KlimaKontoret: A Participatory Experiment

How can cultural institutions reconnect with the public and demonstrate their value and relevance in contemporary life?

PublishedAug 22, 2019
AuthorNicolò Sattin

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How can cultural institutions reconnect with the public and demonstrate their value and relevance in contemporary life? asks Nina Simon in her book, “The Participatory Museum”. She believes that this can be done by “inviting people to actively engage as cultural participants, not passive consumers”, given an increasing desire to respond and be taken seriously by institutions, and during cultural events.

Traditionally, cultural institutions have made assumptions about what visitors do and think about in exhibitions spaces. According to Marilee Mostov in Making space for Experimentation, Collaboration and Play, museums often neglect to take visitors’ needs, experiences and motivations into consideration when making decisions about their exhibitions. (Marilee Mostov (2014) Making space for Experimentation, Collaboration and Play: Re-imagining the Drop-in Visitor Experience. Journal of Museum Education, 39:2.)

Evidently, whenever a museum decides what to show in an exhibition, there will always be something that is left excluded. This decision process puts the museum in a powerful and authoritative position of control, in which just a handful of people decide what is valuable and what is not. These decisions are made with the aim of engaging visitors through memorable, entertaining and educational experiences.
But are these choices always the most effective?
Probably the best way to answer this question is to pose it directly to the visitors, and observe their reactions during their visit to the museum.
Can a museum be less authoritative in this decision process?
What if, in the course of a normal visit, visitors could collaborate with the cultural institution to co-create new knowledge about exhibits on display?
Will this enhance their own experience, as well as the experiences of other visitors?
We are trying to answer these questions, and a few others, through a project called KlimaKontoret, or the Climate Office.

“This part of the exhibition will soon be removed. What should replace it? What do you want to see in this exhibition?”

This is what is written in feedback cards sitting on a blackboard in our exhibition about the climate, nature and people, called KlimaLab. This is what KlimaKontoret is about In addition to hoping to answer the questions above, this project comes as a result of three ideas and wishes that we articulated during the production of the exhibition, January 2019:

  • Understand what is important and relevant for our visitors when it comes to the climate;
  • Award visitors with the opportunity to create content and design part of an exhibition, in order to show a genuine respect for and interest in their experiences and stories;
  • Allow visitors to actively participate in their museum experience in order to create a feeling of ownership and pride.

KlimaKontoret activates our visitors in a creative way, inviting them to reflect upon what they have seen, and what they feel is missing, as well as to contribute with their own ideas. We hope that KlimaKontoret can serve as a contributory platform that promotes a virtuous cycle, and in which participants are enticed out of passive spectating into action. Participants can use their imagination and knowledge; they can imagine themselves as the curator, and share with us what they consider to be important regarding the climate. What makes this exciting is that their feedback has the potential of being developed into an element of the exhibition, which will be shown for four months in our museum.

This project, in fact, has been developed in two phases. The first phase began in April 2019, at the vernissage, and was concluded in August. During this four-month period, we collected 411 feedback cards

The second one will take place during the two last Saturdays of August 2019, when some of our contributors have been invited to participate in two workshops. The workshops will be led by a few Nobel Peace Center’s employees.This project, in fact, has been developed in two phases. The first phase began in April 2019, at the vernissage, and was concluded in August. During this four-month period, we collected 411 feedback cards.

The role of these employees will only be to assist and guide the participants through the process. As it is an exhibition created by our visitors, the employees will not interfere with the final result. The aim of the first workshop is to decide on the content of the new exhibition’s element (what it will be about), while the second one will focus on the form (what it will look like). The largest part of the feedback is not surprisingly in English, since the collecting phase was during Oslo’s high season. However, we decided to invite a selection (35 out of 95 with readable email addresses) of those written in Norwegian to participate. The reason why we limit ourselves to Norwegian participants is due to both practical considerations (the workshops take place in the exhibition space at the Nobel Peace Center and in Norwegian), and to be loyal to our target group for this project, which is local visitors of all ages

Moreover, this can be seen as an attempt to be more democratic as we involve outside perspectives in our content production. (M. Thyne and A. M. Hede (2015) Approaches to managing co-production for the co-creation of value in a museum setting: when authenticity matters. Journal of Marketing Management vol. 32, 2016.)

Democracy is important to the Nobel Peace Center for a number of reasons. Indeed, it has been the driving force behind many of those who have won the Peace Prize since 1901. With this project, we will get a step closer to a more democratic way of creating and curating an exhibition. This will happen both directly, with the participants at the workshops, and indirectly, using the feedback cards we have received, as sources of inspiration during the creation process.

Finally, we will try to make our museum more participatory by giving visitors the opportunity to create new content, contribute their ideas, and connect with each other and museum staff. This has already happened throughout the first phase of the project, when we observed numerous examples of social interaction between visitors and our museum hosts.

Will this project generate a positive response from future visitors and from the co-creators?
Will they feel inspired to be our ambassadors outside?
Will this foster a stronger and more personal relationship between the institution and its visitors?
But most importantly, what will replace KlimaKontoret?

To be continued…

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