Museology – exhibition production and social integration in museums
Research group: Pille Runnel, Agnes Aljas, Kristel Rattus

The museum studies research direction with a focus on museum communication and audience research was developed since 2009. As a result the museum communication research field was established in Estonia. Currently, the ENM is a central research institution of this field in Estonia.

Especially in the area of museum communication, the work has an additional dimension – collaboration with entrepreneurs, as the new technological solutions at the exhibitions enable complex visitor analysis and design of services and new applications.

In last decade museum studies research developed a new direction focused on museum communication and dealing with communication between the museum institution and its audiences. Major activities were carried out through the Museum Communication in the 21st Century Information Environment research project, which had two major interlinked goals: to study the ENM’s relationships with its audiences and to explore the possibilities of developing the museum’s communication activities through interventionist action research using both online and traditional media. The scope of the project was original, as there have been no opportunities, either at the national or international level, to study a national museum and its processes to that extent. The project was outstanding in terms of applied methodologies because usually interventionist research has not been performed in the field of museum communication. The field of contemporary museology has great potential, as it has the dimension of the applied research approach on the one hand, and offers ways to develop theoretical analysis on the other. The project resulted in three PhD dissertations, three interventionist exhibition projects and three major collection actions. Major contributions to European joint research initiatives were made through participation in the European National Museums: Identity Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen research project (2010-2015, financed by the 7TH Framework Programme, During this period, over 60 research publications were published. As a result of the project the field of museology as a research discipline was created in Estonia and the Estonian National Museum is the main research institution in this field in Estonia.

As the research team was involved in the work of several international research networks from different disciplines, the whole research approach was acknowledged by the communication researchers as a new way of researching audiences. For the first time in the research on museums in Estonia, the museum was conceptualised as an institution that contributes to the development of democracy, and not only in terms of preserving and communicating relevant knowledge for and to society. In addition, stress was placed on a somewhat proactive role for the museum institution, while emphasis was also placed on encouraging society to deal with more complex issues through the education of audiences about the mechanisms of democratic practices. Participatory actions launched by the research team – both in the form of collecting and exhibition activities – enable the ENM to better understand the role of the museum in the society.

The communication sciences, as well as other fields, are continuously changing. Innovation in research is often possible through new ways of combining the existing disciplines. The museum studies research project improved our understanding of participatory theories, methods of audience analysis and conceptualising audiences more widely. The action research approach to studying audiences received recognition and positive feedback from audience researchers. 19

Analysis of the participatory actions performed by the ENM highlighted the question of the relationship between passive and active audiences and the principles that people follow in making decisions about what kind of relationship they want to have with the content offered. This question is important not only in the domain of museums and heritage institutions, but is highly relevant in understanding social media audiences, where an active and participatory audience has became a silent prerequisite.

Museums and other memory institutions are currently going through a significant turn. In the research we referred to the digital turn as a turn, which is too often understood as technology-centred. A significant result of the project was to acknowledge this project as social, communicative and human-centred: digital technologies are not things in themselves but enable museums to relate to their audiences in novel ways by creating networks between users, heritage and institutions.

Museum communication studies and museology at the ENM is directly linked to developing the domain of the museums in Estonia. ENM researchers have taken the responsibility of implementing modern museological knowledge in museum landscape and increasing analytical thinking.

According to the ENM Statute, the ENM as Estonia’s central museum provides methodical supervision to other museums in our areas of competence.

Apart from academic input from the Museum Communication in the 21st Century Information Environment project, the ENM’s direct input into Estonian museums and the project outcomes were published in Estonian in a book Osalus muuseum (‘The Participatory Museum’).

Every year approximately 10 training courses have been organised for museums from different fields and competences (from customer service workers and guides, to the chief treasurers and museum managers). In 2014 training course on audience engagement and minorities began, which has led to the successful Erasmus+ application on migration heritage for 2017. The training courses have been organised with the support of project founding (totalling over 25 000 euros in the 2010-2015 period). Different training courses have also been given to other GLAM (galleries, libraries, archive, museum) sector institutions (which contacted the museum for training).

Researchers give lectures in universities, and courses in other locations, on museum studies and museology (from museum theory to museum practice and audience engagement) in the design and art departments of the Estonian Academy of Art, Tartu Art Colleges and the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy, as well as teaching social sciences and art and humanities at the University of Tartu and Tallinn University.

