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Note: Each chapter will have several associated activities.  The activities are concrete things museum staff can do to plan and implement participatory design.  Some will be creative/evocative (i.e. talk to visitors) and others will be more specific (i.e. fill out this survey).  The goal is for the activities to tie the book to an active (and ongoing) community of practice.


  1. Introduction: Why the Participatory Museum? (note: the version as it now stands needs reworking.  May just start with Chapter 1.)
    1. What it means
    2. What it can mean
    3. What unique value does it have for museums?
      1. bring people in (visitor voices list)
      2. deliver on town square mission
      3. audience development
    4. How to talk about it with your boss
    5. How to use this book
    6. A note on technology (this is not a book about technology, but it uses technology projects as design models and examples)
  2. Chapter 1: What is Design for Participation? How is it different from other kinds of design?
    1. yes, it really is design
      1. approach the way you would approach didactic or interactive design
      2. difference between participatory design (process) and design for participation (product)
    2. serves different needs
      1. audience side: engaging diverse kinds of participants
      2. institutional side: setting up sensible use cases
    3. there are design frameworks and patterns that will be explored in this book
    4. Me-to-We introduction
      1. example: Nike +
  3. Chapter 2: Participation Begins with "Me"
    1. conceptual framework: asserting visitor as a partner in the experience
      1. personalization establishes identity
      2. need personal identity to be part of social dialogue
    2. constructing in-museum profiles
      1. self-identifying via wearables
      2. "you are what you do" profiles
      3. keeping profiles flexible and generous to users
      4. ACTIVITY: profile-maker
    3. personalized starting points
    4. tours and recommendation engines
    5. deeper ongoing (repeat and member) engagement
      1. take-homes and cross-platform experiences
      2. loyalty cards and growth memberships
  4. Chapter 3: from me to we - networking individual behavior
    1. Conceptual framework: network effects
    2. The difference between networked and social platforms
      1. Anne Frank House Free2Choose
      2. Activity: TAKE IT UP A NOTCH
    3. Programs and Low-tech physical social networks
      1. Living Library
      2. Race pointiness
    4. embuing platforms with values
      1. Scratch
      2. Signtific
    5. Platforms and power - what you can and can't control
  5. Chapter 4: social objects in museums - inviting object-mediated experiences
    1. Conceptual framework: what is a social object?
      1. Activity: Social object hunt - finding pre-existing social objects and identifying what makes them tick.
    2. To activate existing objects as social objects, you need to design platforms and tools that render them social.
      1. Juxtaposition is a tool that puts objects in dialogue with each other.
      2. Instructions or rules sets are tools that encourage visitors to engage in specific ways relative to objects.
      3. Questions are tools that allow visitors to query objects and each other.
        1. To design a good question, make sure you care to hear its answer.
        2. The best questions connect the object experience to personal experience.
        3. Speculative questions can connect many people together in participatory responses.
        4. By thinking about your goals, you can find the right question for the task at hand.
      4. You need to be able to share objects for them to be social.
      5. Live interpretation can enhance (or hinder) objects' sociability.
      6. Activity: Energizing social objects with social platforms.
    3. DIY Social objects - You can design your own social object exhibits.
      1. Remember the rules about what makes an object social.
      2. Create the platform that accentuates sociality.
      3. visitor-contributed or generated social objects
      4. Activity: designing new social objects.
  6. Chapter 5: contribution, collaboration, co-creation, co-option
    1. In all models, need to think about institution, participants, and audience
      1. institution needs value
      2. participants need clarity and support
      3. audience need a compelling product
    2. Constrained Contributions- clear, easy, open.
      1. World Beach
      2. matching institutional goals to project type - MN150, Magnes Memory Lab
      3. participant motivation - maybe include Kerouac here, connection?
      4. modeling - Side Trip, RadioLab, From Memory to Action
      5. curating
      6. audience experience - For the Love of God, In Your Face, MN150
    3. Collaborative Partnerships - roles, mutual value. 
      1. Investigating Where We Live
      2. exhibit development process- Chabot, Yupik
      3. Tech Virtual - messy
      4. research - Lodz, Wikipedia Loves Art
      5. experiments - Sculptural Travel Bugs, Click!
      6. on the floor - WFIC RIGs, Advice
    4. Co-creation
      1. Wing Luke, community processes
      2. programs - YES, Day of the Dead
      3. platforms - SF0
    5. Co-option
      1. deeper engagement - Sound Off!
      2. giving community a space - Brooklyn and Detroit Historical Societies
      3. co-opt programs - gaming in libraries
      4. 888 case study - complicated value proposition
    6. Activity: picking the right model
  7. Chapter 6: Pitching, Managing, and Evaluating Participatory Projects
    1. we've focused on design and creation, now we look at how to take care of the store
    2. new delivery mechanism supports multiple types of content sharing and redistribution - find the one that works for your institution
    3. Pitching: Matching mission to participatory model
      1. Metaphorical design - finding examples of participation in everyday life
      2. Institutional match - what is your style and what fits into that
        1. pick your participatory battles to fit with institutional behavior
        2. roles for staff, participation is for them too
        3. learn to speak the mission fit
        4. how does this enhance core businesses? (1stfans, COSI)
    4. Evaluating
      1. this is a new world of behavior
      2. outputs vs outcomes
      3. evaluating processes vs products
      4. participant experience
      5. audience experience
      6. institutional experience
    5. Managing
      1. Making it work for your users
        1. Helping visitors understand and feel invited to participate
        2. Give away most fun part of your job
        3. respect your users
        4. give them a real job
        5. value their contributions in a public way
        6. reward their actions
        7. manage different levels of participation (power law)
        8. support different types of participants (creator, critic, curator, joiner, spectator)
      2. different operations: tend the garden instead of producing the show - requires ongoing TLC
        1. San Jose Museum of Art postcards not transcribed
        2. Weston Family Innovation
        3. Wing Luke
      3. Maintain the values
        1. MN150 and Click - pick your platform battles
        2. Tech Virtual - dealing with shifting institutional priorities
        3. SF0 - when it goes in a new direction 
  8. Conclusion: Imagining the Participatory Museum


Comments (26)

Ed Rodley said

at 7:40 am on Feb 18, 2009

One thing I've been thinking a lot about lately is small "d" design and how little people think about designing their design processes. So, you might think about differentiating Participatory Design from other design processes after you talk a little about how it *is* a design process.

I think it's important because I hear certain kinds of administrators talk about being participatory as if it will buy them free labor. "We'll let the public design it, and then I can lay off all those exhibits people." PD can buy you lots of things, but it's not just a way to outsource without writing a check. Or at least it shouldn't be, IMHO.

Nina Simon said

at 7:49 am on Feb 18, 2009

Ed, great point - I was musing on this late last night. Thanks for bringing it back to the surface--I will integrate into the beginning. The other reason the design process element is really important is that so many museum PD projects end up lousy because designers can't imagine that designing the platform well will change the output. The result is goofy videos of kids laughing at the camera, and we think, "well, that's all they are capable of."

Sam Ward said

at 8:21 am on Feb 18, 2009

Have you thought about including a section on how to evaluate programs like these? I believe that having a solid evaluation plan attached to a new and innovative program might help sooth the anxieties of those nervous about a new undertaking. I would imagine there is the opportunity to design some creative assessments into the program too.

The result is that not only can you demonstrate the effectiveness of the project, but you also gain data on how to improve on it for the next iteration.

Nina Simon said

at 10:47 am on Feb 18, 2009

Sam - great point. And it's so complex. I'll have to think on what I can usefully offer on evaluation (or learn, then offer). I tend to push museums on coming up with outcome goals, but so many of these projects are newish and don't have extensive summative evaluation in the bank. I'll find out if any of the usual suspects have done evaluation on outcomes and talk to some evaluators about options.

j trant said

at 4:22 pm on Feb 19, 2009

i'm wondering about a macro question here. you seem to be talking both about "participatory design" [i.e. designing with stakeholders involved] and "design for participation" [i.e. designing experiences that encourage/require/demand a user to complete them]... and maybe even combination of both in the participatory design of participatory experiences. They don't necessarily have do co-exists: participatory design processes can create something very 'traditional', and a few people can design an experience that is successfully participatory.

Understanding the distinction colours both the way design and designed experiences are presented and the way that they are evaluated.

Kerrick A. Lucker said

at 5:00 pm on Feb 19, 2009

j, thanks for articulating something I was thinking about as well.

Maybe thinking about section 5.1, the types of participatory design, in terms of when the participation enters the process, and when it leaves (if it leaves)? A co-creative project seems like one where the participation enters very early in the process, and may or may not still be part of the final product (or the final product could be static or traditionally interactive), whereas a contributory project is one in which the structure is created by the museum team and participation enters the picture at or close to the experience stage. Does that sound accurate?

