Finding the Right People to ASK

On the surface, it might seem that our Bloomberg Connects project is all about tech. After all, this particular Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative is specifically for digital projects and we’ve spent most of our time up until now talking about our new ASK app currently being developed. However, like the majority of our digital projects, this one is really all about people. And because people are at the heart of ASK, we knew it was essential for us to find the right ones to help us make our project a success. Shelley and I are basically focused on the proverbial forest that is this initiative and we needed to add team members to tend the trees. We needed two (we eventually determined) staff members who would focus on the day-to-day operations of building and executing the experience—hire and train the team of people to answer visitor questions, get the database of content going, help us figure out what the visitor/staff interaction should be like, etc.

Monica Marino, left, and Marina K, right, running the dashboard during a recent user testing session. Our Chief Curator, Kevin Stayton, helps answer questions.
Monica Marino, left, and Marina K, right, running the dashboard during a recent user testing session. Our Chief Curator, Kevin Stayton, helps answer questions.

The first position we hired for is the Audience Engagement Team Lead, whose main role is to hire, train, and manage the team of people who answer incoming visitor queries. For this position, we needed an experienced museum professional with a strong art history background who was comfortable working with our encyclopedic collection, had experience training others, and had both passion and experience facilitating visitor engagement around works of art. In addition to hiring, training, and managing the team, the Team Lead will be the eyes and ears on the floor as we roll out the project, helping to determine what our visitors need to make this program a success and how we might meet those needs including reporting on the success of the ASK app user experience and make recommendations for potential updates after launch. We were extremely lucky to have Monica Marino, former Senior Museum Educator and Intern Coordinator here, return to us from the Met where she was Assistant Museum Educator, Internships and Academic Programs for past four years. We are currently in the midst of the hiring process for her team (apply here) and she will share her approach to selecting that team in a future post.

The second position we hired is the Curatorial Liaison, whose main role is to act as a bridge between curatorial and the Audience Engagement Team. We needed one person to spearhead the monumental effort to gather all the knowledge in the building from curators, educators, and other staff and synthesize and share it in a format that the rest of the team can access. The Liaison will also be responsible for staff training and support related to the dashboard (the internal tool used to answer visitor questions that come in via the ASK app) and will help to determine what staff need to make this program a success and how we might meet those needs. Since the bulk of the work for this position is pre-launch and just after, we made this role temporary so that we are able to assess the needs once the app has been on the floor for about 6 months. The position may stay as-is, morph, or we may find we no longer need it. Happily, this temporality suits Marina Kliger. Marina is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Fine Arts focusing on early 19th-century French art and a former research associate at the Art Institute of Chicago. She and Monica are currently working feverishly to gather knowledge and determine the best platform for hosting it. Marina will post later about their selection.

Shelley and I also talked a bit about what department these new staff members should join. Should they be with Shelley in Tech or with me in Audience Engagement/Interpretive Materials? It’s an interesting question because really it could be either. They way we work here, tech and interpretation often go hand-in-hand and Shelley and I work together a lot. However, two major aspects of the project helped us decide to put the team with me, one: the fact that the project emphasizes people as opposed to tech (audience engagement as opposed to digital engagement, splitting hairs a little bit, but there it is) and two: the information we learn from ASK about what visitors want to know can greatly inform our interpretive efforts throughout the Museum. This is one of the aspects of this initiatives that excites me the most. We’ll be gathering metrics on what areas and works are the most talked about. Trends in that data can help us spot areas that might need more interpretive attention, for example. We’ll be able to learn more information about how visitors use (or not) our existing interpretation and what kinds of information they want than ever before.

So, how do you hire for a project that’s running on an iterative process? Perhaps not surprisingly, using a kind of iterative process. We ended up posting the positions several times with description updates as we determined the desired skill set and were better able to define the positions. The tight timeline of this project means we needed self-starters who can get the big picture quickly and help us dive into the details. And, as is the nature of an iterative project, there are still a lot of questions and we needed people who want to help us find answers. Ultimately, we built the job descriptions around the (mostly immediate) needs as we understood them and included a lot of flexibility. We also tried to be very clear about what we didn’t know and where we were hoping the selected candidate would help flesh out his or her own role. Thankfully both Monica and Marina were game.