Human-Centered Community Engagement in a Digital World: Lessons from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s History Unfolded Project
Friday, November 4, 2016 9:00 AM – 9:15 AM
Session Leader : Eric Schmalz, Citizen History Community Manager, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Crowdsourcing and citizen history projects are becoming increasingly popular. A growing number of museums and cultural organizations aim to engage communities at the regional or national level through such ventures. While large-scale involvement is often an attractive goal, significant questions remain: can museums undertake extensive community engagement without sacrificing the benefits of meaningful, human-centered connections? Are such efforts worth it? And if so, what are the digital and non-digital strategies needed to scale-up this work? The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has been exploring answers to these questions through its first full-fledged citizen history project, History Unfolded: US Newspapers and the Holocaust. Students and lifelong learners across the country research local newspaper collections and submit relevant articles to the project’s website. The goals are to reach 20% of high school students and 20% of libraries across the country in a meaningful way. Since the project’s launch in November, more than 1000 citizen historians have joined, submitting over 2,000 articles. Secondary and college students in schools nationwide have contributed hundreds of stories, including from Jewish, African-American, and foreign language newspapers. Dedicated lifelong learners have extensively researched online and print collections, helping to inform the Museum as it prepares a new exhibition opening in spring 2018. In this case study, participants will learn how the hiring of a full-time community manager has played a critical role in the project’s success. The Museum’s team will discuss how to conduct large-scale community outreach through tailored emails, blogs incorporating multimedia, and public video chats. Project leaders will examine what motivates community members to join and stay involved by sharing feedback from the community itself. The challenges and limitations of keeping the work human-centered will be addressed, as well as practical ways other institutions can plan to undertake large-scale participatory projects in the future.