Erin Crissman said

at 8:10 pm on Feb 19, 2009

For sections 3 and 4 (and maybe earlier) I would like to hear about overcoming the inertia of the past / facilitiating change participatory design. Not a lot, and possibly this would fill in for a formal summative evaltuaion component.
There are two types of inertia to overcome here -- most museums and staff do not think like this, and turning them into enthusiastic stakeholders will be much smoother with some tip/hints/guidelines and success stories. There is change in museums, and then there is CHANGE in museums. Then, I would like to hear something about changing visitor behavior in this area. We can design for participation all we want, but visitors may still walk around our efforts, even if we make it hard to avoid, and may just walk away (none of these are good or bad, I think). I've certainly had experiences where museum-goers thought they were going to have one experience, were quite resistant to what was presented to them, but were ultimately happy in the end for having tried something new. Essentially, we will need to change our communities expectations of their own experience in the museum, which can take a long time. So, to sum up a much longer than anticipated comment, I can imagine that many would like some reassurance about a variety of possible reactions to their efforts from both internal and external stakeholders. Phew!

Nina Simon said

at 8:22 am on Feb 20, 2009

J and Kerrick, yes--I've been thinking about that question. I've tried to script it into section 5/1 in the "before" (i.e. in development) vs. "after" (i.e. on exhibit) but you're right--big difference there. It's not just about where it falls in the exhibit-making/experiencing process. Contribution, for example, can happen either before (like in MN150, where people nominated topics to be exhibited) or after (i.e. feedback stations). I like the contributor/collab/co-creative as a way to talk about the level of engagement by the non-experts, but it's not directly related to when it happens in the process.

From a reader's perspective, how can I best disambiguate these? Which feels more important to you to lead with?

Nina Simon said

at 8:22 am on Feb 20, 2009

Erin-good point. "How to Talk to Your Boss About Participatory Design" and "How to Message the Participatory Experience to Visitors Effectively" definitely need to be in here somewhere. I will add...

Nina Simon said

at 8:23 am on Feb 20, 2009

And by the way, this is INCREDIBLY helpful. Thank you for spending some time on this.

Kerrick A. Lucker said

at 10:58 am on Feb 20, 2009

Thanks for clarifying, Nina... Maybe we can work together on a diagram of the possibilities with a whiteboard app.

Bruce Wyman said

at 11:22 am on Feb 20, 2009

I think Erin starts to get at one of the things that keeps popping back into my mind every time I take a look -- the issue of larger scale change that's fundamental here.

The idea is very compelling and this mostly manifests around very tangible deliverables, but for this sort of thing to be possible in the first place requires some fundamental shift and agreements among staff about what a museum is vs what it wants to be. It's easy (all things being relative) to say that a museum should design something in which people can participate, it's a much harder thing for a museum to acknowledge that it sees its visitors as part of the experience. One requires a much more substantial fundamental shift from the organization than the other.

So, there's a practical side to this that can be answered in a variety of ways - plenty of case examples that show the real benefit of practices like these. For example, Brooklyn's first fans tapped into a new audience that were willing to pay for a new kind of experience. I'd like to see some other things that present a bit of a business case so those that don't necessarily buy into the philosophical good that's possible can see another alternative -- or at least in a way that lets some experimentation happen.

I'd also be interested in a section that directly confronts and answers (again with real examples if they exist, not just from the museum world) the potential concerns that museum-folk will have. Will the museum lose it's voice of authority if visitors help shape the experience sorts of stuff. What's the cost of not trying? etc.

Erin Crissman said

at 2:35 pm on Feb 20, 2009

Agreed. I think Bruce's point about "What's the cost of not trying?" is a very important one. The generation that bought (literally and figuratively) the museum experience we have today is rapidly disappearing. What efforts will our new generation of funders, which we should now be cultivating, even if we're not) actually be interested in buying (literally and figuratively)

Related to overcoming inertia in the process of change, here are some comments I made in a discussion after a group viewing of Gaming the Future of Museums in response to the four criteria of "happiness".

Whatever we can do to add to these aspects of our lives/lives of audience will help us to be successful. Another way of looking at it is providing a way for our audience/partners/community to make us successful through their participation.
Perhaps this is a meta-view of last decade's excitement about the idea of "partnership in meaning-making"
May I be so bold as to suggest that we even erase "audience" from our vocabulary. In this new future, perhaps there is no performer/provider/maker and audience/consumer/observer, just one large group of people who participate equally in the community.

Strangely, no one really commented on my comments but focused on technology as a way to create interactives for visitors.

