Hard to believe that it’s been a full year since we began the initial hiring process for our ASK team. We’ve accomplished so much in the past year—learning the collection, creating an internal wiki, and establishing best practices for engagement. Like any good agile project, there are some elements we continue to tweak as we go and staffing is one of them.
When first hired for ASK, we made a best guess as to how many people we would need to staff the dashboard and settled on one full-time lead and six part-time team members. This solution gave us flexibility in scheduling so that at least a pair of team members were on the dashboard during all open hours, more for busier times like weekends. Early testing sessions indicated that one team member could handle anywhere from about seven chats at once, depending on how in-depth they were, and that number helped provide a baseline for staffing based on app traffic.
ASK team members are responsible for gaining broad knowledge of the entire collection and deep knowledge of a selected collection area, best practices for engagement via the app, and technical training on using the app’s backend. A great deal of training is required to ensure that an ASK team member is ready to answer questions via the app. Over the course of the year, we’ve already seen some turnover in the positions, which is of real concern. We expected some regular turnover—after all, the positions are only part-time—but it happened more quickly than anticipated, and as those team members left, so did some institutional knowledge about ASK’s development process. We began to worry not only about staffing the dashboard, but about continuity.
We considered a few solutions to the attrition problem. One was a year-long graduate internship program, which would address the natural turnover head-on by building it into the job. Ideally this would include an intern per collection area for a total of 10 graduate students. While a program like this would provide a great opportunity for art history graduate students looking to work in the museum field, establishing, building, and managing such a program would be a great deal of work and so we decided against this approach for now. A second solution was to transition from six part-time team members to three full-time team members (plus the team lead). This was appealing for a few reasons: we could develop a more regular schedule for staffing the dashboard, more easily build in time for research since full-timers would be here at least one day a week that we’re closed to the public, and it would ameliorate the continuity problem. We considered this option for a long time, but eventually decided against it because there is a certain strength in numbers. We have six individuals with unique experiences and areas of study, and each one brings something important to the table. This variety of backgrounds and expertise leads to deeper self-reflection, better conversations as a team, and most importantly, better engagement with our visitors. Variety makes our team strong. We didn’t want to give that up, even in the name of continuity.
In the end, we came up with a compromise: two-full time team members and four-part timers (plus the team lead). We think this will provide a baseline of continuity moving forward, while still allowing for the richness of multiple viewpoints and voices. We’ll keep our scheduling flexibility, and the full-time team members will have time to take deeper dives into content and best practices, working with the rest of the team to develop these ideas.
All of that being said, we’re about to go into a very public launch with Marketing (with a capital M!) and more visitors able to engage with us via ASK once Android is on the floor. Happily this new team structure also provides flexibility to staff up by hiring additional part-timers, should app traffic demand it. In the meantime, we’re getting ready for launch and looking forward to many more chats with our visitors.
Sara Devine joined the Brooklyn Museum as Manager of Interpretive Materials in 2011. Now Director of Digital Engagement, she leads the Museum’s ASK Brooklyn Museum project, a Bloomberg Connects digital engagement initiative. A vocal visitor advocate, her expertise lies in crafting accessible and engaging visitor experiences and reaching audiences across platforms. She works with curators, designers, educators, technologists, and visitor services staff on all aspects of digital engagement. Sara is also a visiting assistant professor and curriculum coordinator at Pratt Institute’s School of Information for their new graduate program in Museums and Digital Culture. She was previously Senior Content Developer and Project Manager at Hilferty, a museum planning and design firm in Ohio, where she developed comprehensive interpretive master plans and exhibitions for a wide variety of museums. She has also worked at Assistant Curator, Special Exhibition at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and as a Curatorial Assistant at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.