Journal Article

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  • Museums as experimental test-beds: Lessons from a university museum
    Ashby, J.
    Journal of Natural Science Collections, Volume 5, pages 4 - 12

    Resistance to change is an accusation that has anecdotally been thrown at museum curators, but in my experience, today’s museum professionals have extraordinary capacity to be innovators and experimenters. Here I will describe why and how museums might want to establish formal strategies to develop themselves as places where innovative ideas and practices can be tested as part of their everyday operations. I will set out why museums might want to establish a publicly visible experimental philosophy, focusing on lessons learned from the activities of the Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL.

    The benefits of innovation include advocacy, raised profile, and an enhanced visitor experience. I will discuss various models to embed experimental practice. These can operate at different scales, ranging from small visitor studies and pilots to large-scale interventions potentially engaging every museum visitor, but all contributing to an atmosphere where experimentation is encouraged and ingrained. In this atmosphere, it is crucial that there is understanding and planning that allows for failure – some experiments do not work, and that is totally fine.

    Keywords: Innovation, experimentation, visitor experience, digital, higher education, university museums, research, failure