OPEN CULTURE 2013: Participatory Practices with Helen Weinstein

I was invited by Helen Weinstein to co-present her talk at OPEN CULTURE 2013. We talked about the ways that university researchers and GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) professionals can collaborate to improve the ways in which they work with the wider public.

Here’s our Prezi from the day:

I wrote about the day for History Works (Helen’s company). You can read the original on the History Works News page or below:

First, for those not familiar with “GLAM” – it is the shiny catch-all acronym for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. Secondly, there is a slight trap in our title question that highlights one of the key issues discussed at OPEN CULTURE 2013 – the public does not participate IN culture as if the two were separate.

Proper participatory practice (say that twice fast!) enables the public to alter, do and make cultural material from the ground up. This requires sharing knowledge, creativity, power! The collections – all the stuff in our GLAMS – form the cultural building blocks; the rich, sedimented build up of millions of objects, each desperate for a new generation to give it a new story.

We see three crucial skillsets that University Researchers and GLAM professionals can share – to the benefit of both – and to better engage the public as active partners in their work. The founts of knowledge about cultural material within universities is unquestionable – it’s what they are for! Universities also often have great specialism in the sorts of social research practice needed to identify & diversify audiences – & just to understand how best to engage with key audiences – particularly those less traditionally represented under GLAM roofs.

GLAM professionals – in addition to being guardians and experts in their own collections – have amazing education departments experienced at understanding & developing appropriate learning for different age groups – but also through community engagement experience and volunteer researcher projects – have a much greater facility at including researchers “at eye level” from beyond their own insitutions,  and also connecting their objects/narratives/research to non-experts (not something many university researchers can claim!).

These three elements – cultural knowledge, social research expertise, engagement skills – can be added together and become far more powerful. Each case of doing so may present unique challenges – but by collaborating within and between professions – we can also improve our practice as a whole.

Initial steps have already been made with the Collections Link “Supporting Practice in Participation” webspace. We would love to hear your thoughts on this growing, collaborative space and better still start adding your own comments and content!

You can get stuck in at the Portal itself & upload new content, & for general ideas, please email Helen Weinstein, the Project Manager of the SPP project via

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