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4.1. Science centres as the new "philosophes"

(in reference to issues mentioned in chapter 2.3.)

Mankind is facing a fundamental change: a second intellectual, scientific and technological revolution, after the first of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. As with the first, this one involves all the aspects of human life: politics, our cities, our natural environment, our privacy, our culture, our jobs. Nothing is left untouched. Yet there is one big difference. The first revolution was spread over three generations and it took another hundred years before the resulting industrialisation really made itself felt throughout society. Roughly 400 years, from 1500 to 1900 and spreading gradually over the world. This time everything seems to be happening at once, world-wide and within one life-time.

The challenge of the 21st century seems in the first place to be: to steer the present intellectual revolution in such a way that as many people as possible gain from it and that their quality of life does not decline, but improve. The tasks ahead of us are huge in scale and complexity, but so are the tools available. Yet we must not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the processes that these tools and their toolmakers generate. Our ideas, our cultures, our diversity and our commitment should dominate and steer the development of our tools.

Mastery of the current scientific and technological revolution demands "philosophes", people who, like the eighteenth-century philosophes, popularise the philosophers' ideas, and promote and explain science to the public. Science Centres could play this "open house" role, becoming the focal points of society, where interest- and pressure-groups meet with politicians, industrialists and leading symbolic analysts for open discussion.

To do this well, Science Centres should add to their displays of real objects and phenomena-oriented interactive exhibits: for example, more contextual aspects, social and ethical issues, displays of processes, and displays using artistic media such as computer art, video art and kinetic art. And they should do this not by imposing opinions or becoming preachy, but by showing, as true open houses, differences of opinion, chances and risks, and most of all by enabling visitors to choose between several scenarios and freely to discuss the different outcomes.

Kenneth Hudson (see list of works consulted) also points in this direction when he touches on "Phase four" museums in describing the Municipal Museum at Rüsselsheim, Germany, where instead of displaying various aspects of industry, the museum is organised around the concept of industrialisation.

Heureka, on the outskirts of Helsinki, la Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, Paris, and Museu de la Ciencia, Barcelona, are reaching in this direction by building exhibitions on social, historical, psychological and environmental issues, and by developing "mini-theatres". In these theatres visitors can sit back and ‹ using a variety of media and real objects ‹ can reflect on the issues presented. Sometimes interactively, sometimes simply by watching short shows of 5 to 15 minutes.

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4.2. Enhancing competence

(in reference to issues mentioned in chapters 2.5. and 2.6)

Looking at the Science Centre from a more didactic point of view, in the next era it is our intellectual capacity to deal simultaneously with different "logics" that will be essential. Modern man and woman will have to be able to deal with the "logic" behind a computer, behind a video, in human resource management, financial management, tele-banking, family-life, insurance, data-bases, mobile telecommunications, multi-cultural society, the diverse cultures of enterprises and networks, etc, etc.

The number and variety of these "logics" will only increase and, behind each logic, are hidden semi-independent processes producing unpredictable results. In order to set a firm course through all these logics, we will therefore be forced to make decisions which continuously create new realities that, themselves, can only be seen as moments in a endlessly evolving process. Survival and success will require an emotional and intellectual attitude of continuous anticipation and alertness. It will require decisions sometimes more intuitive than rational; iteration; and an awareness that every decision is almost "outdated" the moment it's taken.

Partly as a result of this, partly stimulating it, a real revolution is taking place in the methods of science and technology. Traditionally, science and industry sought to master complexity by the Cartesian method of dividing the problem into small pieces, each of which could be solved by the methods then available. It was not generally possible to treat the system as a whole, and many interactions and relationships were lost in the process.

The methods now emerging involve system thinking ‹ the inclusion of as many components as can be handled ‹ and the development of the tools, both theoretical and practical, which are needed to solve such complex problems, for example the use of chaos theory or the application of fuzzy logic, the use of genetic and computer algorithms, etc.

Science Centres should try to enhance their visitors' competence. And, today, enhancing competence means giving the opportunity to master the intellectual tools and basic intellectual skills of abstraction, system-thinking, experiment and collaboration.

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4.3 Smaller, smarter, as well as personal

(in reference to issues mentioned in chapter 2.6., 2.7. and 2.8.)

In the "MIES" report (see works consulted) the importance of creating a museum environment which enables visitors to experience simultaneously educational, social as well as personal elements is shown to be decisive for return visits. Also, people prefer to choose their own path through a science centre and don't like to be guided by content-related routes. Most attempts at routing fail anyway. Frank Oppenheimer advocated that Science Centres should give their visitors as much freedom as possible to find things out for themselves.

