Digital Storytelling Initiative as a Catalyst for Adopting Digital Working Models at FAMSF

Tricia Robson, The Metropolitan Museum of Art , USA, Kelly Mincey, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, USA, Emily Stoller-Patterson, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, USA


While the digital revolution has transformed how content is packaged and consumed, museums across the board are struggling to develop the iterative, cross-functional working models necessary for digital innovation. Through a two year change process—spurred via the development of a free online storytelling platform called "Digital Stories" in the fall of 2016—The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF), comprised of the de Young and Legion of Honor museums, took on the challenge of shifting to a digital-first approach. To overcome barriers involving project support and a lack of cross-departmental precedence, the "Digital Stories" project group committed to better define roles, invest in related training, determine content parameters for their platform, articulate more clear working processes, and, in essence, educate the museum internally about digital best practices and methods. This would slowly come to provide a replicable process within the museums, and lay the necessary foundation to reinvent the platform as "Insights" two years later. Outlined in this paper are the steps embarked upon through close collaboration of the two internal teams, a model that can be applied by other arts and cultural institutions when undertaking an educational and digital initiative, particularly those young in their digital maturation.

Keywords: education, digital, process, content, cross-functional, web, storytelling, collaboration


While the digital revolution has transformed how content is packaged and consumed, museums across the board are struggling to develop the iterative, cross-functional working models necessary for digital innovation. Through a two-year change process—spurred via the development of a free online storytelling platform, Digital Stories, in the fall of 2016—The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF), comprised of the de Young and Legion of Honor museums, took on the challenge of shifting to a digital-first approach, a communication framework, and working methodology built around and privileging digital innovation.

To overcome barriers involving project support and a lack of cross-departmental precedence, the Digital Stories project group committed to better define roles, invest in related training, determine content parameters for their platform, articulate more clear working processes, and, in essence, educate the museum internally about digital best practices and methods. This would slowly come to provide a replicable process within the museum and lay the necessary foundation to reinvent the platform as Insights two years later.

Outlined below are the steps embarked upon through close collaboration of the two internal teams, with careful attention to industry benchmarking, statistical analysis, and lessons learned. This case study provides a model that can be applied by other arts and cultural institutions when undertaking an educational and digital initiative, particularly those young in their digital maturation.

The Need for Digital Storytelling

Before outlining the specifics behind how the conception of a new digital storytelling platform led to a new working model at FAMSF, it is imperative to understand the larger digital landscape—as well as the organization’s climate as the project began.

Greater Digital Landscape

It is common knowledge at this point that digital has forever changed how businesses and institutions function—and, more importantly, how audiences relate to them. It is no longer enough to simply activate key digital channels for your organization or to try new technology for technology’s sake; instead, digital has become the key vehicle for more deeply connecting with consumers and holding their attention over time via your company or brand’s “story.” It is almost impossible to miss the barrage of marketing and digital think pieces on the dominance of content and storytelling in today’s digital landscape. Entrepreneur Magazine sums it up nicely, stating that, “digital content is steadily taking over the traditional content in all spheres” (Chabria, 2018). But what exactly is digital storytelling, and what does it mean for museums operating processes?

As one of the many papers in recent years that worked to unpack digital storytelling in museums states, “an important change resulting from this evolution of museum storytelling is that museums are moving away from the mere display of objects and are now making their stories central to the visitor experience” (Wong, 2015). While nonprofits are not always the first to adopt new models of production, several museums have been leading the way in regard to digital content creation—and the returns in visitor engagement are quickly evident in the data. In 2018, Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) launched Art Stories, a digital storytelling platform offering a deep dive into individual objects and themes, which resulted in deeper engagement on site. Of those users that engaged with the platform, 27% explored new objects, 21% explored new galleries, and 48% engaged with it more than once during their visit (Halverson, 2018). Similarly, in just a matter of weeks post-launch, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s (SFMOMA) Send Me text-based experience had fielded over 3.7 million texts (Mollica, 2018). And, finally, after interacting with the Cleveland Museum of Art’s (CMA) immersive digital gallery, Gallery One, museum visitation increased by 39% (Alexander, 2014).

