Participatory, collaborative and co-creative practices at the Science Museum

The project

The Science Museum in South Kensington, London, UK, attracts over 2.9 million visitors, and around 12 million online visitors each year. An ambitious new gallery Information Age, which celebrates over 200 years of innovation in information and communication technologies, opened in November 2014.

This research project was commissioned by the Museum as part of a broader desire to more fully understand, grasp and recognise the significance of a number of projects carried out by the Museum around the development of the new gallery that sought to be participatory, collaborative, and co-creative in nature. By drawing on current thinking and trends within museum practice more widely, and utilising key illustrative examples from the sector, this research helped to inform future decisions and practice within the Science Museum.

Aims and objectives

The project aimed to:

  • Find out how participatory, collaborative, and co-creative museum work has been understood and developed in recent years, and where the work of the Science Museum sits in this wider context.

In order to address these aims, the project team carried out the following activities:

  • Review the current literature on participatory, collaborative, and co-creative museum practices;

  • Locate exemplary participation/co-creation policies and practices within the sector;

  • Look across the Science Museum’s co-creation and participatory approaches and identify emerging philosophies to date;

  • Explore the findings as a team to draw out distinguishing factors or features of the Science Museum’s work in this area;

  • Produce a report summarising the findings of the research, including suggestions of where further investigation/action research could be informative.

The project team were Katy Bunning, Richard Sandell and Jocelyn Dodd.

Timescale

February – May 2014

Research findings

Bunning, K., Kavanagh, J., McSweeney, K. and Sandell, R. (2015), Embedding plurality: exploring participatory practice in the development of a new permanent gallery, Science Museum Group Journal, Issue 03

Drawing on a single case study – the development of the Information Age gallery at the Science Museum in London – this paper aims to reflect upon the extent to which existing ideas, theories, and approaches to participatory, co-creative and collaborative practice resonate with museum work on this scale. The development of the Information Age gallery saw a shift away from small-scale, temporary exhibition-driven or project-led participation towards participation which aimed to significantly impact upon the core offer of the museum: its permanent galleries. Both in scale and ambition, the participation activities that shaped Information Age sought to go further in terms of co-operation across departments to embed community involvement more fully in the exhibition development process than had been attempted previously at the Science Museum.