Researchers give on-going consultation to Estonian museums, most often within the fields of exhibition design and production, but also in audience engagement. Researchers sit on various museum councils and cultural heritage field committees.

The ENM organises an annual conference series for larger museum practitioners on museology titled MusKul{A}tuur in Estonian. In 2010 the topic came from the changing roles of museums in society and the position of the museum in Estonia; in 2011 the presentations dealt with the opportunities and challenges faced by Estonian museums; in 2012 the collection of contemporary objects was analysed; in 2014 an international conference looked at museum engagement; while in 2015 the museum as medium for communicating humanities research came under scrutiny.

Summaries of international museum conferences and audience engagement are regularly published in the museum blog, as are tens of articles in Estonian and interviews given to the media about museum participation projects.



Transformations of Museum-embedded Cultural Expertise (Taavi Tatsi, supervisor Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt (ENM/University of Tartu), defended 2013). ENM researcher Taavi Tatsi obtained a PhD in 2013 with his thesis dealing with the change of the ENM as an organisation. The thesis was based on four articles, three of which were written in collaboration with other ENM researchers. The sub-project was centred on, but not limited to, developments at the Estonian national Museum. In terms of its research design it resembled insider action research involving research interventions – actual experimental participatory actions – within the Estonian national Museum. Taking part in the development process related to exhibition production in the new ENM building allowed the author to superimpose some of the insights and experiences gained from the intervention processes and the reflexive analysis. The study deals with the authorship of the national museum space and audience participation, and the (mainly architectural) innovation of the museum, which has been one of the most important symbols in national memory. The study also deals with the implications of audience participation on the identity of the museum professional and on the formation of cultural expertise in museums. It revolves around the question of how the more ‘traditional’ curatorial identity is formed in the development of exhibitions. It also asks which (new) horizons open up when audiences are given more power in key structural decisions in museums, including the audience participation in the formation of museum collections. Tatsi’s dissertation shows that transformations of museum-embedded expertise are implied by communicative and participatory shifts in society. Theoretical elaborations of the transformation of monovocal-to-multivocal communication and the authoritative-to-collaborative participatory transformation formed the two main intersecting axis through which the study interpreted the transformation of museum-embedded cultural expertise.

Governmentality and Cultural Participation in Estonian Public Knowledge Institutions (Krista Lepik, supervisors Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt (ENM/University of Tartu), Nico Carpentier (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), defended 2013). The dissertation explores the Estonian museums and libraries in terms of the existing participatory practices in these institutions, applying the theoretical framework of governmentality and studying the audience response to various governmentality practices. The study proved a thorough overview of the range of participatory practices applied in Estonian knowledge and memory institutions.

Conceptualising Engagement Modes: Understanding the Museum–Audience Relationship In Latvian Museums (Linda Lotina, supervisors Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt (ENM/University of Tartu) and Pille Runnel (ENM), defended 2016). Linda Lotina’s thesis explored how museums understand audience engagement and interact with active audiences. Research was based on four related studies exploring museum relationships with audiences online and on-site in Latvian museums and at the Estonian National Museum. Apart from engagement analysis in Latvian museums, the study develops concepts related to audience engagement in the museum context and conceptualises engagement modes. The study debates internal and external factors influencing audience engagement in museums. The dissertation consists of four articles, two of which were co-authored with ENM researchers.


European National Museums: Identity Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen (Pille Runnel, Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, Taavi Tatsi, Kristel Rattus)

ENM researchers participated at the EUNAMUS European research program, which is dedicated to European national museums and the development of museums in 37 European countries, and the past, present and future of these museums. The aim of the program was a wider investigation of the role of national museums, their identity policies and the uses of the past. ENM researchers were part of the research layer, working with museum visitors – which covered national museums in different European countries (Greece, Spain, Scotland, Ireland, Estonia, Latvia, Sweden, Italy, Germany) – and explored the relationship European citizens have with history and material culture, and the significance of national museums in the formation of their national and European identities. This part of the study also contributed to the European Policy Brief, identifying the key challenges that national museums face in the 21st century, i.e. responding to local variations of political context, resources, collection legacies, museum practices and professionals, and making proposals on how national museums can contribute to a socially cohesive Europe through the statement that national museums are Europe’s ‘cultural glue’.

