Post-Truth Tour Guide

Is it possible to develop a generic, interactive museum guide, which is transferrable to all museums? What new forms of interactions, engagements and reflections on museums and interpretations might this make possible?

In a world of post-truth news reporting, where even reputable sources have to be questioned, a new perspective is brought to the museum-goer, where interpretation and context are scrutinised more thoroughly.

What did the project involve? 

The researchers sought to create a new tool to encourage exploratory museum navigation, where visitors will be given fresh perspectives on collections and experience new things with every visit. With the concept of ‘post-truth’ dominating the headlines, one team of researchers wondered whether half-truths could work in the museum visitor’s favour, helping them to engage with the exhibits in front of them and question what may or may not be true.

They developed an installation to act like a visitor’s own personal guide – with a twist. Visitors printed out small bits of paper with conversation starters and instructions for engaging with the exhibits and other visitors.

‘[It] will be a bit like having an enthusiastic but mischievous curator standing over your shoulder making you question and scrutinise what’s in front of you,’ says Peter Bennett, Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction. The Micro Guide subtly fibs, deceives and comes out with ambiguous or whimsical comments – helping visitors seek out the truth from the museum labels and signage in front of them.  

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Dr Peter Bennett(Computer Science) lectures in Human-Computer Interaction with the Bristol Interaction Group, as well as working as an independent creative technologist.
  • Dr. Paul Clarke (Department of Theatre) is a practitioner-researcher, exploring the use of digital technologies in participatory and place-based performance, along with creative responds to archives. 
  • Lucy Telling and Barney Heywood (Stand + Stare) create interactive installations, exhibitions and performances. Their automated experiences are often based on historical material and memory, which has led them to work with museums, libraries, universities and a variety of organisations seeking innovative ways in which to open up their archives. 
  • Darren Roberts (Bristol Museums) researches the user’s experience at a number of Bristol’s cultural institutions. He also works on audience development, which a particular focus on digital technologies. 

What were the results?

You can read more about the app on the Stand + Stare Website, they also blogged about their experience, ‘Post Truth Guide – At-Bristol After Hours. Dr. Bennett has also shared some of his photographs on his website 

The result was a completely new museum experience, where the visitor was put at the centre of the museum tour and given the agency to create their own perspective. Tying into Brigstow’s key values, it helped the visitors to live well with technology (using an app to promote and encourage exploration of the real world inside the museum), live well with uncertainty (helping people to question rather than simply absorb history), and plain old living well.

You can see from the Stand + Stare Blog how the Post-Truth Tour Guide went down when Peter Bennett and Barney from Stand + Stare took it to At Bristol in April 2017. You can also follow the developments of the Post Truth Guide on its Twitter account.

As the project was executed, it became quite clear that the team’s working chemistry gave them potential for future collaborations. The Post-Truth Micro Guide ended up being just one of many creative joint projects between Stand + Stare and the University – like the intriguing Brigstow Cubes (read more about them here).