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Cultural Institutions and Participation / Reading Summary

I have chosen this topic to combine a major ongoing topic of this class -participation- with my interest for cultural institutions. The Web is a challenge to institutions. This book demonstrates how Social Media could be the interface that turns museums into platforms dedicated to fruitful interactions.

THE PARTICIPATORY MUSEUM by Nina Simon

PREFACE

In the preface of her book Nina Simon explains the reasons that pushed her to focus on the development of a new strategy for museums.

She starts by making an objective statement: “Over the last twenty years, audiences for museums, galleries, and performing arts institutions have decreased, and the audiences that remain are older and whiter than the overall population.” In other words it seems to be pretty clear now that cultural institutions are no longer very good at fulfilling their educational mission.  They would have better to question their strategy and redesign it to attract a broader and more diverse audience.

If cultural institutions do not adapt their strategy they put themselves at risk to be supplanted by the Web: “increasingly people have turned to other sources for entertainment, learning, and dialogue. They share their artwork, music, and stories with each other on the Web.”

Obviously museums have lost their connection with the public. How to retrieve it? In Nina Simon perspective, the Web is not the enemy of cultural institutions, on the contrary she sees it as a great opportunity to “enhance cultural institutions”. Museums should recognize that people are no longer willing to be a passive audience: they expect to have their say in the learning process provided by museums. They want to actively participate.

Nina Simon strongly emphasize on the change in the visitor status: “Visitors expect access to a broad spectrum of information sources and cultural perspectives. They expect the ability to respond and be taken seriously. They expect the ability to discuss, share, and remix what they consume.” This point seems particularly interesting to me as I believe that this is the most challenging requirement, the one that is going to give the hardest time to cultural institutions. Cultural institutions are used to provide people with a discourse full of information and resources but they are not used to be open to question. In other words they are used to the one to many type of communication. They only work with experts and do not consider people’s insight. But this is not working anymore.

Museums have to change to become a place to SHARE.According to Simon it requires three changes in museums attitude:

  1. To be audience centered that is to say providing a place designed to meet visitors’ expectations
  2. To let visitors construct their own experience, respect their freedom
  3. To take into account users’ voice and allow them to provide information and to invigorate the place

As we can see, the main change lies in the role attributed to the visitors. To attract visitors, museums should include them in their activities.

So far so good but how to practically achieve this major change in cultural institutions  that are used to traditional practices?

Simon stands for a participatory strategy and argues that museums should rely on the Web to take on the challenge of redefining the role of their visitors. Implementing a participatory approach could help solving five forms of public dissatisfaction in experiencing cultural institutions:

  1. Museums are often said to be irrelevant in people’s daily lives.
  2. They are said to never change, to be kind of frozen
  3. A place where you only get one authoritative discourse
  4. Not a creative place
  5. Not a comfortable place to interact with people

Nina Simon explains that her goal with this book is to provide museums with practical tips that will enable them to organize this change.

CHAPTER 5: DEFINING PARTICIPATION AT YOUR INSTITUTION

I have chosen to provide you with an abstract of this chapter because it brings back to the ongoing tensions in the relationships between institutions and networks. The participatory Web has resulted in an increase in the development of diverse networks. Institutions used to be the only authority but now the situation has completely changed and the emergence of networks has generated a power of resistance. The knowledge that cultural institutions offer to people is not only likely to be analyzed but also questioned.

Nina Simon starts by establishing that a participatory strategy can only be successful if the institution stops rejecting the visitor’s input and accept to be open to establish a partnership. She stresses on 3 required principles:

  1. “Desire for the input and involvement of outside participants
  2. Trust in participants’ abilities
  3. Responsiveness to participants’ actions and contributions”

In other words, the institutions have to be in the right mindset. Once these 3 principles are secured within the institution, there is a lot of ways of implementing participation.

The question is: How to chose the best kind of participation for your institution?

