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  • Phillip Ratliff

You don’t know who you’re missing

Updated: Nov 19, 2019


We live in bubbles — social media bubbles, church bubbles, school bubbles, work bubbles. These social enclosures reinforce our sense of what is right because they’re built around consensus. They can reinforce our sense of accomplishment because everyone agrees — things are working.


In the exhibit world, bubbles form around the design team, curators, stakeholders, and staff. If this is the world you inhabit, you’re probably in one now. To design an exhibit that reaches new audiences, presents content in refreshing, surprising ways, you’ve got to pop them.


Here are a few pointy sticks you can wield:

  • Community advisory groups Invite people from within your circle — and from within the circle you hope to draw — to serve on a community advisory panel. If it’s a younger age group you hope to reach and you have a junior board, deputize them. Keep the panel at around 8 to 10. Invite panelists to give feedback at each and every stage of the content creation phase, from outline and bubble plan to final script.

  • Focus group testing Here, you must carefully draw your target. Do you want to see how well an exhibit registers with you usual visitation? Or do you aspire to reach new demographics? Either way, your focus groups must represent your target group. Pay attention to when. Test on your group early in the process to pose questions about how to interpret images and artifacts. Bring them in near the end to fine-tune copy and design.

  • Crowdsourcing Social media is a platform for locating artifacts and sources of information about them. Build Facebook groups around exhibit related topics — or crash pre-existing groups to pose questions about photos, documents, and artifacts.

Phil Ratliff is President of Backstory Educational Media. Backstory helps clients across the Southeast mount exhibits and create educational content. Reach Phil at phil@backstoryed.com.

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