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Encounters blog: a place for conversation

Caution: This exhibition and website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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18 Dec 2015

By Learning Services Manager, Angela Casey and Digital Learning Designer, Gabrielle Edwards

Right from the start of the Encounters project, we recognised the need for a platform within the exhibition for visitors to share their responses to the potent objects and complex stories on display. How could we create a platform where the Museum could tangibly demonstrate its commitment to engaging in conversation with all visitors about our shared histories?

A person using Articulate on an iPad.
Articulate in action in Encounters. National Museum of Australia.

We've produced an iPad-based app in the exhibition called Articulate, which we think will do just that. Articulate asks visitors to use one of the several iPads located throughout Encounters to respond to particular questions about some of the stories, histories and themes in the exhibition. Responses can be text-based, drawn, voice-record, filmed or photographed.

Creating this element of the exhibition started with workshopping paper prototypes with stakeholder groups. This gave us useful insights into audience responses to some of the exhibition content. Early ideas were set aside for a whole variety of reasons before we came across Articulate, which Telstra and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia have kindly allowed us to use.

Sheets of paper with questions on them stuck to a glass wall.
Workshopping paper prototypes with stakeholder groups. National Museum of Australia.

The process of developing a digital, participatory experience for visitors was exciting – it was a terrific opportunity for teams across the Museum to come together and collaborate. That is not to say it wasn’t challenging. We wanted to universalise the emotional content of the exhibition and help visitors connect with the human stories on display, but we did not want to diminish the Indigenous experience or homogenise histories and cultures. We wanted to create a respectful space for dialogue about contested histories and the ongoing cultural lives of Indigenous Australians. Tricky!

Once we had settled on the Articulate platform we conducted audience testing to see how visitors responded to the type of questions we were interested in asking. We got some wonderful, poignant, funny and powerful responses, just as we have since the Articulate went live in Encounters. We encourage you to see people’s responses, which we’ve published on our website.

Articulate has improved our awareness of audience engagement in exhibition spaces, along with the importance of strong cross-museum collaborations. In Articulate, we have an audience engagement tool that will work in most social history exhibitions, and would be highly effective in our permanent galleries too. It is a great tool that helps democratise the public space of the museum and provides a safe, respectful space for people to respond to the complex and nuanced stories that form our shared histories.

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