Choice, Negotiation, and Pluralism: a Conceptual Framework for Participatory Technologies in Museum Collections
In an era of big data and fake news, museums’ collection practices are particularly important democratic cornerstones. Participatory technologies such as crowdsourcing or wikis have been put forward as a means to make museum collections more open and searchable, motivated by a desire for efficiency but also as a way to engage the public in the development of a more diverse and polyphonic heritage. However, there is a lack of a nuanced vocabulary to describe participatory technologies in terms of democracy. Without a deeper understanding of how technology shapes the overall structures, there is a risk that the tools instead undermine democratic ambitions. Addressing the need to conceptualize democracy in these contexts, we therefore develop a framework for participatory technologies with an eye toward the long-term development and preservation of cultural heritage. In this framework different democratic processes intersect with democratic values, from a liberal conception of democracy to a more deliberative democracy, to an agonistic pluralism emphasizing the importance of acknowledging conflict and diversity. To firmly ground our vocabulary in museum collection practices, we have investigated two cases from museums in the US that have opposite participatory strategies for enriching images with metadata; the Smithsonian Transcription Center, and the National Gallery of Art collection on Wikimedia Commons. These cases demonstrate how the framework can be used to identify patterns of participation showing the support for different values and processes. Furthermore, our conceptual investigation points out a contradiction in Human–Computer Interaction (HCI) research, between the pluralism and conflicts emphasized in more critical and participatory design perspectives used in the development of design , and the features in the actual design of participatory technologies , emphasizing consistency and access.