The frequent reports about the scientific illiteracy of "the man in the street" should be examined in context, not merely used as panic buttons. The fact that many people cannot answer basic questions about science correctly, doesn't mean that they are incapable of grasping the basic issues involved in the introduction of new technologies. Most people learn on a "need to know" basis and they simply want to be informed from the outset about risks and opportunities, and the possible social and personal consequences. It is mostly due to our failure to communicate this, that the gap between laymen and professionals has become so wide.

Many people love buying the latest hi-tech gadget, but at the same time have very negative feelings about science and technology. These are associated with environmental problems, with a technology-push by private enterprise heavily subsidised by government, and by a sense of the subjects being difficult and boring. Our battle is to some degree against ignorance, but mostly against distrust, images, prejudices and misconceptions developed, rightly or wrongly, at a very early age.

With respect to the amount of information, and its increase, it seems obvious that if we strove for completeness we would launch ourselves on a "mission impossible". In the last decades Science Centres have tended to become bigger and bigger, but I seriously question whether such quantitative growth is the right answer. Being big also means being burdened with all the problems of big in-house organisations, and they may distract us from what Science Centres have always been good at: data-processing and data-compressing. Two skills vital in the next era. Apart from the fact that there seems to be an increasing shortage of funding for operational costs. Whether we like it or not, (public) cash-flows have become footloose, flexible and mostly project-driven too. The answer seems to lie then in what is happening around us: to become smaller, smarter and consumer-oriented.

Smaller in the sense that we should try to keep our staff costs as low as possible by contracting out and by surrounding ourselves with a network of project partners (the virtual corporation). Smarter in the sense that, by doing so, we keep ourselves up-dated through the ideas of outsiders. But also smarter in directing our exhibitry towards the basic intellectual skills of this era (abstraction, system thinking, experimentation and collaboration), instead of towards more encyclopaedic approaches. Consumer-oriented in the sense that we focus more directly on our target groups, instead of on intermediaries. So, for example, fewer curriculum-bound programmes, but more "highlight" tours weaving throughout our entire exhibition, along a route that we, as independent Science Centres, think young people may find interesting. This approach also forms part of the strategy Science Centres could develop in response to the identity-crisis within the education system.

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4.4. Educational roles

(in reference to issues mentioned in chapter 2.6.)

Faced with the identity crisis in the educational system, some Science Centres are beginning to look more and more like schools, stressing the importance of facts and figures in order to stay in touch with schools that have redefined their "core-business" as such. But in doing so, Science Centres will, in the long run, be as much threatened as schools by the mismatch between formal-education culture and today's youth sub-cultures. Science Centres should also be aware of the fact that, as (informal) learning environments, they are no longer alone in the field and in some ways face the same competitors as schools.

In Amsterdam we defined four educational roles we would like our Science Centre to play.

In the first place it could function as a kind of supermarket, a shopping mall for spontaneous learning. The visitors shop around for new and interesting things. If they are in a hurry with a short shopping list, they are soon finished. If they have more time, they can collect all kinds of things at their leisure. They can check the displays showing the science "top ten" and the "technology of the month". Tired of "mind-shopping" ‹ browsing, participating, reading, thinking ‹ they descend on the coffee shop. They reflect on their new impressions. At home they lay out all their purchases. This is how to enjoy science and technology. It's a useful way of spending one's leisure time as a tourist, of taking an extended lunch-break, or making a family visit.

Secondly, the Science Centre could function as an information-centre. Through its "info-links", it can provide answers, for example to questions about the fundamentals of science, about technological applications or the background to current industrial developments.

Thirdly, it could function as an open learning centre for visitors engaged in "do-it-yourself" learning. You study and work, experiment and explore and sit in a study corner behind one of the encyclopaedic info-links. Or you follow one of the highlight tours on a subject you explicitly want to find out more about. Lastly, it could function as an organised learning environment. During a group visit, you follow a two-hour programme, toured by a guide. You visit selected exhibitry, watch a demonstration, take part in some experiments and "do" a workshop.

As a supermarket and as an information centre, the Science Centre remains in the background from an educational point of view. As an open learning centre and as an organised learning environment, the educational policy is clearly visible.

In all cases the Science Centre has an educational task: to stimulate an interest and an appreciation for science, technology and industry. It is a place where dynamic learning ‹ whether in the form of spontaneous learning, do-it-yourself learning, or guided learning ‹ is given a chance.

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4.5. Human creativity

We believe that Science Centres should become public, interactive centres with a broad philosophical, social and cultural appeal in society, primarily focused on human creativity in a very general way.

