of forum.
Saarinen went on to identify, from these force fields, four pressures
on us now and into the future:
- The globalised economy, with market ideology affecting everything
- Networking revolution - the Web and the whole "information
- Changes in discourse formation - cross-cultural, and inter-disciplinary
- [The least obvious, but the most important] the feeling that the
resources available should be letting us produce something monumental,
not just improvements.
Now, a national museum is not the only player endeavouring to project
itself in this field of heritage and of identity. In New Zealand,
as elsewhere, it is a crowded stage, a forum in itself of organizations
jostling to represent national identity. There are other Crown-owned
forums too - like the National Library and like emerging new groupings
in national heritage operations and policy. The Prime Minister at
the time, The Rt. Hon. James Bolger, said at the launch in December
1997 of the long awaited Historical Atlas of New Zealand that
"now the Atlas joined the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
and Te Papa as a monument to the way NZ saw itself in the late twentieth
In fact, national identity is usually framed by technology - TV,
movies, music and so on. So technology is not an artificial intervention
- it is part of the cultural fabric. The Web, now established as part
of the core information infrastructure, is part of that cultural fabric
and is central to the debates and informed communication which the
forum function will demand.
Te Papa and its building project has had a long and complex history.
The planning and policy development has been detailed and intensive,
the investment in time effort and money huge. In contrast, the museum's
website has had a spasmodic, un-co-ordinated series of brief lives
even though the Web offers the key to building the core function of
being a forum for the nation in a highly efficient manner.
The website has always been a marginal issue, and mostly seen as
an "IT thing" - perhaps this is not uncommon in museums
and indeed in many conventional organizations. At each stage of its
spasmodic life, the initiative has come from different people in different
parts of the organizational structure, rather than being driven from
any corporate view of core business. The site's brief history is:
March 1995 - the first Museum of New Zealand website was launched,
running off a University of Auckland server. The main content was
description of exhibitions showing at the Museum's Wellington building.
October 1995: - This site won the "best Museum site"
award at ICHIM in San Diego.
December 1995 Sponsored by Telecom (New Zealand's largest phone
company) the educational page "Seaweeding", based on the
museum's superb marine science expertise, was launched.
April 1996: With the closure of the Wellington exhibitions programme,
as part of the transition to the new Te Papa building, the site was
changed to give static corporate information only.
November 1996: A cross-museum survey revealed that some eleven
separate projects were under way for "putting things out on the
January 1997: The Marketing Department was given the task of creating
a new website as part of the Museum's re-branding in August that year
as Te Papa.
September 1997: The new site was launched, on the New Zealand
Government On-line server. Focus was on promoting the new building
and its facilities to raise visitor interest. Some (not all) of the
collections were described, but there was no path offered for supplying
further information from or about them.
February 1998: The 1997 site was revised to clear up most of its
This revision was launched on February 11th to fit the
launch on that day of postage stamps carrying pictures of the new
building and (believed to be a world first) the website address.
This latest revision has been actioned as Phase I of a general re-positioning
of the Website as a more focused part of Te Papa's stated goal of
becoming a leading provider of information about the New Zealand experience.
In July 1997, while the new Marketing site was just about to be launched,
Te Papa management approved the strategic policy that both the new
building and the website would be projected as knowledge resources.
This policy about the Museum's role as an information provider was
formulated after consideration of market conditions, market opportunity,
current and projected Web uptake in New Zealand, and on the need to
deliver the Museum nationally and not just from a single Wellington
Over the last 10-14 years there has been much "re-inventing
government" in New Zealand, with consequent re-structurings of
both people and finances within all state-owned operations - including
museums. The results are, however, often more form than substance.
Over the last year, the New Zealand Institute of Public Administration
has been exploring the impact of new information and communication
technologies and is still finding that policy advisers, managers,
IT and information are largely compartmentalised within organizations.
Making the Web central to the museum's core business will be one way
of driving though better internal synergies, as well as a way of actually
giving better knowledge delivery to customers.
At Te Papa, the next step after agreeing on the museum's role as
an information provider - which includes projecting its Website as
a knowledge resource - is to develop generic performance standards
for all information deliveries. Discussions at this conference, where
museum best practise is represented, are part of this process. Our
initial thinking on generic standards for delivering Te Papa knowledge,
whether through exhibitions, interactive screens, enquiry centres,
publications, websites or any other channels, are the obvious ones:
- Currency: frequency of updating
- Consistency: validation, "speaking with authority"
- Seamlessness: links between datasets, minimal replication
- Clarity on ownership, copyright and intellectual property rights
- Links to related sources with partners and others outside the
- Usage recording and analysis, and linking this to efficient pricing
- Business opportunities for bi-product possibilities esp. schools
- Auditable / documentation trails / robustness
Other initiatives which may help our policy development include work
from the European Union's Raphael programme on co-operation
for the presentation of heritage to as large an audience as possible.
Likewise, the 1997 work reported in Government Information Quarterly
by Eschenfelder and others on criteria for the evaluation of websites
would seem to have value for applying to other modes of knowledge
delivery. We will be very interested to learn of how or whether such
projects as these have resulted in practical performance development
in European and North American museums.
