External participation in exhibition design and development is being used more and more in museums, galleries and science centres, in an attempt to enhance the institution’s relevance and accessibility for visitors and help inform and energise the design process.
For the past year we have been working on a participatory design project which is exploring the challenges and benefits of partnership working between the Centre for Life and Durham University, and whether it is possible to successfully collaborate and co-produce new gallery exhibits that enhance creativity and innovation in young visitors. We are particularly interested in finding out if we can design an engaging exhibit for visitors but also an exhibit that can actively capture useful research data (and lots of it). In essence we are trying to work together to blur the boundary between research and practice.
So far we have been using participatory action research (PAR) as a framework to help us through the design process because it is based on good communication, cooperation, collaboration and trust. We have used the PAR approach to co-produce a series of simple design decisions to iteratively develop a new exhibit pod – specifically to encourage creativity and innovation, and to allow us to collect data and hopefully measure creativity. The exhibit pod hosting the experiments is now in the new permanent gallery the Brain Zone, at the Centre for life.
It has been a really interesting process to date, not only working with the Centre for Life (who are awesome) but also working with a range of academics at Durham from anthropologists who are really keen on social learning and behavioural innovation in fish to information systems specialists who focus on change management. Now that the first exhibit is live in the Brain Zone we are actively collecting data, so we shall see whether or not it works.
The project has a website which will be updated regularly with what we find out.