Nina Simon said

at 2:53 pm on Feb 20, 2009

You know, it's funny. I started out planning to write a short concept book that would really focus on the argument for participatory design rather than the how-to. But over time I decided that the how-to is fundamentally more important, because there are enough people who are already convinced of the why out there who need help articulating the how--and those are the people who will actually get the work done. So I agree that the book needs a "why" argument, but I mostly want to write that to be useful for the reader (presumably already converted) to use to convince their higher-ups as part of their active "how" process. I definitely agree that the practical elements--business case, evaluation where it exists--is a big part of this, but I don't want to put too much energy there.

Am I wrong on this? I assume some readers will be execs looking for conceptual arguments, but not many. I imagine many more people who are ready to roll up their sleeves and don't need another argument for why it's a good idea. What do you think? What kind of conceptual arguments do you (presumably on-board, ready-to-act people) need to be successful?

Erin Crissman said

at 3:13 pm on Feb 20, 2009

I just discovered a great example of the change we're talking about. The Smithsonian's new social media initiative says "we're twittering, we're on facebook, we're letting you send gifts" - rather than you're sending gifts...

Kerrick A. Lucker said

at 5:09 pm on Feb 20, 2009

If anyone wants to experiment in diagramming different possibilities for how and when museum users can participate in the exhibition process, here's a whiteboard I put some scribbles on: http://www.twiddla.com/74983

I think that concept book will be more successful at reaching unconvinced directors, trustees, and funders once a few more people who are already sold on the why produce some more great, successful examples of the how. A book about why is definitely still needed—but this workbook is a more exciting project to me.

Ruth Cuadra said

at 11:39 pm on Feb 20, 2009

As part of the "why" argument, which I agree, Nina, should be part of the book, you might move Section 4, Item 6 up to the Intro in Section 1. You already have "how to talk about it" there. But also talking about what unique value participatory design might have for museums will help hook the unconverted early on, before the deluge of how-to details. I think it's part of setting the stage for the "what" and "how" sections, which are certainly the meat of the book, to describe the "why" in terms of what the overall benefits are likely to be.

sasha said

at 12:52 am on Feb 21, 2009

RE: "You know, it's funny. I started out planning..." - I definitely agree, Nina! Trying to give good, solid (even if but basic) practical examples of "how to" to fellow museum professionals means allowing them to experiment on their own, proceeding a little further on this still pioneering path...

By the way, Kerrick, thanks for your link to the whiteboard!

Maria Mortati said

at 12:46 pm on Feb 22, 2009

I agree too, Nina. I guess the bigger question is who is this book for? I think the folks who will DO this would benefit from some more "how to" but the folks who need to be sold on funding it want to see that it has some academic legs and will need the why spelled out, case studied, etc.

Bruce Wyman said

at 12:54 pm on Feb 22, 2009

It really does boil down to the intended audience -- I think this easily fits into the classic b-school 2x2 matrix. On one axis, "Decision-Makers" and "Practioners", along the other axis, "How" and "Why". While there's overlap, and any person should read the other sections, those are all generally different stories. Personally, I'd hope that you'd aim for doing the whole matrix in the book, but it sounds a bit like you're aiming for one or two of the quadrants, which given time and effort is entirely reasonable -- especially since you want to limit scope so it remains manageable. ;)

Ed Rodley said

at 4:30 pm on Feb 22, 2009

My own sense is that there are enough people ready to dip their toes in the water if there's a reasonable chance of succeeding. A how-to focus would work well if your audience is the practitioners who will do the next generation of PD projects. My own experience has been that the main thing that convinces most administrators to try something new is evidence that someone else has already tried it. It's the demonstration of success that gets you to the meeting where you present the business models and educational merits of doing more, and doing it better.

I'd vote for one audience and really go for it. To Bruce's point about the 2x2 matrix, iif you want to get in the other audience, I'd suggest you consider getting them to contribute their own takes on PD projects. If you go for the practitioner focus, get a director like Dave Chesebrough to say a few words about the strategic upsides, or the perils of not doing it. If you go for the academic focus, include someone who's in a museum and actually done a project. First person narrative will get you plenty of bang without diffusing whichever path you take. Plus, I think a book on participatory design really cries out for a little multivocality.