  • Models for participation

To address the question Nina Simon aims at creating a typology of the different models of participation.

She relies on a comparison between science labs and refers to the scientist Rick Bonney. “In 1983 Bonney joined the staff at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and co-founded its Citizen Science program, the first program to professionalize the growing participatory practice. Over the course of several projects at the Lab, Bonney noted that different kinds of participation led to different outcomes for participants.” In 2008 Bonney and his team managed to defined three models of participation. In Simon’s perspective these models are applicable to museums as “like science labs, cultural institutions produce public-facing content under the guidance of authoritative experts.” Here are the different levels of participation established by Bonney and one added by Nina Simon:

  1. Contributory projects = Visitors collect data that are processed by the experts
  2. Collaborative projects = Visitors collect and analyze data together with experts in a kind of partnership
  3. Co-creative projects = Visitors are included in the development of the project from the very beginning. Visitors’ concerns are seriously taken into account.
  4. Hosted project = The institution provides a portion of its facilities to support project developed by visitors
  • Finding the right model for your institution

Which model of participation suit you the best?

The answer comes down to the culture of the institution. Is its staff very likely to actually involve participant in the development of the museum? “Institutional culture helps determine how much trust and responsibility the staff will grant to community members, and forcing an organization into an uncomfortable model rarely succeeds.” It is key to understand the institution’s culture and to adapt the participation model to it. To be able to determine which model will suit you the best Nina Simon recommends a set of questions:

× What kind of commitment does your institution have to community engagement?

× How much control do you want over the participatory process and product?

× How do you see the institution’s relationship with participants during the project?

× Who do you want to participate and what kind of commitment will you seek from participants?

× How much staff time will you commit to managing the project and working with participants?

× What kinds of skills do you want participants to gain from their activities during the project?

× What goals do you have for how non-participating visitors will perceive the project?

  • Participation and mission

Constantly refer to the mission of your institution and propose projects according to it. “Speaking the language of the institutional mission helps staff members and stakeholders understand the value of participatory projects and paves the way for experiments and innovation.” Be careful to design projects that remain consistent with your institution culture and identity.

  • The Unique educational value of participation

Education is the corner stone of museums. In this specific area, participatory techniques have proven to be the more efficient “to help visitors develop specific skills related to creativity, collaboration, and innovation.”

Nina Simon states that “participatory projects are uniquely suited to help visitors cultivate these skills when they encourage visitors to:

  1. Create their own stories, objects, or media products
  2. Adapt and reuse institutional content to create new products and meaning
  3. Engage in community projects with other visitors from different backgrounds
  4. Take on responsibilities as volunteers, whether during a single visit or for a longer duration”

  • The Value of giving participants a real work

While visitors develop their skills, museums can also benefit directly from participatory strategies if they entrust visitors with real projects.

  • The strategic value of participation

Participation can enhance the value of your institution in its community. It can improve its image and gain credibility in the society. “Participatory projects can change an institution’s image in the eyes of local communities, increase involvement in fundraising, and make new partnership opportunities possible.” Nina Simon encourages cultural institutions to focus on local communities and be more relevant in people’s everyday lives.

New Media: An exciting opportunity for cultural institutions!

New media are pushing the boundaries of cultural institutions by providing them with new tools to play with.

But most of all, new media are the opportunity to reach a broader and younger audience.

  • Required viewings

Even though lots of museums have understood how interesting it is to embed their educational mission in new media, they remain a bit confused on how to use the technology on purpose.

Then why not starting by using new media to ask for people’s advice like the Smithsonian (“the world’s largest museum complex and research organization”) did:

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This interesting initiative generated great content! Look at that it’s really worth it!

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  • Required readings

Here is a guide based on a new book by Nina Simon providing advice on how the museums should work on their relationships with their community

The participatory museum

Nina Simon also feeds a blog: Museum 2.0 (you might like this recommendation that Harris gave to me)

  • To go further…

For those who would like to learn more I strongly recommend to look at the Brooklyn Museum who has become a reference in terms of new media strategy

Also the web site Museum and the Web 2010 has really great academic resources on the topic.

