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Dancing To A New Beat, Making Museums Easier To Navigate

An international classical ballet dancer has pivoted to mastering how to make museums easier for everyone to navigate, including people who are neurodivergent.

Inspired by a partially blind child with autism, University of Canterbury Master of Business Administration (MBA) student Kase Craig has been working on a consultation project to ensure all Canterbury Museum visitors can successfully navigate its spaces – including unwritten rules, such as knowing which objects can be touched.

An accomplished professional classical ballet dancer who trained at the New Zealand School of Dance, Craig performed with Ballet de l’Opera National de Bordeaux in France for 11 years.

“I’m originally from Christchurch but spent most of my career based overseas. When I came home in 2020 to start my MBA at the University of Canterbury, I was motivated to work on a consulting project which would have an impact in the city,” he says.

“I was inspired by a young boy with autism who is partially blind and non-verbal, who regularly visits Canterbury Museum with his family. His needs, and those challenges faced by visitors in similar situations, are complex and necessary to address so that everyone can successfully navigate the unwritten rules of the museum – such as knowing which artefacts can or cannot be touched.”

Craig wanted his MBA project to answer the question: How might we make Canterbury Museum the most inclusive space in Christchurch?

His consultation project arrived at the right time for the Museum as it progresses plans to redevelop its Rolleston Avenue site.

“For Canterbury Museum, it’s important to tell the story of the heritage collection while removing barriers that can create undue effort and separation,” Craig says.

To that end, over the past year he has been working in partnership with Canterbury Museum on his final MBA assessment. Craig recently presented his work to the museum’s executive leaders in a special display.

Canterbury Museum’s Head of Public Engagement Rachael Walkinton says, “Kase has been working with members of our neurodiverse community using an Inclusive Design (non-linear) approach to increase familiarity when neurotypical visitors transition between different galleries and exhibitions. He created his project in a CDHB (Canterbury District Health Board) Design Lab, and our Exhibitions team have now transported it to our Visitors Lounge and set up a “museum lab” display, which will run through until the middle of the year.”

The UC MBA programme provides opportunities for students to deliver projects with real impact, says UC Senior Lecturer Dr Christian Walsh. “We love to see our students helping local organisations, from all kinds of sectors, make the world a better place for their communities.

“For MBA students, the final consulting project is an opportunity to apply their learning from the entire MBA journey to benefit their organisations and their communities. We encourage students to think about the impact they can have, and we give them the tools, knowledge, skills and mindsets to be able to tackle wicked problems and improve the lives of those around them,” Dr Walsh says. 

“Kase’s project is a great example of a very complex problem space where he has applied a design thinking process taught on the MBA, underpinned by inclusive design principles. This involved him engaging with the issue with deep curiosity, then unleashing his creativity, and finally having clarity, to be able to recommend practical steps the museum can take forward to make their space more inclusive for all.”

Craig created a website (www.ourmuseum.org.nz) and used the CDHB Design Lab to make the project more accessible and easier to follow, especially for neurodiverse people who may find written reports on progress difficult to engage with.

“Inclusive design principles underpinned a design thinking process to increase awareness of the many nuanced user perspectives connected to how people with autism grow, evolve, and continually adapt to their environment,” Craig says.

His MBA final project included:

  • 20 interviews with participants from the autism community
  • Consultation with 24 museums in Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas
  • Results from Canterbury Museum staff and the autism community participating in the design of prototypes
  • Extensive testing of solutions under real-world conditions
  • Resourcing requirements and initial plans for implementing recommendations

Craig is excited about the next steps: “I created a series of change management considerations for resourcing and implementing the project’s outcomes, mitigating any unexpected barriers or obstacles, and evaluating overall effectiveness. Additionally, the high-level of industry engagement throughout the project has created an impetus for change at Canterbury Museum and favourable conditions to continue moving the project forward.”

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