Cultural Participation in the Museum: An Audience Perspective on the Case of the Estonian National Museum’s Participatory Initiatives (Agnes Aljas, supervisor Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt (ENM/University of Tartu), expected defence 2018). Aljas’ thesis is an analysis of the participatory experiments that engage audiences in participatory activities within the museum space or in online environments; the analysis is complemented by qualitative interviews with participants. The research was based on five studies of museum participants that had the overall research aim of understanding the participant’s intentions of becoming participants in the participatory situation within the museum. The cover article combines the research area with museum studies and communication studies and analyses individuals and their relationships to cultural institutions, framed as they are within participatory conditions and related to the change in existing power relations. The analysis is performed through the theoretical framework of the transformation of institutions and agency. The dissertation consists of five articles, four of which have been co-authored with ENM researchers.

Future perspectives

The ENM aims to secure the excellence of museum studies with a focus on museum communication and audience studies, proceeding from its position as leader in this field in Estonia. After the October 1, 2016 opening of the new museum building and exhibitions, visitor numbers by the end of year were over 100,000. Future research projects will address an urgent need for European museums to enable increasingly diverse communities to enjoy full participation in cultural life. Recent changes in Estonia’s cultural consumption and transformations will also influence museum audiences in near future. The visitors and the reception of exhibitions will be an excellent basis for future audience studies and for museum communication research. The on-going Grandma's Story project – engaging migrant youth in their local communities (2017-2019) – will be the new starting point for research, which will continue with minorities and multicultural identity research.

Museum communication studies will involve the field of digital heritage communication, looking at the ICT integration into museum-audience relations, studying ICTs as entry points to the museum and the usage of ICTs in the museum exhibition space. Potential future studies contribute to a smart specialisation growth area that could be called ‘information and communications technology horizontally via other sectors’.

The ENM is a site for collaboration between researchers and small-scale exhibition design companies. In recent years, ‘design thinking’ has emerged as a key tool for organisational development and innovation in museums, offering new holistic methods for resolving complex issues. In Europe, numerous small-scale exhibition design companies have emerged as specialists offering ground-breaking strategies and innovative means to engage diverse audiences, but their capabilities have not yet been fully recognised or deployed in the museum sector. Much museum design is still dominated by top-down knowledge transfer approaches that fail to provide participatory solutions for deep and active engagement. In some areas the United States has made more progress than Europe where hierarchies of museum governance and management are more entrenched and where, in universities, effort is dispersed across design, architecture and museum studies. The result is a paucity of integrated research, a lack of roadmaps to innovation and new services. To meet these challenge the analysis of design and production of exhibitions is important in future research collaboration.

The museum studies line of research plans to embrace the potential of design and design thinking as a key strategic resource in museums’ quest to act as sites of cross-cultural communication and social exchange. Collaborative projects in this direction are currently in development with an international museum, communication and design studies based network, which sees the potential of design and design thinking as a key strategic resource in the quest to act as sites of cross-cultural communication and social exchange.

In addition, co-operation with the Estonian Academy of Art has started with orientation to training and research. An overarching goal is to train a new generation of creative, entrepreneurial design-led researchers and research-led designers who will use design thinking and practice to transform museums rendering them more open, inclusive, participatory and sustainable.


Developing museum communication in the 21st century information environment (ETF8006, 2009-2012, principal investigator Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt). Research staff: Agnes Aljas, Nico Carpentier, Laur Kanger, Marin Laak, Krista Lepik, Liis Linn, Linda Lotina, Kristjan Raba, Pille Runnel, Taavi Tatsi, Triin Visnapuu

EuNaMus European National Museums: Identity Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen. (7 RP European Commission CORDIS, 2010-2013, principal investigator Peter Aronsson). Research staff: Pille Runnel, Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt

Museum Mediators (Leonardo da Vinci Multilateral Projects “Transfer of Innovation, 2012-2014, principal investigator Inês Câmara). Research staff: Agnes Aljas

Children and young people in the emerging information and consumer society (ETF6968, 2007-2010, principal investigator Veronika Kalmus). Research staff: Pille Runnel

The Problems of Transformation and Reception of Cultural Heritage in the Digital Age (ETF7162, 2007-2010, principal investigator Marin Laak). Research staff: Agnes Aljas, Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, Pille Runnel

Actual complexity of cultural communication and methodological challenges of cultural research (SF0180002s07, 2007-2012, principal investigator Halliki Harro-Loit). Research staff: Agnes Aljas, Pille Runnel

Estonia as an Emerging Information and Consumer Society: Social Sustainability and Quality of Life (SF0180017s07, 2007-2012, principal investigator Peeter Vihalemm). Research staff: Agnes Aljas, Pille Runnel

