Research in Translation was devised as a means to support early career researchers in communicating their research to the public in a way that is meaningful. We are drawing on techniques used in museums to accomplish this. In this post I want to look at some of the issues which are likely to surface as we work through a number of practical and creative approaches to communication. These points have been made more eloquently elsewhere but it gives a taster of the kinds of challenges that participants are likely to encounter.
Making knowledge meaningful and relevant to the public/audiences is an issue that museums have been grappling with for decades; it is an issue that is fundamental to the purpose of the museum (in my opinion because all these statements are debate-able). Firstly- what do I mean when I say meaningful? In my understanding something that is meaningful to a museum visitor has value, they understand it’s importance either to their lives or to the wider world. However, in order to make research meaningful we should not have to sacrifice its truth, purpose and integrity…. And that can be a challenge!
Often the debate has been couched in terms of medium and message – what is the most effective medium (object, performance, text, film, sound, image etc) through which to convey the ‘message’ or content of what the museum is trying to say? Digital technology also presents new opportunities for engagement with audiences. Participants will have to make decisions about which medium is best to convey the ‘message’ of their research. In terms if message, what and how much content will they need to provide? What terms, what language will be appropriate for the intended audience? Will information need to be scaffolded e.g. basic concepts first then building towards more complex information through the text?
Then there is the ‘tone’ of voice adopted to convey information. Will it be the authoritative voice of the expert? Or will information be presented from multiple viewpoints? Museums can appeal to the intellect, the emotions or both… Immersive experiences enable visitors, for example, to experience life in the past, other cultures etc, use film, audio-visual techniques, artwork, poetry, performance etc to take visitors in ‘another world.’ Can some of these more creative approaches inspire our participants?
What is the role of the visitor? Will they be encouraged to actively involved in the exhibition or display? This can be as simple as encouraging visitors to respond to the exhibit through response cards, questionnaires, or social media. The audience and type of visitor expected to view the display also needs to be thought about carefully. Visitor research shows us that visitor engagement with a museum / display is a dynamic between what the museum creates and how visitors “read”, understand and make meaningful the information presented. This is influenced by many factors including time spent reading, social aspects of the visit (who the visitor is with or alone), the ambience of the museum (lighting, building, atmosphere etc), and the purpose of the visit. The visitor’s background is also critical to understanding their response – in terms of education, personal preferences and interests, class, ethnicity, age and cultural capital (how used they are to museums and museum conventions).
These are what I consider to be some of the issues in thinking about how information can be made meaningful for the public. I am looking forward to discussing these and other issues which come up during the workshops, issues that I have not even thought about!