AD 1

Talking to strangers and challenging the social media echo chamber

Rosie Stanbury on how museums of the future should enable people from different walks of life to talk about the big stuff – human endeavour, discovery, nature, history and the future

Wellcome Collection

About the author: Rosie Stanbury is Head of Live Programmes at Wellcome Collection, the free museum and library exploring health and humanity in London. In this role she leads a team of producers programming public events, youth and community activities. Joining Wellcome in 2006 as an events producer, she played a pivotal role in the inaugural and ongoing programme of events for Wellcome Collection. She took a brief break from the programme in 2010 when she oversaw Wellcome’s Arts Awards grant scheme for a year, taking responsibility for a national portfolio of creative collaborations between artists and scientists. Prior to joining Wellcome, she worked in community arts.

Most of us have a natural desire to meet with like-minded people. It’s one of the reasons that lots of us work in museums, because of a shared fascination in objects, people and history. These days, we can tune-in to the things we like, and switch-off from the things we don’t more than ever before. The danger of this seductive state revealed itself acutely in 2016. In the wake of Brexit and Trump we need to challenge the social media echo chamber we find ourselves in.

We urgently need to create lots of opportunities for people from different walks of life to talk about the big stuff: Human endeavour, discovery, nature, history and the future. Museums offer the perfect space. Objects can provide provocations and can act as social levellers. Of course, there is a danger that museums are echo chambers for their own ideas and their own audiences. We need to open ourselves up to new perspectives and possibilities. As the people that run the spaces, we can seed ideas, invite in new groups with different agendas and provoke new conversations.

But these conversations need careful support and direction to grow. Skills in facilitation and education need to be nurtured and developed. We need to learn from other sectors that are developing innovative engagement techniques, from performance and education to social justice and training.

Over the last year we’ve invited our audience to propose their own ideas for events in Wellcome Collection through Open Platform. This is an invitation to create small-scale pop-up events in our Reading Room. We offer expenses and facilitation training for those that would like it. The emphasis is on participation, and we don’t advertise the events beyond our building, so the audience for the event stumbles across the activities in the building on the day. People sometimes pop in for a cup of coffee, then end up taking part in an event that lasts an hour. Events have explored a vast range of subjects from intersex and death to monkey poo and cancer. It’s been a joy to watch the programme evolve and I’m excited to see even more strangers making connections and challenging one another in 2017.

Rosie Stanbury
Head of Live Programme
Wellcome Collection

Join the #FutureMuseum projectWhat will museums be like in the future? Leading museum professionals from around the world share their ideas about the future of museums. Add your thoughts on the future of museums – simply email around 250-450 words direct to Gregory Chamberlain, Editor of Museum-iD magazine (

Sign up to the Museum-iD Newsletter:
Sign up to the Museum-iD Newsletter: