Emerging Steps in Participation

Nina Simon, author of The Participatory Museum, advocates for the era of Museum 2.0. An era filled with museums in which the participant shapes the experiences. The days of the drab experiences filled with objects being exhibited in a textbook manner are numbered. An important question arises though. How can museums prepare to be more participatory?

The question is something that every museum must answer for themselves. There are institutional challenges that might arise. For example, a living history museum might have to worry about the safety of visitors while trying to figure out a way to encourage participation. Some museums try to encourage use of other senses such as smell. Other museums might work with a group to create an exhibit by voting on artifacts to display.

Participation in museums can mean many things. It’s up to the museum to define participation. There are four types of participations:
Contributory– The museum works with all visitors to allow the content to grow.
Collaborative– The museum focuses on a specific community to create an exhibit.
Co-Creating-The museum supports a community that follows the museum’s mission statement.
Hosted– The museum is open to the community to do as they wish within means.

Making a museum more participatory is never an easy task. The staff needs to be dedicated. The museum needs to organize itself in a manner that promotes participation. For some museums, it might mean a massive overhaul. However, it would probably be a move in right direction. That right direction could encourage participation for its visitors.

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2 Responses to Emerging Steps in Participation

  1. emilykp47 says:

    You make some good points about the difficulties of making a museum more participatory. There are safety issues, as well as resistance from staff or board members. Considering that the benefits of a participatory museum seem to outweigh the concerns, how can we help museums make that shift? Should it be a gradual transition, maybe starting with contributory projects and moving on to collaborative and co-creative projects? Should it be an overhaul all at once? Is it different for every museum? I don’t know the answers, but it’s something to think about.

  2. caitlinmccaffrey11 says:

    It seems that there are already many museums that are well on their way to being considered participatory, but you have a great point: what about those that are nowhere close? It seems that some of the older and larger museums have been stuck in the “look, but don’t touch” mode for generations. It is definitely time for those museums to move into the present day mode of allowing visitors to interact with the history in order to gain a better understanding. My concern though is this, can museums become too interactive? What about those museum goers who do not want to have to participate in some kind of hands-on activity? What about those who want to go to a quiet place to reflect and simply view artifacts? How can museums achieve a balance in this sense? Or is the “view quietly from a distance” museum goer on the way out as well?

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