A quick poll of a handful of leading digital arts institutions in 2018 demonstrated the extent to which museums are increasingly putting resources behind digital content development. While most museums have content creators or strategists outside of the digital function, Mia, the Whitney Museum of American Art (the Whitney), SFMOMA, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), and AIC, among many others, also have roles dedicated to content strategy and development within their digital divisions (Figure 1). Moreover, they are increasingly looking to digital working methods to run their departments, and organizations at large. Mia, CMA, the Whitney, SFMOMA, and The Met, for example, all have dedicated project managers, owners, or leads established in digital working groups. Mia similarly describes its digital department as being organized like a collection of agencies. A trailblazer in applying agile methodologies to museums, Douglas Hegley, Chief Digital Officer at Mia, noted how such methodologies extend beyond digital teams in stating:

We leverage several cross-functional working teams that design and deliver digital projects, involving more than 25 additional staff from areas such as curatorial, design and editorial, exhibitions, visitor engagement, fundraising, education, marketing, and executive leadership.

From this informal poll of institutions, it quickly became evident that museum leaders are applying the latest in digital methodologies and content strategies to their organizations.

Figure 1: Pie chart breaking down of how many digital departments have a role dedicated to content strategy and/or development
Figure 1: Results from 2018 poll of whether or not digital departments have a role dedicated to content strategy and/or development

The advantages of investing more substantially in crafting stories and experiences for audiences digitally are clear both in the museum industry and beyond. So, where did FAMSF stack up?

Digital Climate at FAMSF

Digital projects at FAMSF prior to the creation of Digital Stories, were siloed and compartmentalized. There was no cross-departmental, large-scale process in place for creating rich content and stories for digital channels. Additionally, the institution was resting on existing descriptions and old content, publishing very little unique material online. If 90% of digital content that exists today was created within the last two years, FAMSF could no longer afford to recycle old publications and outdated descriptions not necessarily intended for digital channels (Leadem, 2018).

The stats clearly demonstrated this gap. FAMSF was pulling in healthy visitation numbers on site and online (Table 1); however, prolonged engagement on digital channels suffered due to a lack of rich content, and visitors were not making return visits to the website. In the fiscal year (FY) of 2016, the annual attendance for FAMSF totaled 1,442,200 people, making it the fifth-most-visited art museum in America in 2015. The stats had not fully caught up online, however.

Fiscal Year Total Sessions New Users
FY 2015-16 4,244,657 2,340,850
FY 2016-17 4,601,227 2,674,118
FY 2017-18 5,234,288 3,115,309

Table 1: Gradual increase of visitation to FAMSF website(s) over past three fiscal years


While in FY 2016, the websites saw 4,244,657 sessions, the session durations averaged 02:28, and visitors were only engaging with 3.30 pages/session on average. Without more engaging content, these stats did not improve over time; the average session duration clocked in at 01:48 in FY 2017 and 01:42 in 2018 (Figure 2). To compare, the Google Analytics Arts & Entertainment industry benchmark for average session duration in 2018 was 03:48.

Figure 2: Decline of average session duration on FAMSF website(s) over past three fiscal years
Figure 2: Decline of average session duration on FAMSF website(s) over past three fiscal years


Furthermore, the data indicated that attendance spikes and demographic breakdowns directly followed popular special exhibition and event popularity trends for the museums; the majority of FAMSF web users were 55+ years and living in the Bay Area. The institution was not holding the attention of younger, more digitally-savvy age brackets beyond their regular attendees, and only 45% of users on Web were returning visitors.

It was clear FAMSF had a responsibility to close this engagement gap to fulfill its mission to educate, preserve, and communicate beyond the walls of the museum.

Development of Digital Stories

When FAMSF initially embarked upon the Digital Stories project in the fall of 2016, the goal was to develop a storytelling platform that would engage, educate, and entertain museum visitors prior to and after visits to special exhibitions—and fundamentally to meet visitors’ demand for more engaging online content. The content would need to be dynamic, flexible, and multimedia rich to meet this aim. And, not only would it have to be completed within a short five months to align with the opening of the exhibition, Monet: The Early Years at the Legion of Honor on February 25, 2017, but the platform would also have to be future-proofed enough to allow for in-house content production for the six or so special exhibitions per year that FAMSF presents.

