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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 and The Digital Natives – Reading Summary

Born Digital – John Palfrey

If you have any interest in Digital Natives – this 1 hour talk is very informative about what a digital native is, and the godfather of this topic, John Palfrey goes into great detail on his definition and how this generation will change the nature of how we see the internet in the future. It is a population of young people who are will impact they we think, work, and function on a day to day basis.

The Digital Natives are a group of people who are comfortable with sharing their daily lives on the net (ie flick, twitter, facebook) and were exposed to these technologies at a very young age. This population is typically born after 1980, have never known life without a computer, TV without a remote control, and never dialed on a rotary phone (not true since I was born after 1980!).

Presentation by John Palfrey – “As part of the Google D.C. Talks series, and in partnership with Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Professor John Palfrey offers a sociological portrait of “digital natives” — children who were born into and raised in the digital world — with a particular focus on their conceptions of online privacy.”

There are a few points he clarifies in this video  -

  • This is a POPULATION, not a GENERATION
  • Born after 1980 – because this is when the advent of technology began
  • They have access to these technologies
  • 1 billion who have access (number is low due to digital divide)
  • This is not a DUMMY generation – they are very tech savvy.
  • Young people are INTERACTING, but in a different way – remixed, made in a different way.
  • We must teach digital media literacy

We are Digital Natives – Barrett Lyon

“A new class of person has emerged in the online world: Digital Natives. While living in San Francisco, I also live on the Internet. The Internet is now a place: a two dimensional world that has transcended the web; there is no government, and the citizens are Digital Natives.”

Lyon’s main point is that people are no longer citizens of the United States, or France, but also citizens of the internet. There are specialized groups within these digital natives such as game players, hackers, developers, and the social etiquette that is involved is much different than the physical reality we live in.

Some people choose to define themselves by the activities they take part in on the web – such as social online movements – ie Green Movement, Tea/Coffee Party, which are branches from physical political movements, but these started on the net.

“This scares the crap out of Governments all over the world, because they are ill prepared to deal with these situations. To government regimes that are comfortable asserting their control, this concept is terrifying. How do they counteract the changes online and the movements? Do they need to change their politics, defense, propaganda, and warfare?”

This statement displays that some of these online movements do have an affect on how governments think about the web. Many countries have harsh restrictions on what their citizens can view on the net, ie China, Iran, etc.

The Future of The Internet and How to Stop it – Jonathan Zittrain – Short Summary

This title is actually a book that JZ has wrote which is actually available on amazon if anyone would like to purchase. His main point is that collaboration is key in the survival of a productive internet and cites wikipedia as the main example. The first generation of products that have spear headed the internet have been Tivo, Ipods, and Xboxes, which are tethered appliances, meaning they are using net as their connection to their content/databases.

“The Internet’s current trajectory is one of lost opportunity. Its salvation, Zittrain argues, lies in the hands of its millions of users. Drawing on generative technologies like Wikipedia that have so far survived their own successes, this book shows how to develop new technologies and social structures that allow users to work creatively and collaboratively, participate in solutions, and become true ‘netizens.’

Concluding post: What makes people collaborate online?

The answer is: a mixture of circumstances. Some of them we can’t control, but in general what the leader of the project does or doesn’t, either helps or complicates the process of online collaboration. The key element? Planning.

During the past 3 weeks, I tried to get people to share pictures of interesting situations they encountered in the subway. I tried with a web page, a Facebook Fan page, and a Twitter account. What I got was collaboration from my own social network—friends, or friends of friends submitted some stuff, but always with a short-spanned interest. The next attempt was to tap directly on audiences already interested in the subject—Flickr groups that shared subway pictures. I also added the competition factor—first, the prize was only about prestige: getting voted as the best picture. Then, I finally got an online photography blog interested in publishing the winner picture on their site.

I hoped that would spark interest a bit more, but the fact is that the new collaborations continued to spring from my previous social network and its subsequent effects. That is, when I launched the contest, I got more response from my original Facebook group (which had grown from my own contacts and the “work” I’d previously done on that platform) than from my call for Flickr collaboration. Even though I tapped on the communities that were already interested in the topic (three groups focused on underground transportation photography) and got “professionals” involved by getting them to publish the winning picture on their sites, my guess is that the Flickr group didn’t find enough reasons to take me seriously: I’d never been an active participant in Flickr before, all of my photos are uploaded on Facebook, and I’ve previously “worked” that audience much more.