Museums struggling for life?

Click to discover what it is to be a museum in 2010 and what are the new challenges museums have to face to survive!



Thanks Nadine for being the best Audicity Hotline ;-)

What is a museum in 2010? Part 2

Here is my Travelogue part 2

I tried hard to make my media richer by adding a podcast.

To be honest, I am very sceptical on the input that it actually brings to my presentation but at least I am happy that I achieved to create it. It should be even better next week!

Also after watching my slides, I encourage you to have a look at Nina’s work on her blog.

http://whibi.tumblr.com

Let me know if you have any questions I am supposed to meet with her on Friday…

Enjoy!



Simulation of museums?

To inquire further on the future of museums (and to answer to Nadine’s question) here is a video explaining a project that Google is organizing with the most famous museums around the world.

The original idea came out of a statement: most of the time visitors come out of a famous museum frustrated. They feel their experience was tarnished by the crowd, they did not get to see a masterpiece as weel as they wanted or they did not spend enough time watching it…

Why not providing visitors with a second chance to enjoy Art on the Web?

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What is a museum in 2010?

I definitely need to add some nice features to make my travelogue more rich.

Next week I will definitely work on the design.

Until then click below and let me take you to the question I want to address!



Weekly Summary : Interface!

The major theme that ties this week’s material together includes how on the Web, interface (“a point of interconnection between two independent systems” Mushon) is being shaped in a way that break the balance of power depriving users (as one side of the 2 systems) of their power. The Web is often considered as an open and free media yet users’ experience does not seem to be under their control…

Dan Ariely, Are we in control of our own decisions?

Israeli Professor Dan Ariely teaches Behavioral Economics at MIT. Passionate about rationality, he is the author of Predictably Irrational. Ariely performed this presentation in December 2008. It is obviously meant to push his audience to question itself. He wants people to recognize and understand their limitations…

  • Visual illusions are a physical limitation people are well aware of. They can demonstrate it yet they cannot escape it. Therefore they adapt to it.
  • Cognitive illusions would also be mistakes that we cannot avoid but worst as we cannot demonstrate and understand them.

However some people well aware of this weekness take advantage of it to influence others… Using different examples (organ donation forms, tour operator advertisings, doctors’ instructions and the hottest guy to date…) Ariely demonstrates how you can shape the message you send in such a way that you help people figure out what they want. Here are little tips : working on the format of the question you ask, emphasizing the default option, presenting a worst option than yours etc. While everybody remains in the illusion that they decide, you almost decide for them.

Ariely concludes on a very positive note: what if we put our pride aside and aknowledged our cognitive limitations? Then we would be able to design a better world.

Questions:

  1. Ariely takes for granted that understanding the cognitive illusion we are submitted to would allow us to adapt to it. But these two illusions are not the same at all: visual illusions are very specific and defined while cognitive illusions come down to rationality which is much harder to demarcate and control… Do you still think Ariely’s argument is relevant?
  2. Also, how to raise awareness on cognitive illusions when it could be the mean for some people to acquire so much power over others?

Chris Messina, The death of the URL

Chris Messina is a designer who believes in the open web. He is a member of Open ID and maintains a blog, he works at Google (for the record!). In this post Messina makes a plea on behalf of the URL. He wants to make people realize that URL could disappear which would put our freedom on the Web in jeopardy. To make his point the designer uses 6 examples:

