Can a Participatory Approach Twist the Boundaries of Science Education? Co-Designing a Health Promotional Exhibition at a Science Centre

Publikation: Bog/antologi/afhandling/rapportPh.d.-afhandlingForskning

This thesis is the result of a PhD-project conducted as part of the
exhibition development project PULSE - a collaborative project
situated at the science centre Experimentarium, Denmark. The
PULSE-project aimed to increase physical activity in families everydaylife
and was based on principal guidelines from the field of health
promotion. The objective of the PhD-project was to explore methods
for involving family visitors in the exhibition development process
and specifically in relation to exhibits on health. To meet this initial
objective, the thesis combines museum research, design research and
health promotional research in the field of science education.
In the first part of the study, I participated as a member of the
PULSE development team, designing the exhibition at the science
centre. This insider position provided a unique opportunity for
investigating processes of collaboration and design practices. During
this period, I conducted a front-end study using ethnographic methods
to unfold existing challenges and motivations for physical activity in
families, who constituted the target group of the PULSE-project.
The front-end study was followed by user-involvement workshops
at the science centre to make families participate in the exhibition
development process. The qualitative methods applied in the study
consist of self-documentation, semistructured interviews and various
design methods for creating participation and engagement.
The findings from the PhD-project are synthesised in five papers
included in the present thesis.
Paper 1 takes departure in the Front-end study produced with
families and provide the framework for understanding the household
as a collective. Here the household collective takes precedence over
individual preferences and individual behaviours have collective
implications. This conceptualisation of everyday life in families bears
consequences for health interventions, where health promotion of
individuals must be negotiated and formulated with and within the
collective to increase the chances of success.
Paper 2 reports on the findings from the user-involvement
workshops with families and the potentials of taking a participatory
design approach when designing science education. The participatory
design approach helped to reduce the gap between expert knowledge
and everyday experiences and gave exhibition designers and visitors
the opportunity to learn from each other. This led to a context sensitive
design process, thereby increasing the chance of creating an exhibition,
which is perceived as relevant by the visitors.
Paper 3 analyses exhibition documents to show how the subject
to be disseminated – health – was negotiated, de-constructed
and put together in new ways, bearing consequences to existing communication traditions of the science centre; because the health
promotional approach taken in the PULSE-project was based on a
dialogic and open-ended communication tradition, which challenges
classic expert-driven communication of science.
Paper 4 and 5 examines the collaboration processes taking place
in the development of the PULSE exhibition. Paper 4 analyses the
distributions of expertise and granting of modes of participation in
the co-design process between exhibition designers, researchers and
participating families. The paper shows how the co-design process
produced ambivalence and disclosed uncertainties about authority
and expertise, and differences in expectations and goals. It also
documents how the same co-design process was a means to enable
fields of different disciplines to meet and to involve the visitors,
enabling negotiations over the distribution of expertise and how to
represent health in a science centre setting. Paper 5 examines the
development process as a whole and suggests a model for future
research and development collaboration in museums and science
centres based on a design-based research (DBR) framework. The
model formulates three phases in the collaboration process based on
the level or intensity of the collaboration.
Based on a discussion of the findings across the five papers, the thesis
advocates for a participatory approach in science educational design
processes. A participatory approach entails a collaborative project
structure with a range of relevant stakeholders (e.g. researchers,
designers, visitors) represented as equal members, but with different
responsibilities assigned. In the PULSE-project the families involved
were experts of their everyday lives and their responsibility was to
communicate their experiences and priorities in the design process.
Exhibition designers were experts of planning, formulating and
executing exhibition designs and their responsibility was to convert
ideas and visions into tangible exhibit designs and exhibition narrative.
Researchers were experts of health promotion theory and userinvolvement
methods and their responsibility was to facilitate the
methods and generate knowledge. A participatory approach holds
big potentials for cross-pollinating knowledge and innovative science
education designs, because it makes it possible to synergise a wide
range of relevant knowledges, values and social practices. However,
this synergy does not happen automatically, and it is therefore
necessary to prioritize and facilitate a forum for negotiations,
questions, doubts and fascination during the design process. Such
a forum can make project competences visible and make the value
generated across disciplines and project priorities explicit.
ForlagDepartment of Science Education, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen
StatusUdgivet - 2018

ID: 201424283