What did this experience bring? A lot of learning. Not just based on my own travelogue, but I tried to learn from Leslie’s excellent results what had worked in her case as well.

I’d like to share my findings in this video:

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As sidenotes:

Even though the contest wasn’t successful, I did receive some great pictures, and I’d like to share with you the most popular:

metro zocalo

Author: Davii Rangda.  Caption: A night before the “Day of the Dead” in Mexico City.

I will submit the picture to http://lagiraffe.com/, the site that was most interested in publishing the contest pictures.

Special thanks to Leslie for her help and sharing.

Ice Cream Spy’s Conclusion…For Now…

This certainly isn’t the conclusion for the NYC Ice Cream Spy, but just of me formally keeping the class updated on its whereabouts. I definitely intend to keep carrying out this project and seeing how far I can take it throughout the Spring and into the Summer.

I’ve moved my “How-To” section on how I made the bot/website back to the WordPress blog, as to not clutter  the Blogger site, containing the map that I am hoping NYCers will use. Sorry for all the changing up!

Here’s my post on how the promotion of Ice Cream Spy has been going over this past week: http://icecreamspy.wordpress.com/

A quick look at the stats:

  • @IceCreamSpy – Following: 413 | Followers: 82 | Listed: 6
  • 7 ice cream trucks displaying sticker (Honieh & Ryan- thank you for the wonderful idea of making stickers/talking to ice cream truck owners; it seems to be working well!)
  • 24 geotagged ice cream trucks on map (on Blogger site)

Ice cream truck displaying sticker

Mobile Donations – Concluding Post

1. Please text MONKEY to 89183 for a brief summary via 3 Text Messages to your mobile phone!

OR

2. Listen to the podcast and view the accompanied slides.



References:

Mobile Active Org

American Red Cross – Mobile Giving Program

US Mobile Carriers

Mobile Giving Foundation

Electronic Waste: A Conclusion

Here’s my concluding podcast on E-Waste. Enjoy!



what makes people collaborate online?

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* Images by the members of Found in the Subway Facebook Fan Page, Raph Koster website, Aaron Alamo, Adarian Herschel, and Flickr groups participants.

Why are tampon ads so obnoxious?

That’s what Kotex wants to know.  In this travelogue I decided to ditch the movie format and go for podcast/slides.  While I did have fun learning a new program and working on the movie for last week, I felt – and several of you commented – that the movie didn’t actually contain very much information.  So, I tried again with a different rich media.  Your feedback is welcome!

Travelogue 4 from Alexandra Cale on Vimeo.

Micah Sifry Updates “Social Networking, New Governing”

This was his e-mail back to me (as I reminder I had forwarded him Juliette’s question about whether or not a year has changed whether or not Facebook was issuing a new kind of governing).

So here’s his response (short and sweet).

Elizabeth,

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. The more I thought about it the more I don’t think there’s much to update on to be honest. I can pretty much sum up how I feel about it in one line:

Facebook is still a Truman Show style democracy.

You can quote me on it.

Micah

It’s Time to Find those Ice Cream Trucks!

The @IceCreamSpy Twitter Bot is up and running and all the tweets are being posted on a map on my Blogger site here: http://www.icecreamspy.blogspot.com/. I switched over to Blogger (from WordPress) because I was having trouble with getting a map up on WordPress and found some good alternatives for using a map on Blogger.

I have 2 posts up for you guys to read on the site. The first post, “The Basics of Creating a Twitter Bot,” is an overview of the steps I took in creating my Twitter Bot. The second post, “Diving Into Yahoo Pipes,” is a more in depth explanation of how I used Yahoo Pipes to create an RSS feed for my Twitter Bot.

Feel free to spread the word & tag any trucks you find while out around NYC! I’ve been using the Echofon app to geotag as of now. It seems to be working pretty well.

Map of Ice Cream Truck Locations