Thursday, 31 March 2016

ARA Core Training Audience Engagement: Strategies and Practices

I recently attended an ARA Core Training event at Cambridge Central Library, covering Audience Engagement Strategies and Practices (#ARAAudEng). I have frequently taken part in the outreach activities at the Hull History Centre with the History Makers sessions but I have not yet attended specific external training on the matter. This was an opportunity to see how other institutions have handled audience engagement and hear from their experiences.

Creative Approaches & Fun Palaces

The National Archives fielded two talks during the course of the event, the first on creative approaches towards audience engagement the second on their experiences of using Fun Palaces to engage with younger audiences. The National Archives obviously has a lot of experience with outreach events and as a result there was a lot of information given during these two talks relating to engaging with the public and how this can relate back to your organisation. 

One key idea that was reflected from speakers throughout the day was to utilise the resources that you have available, especially in regards to staff. People like to be able to get involved and if given the opportunity may surprise you in how willing they are to help out.

An effective use of what spaces you have available as well as the archives that you have feeds back into this idea of correctly utilising resources. Allowing the audience themselves to have some input and impact really helps to keep them engaged. 

In the Frontline – Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Records Office

One of the most inspiring talks at the conference was done by the Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office. Their entire presentation was based around a World War One theme which was the primary focus of their audience engagement program. 

I have to confess I have never seen a presentation in the Archives sector involve the participants directly before, but somehow they managed to get a room full of heritage sector workers to shout “Unity or Death” in Serbian (phonetically ooo-yedin-ye-ye ili smrt) as they covered how as part of their outreach events they ran a time accurate re-enactment of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The success of this activity really boosted their 
confidence as well as staff morale as they moved onto other projects. Including the construction of a replica trench on the premises that has allowed them to run several Great War events and encourage different groups of people to go to the records office. It has also shown how much a good engagement event can be a fantastic learning tool, teaching groups of children about war in a way that they are far more likely to be actively interested in.

Other Talks

There were several talks that I just don’t have the room to talk about in as much detail but that were equally as interesting. Including a talk by the Transport for London Corporate Archives on how they raised their profile internally, something that had never occurred to me as being as important as external engagement but which has obvious repercussions. People need to know you exist in order to use your services, which includes those working under the same umbrella!

There was also a talk on the use of Social Media at the Tyne and Wear archives, it was very useful to have a talk from an institution that covers so many different forms of social media and who are willing to share their own experiences with them in regards to what has been working and what hasn't.

The Archives and Records Association themselves presented the opening talk around their experiences 
running the Explore Your Archive campaign. It was great to see the feedback from such a wide reaching campaign, what they felt worked and what could be improved upon. How effective it was in general and the difficulty of quantifying any results beyond anecdotal evidence. It was also a little different simply because this was an organisation attempting to engage archives, to provide them with tools to engage their audiences.


I found the entire day incredibly motivating, to see what different organisations have been doing to raise their profile and how successful it has been for them has really encouraged me in how the History Centre currently interacts with its audience.

It was a very useful and encouraging event, the idea of how much outreach and engagement can affect staff morale in such a positive way was definitely eye opening. Also how as an organisation you need to play to your own strengths both in the archives you have available as well as the staff who work there.

Quote of the day: “People will engage if they are invited and if they feel that their opinions have value.” - Sandra Shakespeare, The National Archives

David Heelas
Transforming Archives Trainee

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