There Goes the Neighborhood: Conversations with Strangers and Other Participatory Experiments in Transmedia

Jean Cheng, Exploratorium, USA

What are the right conditions for amazing conversations to happen, especially among strangers? How do we foster participation through careful design and use of technology? Participatory museum experiences are not new, but what if visitors become the centerpiece of the experience, and if that experience is extended, amplified and transformed through social media and other online tools? What lessons can be learned and applied to other institutions?

In 2013, the Exploratorium collaborated with SoundVision, an independent radio producer, to spark dialogue around abiding questions at the intersection of science, philosophy and culture. Using social media and an online form, we recruited “non-expert” participants for a series of public discussions billed as a featured attraction during several adults-only evening programs. Museum visitors were encouraged to “eavesdrop” and hold a backchannel discussion via Twitter, which was displayed on a large monitor in the room. The steady stream of tweets also brought remote audiences into the mix, allowing the multiple conversation streams (in person and online) to overlap and influence each other.

These public programs also led to hybrid online/on-floor exhibits and other online experiences developed by the producers. As more institutions attempt to bring digital experiences into the museum proper, we hope our work can help suggest useful strategies for successful integration.

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