Museum Personalization was identified as one of the six most important emerging trends for museums in 2015 by the Center for the Future of Museums.[1] It is an approach that focuses on the individual visitor rather than generic visitor groups and can be applied to a range of work areas including exhibit experiences, operations, marketing/communications and retail. The commonly perceived benefit of this approach is that visitors enjoy an enhanced or ‘tailored’ museum experience and museums/institutions gain longer-lasting and more meaningful relationships with their audiences. Simple forms of personalization have been employed by museums since the early days of digital experimentation in the 1980s, however, as priorities have increasingly shifted towards understanding and building audiences, this approach is offering exciting new opportunities and more sophisticated applications are now being explored. The potential for personalization has been significantly expanded by advances in technology over the past five years, especially in mobile phones, e-commerce, social media and wearable tech. Context two recent examples of museum personalization can be found at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in New York City and the Dallas Museum of Art. The Cooper Hewitt Design Museum reopened to the public in December 2014 with its ‘Smart Pen’, allowing visitors to collect their favorite objects and chart their activities over repeat museum visits. Within the first five months of operation the museum had recorded almost 1.4 million digitally collected objects and more than 54,000 new ‘visitor made designs’.[2] This has provided fascinating new insights into their collection. In 2012, the Dallas Museum of Art scrapped admission fees and introduced an innovative membership program that rewards individual visitors for participating in museum activities with digital badges and points. These can be redeemed for special rewards such as free parking, workshops, VIP events and film screenings. After two years of the membership program, overall attendance figures have increased by 29? and financial donations have risen by 19?.[3] Museums are not alone in developing personalization approaches and much inspiration has been taken from other industries such as e-commerce (personal retail recommendations), theme parks (wearable personalization devices), communications (social media aggregation), education (personalized learning e.g. Khan Academy and ClassDojo) and healthcare (customized health plans).

Research Purpose

Qatar Museums is the lead body for museums in Qatar with two open museums[4], three gallery spaces[5] and several new museums in development. The stated core purpose of the organization is to be ‘a cultural instigator for the creation generation’[6]. One of the key challenges to achieving this ambitious goal is the development of regular museum visiting habits in local audiences. This requires Qatar Museums to provide engaging museum experiences that attract visitors and cultivate long-lasting and meaningful relationships with those visitors. This paper explores the potential impact of museum personalization as a tool for achieving these goals.


In evaluating the potential impact of museum personalization to museums in Qatar, this paper looks at three areas of research: An extensive review of international museums that use personalization approaches or techniques, focusing on both the benefits that they bring to museums and audiences as well as the challenges that they present. An evaluation of Qatar's technology landscape and how well suited this is to facilitate the introduction of personalization approaches in museums. An analysis of ongoing qualitative and quantitative audience research commissioned by Qatar Museums, focusing on Qatar-specific perceptions towards the use of technology. Summary of Key Findings International Review Summary – Through the extensive review of international museums using personalization techniques, the key benefits and challenges of museum personalization have been identified. These can be split into two categories: benefits for visitors; and benefits for museums/institutions. Main benefits for museum visitors: An increased sense of control and ownership Tailored content delivered at the best place and time. The ability to record and chart ongoing personal experiences and achievements Greater awareness of the ‘museum community’. A more comfortable and convenient visit Main benefits for museums/institutions: An enhanced reciprocal relationship between the museum and visitors Greater ability to identify changing audience needs Strengthened relationships with education professionals and community leaders Enhanced operational effectiveness Innovative new income generation streams. The research has also exposed some of the most common challenges and shortcomings of museum personalization – Over-complicated and unintuitive personalization systems. Creating unwanted distractions from other museum experiences. Unsustainable technical infrastructure Privacy and data protection concerns Qatar's Technology Landscape Summary – Technology is a key part of Qatar's 2030 National Vision and transformation into a knowledge-driven economy. Qatar's comparatively small population and geographic size has enabled the rapid development of cutting edge technology infrastructure such as fiber optic internet, 4G mobile phone networks and WIFI enabled public parks. There has also been considerable effort to develop e-government with 547 new digital services introduced since 2013 in areas such as healthcare, utilities, education and Islamic Affairs[7]. Qatar's advanced technology infrastructure is coupled with a healthy appetite for the consumption of technology goods and services. A 2013 survey revealed that the average household in Qatar owned three mobile phones, two computers and one smart phone[8]. Today's figures will undoubtedly be higher. Broadband internet penetration rates are at 85? placing Qatar alongside highly advanced economies such as South Korea and the United Kingdom.[9] Qatar's youth are leading the way with 98? of citizens aged between 15 and 24 using smartphones.[10] The advanced technology infrastructure in Qatar, together with the healthy appetite for technology goods and services, provide fertile conditions for the application of personalization approaches in Qatar's museums. Museum Audience Research Analysis Summary – Qatar Museums has an ongoing program of audience evaluation research that looks into a wide range of issues including general perceptions towards the use of technology. The research has indicated that there are positive links made between technology and creativity. ‘Everything creative now has something to do with technology’ – Qatari Mother[11]. However, it has also revealed some important concerns, particularly from parents regarding their children's perceived over-exposure to technology. Some also link this over-exposure to a general lack of physical exercise. ‘Our children do not have this energy and vitality, they are sitting at the computer all the time, they sit 8 hours, 5 hours, it is too much. When we were their age we would jump and hop and play, they do not do anything.’ – Qatari Mother[12] ‘I have to provide them with an education that benefits them. It cannot be play all the time; be it in malls, or using a Play station or a computer. Computers can be a means of distraction, of learning and of leisure’ – Arab Non-Qatari Mother[13] ‘I have a technology problem at home. All my children have laptops; even the 4 year old boy. My children spend all their time using this equipment, to the extent that my son of 4 refuses to go out because he prefers to complete his laptop session.’ – Jordanian Father[14] Although museum personalization is often presented as a way of counteracting the alienation created by technology, these genuine concerns of over-exposure will have to be carefully considered for any future development in Qatar.

Conclusions and Significance of the Research

This research provides strong evidence that museum personalization has the potential to have a significant and positive impact on the development of regular museum visiting habits in Qatar. It also exposes some important challenges that will have to be overcome through careful planning and extensive audience testing. Findings from this research will provide ideas and inspiration for Qatar's operational museums as well as opportunities to embed museum personalization into the development of new museum projects and audience engagement programs.


[1] Elizabeth Merritt, Trends Watch 2015, 2015, American Alliance of Museums.

[2] http://labs.cooperhewitt.org/2015/5-months-with-the-pen/

[3] https://www.dma.org/press-release/dallas-museum-art-s-dma-friends-program-home-100000-members.

[4] Museum of Islamic Art and Mathaf Museum of Modern Arab Art.

[5] Al Riwaq Gallery, QM Gallery 10 (Katara Cultural Village) and the QM Fire Station Artist in Residence Centre.

[6] QM Website – http://www.qm.org.qa/en/our-purpose.

[7] Qatar Digital Government, Executive Highlights, p. 1, 2015, ICT Qatar.

[8] Qatar's ICT Landscape, p.5, 2013, ICT Qatar.

[9] Ibid (p.10).

[10] Ibid (p.22).

[11] QM Future Audience Evaluation: Phase 2, Part 2, p.74, 2012, Qatar Museums.

[12] QM Future Audience Evaluation: Phase 2, Part 3, p.48, 2012, Qatar Museums.

[13] QM Future Audience Evaluation: Phase 2, Part 3, p.60, 2011, Qatar Museums.

[14] QM Future Audience Evaluation: Phase 1, p.25, 2011, Qatar Museums.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...

This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error