Conference Day 1: Trust

November 30, 2023

Day 1: Trust

“We are agents of our own change.” Museums in solidarity with others: who does the heavy lifting?  Bernadette Lynch


We live in a deeply troubled world where the term solidarity is becoming more and more familiar in public discourse, and, internationally, within the policy rhetoric of publicly funded institutions. Right now, in museums, the word ‘solidarity’ is everywhere. Like inclusion, representation, participation, social justice, decolonization, activism, museums over time have adopted seemingly ever-increasingly democratic slogans to match the demands of the times. Yet, these may have little or nothing to do with justice or equality, nor do they it turns out, necessarily, empower those on the receiving end.

And how to be in solidarity from a position of privilege? Could a relationship based on solidarity offer, as some are now claiming, “a true process of healing” between the museum and its diverse communities? Yet others question, who does the emotional ‘heavy-lifting‘, once we commit to collectively unearthing the divisions, ruptures and misunderstandings between museums and others? How does a solidarity practice offer a duty of care for each other in these relations? Facing an uncertain future for us all, some museums are attempting to facilitate people’s own processes of empowerment and active agency for social justice and change. Dr Lynch draws on international examples and proposes that this may be the time for museums and solidarity.

Bernadette Lynch is an internationally known writer, lecturer and researcher on museum theory and practice, and in leading museum transformation and change. She is a museum academic and professional with thirty years’ experience in senior management in UK and Canadian museums. Formerly Deputy Director at the Manchester Museum, University of Manchester, her research and consultancy focuses on ethical, innovative participatory practice, with a particular interest in solidarity, decolonisation, power, democracy, debate, conflict, contested collections, difficult subject matter and activism, and on social change through critical collaboration with diverse communities. Author of the influential ‘Whose Cake is it Anyway?’ Report (2011), she is founder member and leads the Solidarity in Action Network, an international network of museum professionals, academics and grassroots activist organisations. Bernadette Lynch is a jury member for the European Museum of the Year Award (EMYA). She publishes widely on participatory democracy in museums, and on ‘useful museum’ practice. She is Honorary Research Associate, University College London. Her work is freely available online:

Reconsidering museums: the changing nature of public trust in museums  Caroline Loewen 

Short Talk

Reconsidering Museums, a three-year research and advocacy project, set out to answer the question, what do museums mean to Canadians? Through a nation-wide engagement campaign, the project revealed how the public views the role and value of museums. One of the themes that emerged was the notion of authority. Authority is about the perception that museums are trusted to provide accurate and credible information. The research demonstrated that Canadians continue to trust museums and to consider them a credible source of information, but to maintain this role, the museum must reimagine its relationship to the truth, and as ‘trusted advisor’ to the public it serves.

Caroline Loewen is a cultural worker, curator, and writer. She is the Communications Lead for the Alberta Museums Association and was the Project Lead for the national research and advocacy project Reconsidering Museums. She has over 15 years of experience working in museums in collections, programming, and curatorial. Her curatorial practice is focused on community participation and storytelling through exhibitions. She is passionate about helping museums become more collaborative, accessible, and engaging spaces, that promote perspective-taking and dialogic learning, and are advocates for social change in their communities.

Trust in science vs. trust in museums: an initial exploration of differences and similarities   Friederike Hendriks

Short Talk

This talk explores how trust in science and trust in museums is related. A theoretical overview of current conceptualizations of trust in general is followed by a description of the epistemic and social underpinnings of trust in science in particular. Based on recent data, Friederike Hendriks explores the state of trust in (science and technology) museums in Germany, and how it compares to the current state of trust in science and discussed how to gauge trust in museums in future research.

Friederike Hendriks is a psychologist and science communication researcher. Currently, she leads a Junior Research Group at Technische Universität Braunschweig, which is devoted to studying “Communicating Scientists”. Friederike received her PhD at the University of Münster, where she inquired how laypeople assess the trustworthiness of experts and has continued her research interest in trust in science during her postdoc years at the University of Münster and at the IPN –Leibniz-Institute for Science and Mathematics Education in Kiel.

Social encounters: trust in science and the museum experience through the lens of social psychology  Marlene Altenmüller

Short Talk

Science museums are social spaces — yet people often are not aware of the “social” in museums. Still, social cognition decisively affects our museum experience. In a series of research projects, Marlene showed how stereotypic perceptions, attitudes, and expectations determine how open and personal science communication (in museums) is perceived by lay audiences. For one, displaying scientists in a personal and approachable way can bridge stereotypic perceptions, increasing warmth-related trust, but also decreasing competence-related trust. Laypeople might even use personal information in science communication to up- or devalue scientists, depending on their pre-existing attitudes. At the same time, however, we find that open and transparent communication (i.e., about tentativeness and uncertainty in science) can be beneficial and is even actively demanded by laypeople. Considering social psychological perspectives can provide new insights into how people experience science and museums. Working together with potential visitors can be a valuable and creative pool of information.

Marlene Altenmüller is a research associate with the social psychology group at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München, Germany. She trained and works as experimental social psychologist, but also has a background in art history. Primarily, she does research on science communication, science reception, and meta-scientific perspectives with a special focus on trust in and within science. However, she also studies the psychology of art reception and the museum experience. Bringing together these two research interests, she regularly works with Deutsches Museum in Munich, investigating trust in science in the science museum.

Public trust in German museums: planning a population representative study  Kathrin Grotz & Patricia Rahemipour

Short Talk

Trust in institutions is the “glue” that holds democratic societies together. This makes the erosion of trust in politics, the public media and the education system, which has been evident in surveys for some time, all the more worrying. The extent to which museums, which traditionally enjoy a high degree of credibility, are affected by this crisis of confidence is a question on which there is little empirical data. For this reason, it is time to substantiate the trust potential of museums with empirical data for the approximately 7,000 museums in Germany today. During their talk, Kathrin Grotz and Patricia Rahemipour presented the model for their study, which is based on a representative survey of the American Alliance of Museums.

Kathrin Grotz is Deputy Director of the Institute for Museum Research, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz. Her current research focuses on innovative formats of knowledge and science communication, evaluation and audience research, as well as collections and object circulation with a focus on natural history. Previously, Kathrin worked for almost two decades at the Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum of the Freie Universität Berlin, where she was responsible for numerous exhibitions as senior curator and head of exhibitions. She studied modern history, ethnology and political science at the Universities of Heidelberg and Albuquerque, New Mexico, and completed her traineeship at the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums in Mannheim.

Patricia Rahemipour studied prehistoric and classical archaeology and philosophy. In 2009 she completed her dissertation in the area between archaeology and film studies with a thesis on “Archaeology in the Spotlight“. She gained initial experience as head of the study collection at the Department of Prehistory at the University of Leipzig. She then worked as a project manager and senior curator for the German Archaeological Institute and the Cluster of Excellence “Topoi“. After two years at the Romano-Germanic Commission and the Jewish Museum Frankfurt, she joined the Botanic Garden Berlin in 2014 and was appointed Director of the Botanical Museum and the Department of Science Communication in 2016. Since 2019, she has been Director of the Institute for Museum Research, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz.