The National Public Housing Museum is the only museum of its kind to “interpret the American experience in public housing.”
In the early stages of developing the museum in a former public housing building on Chicago’s south side, the museum has an opportunity to serve as a model for educational programming and advocacy.
My team developed Snippets, a service for developing co-created exhibits of personal stories and artifacts on universal themes that merge the perspectives of public housing residents and museum visitors.
We prototyped our concept in a living lab format, a real-time, large-scale, generative prototype over the course of six weeks. From this prototyping method, we learned what worked, what didn’t and important next steps toward implementation before making major investments in staff or processes.
As a grassroots efforts of public housing residents, the museum aims to appeal to tourists, academics and students, public housing residents and policymakers.
My team and I worked with Todd, the museum’s interim executive director, to develop museum services that reflect potential visitor attitudes and public housing residents’ needs. Because the in-museum experience was already in strong focus, our team focused on the moments outside of the museum walls.
Thanks to Todd, we immersed ourselves in museums that he plans to work with and borrow from for his own museum’s experience.
We also spoke with public housing residents and potential visitors to identify where needs and desires might align. Public housing resident communities are a difficult to penetrate as outsiders; for us, interviewing residents required the enlistment of key partners and project advocates like a photographer who teaches classes in her public housing community.
Through interviews, sacrificial concepts and secondary research, we identified key engagement challenges and designed a playbook that outlined how the museum could use our research findings. We used this playbook to determine the appropriate direction for our prototyping.
Snippets: A Service For Developing Co-created Exhibits
For museum visitors and residents who have stories and creative passions to share. Snippets exhibits merge the personal stories and artifacts of public housing residents and National Public Housing Museum visitors around universal themes.
By giving public housing residents and visitors creative artifacts to stimulate their thinking, our service reduces the differences between public housing residents and visitors, and stimulates dialogue.
Rather than visit the physical museum location once, contributors to co-created exhibits can be inspired by the museum’s archives and the art of other visitors. They can create artifacts and then participate in exhibitions and events both inside and outside of the museum, creating more opportunities to engage with residents, each other and the museum.
Living Lab Prototyping
Stage 1: High Facilitation, Small User Base
Individual facilitators issued specific requests to individuals and the task ended up feeling like work or favors. Additionally, we learned that while we could collect content, these interactions did not stimulate dialogue.
Stage 2: Low Facilitation, Large User Base
After some thoughtful discussion in class, our team backed away from direct facilitation, instead recruiting participants through public flyering and passing facilitation roles to local “champions.” However, there was no urgency to participate and it competed with other priorities, so we received no submissions at this time.
Stage 3: Medium Facilitation, Medium User Base
Groups were targeted based on their interest and allowed to submit any content that they wanted. We approached meetup groups of local artists who might be looking for opportunities for exposure. We received two unique songs inspired by the photographs of a local public housing resident.
We also introduced a second intervention that focused on the process of instigating dialogue. By moving a poster between non-resident locations and public housing resident locations, we were able to initiate conversations about a controversial topic. Some questions on the board were loaded with stereotypes and myths, but encouraged frank conversations about the reality of public housing.
It was important to take this dialogue to the physical world because online outlets weren’t successful in previous project iterations, and it enabled us to surmount technological barriers in public housing resident communities.
Living Lab Results
Through the iterative nature of the living lab, we learned that the overall concept was compelling and interesting to those who participated. And, even though the concept is not yet ready for a full-scale implementation, the process gave the museum some key learnings for moving the idea forward.
- Engaging ambassadors works, but it takes time to both engage them and activate those relationships.
- The concept needs more time and resources for relationship building, recruiting, participation and facilitation.
- Incentives are tricky in the social sector; but potential participants need the proper motivation.
- Co-created activities need a balance of structure and options, and should be responsible to the target audience.
Had there been more time with the community and on the prototype, our team would have been able to complete a fuller cycle of sharing content with different audiences. In the future, this work should be conducted over a longer term; but, our team was able to supplement the museum’s outreach efforts and gain them learnings that would not have discovered in a traditional design process.