Crowdsourcing Project to Design New Museum Exhibition

Published Dec-29-15

A prominent museum taps the power of the online crowd for ideas for a new exhibition - the first crowdsourcing initiative of its kind in the United States.

Chicago History Museum, United States

The Story:

Crowdsourcing Project to Design New Museum Exhibition Crowdsourcing design and creation contests have long been deployed by consumer facing companies to come up with new iterations of products and fresh flavors, and to uncover more about consumer needs. In addition to picking up insights from customers, crowdsourcing contests can also be superb publicity vehicles, a way of finding new audiences and of deepening relationships with existing ones.

What has worked for global brands such as Ben & Jerry's and Coca-Cola has also gone down well with such an august institution as the Chicago History Museum (CHM).

Tapping the Public for Ideas

In 2013, the museum asked the public to decide its next exhibit. Speaking to Crain's Chicago Business, CHM President Gary Johnson said: ""We live in an era of crowdsourcing. I don't think museums are taking full advantage of that. We've got plenty of ideas, but you spend a fortune hiring people to help you figure out what people want. We live in a world where we can find out directly what they want."

The first part of the ‘Chicago History Bowl’, as it was dubbed was just a trawl for any and all ideas that were relevant to the city. To encourage participation a prize was offered of a weekend away for two and a year-long membership to the museum.

Approximately 550 of Chicago's citizens sent in their ideas. Museum staff then identified their top 16 and these were whittled down to the eventual winner by a succession of public votes.

Winning Concept

The topic of Chicago Authors collected the most votes, beating the other three in the final four, which were Prohibition, Neighborhoods and Architecture.

With the selection made, museum staff then went about the task of researching, sourcing artifacts from its vast collections, designing, planning and building the exhibition. It opened in October 2015, two years after the launch of the crowdsourcing project.

‘Chicago Authored’ focuses on past and present Chicago authors who help to define the city as well as explore its character and complexity. Among the exhibition’s features are audio samples highlighting the city’s literary legacy, a collection of works by literary giants and multimedia experiences.

A New Concept for Museums
According to the American Alliance of Museums, Chicago History Museum is the first major museum in the USA to crowdsource ideas for an exhibition in this way.

Although the traditional and time-honored methods of organizing public showings are not going away anytime soon, crowdsourcing may provide a useful accompaniment. It can be a good vehicle for many other museums to engage their audiences to come up with novel ways to tell old and new stories.

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