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"Meaning Making during a Pandemic" - an online course program

Project Lead: Dr. Andrea Geipel

The idea for the Meaning Making program was formed in spring 2020, when museums were forced to close as a result of the Corona pandemic and digital offerings were suddenly on everyone's mind. Museums had to rush to expand already existing offerings or develop them from scratch. In the process, many wonderful and creative formats emerged and the discussion around the question of how we actually want to communciate content digitally came into focus. What was missing, however, was the time to reflect on what had changed through Corona - a new value of digital formats, the general shift of communication into the digital space, and questions about which topics cultural institutions should actually negotiate in a pandemic.

We filled the first season with content that concerned us personally - such as the question of how we want to work in the future or how we can make digital formats accessible. The "self-help group" became an interactive course, a network, and finally a program. The central point for us was to think outside the box: out of the museum world with international experts. Meaning Making was and is therefore held in English and deliberately invites interested people from other fields of work and other countries to participate actively in the program and in the exchange.


Banner of the first season of Meaning Making 2020 (Graphic: Deutsches Museum)

Much of the design and planning for this program was (and still is) done virtually. In the beginning, there was collaboration between our colleague, Andrea Geipel and our external partner, Abhay Adhikari. Back in April 2020, like probably many, we were suffering from Zoom fatigue as we began planning for Season 1 of Meaning Making. The purpose of the program was to engage our participants in the process of reflection, to discuss new ways of digital storytelling together, but also to entertain. In reference to the online series formats consumed even more during the pandemic, we called the sessions episodes and the individual formats seasons.

Each season is structured around a narrative with a clear thread. In Season 1, we addressed the question of how we, as cultural and media professionals, can use storytelling to demonstrate our relevance to our community. And also each episode has a clearly defined story arc (the theme) that contributes to the overall narrative. There are some structural elements that are common to all episodes and seasons. These elements focus equally on information (short lectures, provocations) and participation (live polls and group discussions). In addition, there are unexpected moments, like when we started the episode on engagement with a murder mystery. Or when we put an eight-minute mindfulness meditation at the beginning of the episode on "Well-being."

Another important issue for us was how to create a family atmosphere on the one hand and how to document our discussions and make them available for others to reuse on the other. Therefore, instead of recording the episodes, we worked with artist Azam Masoumzadeh to create a comic after each episode that visually presented the covered content as well as the discussions. We also continued the discussions started in the episodes with the guest speakers in podcast episodes that we created together with Ralph Würschinger. All comics and podcasts are freely accessible to participants and interested parties. The corresponding links are provided below. The production team also included Jenni Müller, who handled the diverse communication with our participants, and Natalie Nelissen, who coordinated the evaluation of the episodes and helped us incorporate the participants' feedback into the design of subsequent episodes and seasons.

Meaning Making was designed to help our participants reflect on their practice from different perspectives. Our credo was and is: less theory and more lived experience. We took many of these steps instinctively. When we started Season 1 in May 2020, we had no idea that Meaning Making would become an international project covering a wide range of topics - from digital storytelling to co-producing online exhibitions. On this page, we provide an overview of the previous seasons, collect links to podcasts, comics, and texts, and offer insights into current developments.


Visualization of the project team (Graphic: Azam Masoumzadeh)

Season 1: Digital Storytelling

Digital Storytelling, 5 episodes.

Season 1 of the Meaning Making program launched in 2020 at the peak of the first lockdown wave. The offering was developed in response to how cultural institutions can help reflect current events and how this can impact the way (digital) storytelling is done. The themes of the five episodes were Reframing, Well-Being, Accessiblity, Engagement, and Success. Season 1 also gave us the opportunity to break the rules of Zoom meetings (which were new at the time). So we integrated an interactive "Murder Mystery" game as well as a mediation journey. This season created the blueprint for Meaning Making - international, multidisciplinary, approachable and playful.

Episode 1: Reframing

We began the program by looking at existing digital formats of cultural activities and events. We asked ourselves how we deal with the question of relevance in a pandemic and discussed framing and context to reimagine narratives. Our guest speaker, Padma Priya of the media startup Suno India, explained how her team developed new formats to engage broader audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Podcast Episode 1: Link

Comic zu Episode 1: PDF

Episode 2: Well-Being

Next, we asked what role we can play to support our visitors in a time of anxiety. Is our job to tell happy stories, or can we do more? We learned how to balance informing and inspiring. But we also explored a mindful approach to how we can work better (together) in the future to design projects in times of crisis. Our guest speaker Amanda Aronczyk from National Public Radio (NPR) shared her work covering stories like the Legionnaires' disease outbreak in New York.