A new cross-departmental project team, comprised of education and digital team members, formed to meet this challenge, but faced many obstacles stemming from a compressed timeline and FAMSF’s limited foundation for cross-functional workflows—the team was starting from scratch, and quickly.

New Collaboration

Operating a cross-departmental project was new territory for FAMSF, and the organization did not have the optimal support or model in place for such collaboration. Up until this point, projects at FAMSF were typically contained to and owned by a single department. Hence, with the digital team already mid-stream on another large project, the leadership team designated the education department to lead the project, including the digital team as stakeholders only. While the teams were dually committed to realizing the end project and made natural collaborators, the structure and expedited timeline did not set them up for success.

With very little lead time to define their shared goals and methodologies for the project, the teams slogged through the design and development of a new Web platform. Overall, while the digital team gave recommendations as stakeholders, they did not take proper ownership in making key decisions about the platform and user experience. The project entailed working via a sprinted, agile approach with an external agency, a relatively new experience for FAMSF, and decisions regarding user interface best practices, visual design, and backend integrations were made quickly and without the degree of consideration and understanding the project team would grow to employ later on. This was in part due to the fact that, without extensive experience working with agencies prior, there were issues with project management—the team expected more guidance from the selected firm, and it became clear that they would have to develop these systems themselves instead of relying on outside support.

Similarly, the project team lacked the time to determine the type of content that would translate successfully to a digital platform. As experts in teaching about art, developing interpretation skills, and telling stories about the FAMSF collections and special exhibitions, the education department served as the content creators, but the digital team did not work with them prior to the project launch to adapt this prowess to the needs of the audiences or a digital environment.

The group would subsequently develop a new model of co-ownership, one that allowed each group to more fully bring their expertise to the table and work together to develop shared best practices.

The Initial Result

At the onset of the project, FAMSF selected an outside vendor to develop a platform that would be versatile enough to meet the needs outlined above. Due to a limited budget and aggressive timeline, the project team was forced to privilege the development of an internally manageable Drupal-based CMS (as Drupal was used across all sites) over high-quality visual and UX design. With fixed development funds, FAMSF would need a system that the digital team could produce in-house, without any additional backend development.

As a result of these scoping missteps and lack of working model within the project team, the initial build for Monet: The Early Years (, launched in February of 2017 was not only cumbersome to build out in the Drupal 8 CMS, but the styling was clunky, dated, and did not showcase the content in a compelling way (Figure 3). During the roughly three-month exhibition run (February 25–May 29, 2017), the Monet Digital Story only garnered 36,601 total pageviews, representing just 14% of our total on site attendance for the exhibition. (The original goal was 25%.)

Figure 3: Screenshots of the Monet: The Early Years Digital Stories build
Figure 3: Screenshots of the Monet: The Early Years Digital Stories build


In addition, though the average time spent on the page was double that of the site average at 04:27, this was still less than half of the time that it would take to read the full 2,500 word experience, assuming an average reading speed of 250 words per minute. Also, observing the first month post-launch, the Digital Stories audiences skewed even more dramatically toward FAMSF’s core audiences than that of the general websites: 67% of users were 55+ years. The team concluded that the content design was more didactic than digestible, with more emphasis on interactivity than ease of use or modern design practices. To quote one critic, “the Eighties called, and it wants its site back.”

Reflection and Iteration

With a shared responsibility to optimize the design and better meet the needs of its audiences, the education and digital teams committed post-launch to cultivating formalized working methods and hone a digital-first storytelling approach for FAMSF.

The lessons learned throughout this process can be scaled and applied to other organizations in the GLAM sector and beyond as they too work to meet the demand for more engaging online storytelling. The key steps taken that the project team recommends to other cross-functional groups are outlined below:

  • Define your project team
  • Invest in training
  • Determine content parameters
  • Document workflows and best practices

Define Your Project Team

The shortcomings of the initial Digital Stories platform were symptomatic of a deeper issue with FAMSF’s project structuring at large, one that Loic Tallon, chief digital officer at the Met, describes in a 2017 blog post. Tallon emphasizes that centralizing digital within an organization places “inherent operational, organizational, and cultural limits” on institutions (Tallon, 2017). The symptoms, seen with the launch of Digital Stories, stem from a growing need to democratize digital competency across an institution instead of siloing it within one designated department. Thus, the challenge to develop a product that provided content in richer, more engaging ways for visitors became a challenge to reinvent FAMSF’s working models in the process. This was entirely new territory for FAMSF, and the project team was blazing a new trail internally.

