The Science Gallery Method

Michigan State University is the latest member to join the Science Gallery Network, leading the development of Science Gallery Lab Detroit (SGLD). Science Galleries aim to engage 15 to 25 year olds in science, art, technology, and design in connective, participatory, and surprising ways. In this second post of this two-part series, Caroline White, Learning Technology Designer, highlights her key takeaways about process and discusses the development of SGLD.

In our rare spare moments in Dublin, Erin and I reflected on what we were learning. Our conversations in the airport, over dinner, and during a (slightly accidental), fourteen mile hike through Howth inevitably circled back to our takeaways from each day. What challenged our initial thoughts about what a Science Gallery was? What supported or confirmed our ideas and understanding of what experience can or should be like? And what tools, knowledge, or practices would help us most as we moved forward with the development of Science Gallery Lab Detroit?


Reflecting with the Science Gallery International team

Reflecting with the Science Gallery International team.


Over the past year, these kind of reflective conversations have become a large part of my workflow at the Hub. Much of the work I do involves designing processes and experiences, and discovering what does and does not work about them. Working with different members across project teams, and discussing both our successes and our failures, has helped expand my problem-solving toolkit and shaped the way I consider new projects. Seeing the way that the Science Gallery Dublin team worked throughout the development of a season connected with many of the discussions I have had at the Hub, and identified new resources and tools for approaching my work.

Here are five of those key process takeaways that have shaped my thinking about my work at the Hub and the development of Science Gallery Lab Detroit:

Create a decision-making resource that keeps you centered on organizational goals

One of the key questions Erin and I asked the Dublin events team was how they made decisions about what opportunities to pursue and what to leave for another time. Noeleen Hartigan, the sustainability manager at Science Gallery International, walked us through a resource she designed to help teams consider their goals and objectives throughout project planning. Inspired by principles from social care and the human rights based approach, a team can work to create a visual representation of their goals and objectives. When the different possibilities and opportunities for within a project seem endless, this resource can help a team assess whether the experiences they intend to pursue are advancing the organizational priorities.


A web with post-it notes

An initial brainstorming sketch of Science Gallery Lab Detroit’s priorities. An event or experience can be placed at the center of the model, and analyzed in relationship to how it contributes to an organization’s goals.


Find the common thread throughout a series of different stories

As I mentioned in my previous post, storytelling is key to the development of a Science Gallery season. Identifying a common thread, whether it be a theme or interconnected objectives, that ties many different experiences together lends itself to the cohesion of a season or a project and helps guide the design of the experience.

Design with, not simply for, those you hope to reach

The people who engage with Science Gallery exhibitions are often referred to as are participants, rather than audience members or visitors. This is intended to emphasize the participatory nature of SG experiences, and highlight the active engagement individuals often have. The participatory aspect highlighted in SG values is also a critical part of the development and production of a SG show. If Science Gallery Lab Detroit is to truly engage 15 to 25 year olds in art, science, technology, and design in connective, participatory, and surprising ways, than our season development process needs to actively involve that age group (along with community partners in Detroit and East Lansing) in shaping what SGLD becomes.

Take the time to outline hoped for objectives for each experience

Although we often have clear objectives in mind when we begin a project, sometimes those objectives are interpreted differently by the individuals on a team or don’t make it onto paper. Spending some time as a team writing down what you hope an event or an exhibition will accomplish and how that relates to higher level organizational goals will help with both planning and assessment, and keep those objectives at the center of all planning.

Don’t let perfection prevent progress

Labs are places of experimentation and discovery, and the first year of Science Gallery Lab Detroit will be a learning process. The courage to move forward despite unknowns, experiment with new ideas, and reflect and iterate on successes and failures will be an important part of long-term success.