Podcast Episode 2: Link

Comic zu Episode 2: PDF

Episode 3: Accessibility

Almost everyone is online. But how can our own story touch as many people as possible? How can we tell our museum stories in a way that invites - to visit and to engage in a dialogue? In this episode, we explored the choices we make about storytelling - from digital platforms to the use of language. And how can we ensure this is not a one-off. Our guest speaker, UK accessibility expert Alastair Somerville, shared examples from his work with museums around the world.

Podcast Episode 3: Link

Comic zu Episode 3: PDF

Episode 4: Engagement

What if our audience was engaged in the story from the beginning? In this episode, we explored the nature of digital interaction. Should it be real-time interaction with game-based models, or a narrative that people can experience on their own terms at any time? How can we put ourselves in the world of our audience? Our guest speaker Zoë Seaton, the Artistic Director of Big Telly, talked about the online interactive production of "The Tempest".

Podcast Episode 4: Link

Comic zu Episode 4: PDF

Episode 5: Success

How do we actually measure success when it comes to storytelling? And how do we use success measurements when it comes to perpetuating ways of working and content. In this final episode, we discussed how to share the results of our work and convince colleagues to continue the project. We learned how to work with different types of data that give us the freedom to evaluate the project in new ways. Our guest speaker was neuroscientist Natalie Nelissen.

Podcast Episode 5: Link

Comic zu Episode 5: PDF


Cover pages for the comics of all 5 episodes (Graphic: Azam Masoumzadeh)

Season 2: Digital Storytelling

Digital Storytelling, 6 Episodes and Mentoring

The response to our first season was overwhelming. The course was fully booked within eight hours with participants from Europe, Asia and the US. During the evaluation of Season 1 episodes, we found that most of our participants (80%) wanted to conduct experiments to put their newly learned skills and insights into practice. With this in mind, we started Season 2 with an integrated mentoring program. We doubled the number of international experts and increased the number of episodes to six: Reframing, Well-Being, Sustainability, Inclusion, Engagement, and Success. The mentoring led to some very exciting projects in Italy, India and Germany, case studies and use cases based on the ideas and methods presented in the program. The growing network of Meaning Making participants also led to the first collaborations, which would subsequently lead us to Season 3.

Episode 1: Refraiming

In Season 2, we again started with a look at our existing digital formats of cultural activities and events. We asked ourselves questions like how we incorporate current events into our work in cultural institutions and how we can evolve our narratives. In this episode, we devoted ourselves to different approaches to rethinking (institutional) narratives. Our guest speakers were from India and Germany.

Guest speakers: Padma Priya & Sören Affeldt

Podcast Episode 1: Link

Comic zu Episode 1: PDF

Episode 2: Well-being

Episode 2 was dedicated, as in season 1, to the question of well-being. On the one hand, we focused on the question of what influence we as cultural institutions have on the well-being of our visitors. On the other hand, we dealt with the question of what collaboration in project teams will look like in the cultural sector in the future. We learned how to create a balance between information and inspiration. In addition, we explored a mindful approach to how we can work to design projects with multidisciplinary teams. Our guest speakers came from the USA and Switzerland.

Guest speakers: Dorothée King & Amanda Aronczyk

Podcast Episode 2: Link

Comic zu Episode 2: PDF

Episode 3: Sustainability

In this episode we dealt with the topic of sustainability. A topic that we wanted to dedicate a separate episode to in season 2. We looked at the topic from a storytelling perspective and asked ourselves how we could convey hard facts. But we also looked at the issue from an operational perspective, asking ourselves how we can develop new participatory community initiatives to bring about positive behavior change as our physical spaces reopen to the public. We were also interested in what we should know about the business of sustainability? Our guest speakers were from Italy and India.

Guest speakers: Aditi Veena & Giulia Rancati

Podcast Episode 3: Link

Comic zu Episode 3: PDF

Episode 4: Inclusion

Episode 4 was dedicated to the topic of inclusion. We asked ourselves questions like, how can we develop narratives that invite as many people as possible to participate and how can we make our institutions inclusive? In this episode, we explored choices we make when telling new stories - from digital platforms to the use of language. And how we can make sure it's not just a one-time event. Our guest speakers came from the UK and Nigeria.

Guest Speakers*: Alastair Somerville & Wana Udobang

Podcast Episode 4: Link

Comic zu Episode 4: PDF

Episode 5: Commitment

As in Season 1, one episode in Season 2 was again dedicated to the topic of engagement. We looked at how we can engage our visitors in our formats from the beginning and explored new ways of digital interaction. We also asked ourselves how we can tell stories together with our visitors and what role the image of heros and heroines actually plays in storytelling. We learned about digital storytelling in theater work and explored new forms of storytelling in science communication. Our guest speakers came from the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Guest speakers: Zoe Seaton & Wiebke Finkler

Podcast Episode 5: Link

Comic zu Episode 5: PDF

Episode 6: Success

Also in season 2 we end our program with the question of success. We looked at different approaches to measuring success in cultural institutions, in order to build on project results, experiences and ways of working. In this last episode we learned how to share results of our work and how to convince colleagues to continue projects. We also learned to work with different types of data that give us the freedom to evaluate the project in new ways. Our guest speakers were from the United Kingdom and Spain.

