Wednesday, June 9, 2010

ECHO project

I'm following up with a few more interesting projects from the Museum 3.0 discussion I mentioned in the last post.

From their presentation at Museums and the Web 2008:
"ECHO (Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations) is a federally funded partnership of six cultural institutions in Hawai'i, Alaska, Mississippi and Massachusetts linking Native and non-Native communities, and re-connecting Native people with collections of Native American art, objects and history."

The current list of institutions involved are the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, North Slope Borough, and the Peabody Essex Museum -- quite a geographically dispersed group!

The focus of the project's collaborative websites seems to be more oriented towards highly-polished, content-heavy web-presentations, rather than relying on emergent, Web 2.0-style systems to produce content. What they have achieved in terms of institutional collaboration is laudable, but upon closer examination that's one of the only similarities this effort has with our project. The thrust of what they are doing seems to be more focused on the collaboration between institutions rather than how institutional collaborations can also involve communities directly, getting them to produce content and participate in catalog creation.

Most relevant to our project is the ECHOspace website, which is a shared catalog portal of the different partner's collections. Again, though, users are not seen as agents of participation, but rather just consumers of the information.

Closer to what we're aiming for is another related website, Artscape, which was created by one of the ECHO partners, the Peabody Museum. According to the Archives & Museum Informatics presentation,
"it includes two innovations addressing needs most clearly voiced, in PEM’s experience, by Native museum professionals and communities. First, the structure of the database is open, allowing, for example, for multiple documents, images, audio or video files to be attached to a single object, and allowing for commentary from multiple viewpoints – consulting curators or cultural experts, for example – to be attached to a single object record."

I like the user interface on this museum's site, with three different areas permanently on the screen -- the upper area is for a user's personal collection, the middle area is for searching and looking closely at catalog entries, and the lower area is for reviewing search results via thumbnails and titles and dates when the user mouses-over. Despite the nice interface, and the claim above, the ability for a user to participate is limited to this 'personal collection' thing -- no way to annotate or contribute to entries. It is not clear what happens when "cultural experts" have something to contribute or correct in the catalog.

All in all, the ECHO project seems to be an ambitious effort, and what they have produced in terms of educational content (especially related to school curriculum) is quite an achievement. And it seems reflective of what their main intention is. Similar in some respects to what we are trying to produce, but very different in others.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the feedback! Please be in touch with us through the "contact us" link on We are happy to share our experiences with you, and would be happy to hear from you about yours. Dan Elias, ECHO Project Director @ Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA.