DMA Friends

In 2012, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) launched an effort to transparently and continuously monitor the long-term engagement of visitors with the museum. Dubbed DMA Friends, the approach emphasizes the repeat participation of visitors with the museum’s collections and programs, offering customized rewards in return for frequent engagement. This scalable and flexible digital platform gives the museum the ability to track individual activity, with nearly fifty thousand unique visitors joining in the first year.

Introducing DMA Friends

DMA Friends is an open-source, technical infrastructure and user experience designed to incentivize and track participation and engagement by visitors to the Dallas Museum of Art. Using an innovative web-based platform, visitors participate in the program through iPad-based kiosks, texting from their mobile devices, and online. As visitors connect with the museum, they create personal profiles, work toward “badges,” check in to different activities, and earn rewards for progress and participation. The system touches on a number of other business systems and required a significant institutional process shift beyond just the core technologies. Constant monitoring and metrics are being captured to create a deep longitudinal understanding of visitor behavior in the museum which will be used to create richer and more complex offerings to visitors.

This engagement platform enables every visitor to the Museum to now become a free member. Visitors join the program using a web-based platform via iPad kiosks located along the Museum’s main concourse. After signing up as a Friend, visitors are presented with a series of possible activities designed by DMA’s education team in collaboration with experience design consultants and the well-respected team at LearningTimes, LLC. These activities provide new and fun ways to connect with the Museum’s programs and collections and, upon completion, earn the visitor badges. Friends can “check in” to different activities using personalized membership cards at the iPad kiosks, or by texting from their mobile phones.

As badges are earned, visitors can claim a variety of rewards created by the DMA to say “thank you” for participating with the Museum. These rewards include traditional membership benefits, such as free parking and special exhibition tickets, as well as special and boutique rewards like behind-the-scenes access to staff and areas of the Museum not generally seen by the public. One of the underlying goals of the program is to create long-term relationships with visitors while offering them value and benefits tailored to their experience and engagement with the museum. This long-term connection and repeat participation is seen as key to establishing the hoped-for relevance of the Museum in the lives of visitors.

At the heart of DMA Friends is a Relationship Management System that is a modified version of BadgeOS developed and customized by LearningTimes, LLC sitting on top of WordPress. This technical infrastructure is designed to scale beyond the inherent needs of the Dallas Museum of Art and is being released as an open source platform. The modular approach in the technical design allows for an easy integration into other museum technical environments and ways to integrate and interface with other existing business systems.

Collaboration at scale

In November 2013, the DMA was awarded a National Leadership Grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to experiment with a pilot of a DMA Friends-style engagement platform in three major metropolitan areas around the country. Learning from experiences at the DMA, the Denver Art Museum (DAM), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) have partnered together to understand how the Friends platform can be best adapted to work successfully in a variety of other museums with different business models and varying kinds of engagement needs and membership programs. Soon after the grant was approved, the DMA also partnered with the Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas, to validate how a smaller museum can adapt to this approach.

Together, these five museums represent a contrasting set of variables requiring substantial flexibility and imagination in advancing the platform. The grant will allow for customizations for each museum, while collecting data about local engagement in a centralized repository. The desire of the project is to enable analysis of data from all the participating museums that will hopefully reveal useful patterns. Our ultimate intent is to discover which methods are the most successful at driving repeat engagement in the arts.

The project is currently in its planning and development stages, with pilot projects scheduled to launch in the fall of 2014. All software and findings from the project will be released under open-source licenses to allow other museums to benefit from the work of the team.

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