The paper analyzes a new kind of visitor feedback tool, a self-organizing map (SOM), which was tried out by Heureka, the Finnish Science Centre, when exhibiting Scenes of Silence (or Dialogue in Silence) in 2007-2008. SOM is a visualisation technique that shows multidimensional information on a two-dimensional map, enabling to get the big picture without losing nuances of the data. The paper will evaluate the potential of this new technology in the light of the Dialogue in Silence experience, and how it should be further developed. Prior Perspectives or Theory When Heureka presented the powerful exhibition Dialogue in the Dark (2000-2001), the guest books were filled with thrilled comments, reflecting the immersive, emotional and transformative experience of being guided by a blind person in total darkness. The need to express was an obvious impact of the dark, but enlightening, experience. For the other socially powerful experience, Scenes of Silence (or Dialogue in Silence), where hearing visitors are guided by deaf guides through a silent experience, Heureka wanted to widen and deepen the ways of collecting visitor feedback. We wanted to go further and set a platform for dialogue for visitors, non-visitors and the deaf ambassadors, the animators of the experience. For this goal a virtual guest book was set up. It collected personal data ? age, gender, level of sign language skills ? and then asked the user about how she/he relates to silence, sign language, deaf people and hearing implants. This multidimensional information (answers to 8 questions) was then used to locate all the persons on an attitude map. The map showed the user his/her individual location in relation to all the other people who have answered the questions. The closer the people are on the map, the more similarly they have answered the questions. Importance The use of self-organizing map was designed to map the attitudes of the Dialogue in Silence visitors and to offer them a platform for communication among themselves and with the deaf guides of the exhibition. The attitude map attracted 2500 people, out of whom 1615 completed the whole survey and received their location on the attitude map. The sign language users, 281 people, formed quite a clear group on the attitude map. On the other hand, some of them were a bit in the margins and indicated the fact that the group is not totally homogenous. Our next SOM application at Heureka, the Science Changing the World exhibition (opening April 2010), will invite visitors to share their opinions about ethical and societal issues deriving from modern research. In this application, opinion leaders (e.g. intellectuals, politicians and religious leaders) will serve as reference points on the attitude maps for visitors.
Author(s): Mikko Myllykoski