First, roles needed to be better defined—and, more importantly, intentionally catered to take advantage of skill sets and expertise. The project team remained the same but the development/design and content arms were no longer siloed; together, the education and digital teams worked to incorporate each other into the different process phases sooner and more consistently. The governance, structure, and project schedules of this working team were documented in an in-depth working project manual (Figure 4). Every step in the process was codified and assigned to a designated owner, making collaboration still possible while firming up internal role definitions and standards. To do so expertly, however, additional training and workflow development would be necessary.

Figure 5: Project role definition outlined in Insights project manual
Figure 4: Project role definition outlined in Insights project manual

Invest in Training

The project team was more collaborative and defined than ever, though there remained understandable gaps in knowledge and experience. This is not uncommon as museums and other industries work to catch up to new technologies—and the working structures that underpin them. Tallon astutely outlines the “shifts in mentality and organization” required to better align digital strategies and methodologies across institutions:

For departments, it will require supporting the development of digital skill sets across the organization, starting with recruitment through to ongoing professional-development courses. The digital responsibilities of departments ranging from curatorial to visitor services, and from design to education would need to be defined and the relevant skill sets developed (Tallon, 2017).

In order to address these needs, the project team attended a range of trainings on SEO best practices, the design platform Sketch, project management (agile and otherwise), and user experience design and worked to inject these learnings directly into their working manual and the management of the project at large.

One training area that was critical to streamlining the project team’s output was wireframing. Initially, the project team brainstormed the content outline together for each Digital Stories build, but it became obvious that jumping into these outlines without having identified the core images and media first was counterproductive. The visuals were the backbone of each story, and the team recognized that developing content would happen more organically if key images and their related stories were realized at the beginning. To support this new approach, the project team invested in Sketch, a design platform that made creating visual wireframe templates more standardized, as well as basic training on Sketch for the team members focused on production. Once the wireframe for a build is finalized with key images, a written content outline is created that articulates the components being used and related word count recommendations. Wireframing a sound visual argument first reduced the number of words necessary to tell each story, making it easier for readers to scan for key concepts and information. Additionally, in a system where the digital team used to hold the keys to the final product (as development and production were the last steps prior to launch), the education team now had more agency in the wireframing process, demystifying the end result.

Pursuing this training together significantly improved the team’s efficiency in many ways. Decisions were made more shrewdly and questions posed within the team became more productive. Less adjustments were required later on in each timeline, and feedback was more streamlined. Likewise, in-person team review rounds went from three meetings to one, and the web production phase was cut in half.

Determine Content Parameters

Based on the statistics following the launch of Digital Stories, the team deduced that the content strategy would need to pivot from a traditional long-form essay approach to writing to a more digital-friendly methodology for storytelling. This required internal explanation between the digital and education teams on how the CMS worked, online content best practices, and user experience best practices. After the education team had a tighter grip on the platform for which they were writing, they were able to prioritize how content was ordered and framed.

To further strengthen the platform, in March of 2018, the project team, now a well-oiled machine, took the opportunity to survey a targeted group of 54 users to understand which adjustments could be made to better serve its audiences. The team took the key findings from that survey, along with the lessons being learned by refining their content development process, and incorporated them into their content strategy over time. A few key parameters resulting from this process include:

  • Use built-in elements to help create a content hierarchy and “snackability.” Once the relationship between the different components of each story were defined within the team, there was more trust in relying on them to structure the stories and themes within each build, rather than having the body copy bear the brunt of the burden or by requesting one-off design solutions. 85% of users surveyed were looking for an “in-depth” look at exhibitions, but 35% were also happy to receive a “snapshot” of what to expect. Using the platform’s natural content hierarchy to privilege some information over other stories gives the reader the chance to delve deeper into content that interests them and skip what does not.
  • Use diverse imagery without overwhelming your user. Through various storytelling workshops, the project team learned to show (versus tell) as much of the story as possible, a takeaway that was especially relevant as the team wanted to visually feature their collection’s artworks as meaningfully as possible. 57% of users felt more comfortable interpreting and discussing works of art after having read Digital Stories, so the team knew that privvying artwork would serve this key educational purpose. Alternatively, too many visuals are distracting. The project team applied this understanding by moving from a two-column format (which allowed images to display side-by-side) to a one-column format that simplified the reading experience, but still gave the art ample real estate. And, while the first edition of Digital Stories included 46 images, the team now carefully selects 20–25.
  • Trust users’ ability to interact and navigate. Well-designed interactivity should not need to be explained. Users should intuitively know how to navigate through each chapter and use each tool and component. Instead of focusing on one-off workarounds to provide directions for poorly-designed components, the team shifted their efforts to invest in updating the overall user interface.
  • Connect to current events. 65% of users expressed the desire for Digital Stories to connect artworks and exhibitions to contemporary life and current events, and the team wanted to mitigate this missed opportunity. Integrating focuses on how each story was relevant to modern life became a staple for each Digital Stories build.
  • Consider the mobile experience. The initial Digital Stories platform was mobile-friendly, but not mobile-first. Though the design was responsive and technically functioned on mobile, much of the functionality did not translate seamlessly from desktop to mobile, and the demographics reflected that. As mentioned previously, the vast majority of users were 55+ years, and the survey results indicated that older audiences (45–65+) were 20% more likely to recommend Digital Stories to friends than younger audiences (25–44 years). While the age and gender gaps began to close as the Digital Stories content strategy became more refined after launch, the team still aimed to make the product more approachable for a more diverse set of users. After all, 18–29 year olds are the most mobile-dependent and active age group; to better reach this demographic, Digital Stories would need to prioritize creating a mobile-first experience (Pew Research Center, 2018). While the team had been working to slowly improve the mobile experience with content adjustments and development fixes, ultimately creating a mobile-first experience would remain front-of-mind until the team was able to consider redesigning the platform.

Document Workflows and Best Practices

As the team worked to realign its structure and sharpen their skills, they simultaneously concentrated on producing a manual for the project, a process that took six months of biweekly meetings. This project manual became the team’s bible. It outlined how each component should be used, noted content parameters and best practices (including word counts), documented agreed-upon roles and workflows, and specified other requirements. One of the most helpful items was determining a shared vocabulary to be used by the working group to eliminate confusion arising from shorthand uses of more technical language.

In addition to this extensive manual, the team developed timeline templates (Figure 5), to be employed for each build creation, and moved all project management to a shared project management platform, Asana. The team also created documentation and templates for many parts of the content development and technical production, such as content briefs, and analytics reports.

Figure 5: Insights timeline template used for each build release
Figure 5: Insights timeline template used for each build release


Systematizing workflows helped the team adhere to best practices and were instrumental in preventing project creep, maintaining production efficiencies, reducing negotiation in decision making, and being respectful of the team’s resources and time. This documentation ensured that all prior investment into the project was upheld within the project team and helped communicate to other departments and stakeholder groups who often made requests for one-off experiences. Proof of a working system earned the project team trust within the institution and allowed the team to proactively offer an existing solution for such requests.

At all stages in the process, the team was becoming more fine-tuned, and now they had the right tools and practical skills to further their product.

Relaunching as Insights

With team structure aligned, skill sets sharpened, content parameters outlined, and workflows standardized, the team was equipped to more expertly approach modernizing Digital Stories and course correct the product that, in its original form, did not meet the institution’s needs.

The team began scoping what it would mean to reinvent Digital Stories, and spent ample time discussing their needs before drafting an RFP. First and foremost, the team sought to revamp the design and develop a more marketable brand presence for the platform. From a technical standpoint, this meant approaching the design and development of the project separately to ensure that more funds would be allocated to design this next round and, furthermore, to allow the project team to select a leading design agency without being tethered to Drupal-focused shops—development would follow design this time around. Finally, in order to develop a cleaner interface and stronger brand identity, a clearer content system allowing for the flexible use of a set of components would be needed.

