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Social Science Encounters Charrette, 2017
July 20, 2017

Intro by Andrea Jones and Michael Burns

Today’s political climate raises many questions and concerns about our ability to find common ground between our own ideological perspective and those of a so-called “opposition”. Much has been written about echo chambers and social media “bubbles” that segregate like-minded people from those who don’t agree with them. According to an article in Wired Magazine, we’re living on “digital islands of isolation that are drifting further apart each day.”

Research has shown that increased empathy and respect for difference may be heavily linked to meaningful contact with other people holding differing views. Revealing people as individuals rather than members of a group builds bridges that seem impossible when thinking in generalities. This is why The Omnimuseum Project is working on developing participatory, social science-based experiences that establish situations for meaningful contact between people in public spaces.

In early July, 2017 we launched this effort with a design charrette attended by practitioners from the fields of social science, design, education, art, and curation. The participants were asked to envision strategies and tactics for creating experiences in public settings that would address (and ideally weaken) the barriers currently being built between people through political rhetoric. To be clear, the goals of this effort are not political, but social, aimed at deepening people’s sense of empathy, and the recognition of a common ground.

Photo: Social Science Encounters Charrette, Baltimore MD

The Challenge

Devise an action, installation, event, campaign, program, process, etc. that draws upon social science research to:

- evoke empathy between people with diverse views 

- prompt occupants to reflect critically on their own assumptions and prejudices

- encourage occupants to see the benefits of constructive engagement with others

The Sites

It was important that the sites we worked with were everyday, public settings occupied by people with different cultural and political views. These included places like strip malls, roadways, public beaches, and other common public spaces where people from all walks of life would intersect. Unlike site-specific projects focused on the unique aspects of a place, neighborhood, or town, participants focused on conditions that exist in other places as well (condition-specific). This meant that ideas emerging from the charrette, while addressing the given sites, could also be applied to other locations with similar conditions.

Charrette Format

Participants were divided into 3 teams. Each team was asked to conceptualize an approach that addressed the challenge they were presented within the conditions of their selected site. 

Each team was provided with information about their site, as well as a kit of charrette tools developed by The Omnimuseum Project to spark creative thinking suited to engagement in non-museum, public settings. These tools included a set of worksheets prompting consideration of key factors about the site, the user, the content, operational resources, etc., and a deck of tactics cards designed to provoke expansive thinking and inspire interesting combinations of methods and mediums for engaging people in everyday places.

What emerged from the charrette were concepts that could be integrated into real world social environments, informed by the social sciences. The information below includes project descriptions submitted by members from each team and material generated to capture the basic concept. Interestingly, little visual material was produced. Instead, strong conceptual foundations were established. These concepts are being further developed through cloud-based, team collaboration tools like SLACK. As the concepts are further developed their results will be posted on this site.



Charrette Teams:
Team: Dunkirk Shopping Center -   Elif Gokcigdem, Sydney Luken, David Crandall, Cory Bernat

Team: Ocean City -  Matt Levendusky, Susan Ades, Will Schenck, Simona Uzaite

Team: National Mall -  Andrea Jones, Kiah Shapiro, Natalie Campbell, Roula Tsapalas

Organized by Michael Burns, Andrea Jones and Nancy Proctor




S.S.E Team: Dunkirk Shopping Center Report 
by Sydney Luken
But First, Coffee...  

Starbucks, USA

Unlike leisure destinations such as the beach or the National Mall, the shopping center represents routine and necessity. Visitors to Dunkirk Gateway are on a mission—to mail a package or pick up groceries for the next week’s meals—and would prefer to be in and out as quickly as possible. One of the few places where visitors are likely to linger is the seemingly omnipresent Starbucks. Dunkirk Gateway has a Giant, a Pet Valu, and an AutoZone; the shopping center half a mile south has a Safeway, a PetSmart, and an Advance Auto Parts. They both have a Starbucks. Once we realized this, we began to think less about the particularities of Dunkirk and the local population and more about corporate homogenization of the American landscape. Why plan for one shopping center at large when a single tenant can quickly reach thousands more?