Guest speakers: Isabel CZ & Kush Sethi

Podcast Episode 6: Link

Comic zu Episode 6: PDF


Title of the 3rd episode: Sustainability (Graphic: Azam Masoumzadeh)

The thematic complexes to which we have devoted ourselves in the respective episodes were and are for us central to successful storytelling in general, but especially for museums. What they have in common is the reflection of their own values, goals and work steps.

Season 3: Demystifying co-production

Demystifying co-production, 2 cycles.

As we did after Season 1, we realized after Season 2 how much is possible when we take time to think and reflect. At the same time, it became apparent how significant the practical elements were in our course program. Fascinating projects emerged from the mentoring. For the new season, we therefore considered a concept to integrate even more project work. We set ourselves the ambitious goal of demystifying the theory and practice of co-production. With contributions from the sustainable clothing industry, marine conservationists, and with the support of a musician, a spoken word artist, and a visual artist, we wanted to create a digital exhibition concept with our participants. In the process, we wanted to address three central questions:

  • How can we transfer co-productive processes into the online space?
  • How can we experiment with online exhibition formats and which formats are suitable for which content?
  • How can we integrate sustainability issues into our work at museums?


Instead of dividing the content into episodes again, we structured Season 3 into two cycles, with one online exhibition to be created in each cycle. Both cycles followed the same structure: In a total of four sessions, the participants should develop exhibition concepts on two topics of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) with the help of international experts, the input of multidisciplinary practitioners and in exchange with artists. The cycles dealt with different themes and took place at different times. Based on the input of the experts and practitioners, the participants developed a first idea and design a prototype for an online exhibition. Based on the ideas developed our three artists (music, spoken word, visual art) designed creative multimedia content for a total of two online exhibitions.

In addition to the exhibitions, a booklet was also produced, which summarized all of our experiences with the above-mentioned goals and enable other museums to implement similar projects.

Titelbild der Staffel 3 von Meaning Making Demystifying Co-production mit gezeichneten Personen, die am Boden knien und ein Mobile aus Armen und Objekten beobachten

Title of the 3rd season of Meaning Making (Graphic: Azam Masoumzadeh)

Session 1: "Getting to know each other"

The first meeting was all about getting to know each other. On the one hand, we wanted all the people involved to get to know each other. At the same time, the concept of the 3rd season was presented. Especially with a course program that is as open as this one, it is necessary to ask about expectations at an early stage and to define common goals and rules for cooperation. In this meeting, the participants as well as all experts and artists involved introduced themselves. In addition, tools were presented that should be used during the course. For the collaboration in the respective teams we had prepared collaborative text documents on the one hand. Here, notes could be deposited individually as well as in the context of the group tasks. In parallel, we also provided a mindmapping tool to work more visually on the tasks set, if necessary. In order to better network, share ideas and experiences, we introduced another collaborative document as a "Living Library". Here links, literature, social media channels and contacts were collected and shared in the group. Both teams per cycle were already formed by us in advance. We had based this on the completed questionnaires that each participating person filled out for registration. The aim was to form groups that were as heterogeneous as possible in terms of experience, thematic expertise and internationality. In addition to the goals and the structure of the following dates, the content-related topic was also presented. Based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we addressed the topic of sustainable clothing industry in cycle 1 and the impact of noise on underwater life in cycle 2.

At the end of the session, we then reminded the participants to fill out the questionnaires after each session. With this method, we wanted to find out how the participants coped with the methods we used and the respective input and were thus able to react quickly to requests for changes or surprising challenges.

Session 2: "The project begins"

The 2nd appointment was certainly the most challenging for our participants. After getting to know all participants and the joint definition of goals, rules and working methods, meeting 2 was about getting to know the different topics. For each cycle, we invited two content experts who gave our participants input on the topics of sustainable textile industry and underwater noise. We were less interested in conveying factual knowledge than in the lived experience of the respective guest speakers. Afterwards, two practitioners gave introductions to the topics of co-production and rapid prototyping. This gave the participants concrete recommendations for teamwork and the development of an exhibition concept, which was planned for session 3. In interactive time slots the participants were encouraged to discuss their notes on the inputs and to define already overarching questions.

