The modern museum is consistently looking for new ways to enhance the visitor experience, especially understanding why people visit a museum, what draws them there, and how to get them to return. In her book, The Participatory Museum, Nina Simon discusses the methods by which participation can be used to create more meaningful experiences for visitors, viewing them as “cultural participants” instead of “passive consumers.” One big idea Simon focuses on is the fact that “visitors construct their own meaning from cultural experiences,” since at the crux of it all, visitors are the core of the museum experience, and can offer a unique perspective to museum programs, if given the opportunity.
Simon suggests ways that a museum can enable visitors to “construct their own experiences” by adopting a “me-to-we” design concept in order to “enhance interactions with others.” So, museums can start moving beyond the visitor’s personal experience by expanding the range of opportunities for social engagement by harnessing collective information. This is done through the Network Effect “which translates individual actions into community benefits” in three steps:
- Individuals have personalized interactions
- An internal algorithm makes connections among the individuals
- The networked content is displayed or provided back to the individuals
The Stages of Social Participation
The “me-to-we” design concept allows museums to engage visitors in activities and dialogue with each other, so they feel like they are contributing and developing a deeper understanding of the overall exhibit theme. This design allows visitors to own their experience, since they get to choose which role they play during their experience, the listener or the contributor. This design also takes some weight off of staff to guide and manage participation. The museum staff cannot be everywhere but visitors’ interactions with content can enable them to enhance each other’s experiences via connecting socially around content. While people of the twenty-first century will eventually become bored with participation, they will never tire of having the opportunity to talk and share their opinions on relevant topics.