Sequential Intervention [ Or, Instant Empathy is a Tall Order ]

Given Starbucks’ ubiquity, the potential for a relaxed mindset, and the historical relationship between coffee and political discourse, our team decided the coffee shop was an opportune location for staging an intervention that would (ever-so-slightly) disrupt visitors’ daily routine. Because openly addressing our current political climate can evoke an intensely negative involuntary reaction, we opted to rely on the frequency of customers’ caffeine consumption to support an extended contact strategy. (The idea being that low-level exposure to empathic thinking can have long-term beneficial effects.) Our solution comprised a two-part approach: a sequentially evolving print campaign involving available collateral (coffee cups and sleeves, stirrers, in-store signage, gift cards, community message board, etc.) and a series of supplemental events (film screenings? open-mic nights? food tastings?) directly related to the messaging of the print campaign. Each part has its advantages.

Big Ideas Come on Small Packages

A print campaign would present the public with a passive engagement opportunity: everyone is exposed, none feel pressured. A sequential and increasingly intentional series of messages could begin to alter the implicit biases of returning customers. The scale of the campaign could spark a national dialogue, with coffee lovers across the country sharing in the experience (both in person and through social media… #coffeelife). Packaging also has the ability to pollinate—when Emma brings a traveler to Monday morning’s staff meeting, she’s also bringing with her an opportunity to engage in civil political discourse.

For a better idea of what such a campaign might look like, consider a hybrid of Chipotle’s Cultivating Thought Author Series, 7-Eleven’s 7-Election, and TED’s TARGETxTED. The Author Series’ “Two-Minute” format offers the advantage of narrative persuasion and perspective taking; 7-Election addresses politics head-on; and the TED intervention encourages people to become participants in a fun, I-dare-you sort of way. Perhaps the campaign is introduced with lighthearted allusions (“United we stand, divided we fall...asleep”), gradually evolves to shared stories of political and social empathy, then finally prompts customers to actively seek out and engage others with differing opinions.

The Big Event

After enough time has passed for the messaging to sink in (6 weeks? 3 months?), a community event would be hosted to underscore the message of the campaign. Events present a greater opportunity for encouraging discussion, whether organically or through intention. By requiring a higher level of engagement, they offer the chance to alter our explicit biases. They work at the local level, dealing directly with the realities of a community as opposed to the abstraction of the national stage. As participants would likely be frequent customers, the events would also provide an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the print campaign.

[ Don’t Fall in Love with Your ] First Ideas

Some of our initial ideas for thematic branding included “What Divides Us? What Unites Us?” and “Detecting the Other”. The former would be designed to emphasize our superordinate identity as Americans, while the latter goes beyond bridging the political divide to international cross-cultural appreciation. Another idea was to learn about the people involved in bringing us our favorite beverage, from planting the seeds through processing the beans through penning humorously inaccurate names on our final orders. (Who knew that coffee-growers from the rainforests of Brazil are just as concerned about their kids receiving a good education as you are! Or that your favorite barista is slinging lattes and slaying her final exams!) We also dreamed a little bigger (read: more expensively), picturing VR “portals” that would allow customers to experience the other locations along the journey. 

Why Starbucks? Would Starbucks?

While designing a campaign kit that could be used by anyone’s local coffee shop is always an option, partnering with a company like Starbucks has the potential to spark a national conversation. Starbucks in particular has a reputation for progressive thinking and community activism, thanks in part to their Race Together initiative, a campaign encouraging conversations between baristas and customers on the topic of race relations; their Green Cup, the communitarian holiday cup released a week before the 2016 presidential election [and part of an ongoing offensive in the “War on Christmas”]; proactive efforts to hire veterans and refugees; and support in the form of gift-card donations for Hi From the Other Side, a program designed to bring together politically opposed individuals for intentional civil political discourse.

America Runs on Democracy

However, our interest in Starbucks as a catalyst is likely fueled by regional and cultural biases. While we may see a Starbucks on every other corner downtown or in every other shopping center in the ‘burbs, this is because Starbucks’ numerous locations are heavily concentrated on the coasts—meaning middle America would be less engaged than we would like. Further, the perpetual popularity contest between Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts is well-known, with each side catering to a particular crowd. While the division is likely apolitical, ordering a Triple Venti Soy No Foam Latte represents a lifestyle far different from one in which you order a large Hot Coffee.

Recognition of this duality invites even more ambitious scheming. Suppose Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts were to participate in a joint effort to establish meaningful dialogue across the political spectrum? By putting people over profit (and politics), these companies could provide normative support for cooperation in spite of competing interests. Rival brands united by their shared identity as coffee lovers! Parties united.

S.S.E. Charrette 2017 Dunkirk from Omnimuseum on Vimeo.

SSE Charrette Site: Dunkirk Gateway Mall, Dunkirk, MD

S.S.E Team: Ocean City Report 
by Will Schenck

The Story Bike Concept 

The team focused on encouraging connections in Ocean City, Maryland is developing a boardwalk “Party Bike” style experience that ferries tourists up and down the beach for the price of a story, either listened to or told. 

The nature of the social landscape of Ocean City presents unique opportunities for breaking down barriers and fostering empathy between groups who might otherwise not have meaningful interaction. As a resort town known for its boardwalk attractions, most people there are tourists who are outside of their normal habitat and in search of fun or unusual experiences. Though many will likely be more open to stepping outside of their normal mode of behavior in this setting, the atmosphere of levity is not conducive to immediately confronting visitors with challenging or earnest concepts or activities.

An ideal experience for promoting interpersonal connections across barriers in this location uses what people are already there for (generally assumed to be amusement and recreational activities in a social setting) and leverages it, creating the conditions wherein members of different groups can comfortably socialize on a more meaningful level. The practice of storytelling is an important tool for creating understanding as well as a primary source of entertainment. The Story Bike experience utilizes the boardwalk environment as a platform for diverse people to tell their stories and hear the stories of others as they participate in a shared activity.

The Story Bike uses a “Party Bike” style human propelled vehicle that seats six to eight pedaling passengers and a driver who doubles as a moderator. Riders are selected, grouped, and prepped for the experience as they wait at two endpoints at the North and South of the boardwalk. Each ride lasts approximately 30 minutes, during which time riders are prompted to tell their own stories about an agreed upon topic that is designed to find commonalities or humanizing qualities in their life experience. The bike is equipped with several cameras and microphones to capture the conversation as it occurs. In the event that a group of riders gets on that already know each other or are hesitant to share their own stories, they have the option to watch previously recorded stories on small monitors in front of each seat. After the ride, users have the option to formally record their stories inside booths located at each terminus.

Story Bike is designed to promote meaningful conversation between visitors to Ocean City by providing a utility that augments the boardwalk experience. As the concept is developed, the design team hopes to more deeply explore methods that encourage riders to open up to strangers and engage in barrier-softening communication. Another important area for design development is how to set up the queuing experience so that it capitalizes on the all the time spent at the activity. Aside from design, other challenges yet to be considered are questions of feasibility such as partner institutions, funding, and permissions. We hope that incorporating these elements will provide greater focus to the experience and strengthen the overall concept.

S.S.E. Charrette 2017 Ocean City from Omnimuseum on Vimeo.

SSE Charrette Site: Ocean City, MD

S.S.E. Team: National Mall Report
by Kiah Schapiro  

Concept 1:

THE INVISIBLE HISTORY TOUR (an audio tour accessed via a mobile application)

Concept Description:

-       This concept begins with the understanding that sound (from simple, narrative audio to full soundscapes) is an emotional trigger and an extremely effective tool in shifting a person’s experience and their understanding of their surroundings.

-       In this experience, participants would download an application to their phone. This application is audio- and location-based and invites users to move throughout the National Mall and discover soundscapes from historic moments.

-       In a deeper level of the application, users select to engage. The idea here is that users have been primed by their shared history. They have also been experientially transported via audioscapes to foreign moments in history – the hope is that this shift in the experiences of reality will open users to meaningful engagement with others:

o   Engagement Level 1: At the most simple level, the application will prompt users with questions about their life experiences and beliefs, potentially in a poll format

o   Engagement Level 2: In a more robust engagement level, users can be paired to chat via text with other users of the application. They may be prompted by the application to explore questions, experiences and beliefs. These prompts would be designed to encourage connection across boundaries of difference based on social science knowledge.

o   Engagement Level 3: At an even higher level of engagement, users may elect to meet other users in person at the Mall. They may be connected to each other based on proximity and told to find one another at a shady bench nearby. Once together, these users would be prompted by the app to have a discussion in a fashion similar to Engagement Level 2.

-       A final element of this concept is an add-on: the app could include an opportunity to ‘leave a message/story’. These could be saved for an event on the Mall where the shared messages of all past users are aurally projected into the Mall, creating a quilt of sound and story.

-       An alternative way to shape this concept would be to create an actual tour of the Mall that pulls on these ideas but brings groups together to experience the tour instead of independent touring via a mobile application.

Next Steps:

There is some research necessary to get this concept into the next phase:


o   We should take another look at the social science assumptions that this concept is based on – primarily priming and the idea of immersive storytelling. Is it reasonable to expect people to be moved and primed by this experience?

o   Additionally, we should examine the reality of people’s desire to use something like this – how and when will they find out about it? Does anyone actually want to download an app? I think we would back-up and answer some higher-level questions about whether or not people want this ‘invisible history’ tour experience before we answer what the delivery method is (is an application or an actual guided tour going to be more accessible and effective?)

o   We would also want to consider who would interact with this… would it actually reach a diverse audience or would those opting-in to this experience be of the same group, thus negating any of the cross-group interaction that is the goal of this experience.

o   We would want to look critically at the ability of a mobile application to encourage meeting and communication between strangers: what assumptions are we making that this outcome would happen? How can we think about the delivery method of this experience differently so that it ensure we meet the goals we have?

-       CONTENT:

o   Holistically examine the historic moments that have occurred on the National Mall and analyze them for their ability to serve as “priming” experiences.

o   We might also assess how this offering in terms of historic learning and content is different from other content present on the Mall. If not, can we elect other types of content to be shared via this platform.

Concept 2:


Concept Description:

-       This concept is based on the idea of working together towards a common goal to build or “prime” participants to hear and understand each other. Beyond problem-solving with an ‘other’ or stranger, it hinges on anonymity as a tool to open people up to new experiences and sharing their true selves.

-       Participants, either in an enclosed space or separated from each other by a wall[1], will engages with stranger who are not visible to them but with whom they can speak and collaborate

o   They may approach a free-standing tall wall (or booth of some sort). Text and graphic elements will guide participants through the experience

o   The beginning of the experience will prompt strangers to engage with the experience on either side of the wall. The beginning of the experience or the approach to the experience will graphically or otherwise convey important and famous moments in American history. The idea is to prime participants with shared/common history so that they are more likely to have positive feelings of each other that supersede and potential political or other differences. Some of the content here might focus on divisions found throughout American history and the ways that divisions have been or are being overcome.

o   The experience will be comprised of a series of puzzles, interesting and moving parts, and other engagement points that are designed to communicate ‘connection’ and ‘the overcoming of difference’. The idea is that the participants on either side of the wall will know that the other is there and will work together to engage with the points along the wall. They will complete challenges together. This idea is based in social science theory that tells us when people work together or accomplish something together, they are more likely to engage as friends. By creating the initial conditions of friendship, this experience aims to prime participants to meaningfully engage with each other at the end of the experience.

-  The challenges along this experience could include a maze or puzzle

-  Participants might partake in a scavenger hunt or something where they collaboratively piece together clues[2]

-  These challenges might also weave in opportunities for participants to share personal information about themselves, beginning to open up about their humanity with a stranger.

o   The end of the experience will allow participants to be revealed to each other. The structure/wall/booth might graphically or otherwise prompt participants to tell stories to each other or engage in a discussion about a timely topic that they disagree about. The goal is for participants to want to share stories with each other after their priming experience of learning shared history and working together to solve a common goal.


