Human Rights and Design Thinking

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

I recently attended Museums and the Web, an annual conference featuring advanced research and exemplary applications of digital practice for cultural, natural and scientific heritage. One of the underlying threads in the presentations that began to stand out clearly was the application of Design Thinking in current Museum practice.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, design thinking is a process that combines empathy and the ability to listen to define a problem, creativity in finding solutions and insights into addressing them, and finally, prototyping and testing to find the right solutions. While common in many areas of design, it’s also applied in other activities that involve multidisciplinary teams, like education, engineering, filmmaking, and manufacturing. 

In reflecting on some of the discussions between museum technologists from around the world, including the National Gallery, the Tate, the Guggenheim, the Met, the Smithsonian, SFMoMA, the Denver Art Museum and several others, I have seen many parallels with the work being accomplished here in Winnipeg.

An example of design thinking in practice can be seen in work that is being done in coordination with CMHR’ s Inclusive Design Advisory Council. The council made up of experts, advisors, and activists in the field of disability rights, is assisting CMHR in providing a visitor experience that is universally accessible regardless of age or ability.

There is a pursuit in telling stories relating to human rights that makes design thinking an ideal process, reflective of the inclusive approaches to our subject matter. Empathy plays an important role: the experience of understanding another perspective through the freedom of expression, and the responsibility to listen.

Creativity can be found in the approach to how difficult stories are told authentically and objectively. A balance between the struggles and progression of human rights must be expressed with respect for the past, and optimism for the future. Selection of the artifacts, the collection, and the metaphors expressed in the magnificent architecture, all play a role in a visitor’s experience at the Museum.

The goal: To make museum collections and the stories being told in these spaces relevant, accessible, and engaging.

The CMHR entrance
The Museum's entrance

Showcasing stories help us fulfill our mandate to explore the subject of human rights, with special but not exclusive reference to Canada, in order to enhance the public's understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others, and to encourage reflection and dialogue.

CMHR Outdoor Summer Tours
The CMHR Outdoor Summer Tours

While many of us excitedly await the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, you can already begin to participate. Share Your Story asks you to "help write the story by sharing yours". You can also read Our Commitment to Universal Accessibility, or attend one of our free summer tours.

Comment, contribute, or simply come to The Forks to see the work outside, we welcome you to become part of the story!

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