Go back to article: Turning energy around: an interactive exhibition experience

A ‘wicked problem’

The subject matter of energy transition fits perfectly into science museums: connected to the history of energy supply and future technologies the topic enables curators and exhibition designers to showcase historical and recent inventions, and talk about their socio-historic background and implementations as well as about their mode of operation. The subject may even fit parts of the museum collections, thus playing to the core strengths of museum collections and their collecting rationales.

However, present-day science museums and science centres do not only explore historical or scientific objects and experiments. It has become more and more important to encourage critical thinking and allow visitors to make up their own mind on contemporary issues (Ballantyne, 2006, p 286). Energy transition as one of these issues deals with a variety of complex environmental and social questions. Helping the public understand this complexity is not only crucial but also difficult to do (see Dillon, 2017): the transformation of the energy system is not a one-dimensional problem but can be described from numerous angles. There is no right or wrong approach, nor an existing ultimate test for possible solutions. At the same time, any kind of solution attempt has real consequences. Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber named these kind of social policy problems ‘wicked problems’. They contrasted them with ‘tame problems’ that science can usually deal with (Rittel and Webber, 1973, p 155).

The Deutsches Museum decided to take on that ‘wicked problem’ and to contribute to the understanding and acceptance of energy transition. The Museum is convinced that a transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources and a more responsible stewardship can only be successful if science, the general public, business, and politics work together in the pursuit of common goals. Simultaneously the exhibition is a natural continuation of the Museum’s exhibition history. The topic of energy has existed at the Deutsches Museum since its beginnings early in the twentieth century and features in plenty of the permanent displays, such as the exhibitions on physics, power machinery, electric energy and modern energy technologies. At the same time, the Deutsches Museum has dealt with social and environmental issues on several occasions, in particular in the previous special exhibition: Welcome to the Anthropocene. The World in Our Hands (Möllers, Schwägerl and Trischler, 2015).

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/180909/003