10 October 2007

Participation through Collaboration: Making Visitors Feel Needed

On the Museum 2.0 blog, there is a post which makes the case for real, as opposed to "fake" online collaborations.

Here's an excerpt:
I think we have to couch participatory museum experiences in terms of collaborating with visitors. Collaboration is only meaningful when the parties involved actually have some stake in and influence over the outcome. Have you ever been part of a fake collaboration, one in which a project leader purported to want everyone’s input but really just wanted everyone to say yes to theirs? Those situations are exasperating at best, and at worst, can make you lose faith in the leader’s (and the institution’s) commitment to the team approach.
Someone (Alan M) then left a comment, which said in part:
Imagine something called Public Lecture 1.0: My wife & I pay $10 each for a ticket to hear a speaker talk for an hour about, oh, Biblical archaeology, followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. Then, audience applause... a wave from the podium... and the speaker exits, stage left. On our way home, I talk with my wife about what we'd just heard & seen....

Here's Public Lecture 2.0: We pay $10 each for a ticket to hear a speaker talk for 10 minutes, and then engage in an hour-long Q&A, a good portion of which is sucked up by people "participating" and "collaborating" with their own windy wind-ups & commentary. Their contributions may or may not be interesting, but it's not what we paid twenty bucks to hear.

Both formats have their merit, of course, but they serve entirely different purposes. In 1.0, the presenter has something to say, to transmit, to share; I attend 1.0 to enjoy what someone else has to offer -- expertise, advice, insight, a story, perhaps. Whereas 2.0 is a group exercise, a collective creation. 1.0 is a traditional dinner party that requires me to prepare an entire meal; 2.0 is a pot-luck that requires less cooking, more coordination.
Here's an edited version of my reply:
Alan gave an illustration in the form of two scenarios:
1. attending a one-hour lecture by a renowned expert in a field (e.g. Biblical archaeology), followed by a ten-minute Q&A, and...
2. attending a ten-minute lecture by the same expert, followed by an hour of questions and comments by people in the audience.

The assertion seems to be that, just as scenario 1 would be better value for the participants, visitors to museum websites are often better served by content prepared by experts than by large collections of (mediocre) community contributions.

I think there are at least three significant characteristics or assumptions in this illustration:
  • The speaker is a skilled presenter, as well as a renowned expert
  • The audience must experience the content (i.e. the lecture) sequentially and in real time; skipping or random access are not possible
  • One must choose between the two scenarios.
However, on the web:
  • Different scenarios can be offered simultaneously - from scholarly essays to collections of public commentaries and reflections.
  • Different scenarios can even be gathered together or linked.
  • Visitors can choose - in their own time - which scenario(s) they prefer.
  • Expertise can also be exercised in the selection and/or sorting of public contributions. E.g. myVirtualGallery (which I manage), in the approval process and the "Featured Exhibitions" section.
Read my full comment, in context.

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