Having a detailed scope helped the team secure additional funding for this next phase of the project, and the budget and timeline followed (unlike the first iteration). In fact, commitment to avoiding one-off experiences allowed for additional funding to be identified from existing curatorial projects, with the new platform offering longevity through more thoughtful, evergreen design. The institution saw that the new model was working, trusted the project team’s vision, and supported it in more substantial ways than during the first round. The result would be a tighter process and a much more global design set.

Insights Deliverables

After nearly ten months, the newly rebranded Insights platform launched with the exhibition Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey ( in November, 2018 (Figure 6). As a website, the measurable successes are detailed below, but the result of working in this way extends beyond click-throughs and page visits. The Insights project team emerged from the process with comprehensive documentation, enhanced skill sets, a new brand style guide, and a new CMS.

Figure 6: Screenshots of the Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey Insights build
Figure 6: Screenshots of the Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey Insights build


Per the refined scope for the Digital Stories redesign, the design agency selected for the platform redesign delivered an exhaustive suite of brand guidelines upon completion of the project (Figures 7–9). These guidelines included a detailed package of instructions and context for the newly designed Insights platform, including processes for color theme selection, recommended word counts, and use cases for every content component. This may seem like an obvious transaction in an agency-led branding process but was lacking during the previous two years executing Digital Stories. Even though the team had organized such detailed documentation post-launch, without this rule set during the initial round, they were left to invent guidelines on the fly, and often somewhat arbitrarily, when it came to the Digital Stories content and design systems.

Figure 7: Insights brand guidelines
Figure 7: Insights brand guidelines


Figure 8: Insights brand guidelines (component list and word counts)
Figure 8: Insights brand guidelines (component list and word counts)


The thorough set of brand guidelines, based on FAMSF discoveries and needs, removed ambiguity from the platform and empowered the Insights project team to make confident decisions, oftentimes reigning in ideas that would have previously led to one-off implementations and added development. The receipt of this style guide also made maintaining the integrity of Insights a shared responsibility; no team member could argue that they were unaware of how this new design system worked or why it was important to keep the new system in place. Meetings regularly referenced and re-instilled the value of the guidelines.

Figure 9: Insights brand guidelines (theme selection process)
Figure 9: Insights brand guidelines (theme selection process)


The technical deliverables may have felt less exciting on the user-end, but were intrinsic to realizing Insights. In working with a development firm, the team decided to abandon the Drupal CMS in order to meet the content design expectations for the project. In the new CMS, GatherContent, the digital team can now build each edition of Insights in a more flexible manner, set user roles, and build robust workflows—setting up the team for even more dynamic collaborations between content and production counterparts. The project team took advantage of starting fresh with a new CMS to add a detailed user manual for GatherContent to their growing arsenal of project documentation.

The Stats

During the redesign process, the project team set forth the following primary goals for Insights:

  • Visitation. Grow the percentage of total visitation from an average of 25% (from Digital Stories) of the total audiences for an exhibition to 30% in 2019 and 40% 2020.
  • Engagement. Increase the time spent on a page by 30% in 2019. More specifically, the goal was to average a six-minute session, representing the average time expected to reach the new 1,500 word count limitation for each edition of Insights.

With the launch of the Gauguin edition of Insights, the team was extremely pleased to immediately see the impact of the updated platform. Reviewing the first 30 days of the original Digital Story (Monet: The Early Years) launch compared to the launch of Insights (Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey), it was clear that visitation and engagement were already climbing. Not only did our data confirm that users were finding the material more engaging, but the experience itself was much more cinematic, user-forward, and approachable.

More specifically, in the first 30 days of its corresponding exhibition, the build saw 8,092 pageviews, matching 33% of on site exhibition attendance. Tracking much higher than the 25% average seen from Digital Stories and already exceeding visitation goals, this statistic confirms that the platform is becoming more approachable to audiences.

One of the most promising—and validating—metrics following the launch of Insights, is the visit duration to the Gauguin edition. In the first month of the exhibition, users, on average, spent seven minutes and 20 seconds on the page. Again, this is already tracking beyond the 30% increase goal for 2019, up 62% from the Digital Stories average for the same time period (Figure 10). The emphasis put on purposeful user-friendly features, cinematic experience, and digestible content while redesigning is resulting in more engaged audiences.

