A glimpse on ECSITE: co-, making, gaming and responsible research

Article-Ecsite-20142La Mandarina de Newton was very present at the ECSITE conference this year. As you know, ECSITE is the world’s most important association and meeting point of science museums and science centers.

 We promoted the organization of a specific session on co-production with users. We agreed with the various speakers and the convener, Holly Halsted, that, according to the values promoted by ECSITE  a suitable title could be “The Democratic Exhibition: putting co-production first“. The session wanted to highlight the democratizing potential of opening to the public the process of production of content, activities, exhibitions and even the design of the organization of a museum or science center themselves. We did it, as always, from a constructive and constructionist perspective, that is, by referring to design and joint exploration practices.

The speakers in this session were, beside ourselves:

 For our part, we showed how for us, La Mandarina de Newton, co-creation and co-production processes are not only building and community building but mainly processes where participants learn, transform themselves and the own institution.

 The session was an excellent occasion to strengthen the connection with these professionals. We recognized ourselves as interested in a similar vision of the relationship with the public in a more active way, and started thinking on further collaboration.

 The issues of co-creation and co-production also appeared in other sessions. In particular, there was a continuous session devoted to making, 3D printers and other technologies. There, practical ways to create the basics of making a space in a museum or science center where practically discussed. There were examples interesting processes basically influenced by the vision of Tinkering according to how the Exploratorium has implememented. Let’s not forget that the Exploratorium is an institution with a strong dominance of the science museum and science center domain and that it was leading this session.

We also saw many experiences of prototyping exhibition modules specific to certain areas of museums. They showed a certain openness with respect to the usual processes of a museum but we had the feeling that users were still seen, in general, more as components of “user groups” than as genuine co-producers of knowledge. Still, it is an interesting trend that was fully discussed in the session about “makerspaces” and hackspaces where a significant predominance of American experiences could be seen as well as counterpoint to the Science Gallery in Dublin that seem to try to place itself “au dessus the melee” but opted for a concept, for us, it is arguable in this context as is the center as a “living lab”.

Another form of participation that was the focus many presentations was that showing to the public the “backstage” of exhibitions and museums: how they are organized, how they are constructed, etc. This is a line we have also seen in the world of art institutions. There  was no lack of projects under the “Citizen Science” umbrella. It is clear that this type of projects that are booming although there is a majority of them which are very focused on seeing the citizen as sensor and data collector. There are only a few projects where participants have a deeper role. But, no doubt, this is another “trend” in this sector.

Finally, another area of interest was the one that is emerging around the movement for responsible research and innovation. Museums and science centers are proposing themselves as “neutral places” where a new connection between the will of citizens and scientists and technologists could be activated: what is known as Responsible Research and Innovation. The European project “Responsible Research and Innovation Tools” uses  years of research from the social sciences and the of Science, Technology and Society Studies to derive good practices in Responsible Research. Other projects where more specific and focused on areas such as neuroscience. The Responsible Research is a line in which we are interested, and to which we will return.

Science museums and science centers emerged in very specific socio-economic and political moments, with a requirement to promote a favorable view of science under innovative formats. Now they are trying again to reach the public through new channels such as making or gamification. We will see if these processes are eventually  trivialized as new ways of “selling” the techno-scientific idea, or they are harnessed to generate knowledge by truly  listening and co-producing with citizens. Co-creation is learning, as we said at the meeting and as we continue trying to show each day.


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