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Innovating Science Communication at Medical Museums
Description and Aims
Scientists, policy makers, and social theorists acknowledge a current crisis in the public understanding of science, with significant consequences for policy and practice. Medical museums hold great potential to address this crisis, because their focus includes issues of major social significance, including controversial scientific innovations and public health concerns. In order to do so successfully, however, these cultural institutions needs to break with their standard strategies and employ new techniques to engage with visitors. This workshop brought together scientists, museum staff, academic researchers in the medical humanities, and science communication and public engagement experts to develop joint exhibition projects and other public activities where innovative approaches can be tested and improved.
The practical goals for the workshop are: a joint grant application to fund future activities; and a draft project plan of proposed consortium activities (including exhibitions and public events) over the next 5 years. The long-term goal is: a series of jointly-developed exhibitions and activities testing new models of science communication for museums that are multi-directional (instead of didactic, from expert to public), and that can be tailored to address many different issues across scientific disciplines.
-Artist Residency, Hubrecht Institute. Spela Petric, Slovenian Bio Artist and microbiologist, funded by Amsterdam Fund for the Arts (3Package Deal), year-long residency mentored by Lucas Evers, Waag Society and observed by Dr. Rob Vries, Hubrecht Institute and Prof. dr. Robert Zwijnenberg Leiden University.
-International Workshop, “Museums and the Senses: Exhibiting Medicine in Engaging Ways,” Wellcome-funded, June 2015, organized by Manon Parry.
Projects in Development
-Sounds of the Mind, traveling exhibition experimenting with sound in the history of mental health (core partners UvA and Dolhuys Museum, potential partners Bethlem Museum, Science Museum UK).
-Joint grant applications for large collaborative projects (Horizon 20/20, HERA), project-specific grants (Mondrinan Fonds) and smaller network development grants.
-The workshop was intended to launch collaborative activities and so specific exhibition methods were not devised in this forum. However, two areas were identified as important foci for innovation: the use of sound in exhibitions and the potential of traveling exhibitions to highlight the social factors that shape medical controversies in different countries in different ways (thus educating audienceson their cultural specificity).
-Museums are embracing social media and interactive technologies in ways that encourage participants to divulge personal information – and audiences often do so just as they do in other aspects of their digital lives. This openness appears to contrast starkly with audiences’ opposition to medical tools for collecting and sharing personal data. This contradiction could be addressed in museums to illuminate the factors at play and to promote debate.
The workshop began with a 5-minute “pitch” by participants from each institution declaring their areas of interest and ideas for innovative projects. This allowed the group to identify areas of overlapping goals and to begin to coalesce around particular themes for development. On subsequent days we moved between full group discussions of our progress and the particular strategies emerging, and smaller working groups to address special projects. This was effective in building collaborative relationships between new partners and in advancing some specific projects. However, as representatives of larger institutions needed to return to their home institutions to negotiate proposals progress on other aspects was slower.
Senior staff with decision-making power to grant or reject project proposals could not give up an entire week to attend the workshop. Instead of the emphasis on having the same people for the entire time, it would be useful to have more flexibility wherein some partners participate for certain blocks of the week. That would also have allowed us to bring in more stakeholders from each institution to share the workload on their return.
Lucas Evers (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Bart Grob (Leiden, Netherlands)
Manon Parry (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Robert Vries (Utrecht, Netherlands)
Rob Zwijnenberg (Leiden, Netherlands)