Mapping Playful Spaces

Lead institution/dept: Oxford Internet Institute

Partners: Ashmolean Museum, Museum of the History of Science


Abstract: This project seeks to use social media data to enhance our understanding of ‘playful’ visitor behaviour across some of Oxford’s Gardens, Libraries, and Museums (GLAM), looking for new types of engagement, with a view to trying to understand how visitors experience Oxford’s collections as ‘playful spaces’.


Museums often struggle to find ways of evaluating visitor experience without the use of intrusive instruments such as exit interviews and surveys. In the last decade, visitors have increasingly used social media to post reviews, photos, and comments about their experiences to their networks. This data represents a relatively untapped opportunity for museums to understand what engages their visitors, and how their experiences conform to or challenge expectations. 


This project will utilise data from Twitter and Instagram to produce a dataset of social media posts about Oxford’s GLAM collections. Data analysis using natural language processing and image classification algorithms, among other machine learning tools, will allow researchers to tackle the volume and diversity of content posted to these sites and cluster similar image types together, to reveal the most common patterns and themes in pictures posted online by GLAM visitors. In-gallery experiments will share findings and encourage visitors who wish to participate to experience the museums in a playful manner, whilst generated ‘heat maps’ of playful spaces will enable museum staff to seize upon such insights for new engagement or marketing opportunities.