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    (For some institutions, case studies and design frameworks aren't enough to actually make a participatory project happen. Would delete the first sentence and start right in with the issue as outlined in the following sentence. SB)


Engaging in participatory projects can be perceived as a risky, resource-consuming endeavor without measurable outcomes tied to the bottom line. Even for the most innovative museums, doing something new always requires a careful look at how it will impact both the institution and the intended audience. This chapter focuses specifically on these questions of how to integrate participatory projects into traditional institutions, how to demonstrate their value, and how to evaluate their impact.

    There's no magic to any of this, but there are some distinctions that may help you frame participatory projects successfully in your professional context. Like any new, risky endeavor (do you really think they are risky endeavors, or are they perceived as risky? Is not the greatest risk in not increasing participation and relevance? SB) , participatory projects are often looked at skeptically by people who don't have a firm grasp on the value, mission-relevance, and bottom-line potential of participation. (what  kind of value beyond mission-relevance and bottom-line potential do you have in mind? I  am not grasping the distinction between the generic and the two specifics... MK)  It is your job to help them understand how participation can benefit your institution and further its ability to deliver on mission, (and the potential risks of not increasing visitor participation, maintaining status quo.. SB) There are least five specific issues to bear in mind when pitching or planning (suggest "pitching and planning" as both are needed. SB) a participatory project:

    1.   Control. Participatory projects are most ( delete 'most', add: "perceived as" SB) threatening to institutions because they (add: 'could' SB) portend a partial (delete 'partial' SB)loss of control. While some other innovative endeavors, like technology investment, have heavy resource risks associated with them, participatory projects need not be expensive to develop or maintain.(You are addressing cost here, but cost is not the key issue in control. Suggest moving this sentence to #4, operations. SB) Instead, they are disruptive to the ways that museum staff and trustees perceive the image, stature, and content of the museum. To successfully initiate a participatory project, you must confront these fears head-on and engage in dialogue about the ways that participation might diffuse or distort institutional brand and content and the positive and negative outcomes of those changes.(Agreed that fears must be addressed head-on--and wonder if 'diffuse or distort institutional brand and content' is the right characterization of the fears. Aren't there lots of different fears? abdicating responsibility in delivery of content, challenge to the identity of the institution/staff, liability of potential controversy, concern about costs, the issues you have outlined below. The first step is to identify the particular fears being manifested by each of the levels of decision-makers. That means listening. Recommend reading Sandman on Risk Communication as he analytically articulates the process in a way that might be parallel: http://www.psandman.com/articles/covello.htm. SB)

    2.    Visitor/Institution Relationships. Participatory projects fundamentally change the relationships between institution and visitors. If staff see visitors as a hazy mass or destructive ninnies, it will take a lot of work to assert the value of integrating visitors' voices and experiences into museum content experiences. Relatedly, if staff are not permitted to convey themselves personally and openly to visitors, they may not be able to manage community projects successfully.(Also, if staff perceives themselves as the 'authorities', the willingness to be open to input is diminished. Also, if staff/management perceive the artifacts and content of the institution to be of more value than the process of visitor experience, they will be less inclined to pursue participation. SB) However, if your institutional mission or goals include exploring relationships with constituent communities, then participatory projects may be a successful entrypoint to deeper engagement with users. (It has to go beyond institutional mission or goals as a precondition for success, as you quite rightly point out that the biases, prejudices and emotional maturity of humans inside the institution have a lot to do with the capacity to increase visitor participation, and the capacity to influence the institutional decision-makers. SB)

    3.    Evaluation. Participatory projects introduce new visitor experiences that cannot be evaluated using traditional museum evaluation techniques alone. When talking about the goals of participatory projects, you will often find yourself talking about visitor behavior and outcomes that are new to cultural institutions. Outcomes like self-empowerment and community dialogue don't fit into traditional assessment tools used by institutions and funders alike. Be prepared to educate both your managers and funders about alternative ways to frame the goals and outcomes of participatory projects, and, in many cases, to include evaluative tool development as part of the project development process and budget. (Note that there are many institutional/educational evaluation tools that are outcomes-based, vs activity-based. This is a good place to start in terms of education about 'real evaluation'. If this is not part of the overall institution's evaluation procedure already, it will be harder to introduce for exhibits. Suggest that review of the institution's overall metrics is critical. If the institution already works from an outcomes-based platform, the case is easier to make. SB) (Goals drive outcomes which are demonstrated through assessment...You kind of blur the distinctions here. This is very common; it's probably a good idea to assume that the reader will blur them, or will have to deal with administrators who blur them.  MK)

    4.   Fixed product vs dynamic process . Participatory projects require different development(al?) and operational approaches with regard to staff time than traditional projects. While many cultural institution projects generate products--programs, events, exhibitions, performances--that are released in a completed state and are maintained for a fixed amount of time, participatory projects are released in an "initial" state and then evolve and grow over time. For example, an exhibition that includes heavy visitor contribution on the floor is not "done" until the exhibition closes, and content and design staff who might have otherwise moved onto other projects may need to continue to manage the project throughout its public run. While at the outset, the fear of loss of control feels the riskiest (the fear feels riskiest, or the loss of control?  MK) to many museum directors, in reality, the operational challenges of managing participatory projects are more disruptive to the operational function of to most institutions.

    5.  Just a fad . Some museum professionals perceive participatory experiences as an unappealing fad. The cultural and technological shifts that have brought mass participation to prominence have been rapid, and some people see social networking and related activities as overhyped, narcissistic foolishness that will hopefully blow over soon. This perception is exacerbated by some professionals who have advocated engaging on the social Web and in participatory activities because “everyone else is doing it”, using threats of impending irrelevance to scare institutions into action. While their admonitions may have some truth to them, it's never a good idea to bully people into unconsidered action. I believe in the potential of participatory projects to help cultural institutions better deliver on their mission statements. While the world of social technology provides many useful case studies that help us understand the ways that people participate in creative and community projects, its popularity is not a sufficient reason for museums to engage. Instead, focusing on mission-relevance will help these skeptics see (suggest replacing 'see' with 'evaluate' to eliminate forecasting the outcome of the dialogue. Saying 'these skeptics' also has the tone of demonizing those who think differently, and presupposes that participation is the right solution to every situation. SB) the potential value of participation beyond the hype.

See purple text additions/suggestions above noting new keywords at the start of each of the 5 key points. SB




Continue to the next section, or return to the outline.




Comments (3)

Conxa Rodà said

at 10:53 am on Nov 16, 2009

Excellent intro!!
Point 5 is the most challenging. I'll put it first, because it presents a more general and critical aspect of attitudes . The other 4 address more concrete aspects
And then Point 1 about loss of control, makes more sense if following now nr 5: it's in fact a consequence of that attitude of skepticism (when not despise) about participatory experiences. So, it's better to put 1 after the now 5, I think.

Sarah Barton said

at 1:05 pm on Nov 26, 2009

Having scanned Chapter 6 to begin more detailed comments, I am wondering about your thoughts on graphic design of the finished product. Is it possible to consider a page that has 2 columns, with the left column for your personal observations and those of your reviewers in the interactive process of developing the book? This lets the flow of text/story stay clear, and allows people to wander in and out of the flow, incorporating the sidebar at will. Interactive reading.

Mark Kille said

at 10:45 am on Dec 2, 2009

Your five issues here aren't parallel--it's hard to recognize "Control" and "Just a fad" as the same kind of *thing*. I would rephrase each bold-faced issue as, well, a phrase.

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