"Inspiration", "stimulation", "curiosity", "encouraging confidence", "motivation" and "fascination" should be more central to us then worries about scientific facts and figures, however much information visitors can gain from us. And the key message we would like to communicate to our visitors, sounds like this: "We think you are worthwhile. Each of you is gifted with certain talents and we invite you to take part actively and enjoy yourself in our centre. We also need you as an active, creative and curious member of society."

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4.6. IMPULS Science & Technology Center, an outline

Looking at Science Museums and Science Centres of both phase one and phase two, we find in their galleries: displays of real objects (including old instruments and machinery) and natural phenomena; displays showing the use of natural phenomena in technological devices; displays of technological and industrial processes; scientific experiments (including experiments on human perception and cognition); theatres telling the stories of science, and exploring the related social and ethical issues; spaces for live demonstrations; and sometimes the use of artistic media.

As previously stated, the view here is not one of successive generations of Science Museums and Centres, each generation substituting new, superior features for outdated cast-offs. It is, rather, a concept of increasing richness. Thus, through the addition of new and different features, the 17th century cabinet of curiosities evolved into today's multi-media science communication centre.

In our first outline for Amsterdam, we decided that our basic approach would be to incorporate as many different features into our new Science Centre as possible. We also decided to try and touch on as wide a variety of themes as possible. We will have about fifteen which, for reasons of visitor orientation, will be grouped into five thematic zones: Energy; Technology; Humankind; Communication (including telecommunications, mobility and economic and financial transactions); and Phenomena.

The next step was to look upon our exhibitry as an environment that can play different roles for different target-groups. Regarding the exhibitry as the "hardware" of the Science Centre, we realised that in the use of a variety of live programmes, we could build several different types of visits (differing in their emotional, educational and social aspects) around the same exhibitry.

People's natural tendency to walk through exhibitions in a random manner means that every exhibit unit should have a stand-alone quality. The danger of this approach is, however, is that we end up with a collection of isolated exhibits lacking any context or relation. To address this problem we decided to contrast themes as much as possible, in order to make the physical limits of each theme clear to the public. Sometimes we will even "envelop" a theme in a certain structure (a small dome, or a house, for example) to create a special environment, but in general we prefer open spaces and as little "cabinetry" as possible.

First we list our exhibits on the basis of content-related issues and topics, which we think will be relevant over the next five years. Then we select and classify our possible displays according to their predominant qualities: cognitive and kinaesthetic; dramatic; personal/emotional. The units and exhibit clusters will then be arranged so that, as people move through the exhibition, they experience constantly changing types of interaction, through a loose kind of routing, mostly dominated by the physical structure of the building. In this way, we hope to sustain high levels of attention.

In addition to individually-oriented, interactive exhibitry, mostly offering experiments on phenomena and applied sciences, we add art pieces (kinetic, graphic, video-art, computer-art, fragments of old movies), old instruments or machinery, old (arty) models and (often interactive) "mini-theatres" where people can reflect on social and ethical issues as well as socio-economic processes.

Take for example material-technology. Here we are emphasising properties, instead of approaching the theme from a molecular point of view, and we try through interactive exhibitry to give people experience of different types of properties. In the mini-theatre we will show the social processes related to material-technology, such as man's attempts to create new materials with superior properties, like super-strong fibres. Or, in the case of biotechnology, an interactive theatre provides visitors with the opportunity to make decisions on ethical issues and see "what happens next", and to show them how previous visitors chose.

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4.7. Highlight tours

In order to provide our visitors with guided tours and with material they could use at home or in school, we will add "software" to our exhibitry as a kind of contextual overlay. We call this "software", not surprisingly, "highlight tours".

The tours should draw out and clarify the relations and cross-references between exhibits within a theme or between themes. They should also function as tools to compress all existing data into "tailor-made packages of information" that can be understood and "processed" by different target-groups.

If a visitor or teacher wishes, he/she or the class can go through all our themes, following a highlight tour on a subject like "waves", and visiting selected exhibitry in each zone. We will make these tours as flexible as possible. To avoid the "comprehensive catalogue approach", they will be related more to a theme as a whole, with individual exhibits and live demonstrations acting as marker points along the way. Thus, waves in relation to telecommunication, sound waves, waves in water, peristalsis in your body, etc. We are planning in total 14 "highlight tours" on subjects such as the environment (having integrated environmental issues into each theme), your own body, applied technology, etc. The tours will sometimes be connected to school curricula, but not always, for we believe it to be more important to get as close as possible to the interests of children themselves. Every year we will critically evaluate each tour and replace or update it.