Transforming Audiences, Transforming Societies (COST Action ISO906, 2010-2014). Network members: Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt (Management Commitee), Pille Runnel (Management Commitee)

NordLAC Nordic Research Network on Learning Across Contexts (NordForsk, 2011-2014, principal investigator Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt). Research staff: Pille Runnel, Taavi Tatsi

Generations and inter-generational relationships in the emerging information society (ETF8527, 2011-2015, principal investigator Veronika Kalmus). Research staff: Pille Runnel

EU Kids Online II Enhancing Knowledge Regarding European Children's Use, Risk and Safety Online (7FP, principal investigator Sonia Livingstone). Research staff: Pille Runnel

RICHES Renewal, Innovation & Change: Heritage and European Society (FP7, 2014-2015, principal investigator Neil Forbes) Research staff: Pille Runnel



2010 51th annual conference, international conference Transforming culture in the digital age

2012. 53th annual conference Curating and designing the permanent exhibition

2013. 54th annual conference Changing cultural heritage

2014. 55th annual conference Exhibition and disciplines: production of the permanent exhibition Estonian dialogues



Grandma's Story - Engaging migrant youth in their local communities (Erasmus+ Cooperation for innovation and the exchange of good practices, 2017-2019, principal investigator Aftab Rahman). Research staff: Agnes Aljas, Jaanika Jaanits, Pille Runnel, Terje Anepaio.

Runnel, P.; Tatsi, T.; Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P. (2010). Who authors the nation? The debate surrounding the building of the new Estonian National Museum. In: Knell, S., Aronsson, P., Bugge Amundsen, A., Barnes, A. J., Burch, S., Carter, J. (eds.). National Museums. New Studies from around the World. London and New York: Routledge, 325-338.

Aljas, A. (2010). Наследство и традиции в очакванията на обществото и в социалните отговорности на музея. In: Българска етнология, 36(3), 70-81.

Rattus, K. (2011). Teekond kujutletud minevikku: kultuurimälu uuskasutus tänapäeva Eestis In: Eesti Rahva Muuseumi aastaraamat vol 54, 114-131.

Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P.; Runnel, P. (2011). When the Museum Becomes the message for Participating Audiences. In: Carpentier, N., Dahlgren, P. (eds.). Communication Management Quarterly. Special Issue ‘Interrogating audiences: Theoretical horizons of participation’, 159-180.

Tatsi, T. (2011). Identity struggles of museum professionals: autonomous expertise and audience participation in exhibition production. In: Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics; Vol. 5, No 2, 65-80.

Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P.; Runnel, P. (2012). Online Opportunities. In: Livingstone, S., Haddon, L., Görzig, A. (eds.). Children, risk and safety online: Research and policy challenges in comparative perspective. London: The Policy Press. 73-85.

Tatsi, T.; Aljas, A. (2012). Democratising Collections through Audience Participation. In: The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, vol 4, Issue 4, 31-40.

Runnel, P.; Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P.; Viires, P.; Laak, M. (eds.). (2013). In: Digital Turn: User's Practices and Cultural Transformations. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag.

Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P.; Runnel, P.; Laak, M.; Viires, P. (2013). The Challenge of the Digital Turn. Runnel, P., Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P., Viires, P., Laak, M. (eds.). In: The Digital Turn. User’s Practices and Cultural Transformations. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag, 7-12.

Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P.; Runnel, P.; Aljas, A. (2013). Orienting the Heritage Institution towards Participatory Users in the Internet. In: Runnel, P., Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P., Viires, P., Laak, M. (eds.). The Digital Turn. User’s Practices and Cultural Transformations. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag, 13-25.

Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P.; Tatsi, T.; Runnel, P.; Aljas, A. (2013). Researching Audience Participation in Museums: A Multi-Method and Multi-Site Interventionist Approach. In: Geoffroy Patriarche, Helena Bilandzic, Jakob Linaa Jensen, Jelena Jurišić (eds.). Audience Research Methodologies Between Innovation and Consolidation (in Series: Routledge Studies in European Communication Research and Education). Routledge, 87-106.

Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P. (2013). King of the Hill? Seeking the New in Audience Research. The Communication Review, 16, 92-102.

Lõhmus, M.; Kõuts, R.; Nieminen, Hannu; Kõnno, A.; Aljas, A. (2013). Transformation of Newspapers' Thematic Structure in the 20th Century: A Comparative Analysis of Estonia, Finland and Russia. In: Javnost-The Public, 20 (1), 89-106.

