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Partner Highlight: Sustainable Decision Making Framework for Exhibits

Dave Laubenthal, Director of Creative Services, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI)


Like most hands-on museums, OMSI ends up with a backlog of older exhibits that still have value but don’t have a current place in our galleries. As a result, they languish in dark corners, outbuildings, closets, rented storage spaces, and staff work spaces. They are often beloved and classic exhibits despite the fact that the technology and interfaces are obsolete.

In 2016, OMSI participated in the Sustainability Fellowship program at Arizona State University, which is part of the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability in Science and Technology Museums initiative. Over 150 organizations around the world have already participated in the Sustainability Fellowship program, which brings museum staff together in small groups to learn about and share sustainability science and practices, then develop projects at their own museums.

For my Sustainability Fellowship project, I worked with others at OMSI to develop a decision-making framework to guide our museum through an efficient and well-considered process to extend the life and/or value of these objects. My goal was to create a tool that could be used across a range of exhibits, components and materials and would help us address our growing exhibit collection in storage.

~ Dave Laubenthal, Creative Director, OMSI

We formed a small team made up of relevant stakeholders from various departments to create a framework that would help us consider the fate of an exhibit. This framework considers many different aspects of how to best find a home for the exhibit. We start first by prioritizing the exhibit’s usefulness to other departments and organizations in its current state and at the end of the decision making framework we consider recycling and then landfill last. There are other possibilities in between, such as reusing the exhibit’s architecture or materials. Electric and mechanical parts may still have good value, and can be reused within our exhibits department, through our education programs, or by community partners.

Our small team tested the framework during an audit of our active and deep storage. We found it to be an efficient way to make decisions while considering interests from pertinent museum stakeholders. After using the framework in its original form, we also realized that with some modification we can use it to consider the fate of exhibits before they leave the museum floor.

The development of the framework has been a valuable tool to create awareness of how we will be treating exhibits in question in the future as well how the OMSI team looks at these decisions as possible opportunities. This tool provides visibility of the three pillars of sustainability--people, planet, profits--and the whole project is illustrating how intertwined these are.


The Rob and Melani Walton Foundation is the lead sponsor of the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability in Science and Technology Museums program.


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