fbpx Natural History Museums: responding to the planetary emergency | Ecsite

Natural History Museums: responding to the planetary emergency

There has been increasing recognition of the role museums should play to address the planetary emergency. To incite social change, we need to close the gap between concern and action.

The first step in closing this gap is increasing the audience's connection to nature. The public needs to emotionally engage with nature before they intellectually engage with the reasons to care for the environment, understand how it is threatened and take action to conserve it.

Our research shows there is a disconnect between people and nature, particularly in urban areas. With towns and cities becoming where most experience nature, it is crucial to reconnect these audiences.

Hear how three Natural History Museums from the UK, Denmark and USA, are working with audiences to reconnect them with urban nature in 3 different contexts: a new museum, a museum garden and a new exhibition.


Senior Manager for Audience Research and Insight
The Victoria and Albert Museum
United Kingdom

Session speakers

Group Head of Exhibition Services
United Kingdom
The eight new permanent galleries being developed by NHMD aim to make visitors a part of nature, breaking down perceptions of nature being something separate. Through the development of underpinning recurrent content themes such as interconnectivity and the tension between ‘humans as a part of nature’ and ‘a force of nature’, the galleries aim to build empathy between visitors and the natural world. They will showcase our similarities with other species – highlighting out unremarkableness - but balance this with humanity’s agency to change its relationship with the natural world as we tackle climate change and our wider impact on habitats and other species.
Audience Researcher
United Kingdom
In response to the ongoing planetary crises, the Natural History Museum, London, launched a new Strategy in 2019 which lays out a vision of a future where both people and the planet thrive, through a mission to create advocates for the planet. Alongside this, the Museum has developed an Advocate Engagement Model to inform our approach in everything we do. The Urban Nature Project is a priority project for the Museum. Our five-acre site is being transformed into a welcoming, accessible and biologically diverse green space in the hear of London. As a new speaker at Ecsite, I am excited to share how we have worked with different audiences to understand the barriers to nature connection, how we have implemented a theory of change for this project and the interventions which put connection to nature at the heart of the project by supporting audiences to notice the nature on their doorsteps. Hear also about how we are looking to challenge audience's perceptions of urban nature in our newly developed grounds.
Exhibition Developer & Project Manager
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
United States
The Smithsonian Natural History Museum’s new strategic plan aspires to harness science and human ingenuity to envision and realize a sustainable, just, and equitable future for people and nature. New exhibitions will tackle the big questions in nature, science, and society informed by strategic audience research. Our Places: Connecting People and Nature will be a hybrid learning lab + exhibition space using a “design to learn” philosophy to understand audience relationship with nature. Hear about how we are working with diverse audiences to explore connection to nature, barriers preventing connection, and strategies to encourage connection in the places where we live, learn, play, love, and work.