There are great examples of this kind of thing focusing solely on the participant--for example, the Chicago Children's Museum practice of inviting kids to write postcards home to themselves from the museum. But a lot of participation extends beyond the individual, and we should celebrate that. Too often, we treat participation as a one-on-one transaction between participant and institution, when in reality visitors are always making things for each other as well. These kinds of messages help people be more aware of how their actions impact others, helping them move from "me" to "we."
Imagine sending someone a simple email to say that "fifty visitors have played with your toy/enjoyed your video/responded to your comment." This kind of message does three things:
- it validates participation in the eyes not just of the institution but other "people like you"
- it reminds visitors that they participated and that their work lives on at the institution
- it may inspire them to come back again to see how their work has evolved and what others have shared
Of course, this requires capturing an email address at the point of participation, which isn't always easy, especially for low-tech projects. But in a few recent projects where I've offered visitors the option to have something emailed home, I've gotten 95-100% participation. People are eager to continue their relationship with an institution after having a creative, social interaction onsite. Why not use messages like this one to help those relationships along?