We are the museum

Museum represents the gap between history and present days and it is the source of knowledge that our ancestors made in past. Their experiences and discoveries serve as  a leading point towards better understanding of life and cultural diversity. That is precisely why we should insist on preservation and modernization of 21 century’s museum.

The modern museum should be seen as a place of practical education which helps us to understand and remember the content, as well as the place of socialization, interaction and shared experience.

Therefore we should consider 3 steps in modernization of the museum:




1) Personalization

If your participatory goals include social engagement, personalization is only a start. One should never feel just like a mere part of the crowd but as an appreciated guest, who is always welcome and whose preferences are familiar to the exhibited things. Considering Google and Netflix it is easy to understand the importance of personalization. The more we use them, more they suggest us the things based on our research history.

As Simon (2010), the Ontario Science Centre’s Facing Mars exhibition is opened and closed with a question: “Would you go to Mars?”. In that way a visitor was provided with a personal experience by answering a question that leads to personalized tour and satisfaction. His answer made a visible contribution to the exhibition and affected the experience of others. Furthermore, some of them changed their mind during the exhibition.



The results from a previous example of “Facing Mars” exhibition make the visitor feel like a part of something bigger and make hime curious about the answers that other people in the room gave. Here we find necessity to make a pass from Personalization to Socialization. Or in other words, a visitor should be on ease to start a communication to a stranger next to him.

2) Interaction

To arrive to the point of Interaction we should use the power of socials objects and speculative questions .

“Social objects allow people to focus their attention on something different and totally independent, rather than on each other, making interpersonal engagement more comfortable”

(Simon, 2010)

Whether in the real world or the virtual, social objects have a few common

1) personal

2) active

3) provocative

4) relational

Another way to engage people is by asking speculative questions which lead to discussions between participants.


Simon highlights a work of  Eklund (2007), who launched World Without Oil, An online game in which people responded to a fictional but  plausible oil shock that restricted availability of fuel around the world. Participants were requested to propose their solutions, to create groups between them (to interact), to create real world artifacts, demonstrate how the oil shock was affecting their transportation system.These kind of speculative questions encourage the people to to act, involve and finally resolve. Thinking differently about resource consumption can raise the general awareness.


3) Participation

As the previous example showed, once when you provoked the interaction (by using speculative question or social object) it s easy to make them act toward mutual goal. At this point we should choose which kind of participation is the most adapted for our museum and our participants.


In contributory projects, participants collect data in a scientifically controlled process. Scientists design the test questions and analyze the results.

In collaborative projects, citizens collect data, but they also analyze results and draw conclusions in partnership with the scientists.

In co-creative projects, the public develops the test questions, and scientists co-produce scientific research in order to address the community interest.

(Simon, 2010)


“Learning with Strangers in The Human Library “ is a perfect example of mixed models of participation.


In this special Library, the books are human beings, so the Books and readers enter into a personal dialogue.  This event implies that there are three kinds of people:

1) The Books that authentically represent certain stereotyped groups (quadriplegic, Black Muslim, cop, Goth)

2) The Readers

3) The Librarians.

(Simon, 2010)


This clearly showed us the power of interaction, eye-opening talk with a person about who we have so many prejudices, and it s teach us much more than any writen article or a tv show with the same subject.


In the Case of the Subsidized Times of Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, the staff interviewed real Hanoi residents who were adults during the subsidized time and were willing to share their stories for an educational video purpose. Later on, participants came to provide feedback on the rough cuts and the structure of the films. The staff ask them to determine the title of the film and which themes are the most important. They encouraged and listened to them but did not express their own perspectives.

(Simon, 2010)


Regardless of the type of participation we have chosen, it s very important to have the professional staff. As the previous example clearly show, the staff should be here to put the protagonist on the ease  and facilitate the process of creating that leads us to conception of museum as a construction site, where everyone is invited to add a personal brick of experience. That is exactly how the modern museum should look like, not like a static place with material exposed but the dynamic place of alive people who, by using their personal stories and capacities, are building bridges of understanding and knowledge. We are the museum.

                                                                                                                            Nadja Kovacevic


Nina Simon, 2010, The Participatory Museum, Lightning Source Inc


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