Participation Doesn’t End at the Door

The ideal classroom, like the ideal museum, is a two-way street. It is a place where individuals are given agency in their own education; where they can co-create their own experience, collaborate with others, meaningfully contribute, and carry their experience into the future.

The problem is that very few ideal classrooms, and even fewer ideal museums, exist today. Genuine visitor participation is necessary if museums are to remain relevant. I firmly believe, however, that participation should never end at the exit doors.

This belief is shared by Stephanie Ratcliffe, Executive Director of The Wild Center. A strong advocate of education over preservation, The Wild Center provides visitors with an incredible, albeit unique, participatory experience.

In my interview with Stephanie, she pointed out that participation is less present in the Center’s exhibit halls than in its efforts to involve visitors. Visitors are not just educated; they are invited to become contributors in a larger effort to coexist with nature.

In its approach to participation, The Wild Center places a large amount of trust in its visitors. The institution purposely limits its role to that of facilitator, providing a forum for education and discussion, but leaving the final product decidedly open-ended. Here, true participation requires commitment, responsibility, and action well after the visitors have left.  

The Wild Center is not a place that makes decisions for its visitors. It is a classroom where individuals are empowered to decide for themselves. And even if it does not yet reach the ideal, it’s a big step in the right direction.

By Alex Dubois

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3 Responses to Participation Doesn’t End at the Door

  1. hoffed04 says:

    I like your idea that participation should not end when a visitor leaves the museum. I feel that if you find a way to really reach people, there will be something that will carry on with them. Participation is a great way to help people form their own ideas, which I think would make them more invested in those beliefs. People who are invested in something are more likely to act on it. Being a facilitator is harder than it sounds, just because we become overwhelmed with enthusiasm about sharing our knowledge and conclusions. However, I am a little curious as to how exactly the Wild Center does this. I understand that the goal is to inspire people to thrive and prosper alongside the natural world. However, if participation has less of a presence in their exhibit halls, how are they accomplishing this mission?

  2. amandamagera says:

    This reminds me of a story I saw a few weeks back about a teacher in Mexico who switched to a more question based learning approach. His class had some of the highest scores in the nation and one of his students is now being hailed as the ‘next Steve Jobs.’ So cool to see the same in museums.
    Here’s a link to the article:

  3. krierr15 says:

    I like how The Wild Center allows visitors to draw their own conclusions about how they should coexist with nature. Environmental issues can easily get tangled up in economic, cultural, civil, and moral issues, which can make it difficult to form hard-and-fast rules about the best way a family or individual can preserve the environment. There is a danger that people will choose to do far less than they could, but that is always a problem anyway. Museums cannot make people do anything; it’s encouraging to see a museum that designed its programs with this truth in mind.

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