Ed Rodley said

at 4:58 pm on Feb 22, 2009

Somewhere around 4.5 you might want to also discuss the different work flow many of your examples entail. It's the difference between theatre and gardening. Most of the projects I've worked on have been temporary exhibitions with an opening date, a schedule, and an end. They tend to operate like a theatre production, a long ramp up, the frantic burst of work to reach opening day, and then the denouement and dissolution of the team. In contrast, projects like Postsecret and the Flickr Commons have a very different work flow. Years ago, Craig Rosa (when he was at the Tech) said he preferred the garden metaphor when talking about the web, because a good site, like a good garden, is never "done." It's always being tended, and weeded and having new plants prepped for planting. He was talking specifically about the Web, but it applies to any Web 2.0 platform. These two kinds of projects need very different skill sets and work styles.

lhubbell@... said

at 9:19 am on Feb 23, 2009

Like others, I'll be interested to hear what people are doing to evaluate these projects. The American Evaluation Association has a TIG on Collaborative, Participatory and Empowerment Evaluation. David Fetterman at Stanford is one of the co-chairs, and you'll find a bunch of scholarly publications if you Google "participatory collaborative evaluation." Most of the presentations I've seen about it featured meetings using graphic facilitation, involving planners or participants in social service programs. Daryl Fischer's visitor panels for art museums are a bit of a cross between this and focus groups, though I'm not sure if she's familiar with CPE evaluation.

So I wonder if any of the folks doing participatory design are looking at documenting the whole process with community members in a way that can be captured and analyzed, as a process evaluation. (I can't think of any museums that practice process evaluation, but it might be taking place at the admin level in some. Anyone else know?) Do staff treat community participants as true collaborators, or as audience representatives or advocates? Is formative evaluation taking place in a deliberate way, either within the design team or with a target audience? Does summative evaluation incorporate the community participants and/or some of the same dynamics as the design process, or do we fall back on tried-and-true methods we've used to evaluate other kinds of exhibits?

I chaired a panel at VSA in 2002 on constructivist exhibits and evaluation. It was easier to find presenters who were applying constructivist theory to exhibit design, than to evaluation. I'd love to hear any examples people have of attempts to carry the guiding theories of a project into the approach to evaluating the same project.

Nina Simon said

at 6:45 pm on Feb 23, 2009

Thanks for the great leads--I look forward to checking out some of that evaluation work. My guess is that one of the places with the best chance of having evaluated a community process is the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle. They published their community process here: http://www.wingluke.org/pages/process/introduction.html and it was an IMLS-funded project, so I assume there's an evaluation component. They will be speaking about it at AAM in one of the sessions on community co-creation and I'm definitely going to be talking with them more about their work and learnings thus far!

And Ed, great point on the gardening. I'm stealing and using that immediately for a presentation tomorrow. Thanks! Updates to the outline coming soon!

Jonah Holland said

at 7:40 pm on Apr 2, 2009

I think I may represent your target audience for the book in some ways. At the Garden we know that we want to design more participatory exhibits, we just aren't sure where to start, or what things would add the most value.
These are the things that concern me:
How do you get buy-in from the visitors?
How do you convince everyone involved that this will be an experience that they should bring others back to experience it? Would it even be the same experience, or would you want it to be?
Will the project be successful not just in terms of experience satisfaction but also in terms of bringing revenue to the museum/attraction?
Attractions know this is the future, they know they want to jump on, they just don't quite "get it" or know what will make the project successful or a flop. I really like what Ed said:
" It's the demonstration of success that gets you to the meeting where you present the business models and educational merits of doing more, and doing it better." So giving concrete ideas that can be expanded and improved upon and being specific with examples in a variety of settings/institutions is important. What I'm saying is I'd spend a lot of time on 5. If the board/administrators can't get behind a particular idea the project will never get wings (funding).

daniel.spock@... said

at 9:49 am on Dec 15, 2009

Hi Nina, finally joining in here. I think adressing the "why?" question is terribly important. You simply can't overestimate the level of resistance that exists in the museum world right now. There are those who worry that museum authority will be at stake and then there are those who are oblivious as to why this direction should be important for any reason, many who are simply indifferent to the impact of social networking and participatory technologies on a younger generation of learners. So in your first chapter, part of the why should be to make a case that, not only is museum able to see new opportunities in particpatory strategies for audience cultivation, etc., but there could be consequences for ignoring this sea change in public expectations and preferences. And, as you know, the other part of this is to see how these strategies build on directions the most progressive museums have been heading for decades: the creation of more responsive, transparent and pluralistic institutions. I think this can help ground the practical considerations that follow for those people whose passing glance might make them inclined to see all of this as a faddish novelty. In order for readers to learn, it helps to connect this philosophically to something they already know.

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