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Experimental zones: Two cases of exploring frames of participation in a dialogic museumreprint

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Experimental zones: Two cases of exploring frames of participation in a dialogic museumreprint
   Preprint:  Digital Creativity , June 2014. Special Issue: Designing for creative engagement in museums and cultural institutions. Volume 25 (Issue 2). 1 Experimental zones: Two cases of exploring frames of participation in a dialogic museum   Ole Smørdal a , Dagny Stuedahl  b  and Idunn Sem a   a EngageLab, University of Oslo,  b  Norwegian University of Life Sciences  Abstract A matter of concern for dialogic institutions such as museums is the struggle to find appropriate ways of integrating social media and digital technologies into dialogues with visitors. This paper addresses how co-creation and experimental methods may be applied in a situated, natural environment, exploring how these technologies may be shaped to support museum visitor relations. The concept ‘experimental zone’ is suggested as a format for a collaborative design space where digital media-based dialogues are explored in line with professional practices. This concept is discussed in relation to two design experiments undertaken in collaboration with the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology.  Keywords dialogic museum, social media, participatory design, exhibition design, cultural heritage, experimental zones Introduction While museums increasingly are making use of social media and digital technologies in exhibitions and outreach programs, there remains a lack of understanding how these may  be integrated into curatorial and educational thinking. Transferring practices and skills in developing the meditational aspect of exhibition installations across to digital media is a challenge for museum professionals. Digital resources in exhibitions are in many museums still perceived as a kind of add-on or fun gadget (Holdgaard & Simonsen 2011), however there is an increasing understanding that successful use of digital   Preprint:  Digital Creativity , June 2014. Special Issue: Designing for creative engagement in museums and cultural institutions. Volume 25 (Issue 2). 2 resources entails how they are integrated   into the social, timing, and spatial aspects of exhibitions. Inadequate Methods Museum exhibitions are developed based on methods from the visitor studies field. This includes the evaluation techniques front end, formative and summative evaluation (Screven 1976, 1986, 1990). Such methodologies inform development by testing visitors’ experiences of exhibitions and their expectations towards exhibition themes, and have also been criticized for being based too much on museum perspective in what comprises successful communication (Hooper-Greenhill 2009). There remains a differential between how a museum transforms and the potential to exploit digital resources (Peacock 2008). Reflections have been made on the process of organizational change in museums from a theoretical perspective (Weil 2002, Sandell & Janes 2007, Peacock 2008, Parry 2007), and several studies show how social technologies may be more challenging than any other technology introduced to the museum setting. This brings to question how museums and heritage institutions see themselves as dialogic institutions and introduces practices that conflict with infrastructures (see i.e. Holdgaard & Klastrup, van Passel & Rigole this issue, Stuedahl 2007). Participatory design methods (Taxèn 2005, Smith 2013) have been proposed that include an understanding of visitors’ experiences during exhibition development. While we might expect these participatory or co-design methodologies to tune well towards a  participatory paradigm (Simon 2010), it seems these methods may also bring tensions and conflicts to design collaborations not easily solved (Smith 2013). It can be argued that traditional design techniques fall short in respect to these tensions, and are not sufficiently focused on bridging visitors’ media practices with those of the museum. Experiments with new technologies are important in order to create understanding and practical experiences of design and use of these media that appeal to present, future and potential museum visitors (Løssing 2009). How this might be achieved however, still remains to be solved.    Preprint:  Digital Creativity , June 2014. Special Issue: Designing for creative engagement in museums and cultural institutions. Volume 25 (Issue 2). 3 Approach: Experimental Zones Our approach, termed ‘experimental zones’, provides a situated explorative space in the everyday setting of a museum. Here, researchers and museum professionals may explore how new communication forms relate to their practices, in collaboration with visitors  bringing their expectations and media practices into the museum. Contrary to explorative sessions inside design labs, which intend to create highly innovative contexts for collaborative formats with methods focussing on ideas and mapping of new terrain (Binder & Brandt 2008), experimental zones focus on translations that are sparked upon introduction of new media and devices into well-known situated everyday practices. Experimental zones also differ from Living labs’ approach to exhibition development (Culèn forthcoming) by involving natural selections of visitor groups rather than focus groups. Experimental zones direct the design process to assemble diverging matters of concern (Weibel & Latour 2007) and to approach museum communication as a dialogic activity between visitors and staff in concert with material objects making up the exhibition space (Yaneva 2003). The actors of this assembly are both human and non-human and include the material (e.g. exhibition objects, technologies, architecture and spaces, mobile devices, wall texts) as well as the social (e.g. dialogue and interactions). Building on actor-network theory, an emerging framework for re-thinking collaborative and participatory design (Nickelsen & Binder 2008, Yaneva 2009, Stuedahl & Smørdal 2010, Binder et al. 2011, Storni 2012), we address multiple ‘matters of concern’ as social factors. Experimental zones connects matters of concern brought by visitors as part of their cultural practices, to the institutional need of museums to engage in social media based dialogues, and to the concerns of the museum curators and educators. Collaboration in design is understood as socio-material enactments . The entanglement of the social and the material are refined slowly in experimental zones throughout enactments by museum staff, visitors, and the public by co-creation on a long-term basis in the actual context (Hillgren et al. 2011). In this way slow prototyping accommodates a gradual scaling up process – ensuring that the final design concepts can relate in meaningful ways the expectations, skills, and practices of the museum, museum  professionals, specific visitors groups or communities of interest.   Preprint:  Digital Creativity , June 2014. Special Issue: Designing for creative engagement in museums and cultural institutions. Volume 25 (Issue 2). 4 Experimental Zones: Two Cases In this paper we reflect upon two specific cases with a focus on the concepts of enactments and assemblage,  and how this has assisted design as exploration of new dialogical forms involving both museum professionals and visitors. As a combination of science centre and cultural heritage institution, the Norwegian Museum of Science & Technology has a track record for developing interactive and audience-focused programs. In case one, the museum wanted to explore possibilities of adding social and dialogical aspects  by use of a mobile outdoor audio guide about industrial heritage of the city. In case two, we organized and participated in a collaboration between designers and museum staff in a two-week workshop exploring ideas for adding social awareness of energy consumption  to an existing energy exhibition. Case One: Akerselva Digitalt The Akerselva Digitalt project aimed at mediating industrial history at authentic and interesting locations along Oslo’s Akerselva river. The museum’s concern was to develop an outdoor audio guide available as a smartphone app using GPS to select among geo-located audio narratives. The authors were exploring opportunities to include a social dimension in the guide, with particular aim to encourage participation by young visitors. During the course of one year we organized a number of workshops and design activities with museum curators and also local youth clubs, involving youths of different ages (Stuedahl & Lowe 2014). The outcome indicated a need to explore how the museum content could be related to peoples’ practices relating to mobile and social communication in outdoor contexts. We set up an outdoor experimental zone at the annual winter solstice walk, aiming to explore visitor digital engagement and enactments of museum content related to the situated context of the river. For this purpose we set up an online presence at the social media platform  Instagram  by establishing a profile for the museum project. This service is widely used with a potential to extend visitors’ engagement in museums (Weilenmann et al. 2013). In this instance  Instagram  was used as a digital social space in which to   Preprint:  Digital Creativity , June 2014. Special Issue: Designing for creative engagement in museums and cultural institutions. Volume 25 (Issue 2). 5 explore peoples’ enactments and engagement with local historical imagery closely related to their contemporary practices of photography. Configuring the assemblage Historical images of workers from nearby factories were published to  Instagram , hence taking on the same coloration and feel as other images there. We added geo-location, key word ‘tags’ and brief archival information. Images were published in relevant existing thematic streams on Instagram in order to prompt reflections and tensions between the  present and the past (#labour #childlabour, #womanlabour, #activism etc.) pertaining to the location. These historical images blended together with commonplace  Instagram  streams in ways that would contradict the usual display of abundance and leisure at the site, and also differentiate from the way archived photos are normally shared or exhibited. To explore the relation between digital and physical enactments, we created three  physical installations along the winter solstice walk, an evening when thousands of  people become involved with installations of art and culture along the  Akerselva . Each installation consisted of a montage of laminated cards with historical images and a QR-coded invitation that would open the image in the viewer’s own  Instagram  app, ready for sharing and commenting. Hanging amongst the cards were iPads displaying a mosaic  blending the historic images with newly contributed commonplace images in real time inside the photo stream tagged #akerselva. Each installation had a specific thematic focus relevant for the location and its transformation through time; rock music clubs, activism or work-leisure relations between the past and present (see Figure 1) . Visitors were  prompted to reflect on the contrast of life along the river across time periods and contribute via  Instagram  with a thematic #tag.
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