When we take all these issues together, a remarkable common factor
is that they all - whatever their originating factor - reflect characteristics
of the Web. The Web exists, and presents a de-facto set of established
standards and protocols to which the wider computer-using public are
accustomed. So, by using the Web shrewdly, we can at the same time
- advance those goals of being a forum for the nation
- achieve internal efficiency, and
- overcome local or regional tensions about the accessibility of
Equally it would be easy to use the allure of the Web as an excuse
to waste large amounts of money. In late 1996 the National Libraries
of both Australia and of New Zealand had to abort, at considerable
cost, a huge project to make their resources available on-line. The
reality of the Web is that it provides, for anyone with basically
a PC and a telephone connection, to enter, explore and move between
huge and ever-growing knowledge resources world-wide. None of this
reduces the need for the individual knowledge seeker to make judgment
choices between competing sets of data, or to make a personal visit
to sift out particular information at micro levels. The case for single
large databases painstakingly put together is surely diminishing as
much as the case for most other forms of centralised command economy.
The Web thus is clearly central to the museum organisation: it is
Not just another product, but part of the core infrastructure.
If it ever was, it is no longer just an IT application, or just
another billboard or brochure.
- A much faster-moving development than large organizations have
so far generally been used to managing. Each website is competing
for attention in a crowded marketplace. Attention to best practise,
strategic business fit and to a robust technical platform are even
Of course there are risks. Like all business risks, they can be managed.
- Just because you can do it on-line doesn't mean you should! The
real dialogue between subject expert or curator and enquirer should
never be automated out of the transaction.
- The lack of robust archiving is a real weakness of the Web as
it stands. It has been said cynically that a hundred years from
now people would look back on the 1990s as the great information
age - if only they could find any preserved evidence of it! Trans-generational
access to collections and to knowledge must never be prejudiced
by excessive resource switching to faster cyber-access for today's
customers. Museums, like libraries and archives, are society's assurance
that the nation's intellectual heritage will be preserved. This
all reinforces the reality that the web is not a substitute for
the collections or for physically-accessible buildings, but is another
dimension for leveraging the yield of both of these.
- Exposure - it takes courage to expose yourself on the web. The
audience is international and will be making judgments on what they
see. Full exploitation of the Web's potential is part of stepping
away from the comfortable restrictions of self-enclosing practices.
- Commercial leakage - revenue-gathering processes on the Web are
not yet perfect, although they are not necessarily any more risky
than other ways of trading in the wider marketplace.
- Undesirable links - who hyperlinks to whom, and how the customer's
view of you is influenced by the sideways Web paths by which he
or she reached your site, is an inherent risk in a web presence.
Audit and monitoring processes to regularly check that your intellectual
property position is not being degraded through inappropriate linkages
will be part of the cost structure.
- For all the Web's reputation as a tool of rebels and free-thinkers,
there are websites around which show that it is also a State propagandist's
- Elitism - it is probably true that over-reliance on the Web as
the preferred channel of access may increase the gap between the
information-rich and the information-poor.
All the above risks exist for museums disseminating knowledge by
print. They can all certainly be seen as risks in offering access
to knowledge through museum buildings.
Some Issues for New Zealand:
Being a Forum for the Nation implies informed debate. The Museum's
ability to speak with authority, and to be acknowledged as an objective,
neutral forum depends on the growth of information through research
and scholarship drawing from all knowledge value systems.
The traditional oral and visual strength of Maori knowledge transmission
transmits well to sound and audio-visual recording. As long as ease
of access can be assured - as it has been with television and the
telephone - the Web should grow as a useful way of offering access
to knowledge treasures.
The actual museum experience, as thousands of New Zealanders are
now discovering for themselves at Te Papa, does add to that intangible
feeling of belonging - national identity as collective memory.
Delivering some of that Museum experience through the Web is something
free from issues of "crowd pleasing on the ground" AND at
the same time it is yet another way of drawing the virtual audience
to become the live audience through real visits.
In these ways, the lively Te Papa experience, and the knowledge reach
of the Web, are both putting the museum right in the centre of public
The Web is now part of the core infrastructure of the museum - not
just another product, or application, or marketing device. However
chaotic it sometimes seems, the Web is an existing and universally-accepted
set of standards. Orphan systems outside of it are unlikely to flourish.
Hyperlink development, management and audit is essential. Te Papa
cannot be isolated from all the other parts of the total New Zealand
resource of heritage knowledge: it is a small country with a distinctive
culture. Synergy with other collections and organizations is made
more possible because the Web can sidestep the whole business of lack
of common standards. A forum requires the interaction of a whole range
of different viewpoints, making the Web's ability to link - Waharoa
- a multitude of sources extremely well suited to the task.
The Web is a great geography neutraliser - a powerful tool for any
organization claiming national relevance. Having said that, it is
not a replacement to buildings, but a way of expanding the customer
reach of them.
The Forum role for Te Papa was set in 1991, before the Web was even
really dreamed about in New Zealand. Now and into the foreseeable
future, the Web enables this role to be leveraged and enriched.
Manager, Public Information Project
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
P.O.Box 467Cable St.Wellington
Last modified: March 19, 1998. This file can be found below http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/
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