The evaluation at the end of this session showed, as already mentioned above, that the participants felt partly overwhelmed - on the one hand by the amount of input, on the other hand by the question how the received information should be transferred into a coherent exhibition concept already in the next session. For us organizers, the challenge was to accept and initially endure this feeling of being overwhelmed. Accordingly, we made "Making a mess" the motto of this appointment.

Session 3: "Understanding Usability"

Session 3 focused on rapid prototyping and usability. In two further inputs more detailed information was provided, alternating with practical exercises on the topic of rapid prototyping. The participants were given an insight into working methods that aim to create initial concepts as quickly as possible. In addition, insight was provided into co-productive exhibition projects from museums. The idea was to combine new methods with some already known methods and simultaneously reflect on one's own working practices. In one exercise, for example, participants were explicitly asked which elements of the planned exhibition concept fulfilled their own wishes, which took into account the expectations of the intended target group, and where there were overlaps. Creative implementations of online exhibitions were then also discussed together.

Although there were again impulse lectures in this session, the participants had a lot of time to work on their concepts. The evaluation at the end showed that the excessive demands from session 2 had turned into creative energy - and afterwards the participants described the frustration as an important step in this process.

Session 4: "The work begins"

In the last appointment, the exhibition concepts were finalized and handed over. With the support of the practice experts, both teams had the opportunity to discuss and refine their ideas. The finalized concepts were then presented to the three artists. The teams had plenty of time not only to hand over the concepts, but also to communicate the many discussions, their own ideas and work steps. In this way, the artists should not only take the concept with them, but also the work processes and considerations into implementation.

For many participants this appointment was emotional. After the frustrating feeling of not being able to contribute to the project and the fear of not being able to present a concept at the end, the teams were able to see what great ideas had emerged and were looking forward to seeing what the three artists would create out of them. Quite spontaneously, we agreed on an additional date for a vernissage. After a few months, the artists would then present the finished exhibition and also talk about their own reflections, which impressions from the teams had been incorporated and how the international collaboration of the artists had worked.


Based on the discussions in the cycle dates, the technical possibilities, the expertise in the artist team and the financial resources, two online exhibitions were created on Instagram, accompanied by interpretations of this content in Mozilla Hubs, which could be implemented in cooperation with the XR HUB Bavaria. This also opened up the discussion of whether the content published on Instagram is actually an exhibition or rather the digital documentation of a co-productive project.

Screenshot der Gods of Indigo Kacheln auf dem Instagram Kanal des Projekts.PNG

Screenshot of the Gods of Indigo exhibition of the 1st cycle on Instagram (Screenshot: Deutsches Museum).

Zyklus 1: Gods of Indigo
Thema: Ethical Fashion and Supply Chains
Instagram: LINK
Mozilla Hub: LINK (Tipp: Open with Mozilla Browser and reload if necessary.)

Zyklus 2: Ocean Belly
Thema: Marine Migrations and Sound
Instagram: LINK
Mozilla Hub: LINK (Tipp: Open with Mozilla Browser and reload if necessary.) NOTE: There are currently problems with the server. We are working on getting the exhibition back online as soon as possible.


In addition to the exhibitions, another important result was a booklet, which was produced in the aftermath of the two cycles in collaboration with Azam Masoumzadeh. In this booklet we presented the concept of the 3rd season of Meaning Making and reflected on what worked and what did not. We titled the booklet "A recipe for co-production" and hope that our experiences will give impulses to other cultural institutions to experiment with digital co-production formats. The booklet is available for download HERE

Who was involved?

Concept: Andrea Geipel & Abhay Adhikari

Organization: Jenni Müller

Artists: Azam Masoumzadeh, Wana Udobang, Joshua Thomas

Experts: Sumit Dang (Meraki Signature), Hizqeel Mohamed (Bakr), Michal Lovecky (Cyan Planet), Jana Hoffmann (Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin)

Practicioners: Isabel Cebriàn, Alastair Somerville

Cooperation partners: Silke Schmidt, Bruno Deussen, Marvin Ehlers (alle XR HUB Bavaria)

Teilnehmende: Alexandra Yiu, Annabelle Hornung, Arun Narayanan, Chinmayee Samant, Chitra Chandrashekhar, Clara Sayffaerth, Etta Grotrian, Frida Santelmann, Gabriel von Münchow, Jasmin Meinold, Jessica Knauer, Johanna Willner, Jude Allen, Kathrin Grotz, Kirsten Münch, Lisa Görtz, Lisa Janke, Manu Washaus, Marcela Kvetkova, Maxine Beuret, Naomi Edobor, Padmini Broomfield, Prachi Joshi, Rabea Beschta, Serpil Polat, Seun Alli, Sujatha Muthanna, Swosti Rajbhandari Kayastha, Vera Ludwig, Wen Zheng, Wiebke Malitz