Figure 10: Engagement metrics from the Digital Stories features compared to the launch of Insights with Gauguin (Nov 2018)
Figure 10: Engagement metrics from the Digital Stories features compared to the launch of Insights with Gauguin (November 2018)


Comparing the Gauguin edition of Insights to the existing Digital Stories builds, it is also apparent that the team’s consideration of SEO best practices may be paying off as well. The Digital Stories series saw, on average, about 22% of traffic via organic search. In contrast, the Gauguin Insights build saw close to 36% via organic search. This supports that the efforts to make content less academic and include more searchable (and accessible) language may be working.

Overall, these trends are reassuring and further attest to the power of overhauling the working model in order to produce a successful product.

Impact at FAMSF

As the project team began to see the benefits from the energy expended establishing role definition and workflows, it proselytized the ease of collaboration and encouraged institutional leaders to consider advising other teams to follow a similar format. As many museum teams have experienced, one of the most critical parts of sparking change is proving that it can work. FAMSF began more clearly defining cross-departmental projects teams or working groups as the need arose, and asked that they create similar charters: What is the goal of the team; what is the role of each team member; how will the team be held accountable for the needed work; and, how will they deliver materials to each other?

To be transparent, this approach has not been successful in every iteration. In some instances, the project itself was not large or ongoing enough to warrant such investment, and, in others, it was simply not a priority. That said, the institution has seen a higher degree of productivity on a handful of projects that would otherwise have become nebulous, lacked ownership, and remained siloed to one department. The ancillary characteristics of this model have also contributed to culture shifts, e.g., in a mindset around training and growing skills “outside” of an employee’s job description and breaking down barriers between verticals and hierarchies. If anything, teams across the organization have a stronger grasp on project management methodologies and more realistic opportunities to implement these tools. As this is put into practice more consistently, FAMSF is only more primed for larger cultural evolution.

Moreover, the Insights team remains in tact, continuing to produce and improve itself. For FAMSF, the sheer longevity of this project and collaboration is somewhat radical. This would not have been the case without the steps taken to build a proper framework within which the team acts. What’s more, what at first was uncharted territory became a rewarding project for all team members—and a model in digital-forward thinking and collaboration across the organization.


“Cultural changes within corporate institutions will always be slower and more complex than the technological changes that necessitate them.” (Goran, LaBerge, & Srinivasan, 2017). This notion does not mean that change is impossible—or cannot be transformative for institutions. In recent years, museums have heeded the call and started to invest in their digital cultures, initiatives, and workflows as a means to engage audiences through rich storytelling. FAMSF provides just one of many such case studies.

So, what were the key ingredients for taking an institution with no existing capacity for change management to develop and apply a digital first mindset to a key project? After seeing the repercussions of limited institutional support and working models for effective digital-first collaboration, the project team at FAMSF embarked to 1.) define their project team 2.) invest in training for the proper skills for the project 3.) determine content parameters specific to their platform 4.) document workflows and best practices.

Such change has its challenges, but the reward in working this way at FAMSF emcompasses the following: a properly scoped agency partnership, a thoughtfully designed and purposeful platform, and a team that is now armed with major lessons in project management, workflow, and content frameworks. In the end, this process was about bringing digital thinking and best practices to more areas of the organization—and, more importantly, using the digital team as an agent of change throughout the museum.

Arguably, the most valuable deliverable from the Digital Stories redesign project at FAMSF was the working model forged internally, one that can now be replicated for other cross-functional initiatives at the institution and elsewhere. It was the first step in moving to a digital-first model at FAMSF. The foundation laid by the project team proved paramount to the approach and success of the project at large.

There are many variables that digital teams, project groups, and museum staffs as a whole cannot work around when it comes to delivering large-scale project launches. What can be changed is the method by which we get there, and how much pain we set ourselves up for. Whether it is a funded venture or a simpler internal collaboration, museums of all sizes, and with ranging budgets, can reproduce these efforts, and there is no more relevant place to start than with digital teams.


Special thanks to our key project team member, editor, and museum educator Emily Jennings.


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Cite as:
Robson, Tricia, Mincey, Kelly and Stoller-Patterson, Emily. "Digital Storytelling Initiative as a Catalyst for Adopting Digital Working Models at FAMSF." MW19: MW 2019. Published January 16, 2019. Consulted .