New project: Participatory and professional interchange in digital museum practice

As of August 1st, I started in a new position as assistant professor at Roskilde University, working on a new research and co-development project with RAGNAROCK – the museum for pop, rock and youth culture (pictured below (pretty neat, huh?), and part of the museum group ROMU).

Ragnarock dag.png

The short form project description runs like this:

Digital technologies not only contribute to changes in museums’ physical and virtual communication, they also inspire new types of exchanges between museums and their public, for example when users are invited to participate as co-collectors. In this process, practices of collection and mediation become merged, while conventional museum practices and professional divides are renegotiated.

The project focuses on this development by examining the interplay between collection and communication, experience and education, and user participation and professional practice in a digital museum context. Furthermore, the project will consider how digital collection practices affect professional museum roles and also reflect on the possibilities and potential dilemmas in practice-based museum research.

Empirically, the project will analyse, co-develop and evaluate the co-collection platform Rockspor ([Rock traces] Ragnarock Museum/ROMU) on the basis of observations, interviews and interventions with adult online users. The iterative co-development process will focus on the creation of both user experiences and relevant content.

Really, this is a very cool gig. (And probably I should play it cooler too, assuming a more professional tone (which I will in time, promise), but I’m just genuinely very excited about this project, the focus, the framework and the whole setup, so please bear with the vernacular).

The project is affiliated to the national research and development programme Our MuseumComprising 13 individual research project as well as 4 associated projects, and bringing together 26 PhD-to-professor level researchers from five universities with eight partnering museums, the programme is unique in its ambition and scale in a Danish (and, I believe, international) museum research context. It has been made possible thanks to generous support from the Velux Foundation and the Nordea Foundation (and some pretty impressive project leadership. If only more research in the humanities dared to be this bold in visions and demands.)

As a collective, the programme will examine, from various perspectives, the juxtaposition or reciprocity of educational and experiential dimensions in the museum, historically and through a series of future-oriented co-development projects. Being part of this network is for me a welcome change from the often solitary condition of academic labour, and I look forward to our tri-annual seminars and ongoing knowledge exchange.

At the university, I am anchored in the research group Visual Culture and Performance Design, and also here I’ll be surrounded by colleagues working on interesting projects, many of which involve design approaches and considerations of design research methodology. There’s even creative workshops, maker spaces and innovation labs! Whereas in my former department I would sometimes feel like the odd one out for using creative methods in my research, here I feel right at home, and I look forward to being part of this vibrant research community. Similarly, I look forward to supervising design-based student projects and running workshops as part of my lecturing role.

Most of all, however, I am excited that this research project means working in the museum, rather than merely having museums as my object of study. Hence, I will be working a couple of days a week at RAGNAROCK (and sometimes at ROMU), as part of the development team for the project Rockspor. Anchoring my research in practice, and getting involved in the creativity and pragmatism of museum mediation and development  is an ideal next step for me and a perfect fit for my profile. Even though having this many stakeholders in the project – hence having to juggle multiple activities and manage diverse expectations – will potentially prove a challenge at times, quite frankly, at this point, I’m happy as a pig in shit.

Rockspor is a website, planned for launch this autumn, and a co-collection/curatorial/communication project focusing on ‘music’s meeting places’. Collating expert knowledge and digitised collection material with user stories, concert reviews and content aggregated from social media, the website will offer a kaleidoscopic view of concert venues, youth clubs and other arenas around the country where young people have met to experience popular music from the 50’s to the present. Allowing you to follow multiple trajectories, or to trace and share your own experiences of particular bands, venues, cultures and eras, the website’s aim is to both offer engaging experiences and also inspire users to add their own contributions to the site.

The objective for the Rockspor project team is therefore to make this happen. Because we don’t believe in a ‘build in a they will come‘ philosophy of digital participation (having seen too many well-intended projects grind to a halt instead of taking off), the launch of the website marks the beginning of a new work process, an important milestone rather than the finishing line. Similarly, the project and the website – originally going by the title Rockens Danmarkskort – has been developed in a research-led participatory design process involving a group of users representing various target/interest groups and the museum team of curators, communicators and developers, as described in Line V. Knudsens dissertation ROCKENS DANMARKSKORT: Deltagelse praktiseret som forskellighed [THE MAP OF DANISH ROCK HISTORY: Participation enacted as difference]’ as well as the article ‘Participation at work in the museum’ (Knudsen 2016, in Museum Management and Curatorship 31(2):193-211). Continuing from this, the current version of the project will focus on getting users involved as contributors rather than co-designers, aiming to develop a sustainable practice through an iterative process of experimentation and interventions.

This process is the empirical focus of my research project, which is designed to explore three interrelated areas of interest. The first, as stated above, will analyse the users and their engagement with and experience of the platform, contribute to its continued development, and evaluate the results, with an aim to draw out some best practice guidelines as well as contributing to the programme’s overall examination of the balance between education and experience. Secondly, and using observations from my engagement as co-developer as my source material, I will look at how both the internal professional collaboration and exchanges with users in a digital co-collection project relates to and potentially affects traditional museum roles and competences. And finally, employing design game methodology to explore a meta-museological perspective, I wish to reflect on potentials in and implications of post-critical museum research-in-practice.

Hey ho, let’s go!

 

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