Apart from high-light tours, we add two further types of "software" to our different themes. We call this software "info-links".

One "info-link" is focused on jobs, professional training and production processes: within each theme, the relevant jobs, processes, etc, will be shown using a touch-screen database of text, images and animation. The visitor will be able to "run" through this info-link on the basis of personal interests or he/she will be able to get a more general picture of the structure of the labour-market as a whole. These "info-links" should function as "appetisers" in our galleries. In addition we shall operate a central Study and Careers info-centre, where personal counselling will take place. In this way we hope to be able to show some of the hidden processes that take place within industry, university and private research laboratories and to make the connection between science and technology and the labour market.

The other type of "info-link" will be more of an encyclopaedia. For this we will make use of the latest technologies to combine all available software into one general system. It will thus be possible to show any electronic publication in any language publishers will allow us. Sitting at a multi-media console, visitors will be able to choose (in each theme) from all available electronic publications, make "notes", "tear out" pages, and make print-outs to take home or to the classroom.

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4.8. The virtual science centre

(in reference to issues mentioned in chapter 2.7.)

We value our outside activities as highly as those inside. A visit to our centre is of course very important. But it is an incident of two-and-a-half hours per year (if we're lucky), and we believe we can only make a major impact on society if we are also present in the streets of our city, in the houses of our visitors and in classrooms. We also believe that our Science Centre should in many ways function as a bridge between (interest) groups, and as a connection between our visitors and the surrounding infrastructure of knowledge on the outskirts of the city.

First of all, we regard our organisation as a tool of management connecting ourselves to the outside. A Science Centre can in itself be regarded as a symbolic analyst, functioning as a problem-solver, problem identifier and strategic broker of information. In many ways we feel ourselves to belong to the service industry and the core activity of our general management is strategic brokerage: people who understand enough about specific technologies and social issues to identify the potential for new themes, raise whatever money is necessary to launch new projects, and assemble the right problem-solvers and -identifiers to carry them out.

The problem-solvers and -identifiers can for the most part ‹ but not entirely ‹ be drawn in from the outside. And by taking in people from companies, universities, privately-owned laboratories ‹ in short from the surrounding infrastructure of knowledge ‹ we connect ourselves to these environments. It saves money, but most of all it keeps the core team updated, and we gain insights we could never have achieved on our own. At present we have surrounded ourselves with many independent agencies, and individuals from all sorts of backgrounds, to develop and design our exhibitions and programmes. Thus forming a virtual organisation.

We have a small maintenance crew, but again, most of the maintenance work will be done on a contract-basis by outside enterprises. Our workshop will be small, mostly for prototyping and routine maintenance. Much emphasis will be put on personal service for our visitors but here again routine parts can be contracted out. We have, for example, engaged ourselves with a restaurant organisation that also works for the airport. They will provide us with high quality half-processed food, using the latest techniques of the food-processing industry. It enables us to keep down the investments in our kitchens and to automate processing such that the attention of our personnel will be entirely focused on the visitors, on the atmosphere of the restaurants and on high quality "finishing-off" of the food. We regard guides and demonstrators as belonging to our core team, but at the same time we will make use of the presence of two universities to draw in students.

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4.9. Outreach products

Our building will include an educational lab where we will collaborate with teachers to make all kinds of educational material that can be used in the Science Centre, but also in classrooms or at home. Similarly, we ensured that the multi-media "info-link" programmes could be converted to CD-I, and we are already doing so. We will thus be able to provide the programme to state departments, sponsors, companies, schools, families, as well as labour-market organisations and public libraries throughout the Netherlands. All these potential users will only need a CD-I drive and a television set. The opportunities thus created are vast and seemingly endless. Unintentionally, offering this service also proved to be an enormous asset during fundraising, for many companies regard these programmes as very useful for in-service training or PR-activities.

We will also use the CD-I programmes to get in touch with community-centres throughout the city, in order to reach out to those areas where most of the unemployed youngsters live, and so try to connect them to our information centre for personal counselling or group-visits.

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4.10. Street activities

Recently, the EU launched a major programme for revitalising the inner cities throughout Europe, and extending their pedestrian areas. The programme will accelerate a process already under way in many European cities with late-medieval centres (such as Amsterdam).

