A museum without a collection

There is a new museum coming to the Netherlands, a “National History Museum”. There has been a lot of debate about it centering on location, (the eventual winner was Arnhem) and form.

The museum’s goal is to educate people, particularly young people, about Dutch history.

But they have no collection.

Normally people come to visit a museum because of the collection, or occasionally because of the building. So if the building is new and there is no collection then what would people come for?

Here’s where the vision comes in.


William of Orange presents the day’s schedule – he was one of the prototype exhibits.

Erik Schilp, the CEO of the museum, wants to build media based content that will engage and educate visitors to the museum. As part of this he organised a “New Technology Conference” hosted at ING House yesterday. The participants were from museums around the Netherlands and the speakers came from worlds of design, technology and academia. In the foyer there were several stands of prototype content developed by the technical universities around the Netherlands. Wow, inspiration overload.

(So what was I doing there? I was giving a very simple presentation entitled “Get Real: Lessons from business in social media”. )

For now there’s only a simple blog about the project – available only in Dutch. But a new “really impressive 3.0 website” will be launched early April according to the museum’s CTO Jasper Visser.

It might seem a strange proposition, to start a museum without a collection, but as Seb Chan one of the other speakers pointed out the hardest things to change in a museum are the collection and the staff. By starting new this museum has a chance to do something tremendous; original, innovative and very very human. It can use this seeming disadvantage and treat it as an advantage.

It is, in fact, another lesson from business. Disruptive innovation almost always comes from outside the mainstream of any industry; it wasn’t banks that came up with paypal, it wasn’t newspapers that came up with craigslist and it wasn’t retails that came up with ebay.

The challenge in starting this museum is that it must negotiate exisiting systems – since it is government funded, while building a new concept of a museum.

You can see a visualisation of the museum online already,

(There was too much to think about from the speakers – I suspect there will be more posts to explore the ideas discussed)


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