Next Steps:

There is some research necessary to get this concept onto the next phase:


o   There should be some additional work done to ensure that the concept above accurately and thoroughly considers knowledge from the field of social science.

o   Research should also verify whether people would elect to participate in this experience – how can we design this thing to draw different people in and make them feel safe enough to fully engage?


• The challenge here seems to be finding a way to dimensionally and graphically design an experience that draws in participants and works in the way described above. Some research on interaction will be necessary to ensure that this experience delivers what we want it to.

[1] This is an opportunity for testing: will people engage meaningfully in an experience when they are still visible to those around them? Are people more or less likely to enter an enclosed space in the context of the National Mall or similar site?

[2] A related idea was to create a ‘leaflet drop’ where a massive scavenger hunt could be prompted on a specific day. The path, challenges, and content of this hunt would include messaging about shared American history. This scavenger hunt might break the mold by eschewing teams and being cumulative: the objects that are collected could be gathered together to create something larger (strangers working independently towards a common goal)


S.S.E. Charrette 2017 National Mall from Omnimuseum on Vimeo.

SSE Charrette Site: National Mall, DC

What is The Omnimuseum Project?

Museums can deliver powerful experiences that enrich multiple facets of our lives. Whether we are talking about science, history, culture, or nature, museums provide frameworks for understanding, and engaging in the world around us.

So, what happens when people who create museum experiences apply their expertise to the everyday world containing more science, history, culture, and nature than in all the museums combined?

This is the question that led to The Omnimuseum Project, a non-profit 501(c)(3) that draws upon the skills and creativity of designers, educators, and subject specialists to effectively transform the things, places, and phenomena we are surrounded by into informal learning and enrichment experiences - a practice called ubiquitous museology.

Photo: Ubiquitous Museology Charrette, Washington DC

What is Ubiquitous Museology?

Ubiquitous Museology is the study and practice of developing, designing, and implementing informal learning experiences in the real world. Ubiquitous museology frames the world as a museum, approaching its contents as a complete collection of things, places, people, and phenomena, as well as the facility in which we encounter and engage with this collection. By embracing the everyday world as a platform for place-based learning, ubiquitous museology makes experiences, typically found in museums, more publicly accessible and more relevant to their locations.  

The Omnimuseum Project is an organization working to transform ordinary places into sites for informal learning and enrichment. In so doing, we are developing ways for museums and other cultural and educational institutions to actively support their missions in real world places, serving a broader public.


Looking Ahead

One of our goals in 2017 is in researching and planning for what we call “Site Activations”. Site Activations turn everyday environments into places of inquiry and discovery. Because different environments offer different kinds of public engagement, The Omnimuseum Project will address a range of natural and built conditions, including urban, suburban and rural settings. The pedagogical strategies and tactics developed for these Site Activations will be scalable, providing a foundation for addressing other locations with similar conditions while remaining sensitive to the uniqueness of each location. This will allow our work to be applicable across the nation, and globally.

 Our goals are ambitious. To accomplish them we need your support. MAKE A DONATION

The Omnimuseum Project is a 501(c)(3) organization devoted to embracing our world of things, places and phenomena as sites for informal learning. The project's initiatives involve stimulating discourse, conducting research, designing and testing prototypes, and disseminating information about expanding the museum experience to everyday settings.

The Omnimuseum Project from Omnimuseum on Vimeo.


On The Air Sept 8, 2017

The Omnimuseum Project is working with The Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture to take the stories of Baltimore public schools (past and present) to the streets!

In this interview on WYPR with "On The Record" host Sheilah Kast, The Peal Center’s director, Nancy Proctor and The Omnimuseum Project’s executive director, Michael Burns discuss their September 9th workshop for “Be Here: EDU”.  Click the link below to listen.

WYPR Interview from September 8th, 2017





On the Collection in the Ubiquitous Museum


Ubiquitous Museology Charrette Report

The Museum Lens -

Locale: Richmond VA. - Jayna Champeau



- Chris Speed and Jane Macdonald


Mobile devices lurking - Martí Peran



Wearable Exhibitions

- M.W. Burns


Guerrilla AR - Roula Tsapalas



You Are On Exhibit
- M.W. Burns


Imagining the Omnimuseum - M.W.Burns


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