OpenThink: Making the Conversation More Inclusive

On this blog, I have been wanting to experiment with a more “open,” participatory format for posts that engage us all in a dialogue with each other — something that steers away from the “I know something I want to share with you” and moves more toward “I wonder about something and I’d love to know what you, my peers, think.” So I’m going to give this a try in a new category that I’m calling OpenThink. I’ll experiment with some other technology-based ways of doing this, but I thought I would start out by just inviting your thoughts in the traditional “comments” field below. I’m keeping it simple this first time, mostly because I am typing this from the beautiful island of Barbados as I attend the Fifth International Conference on the Inclusive Museum.

My questions for us to consider in this OpenThink are focused around my interactions during Day 1 of this fascinating and fruitful conference:

  • How can we make the conversation about museum education more global and inclusive?

  • What are some ways in which we can more effectively connect and share our practice across borders & boundaries?

  • Do we have a professional responsibility to ground our work in a consciousness of the world around us? Why is this important and valuable for the field of museum education?

The conversations I have had thus far at the Inclusive Museum conference have made me immediately wonder about some key fundamental questions that this transformational knowledge community has been asking for several years. I want to pull some of the language they use in their 2012 conference program to help define and clarify what I might mean above by “more global and inclusive,” and to frame some of the key issues this group is grappling with:

“The annual conference continues to ask fundamental questions about the role of museums during rapid change that characterizes societies everywhere in the world. It is envisaged that museums, both as a creature of that change and also as agents of change, are places where museum practitioners, researchers, thinkers, and educators can engage in discussions on the historic character and future shape of museums. The key question of the conference is: How can the institution of the museum become more inclusive?

“No longer the universal individual citizen of our recent modern aspirations, visitors of today are recognizably diverse. The dimensions of this diversity are material (class, locale, family circumstances), corporeal (age, race, sex & sexuality, and physical and mental characteristics), and symbolic (culture, language, gender, family, affinity, and persona). These are the gross demographics, the things that insist on our attention. But if we take the time to look more closely at today’s public, it is qualified by intersections and layers of identity which immediately turn the gross demographics into dangerous oversimplifications. The paradox of today’s public is that, in an era of globalization, actual cultures are diverging: dispositions, sensibilities, values stances, interests, orientations, affinities, and networks.”

And the question that resonates with me the most…

“How do we create a museum where the text is open, where every visitor is allowed the space to create their own meanings, where no visitor is left out?”

Here at, out of the 75 countries accessing the site, only about 20% of the readership comes from outside the United States, and more than one third of those are from Australia, Canada, and the UK. Only 2.5% of those who visit with this site are from nations outside the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. I’d like to open this up more, but I am not exactly sure where to start (although attending the Inclusive Museum conference has been a good beginning, meeting museum peers from across the globe who share a passion for transforming what learning looks like in museums — I hope several of them will be adding their voices to this site in the upcoming months).

So I have posited my wonderings — now I ask you to chime in and add to the conversation below.

(CAVEAT: Given that I am in Barbados, I will do my absolute best to get comments posted promptly — but do bare with me, especially as this Tropical Storm Ernesto makes its way across the island this morning … should be interesting).


7 thoughts on “OpenThink: Making the Conversation More Inclusive”

  1. Thanks, Kathy! And I would love our global colleagues to let me know if they would like to author a post on this site and share their work. Opening up the conversation online can be good way to support more global, inclusive thinking. I know that there is incredible work happening in museums across the world, and we’ll all grow and expand by connecting with this work.

  2. Sigh, I am not from some exotic place on the globe, but spend my days in a rather conservative institution, one that is not among the “agents of change” envisioned by Mike. I would like to ask the readership whether it views most Western museums as agents of change, aside from the rhetoric. Certainly, most museum research in Western countries belies the descriptions of diversity suggested above. Lofty goals to strive for, for rarely encountered in our daily lives. IF Western museums took their own rhetoric about social responsibility to heart, we’d be part of the incredible work happening around the globe. And – this is more than a commercial – I direct you to Curator: The Museum Journal, 55.3, July 2012 dedicated to Museums and Human Rights [

    Zahava D. Doering,
    Editor: Curator: The Museum Journal
    Senior Social Scientist
    Smithsonian Institution

  3. Incluseum – yes, and I think my main question revolves around “how” to extend that invitation to other voices (local and global). Attending the Inclusive Museum conference was a fantastic way to make face-to-face connections with museum professionals from around the world, but I am always faced with the challenge of extending those conversations beyond the conference (and beyond the limited group of people who have the means and knowledge to attend such a conference in the first place). I do realize that online communication can be quite passive, and I aim to explore other means of using technology in more social, conversational ways (as technology has the potential to bring us together across distances, as well as to connect in a deeper way within our own communities). Thanks for chiming in, and I hope this conversation can continue to surface questions, thoughts, and ideas.

  4. Hey Mike. So I love the idea of OpenThink, which seems very similar to my own unnamed theory of blogging. But I want to problematise the rest of the post, and ask whether or why does the museum need to be more inclusive? Is it ok if museums as we know them are primarily a phenomenon for Western countries? Is it possible that in trying to bring other diverse voices into the conversation, they would be forced to compromise their own voice in order to fit the rules and customs of the museum? Zahava asks whether the readership of the blog does consider the Western museum as an agent of change, beyond the rhetoric, and I think it’s a really great question to ask. Similarly I think we need to consider why we feel the urge to compel museums to be for everyone.

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t aim to make museums for everyone who wants them; I’m questioning whether we should try to make everyone want them or to be part of them.

  5. These are big questions that you pose and I think it might be helpful, or at least interesting to know what other people are looking for when reading these pages.

    Since I started working in museum education and given that I work as a sole educator in my institution I’ve been keen to connect with other museum eds, to learn if their experiences resonate with mine and to better understand practice. I expected that a plethora of information would be available on the internet and was disappointed not to find much at all. My searches for “museum education/pedagogy” didn’t take me far at all. I was able to afford the odd book here and there, which was good, but I needed more. I stumbled across VTS which was fantastic, especially the videos and my success in applying the techniques made me very keen to undertake the introductory training, which was only offered in America. Thankfully the NAEA convention in New York coincided and a trip could be justified. I found exactly what I was seeking in the Museum Education preconference. I listened to and met experienced and expert practitioners, I went to sessions dedicated to issues I was grappling with and participated in sessions in the galleries. I wanted information about museum education practice. What does it look like? How do ‘we’ know what to do? From booking forms–to induction into museum protocols–what do we say and how do we best talk about art–all the way through to evaluation–then how to advocate for education within and outside the museum? What is ‘education’? So many questions. I’ve since found the theories and the texts, so now I crave the conversations.

    Museum education is as different within Australia as it is between the US, Europe and Australia. Where people come from, doesn’t really matter, I think we all have the same objectives, or maybe that’s my assumption. Do we?

    PS. I’m part of a global conversation, my twitter followers come from: Australia 38.6%, USA 28.8%, UK 10.4%, Canada 7.2% and Germany 1.2%.

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