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The Participatory Museum

By: Dr Lynda Kelly, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 10 Dec 2009

Went to a talk on The Participatory Museum given by Nina Simon on 9 December as part of the Powerhouse Museum's Innovation Series. Here's my notes.

Young visitors in the tank area

Mark McGrouther © Australian Museum

The participatory museum is a place where visitors create share and connect with each other around content (& objects). Nina quoted a colleague who used to visit museums every Saturday afternoon with her aunt, when questioned why they always went there: “We have better conversations in the company of these things”.

How do we design infrastructure that supports social engagement rather than it happening serendipitously? We do this through social technologies: tools that enable people to create, share and connect with each other.

What does that mean for museums? It requires change from the old relationship where authority is content provider to a new relationships as authority as platform provider. There still is a huge role for museum expertise as expert voices are still valued in a democratic society.

Why the participatory museum? Five reasons:

  1. deliver personal relevance
  2. celebrate and network diverse voices
  3. deliver dynamic content
  4. encourage interpersonal dialogue
  5. support collaborative and creative practice

Visitors can become part of the creative process. Designers [and others on an exhibition team I would think] need to figure out the frames that can give visitors opportunities to participate with both each other and content in respectful ways. Nina referred to the hierarchy of participation which she has blogged here as well as the Forrester ladders of participation research [the Museum has also used this in a research project which you can find here].

Need to start with the audience and what are their needs and then match those to what the museum is about and think about what relationships do we want to have?


Seven techniques for the participatory museum:

  1. be personal
  2. be creative in a scaffolded and comfortable way
  3. offer multiple engagement points
  4. network the experience, (“museums that get better the more people use them”)
  5. give visitors ‘real’ and meaningful work to do
  6. be honest
  7. connect to known frameworks

Take what people already know and do and then create opportunities for them to do something with it to create value in order to makes museums better the more people use them.

We need to design participatory experiences in respectful and comfortable ways so visitors feel more inclined to make a comment that matters.

I know that Nina has posted about this on her Museum 2.0 blog but there’s so much there I suggest you trawl through posts with the tag call participatory museum coz an't find exactly what I'm looking for...! Nina’s slides from her talk are here.

2 comments

Lynda Kelly - 7.12 AM, 13 December 2009

Thanks for uploading tis lin Seb.

sebchan - 11.12 AM, 11 December 2009
The video recording of the talk can be viewed along with slides over at the Powerhouse Museum's Fresh & New blog - http://bit.ly/8tek0O

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