Creating a connection between natural heritage collections and the natural world through nature connectedness was critical to Encountering the Unexpected. In 6 museum experiments, artists, creative practitioners and museum staff provided a space in which participants could – as artist Sheila Tilmouth (who worked with The Whitaker) described it – venture into their curiosity. Valuing participants’ experiences as non-specialists was vital, as was providing opportunities to explore nature and natural heritage collections at their own pace.

Using nature connectedness as a frame through which to understand natural heritage collections worked well when:

  • Nature connectedness and collections are embedded, not two separate elements
  • Participants could connect with nature in their everyday lives and in diverse ways
  • Participants could ‘be in the moment’, encouraging creativity and seeing the unexpected
  • An investigative approach is taken
  • The process is open-ended
  • It enables a personal and individual journey
  • There is no set agenda (but there is a framework)
  • There are opportunities for discovery, for thinking, feeling, doing

Nature connectedness and collections did not work as well when:

  • The focus is on facts, information and knowledge
  • There is a lack of opportunity for interrogation
  • Collections are incidental, being used to illustrate a point
  • The experience ends with the session
  • There is no opportunity for development
  • There is no meaningful connection with peoples’ lives

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Creating unexpected encounters