  1. Web TV. A simplified, toned version of computer : no browser, no keyboard, no mouse. It will be “user friendly” but allow no flexibility at all.
  2. Litl, chromeOS, JoliCloud, and Apple Tablet… The design of these tools is  definitely “cool”. Yet it leads to “a  predetermined set of options” always restricting our freedom on the Web.
  3. Top Sites. This features provides you with a selection of the websites that you visit the most. As convenient as it is it prevents us from thinking. We don’t even need to think about the most accurate website to find what we are looking for. Everything on our browser tend to be preset, predetermind. We are becoming passive users.
  4. Warning interstitials and short URL frames. The annoying format of those warnings that we experience everyday contributes to deter us from clicking through certain link. Another way of restricting our freedom.
  5. The NASCAR or this tendency to turn everything into logos for the sake of simplicity. Another abstraction of URL
  6. App Stores or “a cleaved out and sanitized portion of the web”. Big business has the power. Companies, brands are taking control of the digital environment. “The hardware makers got into the content business” and are turning the Web into a shopping mall.

Messina concludes by reminding why there is so much at stake with URL: it allows anyone to create a website and to propagate it. URL empowers users, if users loose access to it they will be cast out of the Web.

Messina also cleary stresses on the interface that are the key issue of the Web: the battle to win “the universal interface for interacting with the web is just now getting underway ”

Questions :

  1. What do you think of Messina’s plea? Do you think the Web will be just like TV, reducing its audience to passivity?
  2. Do you feel that you lose control, that you are driven to a predetermined set of options?
  3. As Messina, do you think companies are responsible for the death of the URL and that they have interest in it?
  4. I feel that the discrepancies between different types of users will be increased and that some people are going to be able to preserve their freedom while other will lose the freedom of their experience. What about you?

Andrew Rasiej & Micha L. Sifry, Social networking, new governing

This article written in March 2009 clearly defers from the two other documents as it is mostly optimistic regarding the power of users on the Web.

The authors draw their argument on Facebook. The social network has reach such a number of users that it plays a key role in our societies: “it is a meaningful platform for political engagement”. But “is Facebook a public square or a private mall?”. In response to users complaints about a unilateral control of the site, Zuckerberg decided not to change the website but to include users in the website policy and organized a “virtual town hall”. Zuckerberg said he wantes to develop “new models of governance”. So far so good but in reality this seem a bit fake:

  1. It is very unlikely that Facebook will mobilize 30% of its users to take part in the company’s governance.
  2. Facebook did not promote this new development at all. (Indeed, who heard about that?)

It seems that Facebook took very little risk. However, the two social entrepreneurs  founders of Personal Democracy Forum consider Zuckerberg’s proposal as the first step towards “an overall change in expectation about the relationship between digital landowners and digital tenants.”

Question:

  1. A year after their article, I am wondering what the authors would have to say about Zuckerberg’s declaration “privacy is no longer a social norm”? This declaration give me very little hope in the new democracy Facebook could provide us with…

Mushon Zer-Aviv, Interface as a conflict of Ideologies

This essay dives into the very question of interface.

Interface as “the point of interconnection between two independents systems” is all about balance. The design, the way the interface is built should aim at respecting and protecting the equilibrium between the two sides. However, interfaces are often used by one system to gain power over the other. Therefore interfaces are at the center of a major conflict on the Internet.

  • Encoded/ Decoded. The Web highlights the importance of interfaces yet we have been using them forever to communicate and interact between us. Languages for instance are a major interface. Referring to Ferdinand de Saussure M. Zer-Aviv explains how language has been conceived as a circuit on which messages could be exchanged as long as the interface is equally shared. However Stuart Hall has demonstrated that language relies on a system of codes and that “the codes used for encoding and decoding are often different”. There are 3 defined types of codes:
  1. Dominant Code: the sender shapes the interpretation od the receiver (Mass Media, advertising do that all the time as we cannot change the message)
  2. Negotiated Code: the receiver understands the message but does not completely buys into it
  3. Oppositional Code: the receiver understands the message but refuses it and uses another code to decode the message in oppositon to the goal of the sender.
  • The Web’s Communication Diagram. In theory “the Web is a revolutionary tool for gaining ownership of media” as it provides different types of communication: one to one, many to many, one to many. But it has also made the hierarchy at work in those communication system much more complicated.  Indeed the identities of the systems interacting are harder to clearly indentify on the web. The identities are somehow blurred. While the comment interfaces on blogs seem to leave room for users, “the only identity represented through the dominant interface (the website) is that of the publisher.” Most of the time on the web, interfaces fail to maintain the equilibrium between the two independent systems.
  • Commons-Based Peer Production – A new Ideology. The example of Wikipedia the free encyclopedia based on Benkler’s principle of Commons-Based Peer Production: “no one person controls how the resource is used, they are either open to the public or a defined group”. There is not one single author and the quality of content is protected by the moderation.
  • The Revolution will not be verified. Wikipedia is a wonderful proof of what common based peer production can achieve. However, Wikipedia’s strength relies in its “tightly policed ideology“. When people edit in Wikipedia they accept and relay Wikipedia’s ideology. The system works because wikipedia’s editor are strong advocates of Wikipedia’s identity (the respect of the power editors have been entitled to in the benefit of “the greater good”). And indeed, the system has proven to fail when reproduced in the LA Times. Even if the control is distributed there is always “one side who holds the key” and has the power to break the balance. The interface is the carrier of an identity and therefore carries a message in itself.
  • Unknowns Knowns in On-line Urban Space. Even though in theory HTML is simple and accessible to everybody, for practical purposes we experience the web through web pages that are “in the hands of the identity behind it”. Everything on the Web is privately owned and therefore under control. Because of these web pages, “the web has never had any public place” directly accessible. This part relates a lot to Ariely’s presentation: as well as we cannot aknowledge our cognitive limitations, there are things we “don’t know we know”. We don’t know we could think of the web in a different way that the one we get.
  • Cracks in the walls. Even if everything is under control, some things are a bit flexible and give hope for a little bit more of openness on the web.
  1. The RSS feed which gives mobility and visibility to content
  2. Application Programming Interface (API) when “the powers of one software can be shared by another”
  3. Social Bookmarking

Those new features are participating to the development of the metaweb which creates “a public space on the web” leading to more flexibility, mobility and participation. Through metaweb users could “retrieve their agency in the interfaces”. Interfaces would not be freezed anymore but the result of an on-going process in which all users can take part.

After having analyzed the interface and all that is at stake, the author suggests to enter into conflict to retrieve the balance in the interconnection between systems through two approaches . A tactical approach consits in destabilizing by questioning something established. It enables able to trully modify and improve the system (the example of Google bomb). A less spectacular but efficient approach is the strategic media one. It is much more sustainable and consits in “influencing the system from within”. Greasemonkey for instance allow users with coding skills to add, remove or fix features on the page, as well as it allows to insert content from other sites into the page.

And indeed you can contribute to the metaweb!

Mushon as contributed to the creation of ShiftSpace “an open source browser plugin for collaboratively annotating, editing and shifting the web”. It allows users to move out of their passivity for a much more active and interactive experience of the web. They have the opportunity to react, produce content and share it among Shiftspace users.

Questions :

  1. This text bring us back to the role of design. What is good design? Is it what prevents us from thinking?
  2. Private interests seem to be responsible for the loss of control of the users on the web. Can we think of a another Web (Web 3.0?) which could not be privately owned?


When the museum gets to YOU…

The Whitney Museum tries a new approach to reach his audience.

On Tuesday the museum will be closed to the public as usual. However, this Tuesday March 23rd is going to be very special : a private guided tour of 2010 will be offered on Twitter.

Please try and have  a look to the Tour on twitter TODAY AT 2.30!

Click here to find out who you want to follow

I am all set to follow this exciting try of a virtual approach to museum and will be happy to share impressions and feedback on this attempt soon!

I will come back soon with feedbacks from twitter users, podcasts etc…

Museums to Go 2 options…

For the 4th travelogue I would love to work on two new phenomena that I recently observed regarding the impact of Digital Media on Museums. Here are my 2 options

1# By using new media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, iPhone applications and so on, museums can now provide their audience with a new experience of Art without necessarily having to be present at the museum. Their websites offers a very dense content: pictures, videos, audio guided tours, artists and curators interviews… that are not only completing the actual show but are also very interesting in themselves. Recently some museums are trying new experiment: next Tuesday for the first time the Whitney Museum in New York is organizing the first online Twitter Tour. I will try to know how it is promoted, how it is organized and how it went. I could do a summary on SlideShares and create some other kind of content like podcasts and pictures. I would like to compare this new experience of museums with the traditional one…

2#Museums’ audience is carrying new electronic device that have implemented a new relation to the Art displayed. Visitors can now record films or take pictures and share them. They are relays of the work of art. But, by doing that, people also produce content for themselves… Look at what has just happened in Marina Abramovic current show “The artist is present” where the artist Amir Baradaran has created his own work of art out of the show. This raises not only copyrights issues for museums but also a new kind of competition…

Let me know what you think!

HAVE YOU MET AARDVARK?

What is Aardvark?

Aarkvard is a new social network that enables user to mobilize the skills of their social network to answer any of their questions from the most random (where to go to grab a good coffee in NYC?) to the most specific (What is Y. Benkler’s view on Open Source?).

The concept is based on the idea that asking someone will allow you to make the most of the Internet by obtaining the most trust worthy answer to your question.

Aardvark’s Ambition: being an alternative to Wikipedia, and the search engines based on algorithms.

Why did I have decided to look at it?

While many of us are already using a lot of social networks (Facebook etc…) I was curious to discover what could be the real input of this new tool? What would convince people to actually spend time using it…

As much as I was skeptical about this new tool, the very recent purchase of Aardvark by Google (for around $50 millions) convinced me that it should be worth it to inquire further…

And here we go! I signed in (almost 3 weeks ago) on their website vark.com.

Results of my first approach: MOSTLY DISAPPOINTING!

  • To be asked, your questions have to fit in certain requirements. Your question has to
    • be short
    • contain meaningful key words
  • I obtained relevant answers but the most interesting one contained a link to Wikipedia!
  • After a few days a lost interest in Aardvark and almost forgot that it was an option to find my way through the net.
  • Even if the answers I got were accurate and very useful, I had the feeling that Aardvark seemed to be far to be replacing Wikipedia or Google!

However I had to give it another try (for the sake of my travelogue at least)!

Looking for information I learnt that at first, Aardvark was not a website but something design to be added on IM. What if I had been turned of by their new website?

On my Gmail account I decided to install Aardvark on my Gchat contacts to make the full experience.

Results of my second approach: I discovered a new aspect of this social network that made me reconsider it. Here are some inputs of having aardvark embedded on your e-mail account:

  • No need to go on another website to ask a question.
  • Aardvark appears as a random contact, it is not pushy.
  • You can ask any question that goes through your head faster.
  • You do not have to worry about the format of your questions which you have to do to obtain a satisfying answer from any search engine.

Meanwhile, by connecting to Aardvark I discovered that my friend Harlo was actually an active user of this network. She uses it on a regular basis for about a month now and seems to be pretty happy about it. Talking to her made me realized that the Aardvark might actually have a real input: achieving to mobilize the appropriate person to answer to your specific question.

Indeed the real input of Aardvark relies on the information that their users feed about them. Each user feeds at least its gender, date of birth and location. And of course the more information you give about you and your “topics” of interest the more interesting this new tool turns out to be.

Using those data, Aardvark can determine who are the experts that are the most likely to provide a good answer.

Those 2 features regarding users’ profiles settings give a real advantage to Aardvark to compete with Google or Wikipedia… At least it is the reason why now I am almost converted to my new buddy!