Phase two case study: storytelling and mapping - creative digital methods

In 2016 St Fagans Museum of National History (Wales, UK) launched a new mobile experience called Traces (Olion in the Welsh Language). Users could engage with this multifaceted immersive storytelling experience on their own as a new way of navigating the site, or with a partner, in which case they were each sent on slightly differing routes, before being reunited at times so that a series of performative and playful things could happen. Traces was designed to connect people actively and viscerally with the site’s unique built and natural environment. Find out more in this case study by the lead researcher, Dr Jenny Kidd, Cardiff University.

What was the goal? 

Traces was an attempt to diversify the narratives available and to offer new patterns of connection and experience on site. The team wanted to experiment with new forms of immersive digital storytelling, and in doing so, better understand barriers to access and adoption. User testing of the mobile app showed that people had emotional responses, and they wanted to delve into this deeper. 

What was the methodology?

This was a rich qualitative assessment. A research team spent three days on site at the Museum where they worked with 30 members of the public. Each user was asked to draw a map of their encounter on paper, and then to talk the researchers through that map. Some took this prompt literally, drawing elaborate maps which logged their geographical route around the site, but others interpreted it differently, mapping their emotional experience, or their interaction with the technology itself. When they talked to us through their maps, rich narratives of experience emerged. 

‘Now I am a part of this place. I feel like more than just a visitor.’

Quote from an interview

Users were then asked to sum up Traces in three words, followed by interviews in which they were asked more structured conversation questions to explore the museum and researchers assumptions about the visiting public’s connection with the site, the stories, usability and the degree of immersion experienced. Everything was audio recorded and transcribed. A longitudinal perspective was not possible.

What did they learn? 

Responses to the interviews and other activities evidenced the richness of people’s interactions with the natural environment through Traces, and the variety and depth of emotional resonances too. The experience was felt very vividly and viscerally, and connected people strongly with the site, its narratives, and with each other. There were moments of friction however - when people struggled with the technology, for example - demonstrating the need for seamless and simple interfaces.

What would they do differently?

The approach was broadly qualitative which fitted the ambitions for the impact study. Yet if it were to be done again, the research would have benefited from the addition of a quantitative approach. Exploring the broader data from the mobile experience may have revealed (for example) the points at which people tended to pause or stop, and this might have helped triangulate findings about where people struggled most. Such triangulation is a great way of strengthening findings, and attesting to the broader impacts of an experience.

How did they use the findings? 

The impact evaluation helped the researchers and the museum talk more confidently about the value and relevance of mobile digital storytelling, and to position Traces as a unique and boundary pushing creative work. As a result, they understand better what works in order to facilitate rich immersion in experience and social interaction, and what some of the challenges are to adoption. To use the language of the impact playbook, following the evaluation, we are able to talk robustly about the Traces project in relation to social impact, innovation impact and operational impact. The findings have been published in numerous academic articles. 

Next steps