The gains could be manifold. First of all, the implicit, informal educational potential of our cities could be made explicit in the new pedestrian precincts and from there spread to other parts of the city. Secondly, by improving our cities' conviviality, we can expect the better-off to return, and through this to counter segregation (actually, this is already happening in some cities in Europe). And thirdly, by structuring the educational potential of the cities, through links between informal learning institutions such as museums, zoos, theatres, art galleries, public libraries, community centres, etc, the shortage of educational opportunities within society could be addressed and alternative learning routes to secondary schools created.

From 1888 to 1928 there was a Science Centre in Berlin, which many consider to be the first Science Centre in the world. The institution was divided into five principal departments: astronomical, physical, mechanical, microscopical, and the department of scientific lectures connected with the auditorium. In this auditorium or scientific theatre, curious or remarkable natural phenomena could be presented with the aid of "scenic art". In the physical department interactive exhibits on electricity were shown, designed by one of Urania's founders, Professor Goldstein. But Urania also prototyped exhibitry in the streets. The units were called "Urania-saüle " and they stood in a number of places in Berlin from 1892 onwards. They showed meterological devices and were electrically powered from the observatory. I found this a very inspiring example of how the city itself can be used as an environment for spontaneous learning.

Our Science Centre will be built in the middle of Amsterdam¹s inner harbour, straddling the entrance to the tunnel under the river IJ. In the heart of the town. The building, designed by architect Renzo Piano (well known for the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Kansai Airport in Osaka, and recently commissioned to supervise the complete renovation of the Potzdammer Platz in Berlin), will be elegant, sensual and modern; yet it will meet the old town with an exterior of traditional materials ‹ copper and brick. The building further relates itself very intentionally to its immediate context: visitors will see the harbour on both sides of the building, the seventeenth century façades along the waterfront, and the customs dock. A visit to the restaurant on the roof will give a striking view of the city. The whole roof will be freely accessible (no entrance fee charged). It will function as a public square, and we have commissioned a Japanese artist to turn it into a sculpture garden, enlivened with kinetic art. On summer evenings a kind of ballet will be performed on the roof with references to current developments in science and technology.

The fact that we are in the middle of the city, also provides us with the opportunity to make strategic alliances with surrounding public institutions, such as the Zoo, the Planetarium, the Geological Museum, Botanic Garden, Maritime Museum and Tropical Museum (specialising in third-world ethnography). By coincidence, these institutions align along an elegant axis through the city, and at this moment we are redefining the axis within the context of a science-related public infrastructure. The Science Centre, in collaboration with these other visitor attractions, will develop not only programmes for families and school groups, but also public manifestations in the streets to make the axis physically visible, and possibly outdoor exhibitry too as inspired by Urania.

We are also investigating ways of extending the concept of high-light tours to the city itself. Using lap-tops and mobile telecommunications, it may be possible to walk a scientific route through the city. In this way, a tourist or a school class could walk through Amsterdam, stand in front of the house where a seventeenth century scientist lived, and get a description of his life and work. We shall mix these historical parts with contemporary ones, standing in front of modern laboratories and opening them up. We thus hope to rekindle the notion of the city as an environment for spontaneous learning.

Last but not least, we are investigating means of operating real-time video-conferencing with other Science Centers in Europe, or in the rest of the world, by which visitors could see and communicate directly with one another around the globe. The technology is still very costly, but the price of international connections is falling rapidly. We could also use these facilities to organise public debates between visitors to different Science Centres, and again take the idea into the streets by connecting squares with one another in different capital cities of the world.

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4.11. From transatlantic to global concepts

The diversity amongst Science Centres is one of the most precious parts of our cultural heritage, and must be safeguarded. If you walk through the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, COSI in Columbus, the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, the Exploratorium in San Francisco, or the Boston Children's Museum, you will find as many differences as can be observed around Science Museums and Centres in Europe.

"Think globally, act locally," is the slogan. And what Science Centres could achieve on a local level, they could also do on a global level. The boards of ASTC and ECSITE have already decided to hold a world conference in 1996 in Vantaa, Finland, and to invite their sister-organisations from India, Australia, Asia and South America. This first world congress could lay the basis for a global network of Science Centres, with a loose association primarily focused on the exchange of ideas, and on the coordination of new projects and programmes; yet also offering mutual support, enhanced professionalism, and a counterbalance to the prevailing socio-economic trends that threaten social and political stability. We must continue exchanging as many ideas as we can between Europe and North America, where the roots of Science Museums and Centres lie. At the same time, we should actively engage our colleagues from other parts of the world, making the concept of a Science Centre ever richer and more diverse.

To the problems of our time there is no single answer. We must try to build as many "logics" as we can into our Science Centres, in the process drawing on the insights of every Science Centre world-wide.

The world has matured into a global capital and we belong at its heart.

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