Elvis is Back in the Building – Guidelines for Visitor Contributions

In my spare time (hah!), I occasionally write for Persephone Magazine, “a daily blog for bookish and clever women.” I adore many things about PM, but one of my favorites is Elvis.

And what is Elvis (other than a hunka hunka burnin’ love)? Elvis is the magazine’s commenting criteria. From the PM website:

  • Empathy – are you at least trying to look at an issue from someone else’s perspective?
  • Levity – we have a warm place in our cold, cold hearts for comments that display a sense of humor.  Make us laugh and win us over for ever.
  • Vitality – are you adding something lively and important to the conversation?
  • In context – does your comment fit the post to which you are replying?  We love personal stories, but keep ‘em on topic.
  • Sensitivity – be aware that not everyone who visits this site has the same experiences.  Opinions will differ because you’re all unique and come from a unique set of circumstances.  Respect that we all have subjects that are of particular importance to us, and we all may respond passionately about those issues.  Listen and think before you post.

Museums needs Elvis, or something like him. As institutions continue to experiment with and implement spaces for visitor-contributed content, dialogue, and multiple-direction meaning-making, there need to be guidelines. Nina Simon states it well in The Participatory Museum.

“When it comes to participatory activities, many educators feel that they should deliberately remove scaffolding to allow participants to fully control their creative experience. This creates an open-ended environment that can feel daunting to would-be participants.”

One of the pieces of missing scaffolding I often see is the absence of basic expectations. If you participate, what do we expect from you, and what can you expect from us and everyone else?

I understand the reluctance to add more rules – museums are already full of them. We tell visitors not to run, not to touch, not to use flash photography, not to get inappropriate with the Statue of David. But there’s a difference between laying down the law and setting the tone. One of the great things about the Elvis approach? No “don’ts.” Each guideline is an encouraging reminder.

Within a museum-setting, my favorite set of guidelines is this one from the Denver Art Museum:

Lay off the caressing and everything’s cool.

On a current visitor-contributed content project I’m working on, we developed our own list of internal staff expectations: Regis:

  • Relevant – Contributions will add to and shape the experience being created
  • Encouraging – The environment will be one that supports and welcomes engagement
  • Gracious – Giving, receiving, and responding to contributions will be treated as generous acts
  • Insightful – Each participant will bring a unique perspective to the experience
  • Sensitivity – Participants will be given understanding and respect as creators and spectators

Oh, the Philbster…

Currently, Regis is for the museum staff. As an organization just beginning to develop visitor-contributed content, remembering Regis helps keep them focused on the type of engagement they want to create and faciliate. But I can easily see tweaking those expectations into ones we share with visitors.

What successes (or failures) have you had with implementing guidelines for visitor behavior?

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One thought on “Elvis is Back in the Building – Guidelines for Visitor Contributions

  1. Pingback: The Silent Period of Participation |

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