The Participatory Museum is both useful and entertaining. The style of writing is detailed, articulate, and witty. The major themes that jumped out at me throughout the first half of the book were scaffolding, clear communication, trust between visitor and institution, scaffolding, individualization, staff involvement, and scaffolding. Yes, scaffolding. I do love a good bit of scaffolding. “The misguided perception is that it’s more respectful to allow visitors to do their own thing—that the highest-value participatory experiences will emerge from unfettered self-expression. But that idea reflects a misunderstanding of what motivates participation. Visitors don’t want a blank slate for participation. They need well-scaffolded experiences that put their contributions to meaningful use.” Love it. I think this should be a key takeaway from this reading for our group project. Often institutions become overzealous and want everyone to be creators. Many of the best participatory experiences I have had are when I engage with what other visitors have created. I enjoy being a part of the process of creating, but am not prepared or willing to start from scratch. Creating programs that involve all versions of participation from individual intake to active creation is obviously challenging, but ultimately the most rewarding.
I appreciate her focus on audience-centered design and the examples she uses to illustrate it, especially the I Like Museums trails. The idea of creating ‘user profiles’ within the museum and the inherent difficulties intrigued me as someone who worked as a Visitor Services Assistant in a national museum. There was a strange paradox in the directives from on high – we were always counting visitor numbers, but we were supposed to be focused on creating memorable moments for individuals. I thought our maps were pretty good, but now, thinking about really creating individual experiences, they were absolutely useless unless all of your individual desires centered on a highlights tour.
I really like the “me-to-we” design that Simon has created and outlined. I think the most useful aspect of this design is that it provides scaffolding (yes) for developing and for evaluating participatory programs. We can look at or participate in events/exhibitions and begin to understand how they can be scaled up to include stages 3-5, or maintained as is, to engage with the desired audience. I love the idea of creating opportunities for individuals to become a community. After all, museums are public, social institutions and we were just discussing their role in bringing communities together around difficult subjects. The example of Free2choose sounds like an amazing experience, not only as a way to create a true participatory experience at stage 3, but also a great way to tackle difficult issues and at least get people thinking and talking amongst themselves, if not in the larger group.
There was a lot of information to take in and the number and quality of examples Simon uses is extremely helpful in understanding her major points. As a final thought, we should use the example of It Is What It Is as cautionary tale while we design our group project. Our idea for Conversations for Common Grounds is amazing, but the key is the scaffolding. We are taking the best aspect of the Human Library and remixing it with conversations between ‘serious students of…’ (which is a better way of saying ‘expert’) that can then be broken down by individuals in groups. Thinking about this, what is our goal? Is it the dialogue? Having a well-defined goal and designing the specifics backwards (Understanding by Design) may be a great way to continue developing our group project, which, if you can’t tell, I’m super excited about.