Designing for social interaction

June 25, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Awhile back, I blogged about an experiment I found fascinating. Students of museum studies (at the University of Washington) were given the task of developing an exhibit in public space that would encourage strangers to talk to each other.  With my interests in history and photography, I guess I’d get old postcards with writing on them and old photos and bung them up on walls to trigger discussion. Perhaps have some colourful Post-It notes available for people to write down their reactions or thoughts and place up near the postcard or photo. But I don’t think that would cut it because individuals might just stare silently at the photos and write on a Post-It with no interaction or discussion going on. The question is: how do you encourage unfacilitated interaction through the use of social objects? So the goal is not design based around objects but design based around social interaction. Could be some good lessons for me as a knowledge management practitioner!

It was with some interest that I read the results from the student task of designing exhibits or artifacts that inspire interpersonal dialogue. You can check out the Museum 2.0 blog for full details of the participatory exhibit, including the project wiki. The exhibit was run at the University’s Student Centre. This is what the students came up with:

  • they brainstormed ideas and concepts that would guide interactions, rather than discussing what collection to feature. You can read their brainstorming ideas here and here.
  • they settled on an exhibit called Advice: give it, get it, flip it, fuck it. Really, I think this is a smart concept – everyone loves to give advice or obtain it. And what does advice usually involve? Usually some aspect of knowledge transfer – “this is how I’ve always done it”, “from my experience, you should try the following” and so on.
  • they designed a website that allowed participants to send in advice via Twitter, phone, audio, photos and other media. This was the online component of the exhibit.
  • they also had a physical exhibit with advice-giving booths of volunteers sharing their knowledge; a space for people to pose their own burning question; a simulated bathroom stall on which visitors could write or draw advice; pre-selected questions (called Questions of the Ages) which posed age-old problems like “”What should you do for a broken heart?” were popped up on glass walls and people could write responses on Post-It notes and place under the question.
  • the advice booth business was smart – children, money managers, tattoo artists and people making buttons or badges were on hand to dispense advice on any topic and compose advice phrases to pop onto badges.

In any facilitation I do (and I have two sessions coming up over the next two weeks), I liberally use colourful Post-It notes, so I was glad to see that the students used them too. In fact, they discovered that stuff written on Post-Its can be content rich.  In response to the question “How do you heal a broken heart?”, participants created a chain of conversation with offshoot questions:

The American Philosophical Society (I found them on Flickr) seems to have done a similar thing with their Dialogues with Darwin exhibit:

So I thought this was a really great way to apply Web 2.0 technologies to museums and I’m going to reflect on what lessons I can take away for my KM work.


Entry filed under: Web 2.0. Tags: , , .

Consider that a divorce ChinchillaBluePhotography

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