Lepik, K.; Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P. (2013). Handicraft Hobbyists in an Ethnographic Museum - Negotiating Expertise and Participation. In: Tomanic Trivundža, I.; Carpentier, N.; Nieminen, H.; Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P.; Kilborn, R.; Sundin, (eds.). Past, future and change: Contemporary analysis of evolving media scapes. Ljubljana, Slovenia: Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana Press: Založba FDV (The researching and teaching communication series).

Runnel, P.; Lepik, K.; Lotina, L. (2014). Constructing National Identity: A National Museum Visitor’s Perspective. In: The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Vol. 6, No. 4, 67-77.

Runnel, P.; Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P. (eds.). (2014). Democratising the Museum: Reflections of Participatory Technologies. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag.

Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P.; Runnel, P. (2014). Increasing the Usability of the Museum: Four Studies. In: Runnel, P.; Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P. (eds.). Democratising the Museum: Reflections on Participatory Technologies Peter Lang Verlag, 203-215.

Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, Pille; Runnel, P. (2014). The Challenge of Democratising the Museum. In: Runnel, P; Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P. Democratising the Museum: Reflections on Participatory Technologies. Peter Lang Verlag. 9-16.

Runnel, P.; Lepik, K.; Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P. (2014). Visitors, Users, Audiences: Conceptualising People in the Museum. In: Runnel, P., Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P. (eds.). Democratising the Museum: Reflections on Participatory Technologies. Peter Lang Verlag, 219-240.

Runnel, P. (ed.). (2014). Osalus muuseumides (Participatory museum). Tartu: Estonian National Museum.

Lunt, P.; Kaun, A.; Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P.; Stark, B.; van Zoonen, L. (2014). The Mediation of Civic Participation: Diverse Forms of Political Agency in a Multimedia Age. In: Carpentier, N.; Schröder, K. C. ; Hallett, L. (eds.). Audience Transformations: Shifting Audience Positions in Late Modernity New York, London: Routledge. (Routledge Studies in European Communication Research and Education; 1), 142-156.

Aljas, A. (2015). Motivations for participating in museums' interventions. In: Media Transformations, vol 11, 84-105.

Teppor, M.; Aljas, A. (2015). Mediators of Cultural Heritage: Cooperation Between Craftsmen and Museums. In: Bettencourt da Câmara, I., Milano, C., Padró C., Vabamäe, E.-K., Merimaa, I. (eds.). Museum Mediators Reader. Guidelines for Museum Mediators Professionals in Europe, Portugal: Mapa das ideias, 310-329.

Runnel, P. (2015). Post Scriptum. Making of: the Challenges of Exhibition Production. In: Hopeless Youth. Tartu: Estonian National Museum, 491-507.

Rattus, K. (2016). Dialoogilisus Eesti Rahva Muuseumi püsinäitusel „Kohtumised“ (The role of dialogue in “Encounters”, the new permanent exhibition at the Estonian National Museum). In: Eesti Rahva Muuseumi aastaraamat, vol 59, 142-161.

Aljas, A. (2017). Participation in the museum: diverse audiences and their motivations at the Estonian National Museum. In: Museums and Innovation. Antos, Z., Fromm, A. B., Golding, V. (eds.). Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 147-162.



2010. Open curatorship exhibition Eesti matus / Estonian funeral, curator Maire Sala, cooperation with ETF8006

2011. Open curatorship exhibition Uku ja Mulgi vakk /Uku and the Mulgi chest, curators NGO Mulgi Ukuvakk, Hilda Pidim, Eve Kuuse, in cooperation with ETF8006

2012. Laste joonistusvõistluse näitus Minu kingitus / Children’s drawings exhibition My gift, curators Pille Runnel, Ehti Järv

2013. Open curatorship exhibition Raudteeaiad / Railway gardens, curators Heli Hinto, Kristi Ziugand, cooperation with ETF8006

2014. Participatory exhibition Kodukoht / Home, curator Triin Kerge

2014. Participatory exhibition Peidetud linn / Hidden city, curators Kerly Ilves, Ave Kikas

2014. Participatory exhibition Linlane ja aed / City gardens, curator Nele Tammeaid

2016. Tee oma näitus Ajakihid / Do It Yourself Hall exhibition Layers of Time, curator Raoul Annion