Goal of the project:

In Planting the Future the overal goal is to enhance the story and means of public presentation for the Dutch Botanical Gardens. Within the project, three goals were identified:

  1. Initiating dialogue with the public about the importance of plants
  2. Strengthening cooperation between participating gardens
  3. Rejuvenating and broadening the target audience

Description of the project:

The collections and stories of the Botanical Gardens are relevant in a large number of current topics, such as our relationship with food, reconnecting to nature, circular economy, etc., but the gardens have a hard time renewing their audience and connecting to younger and/or multicultural groups. In a 4-year programme, supported by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, they seek new ways of working and new ways of engaging with new audiences.


􏰀- Desk research
􏰀- Designing a co-creation strategy, including participant selection for the co-creative labs
􏰀- Organisation of a joint kick off
􏰀- Pre-workshop sensitizing activities (toolkit) to kick-start thinking about certain topics
􏰀- Organisation of three co-creative labs
􏰀- Blogging by participants about their learning experiences
􏰀Next phase: (media) application development

The focus of the three co-creation labs was:
􏰀- Connecting a diverse set of representatives of the 24 very diverse gardens
􏰀- Collecting stories
􏰀- Connecting with existing and new audiences
􏰀- Exploring new technologies

The participants prepared for the sessions with a set of activities from a ‘sensitising toolkit’ that makes them look at their own garden with different eyes: ‘where’s the hidden treasure in my garden?’, ‘what does my public enjoy least?’, ‘what type of behaviour does my audience have?’.

The first two lab sessions consisted of six days each, and ran over a period of six weeks. They involved 20 people in each lab from all ranks of the organisations, with alternating involvement of visitors of the gardens. The labs were facilitated by three people from Waag Society.

The aim of these sessions was to find new ways to connect the knowledge about plants and biodiversity to the needs of diverse audiences. Participants of the sessions explored which stories from the botanic gardens are important and relevant to the public, identified who their current visitors and new target audiences are, and designed new storytelling methods that can be used to reach these new audiences.

In addition the participants explored what technology might be interesting and what infrastructure (in terms of collaboration and technology, national and international) is future proof. The added value of media/ICT in the context of the gardens is to open up their processes: to linked open data initiatives, opening up their collections to others, but also incorporating crowd sourced materials (‘citizen science’); to creative re-use of materials (connecting to DIY and maker movements); to new locations and channels outside their own physical and geographical location.


The first session started with each garden sharing their findings and was followed by an activity in the garden with a set of ‘ambiguous prototypes’, designed to let them imagine what these objects could do in their garden. This is a free format, explorative activity, which gets the participants in a specific mindset and also helps them get to know each other better. Towards the end of the six weeks participants designed a number of specific interaction scenarios and prototypes, including a Physical Storytelling tool for grandparents and grandchildren, a Talking Tree and an Urban Gardeners programme, that will be developed further.

The third lab was aimed at convergence of ideas and was limited to two-days, involving the decision makers of the individual gardens to gain support for the ideas developed. From the 20 proposals that had been developed by the participants, the most viable were developed into scenarios by Waag Society and put forward to an ad hoc decision making body in the third Lab.


Concrete results that emerged from the co-creative process are:
􏰀- More and better targeted social media activities by the individual gardens
􏰀- Support for development of a joint public application within all gardens
􏰀- Collective support for uploading individual data collections to a shared database system
􏰀- Growing commitment to work together in public activities

Why it is a best practice:

Planting the future is an example of a project in which co-creation leads to a number of surprising side-effects in term of ownership, stronger links between the gardens, stronger personal links within each garden and a clear focus shift within the gardens from ‘broadcasting’ to ‘listening’ and ‘engaging’ (“from plant-focused to people-focused”).

Description of the cultural heritage institution:

The Dutch Association of Botanic Gardens (NVBT) is an umbrella organization that consists of 24 gardens across the Netherlands. Their mission is to contribute to the conservation of plant biodiversity in the context of a sustainable world. The gardens constitute important Dutch heritage sites, with a living collection. The central concept of the Botanical Garden - stemming from the encyclopaedic tradition of the Renaissance - that all knowledge is collectible, as well as the form of a beautiful and lush garden, often in the inner city, and the collections themselves - both ‘natural’ and cultured species – are a representation of historic and contemporary society. The gardens are very diverse, some are academic, some are connected to large park areas and some are connected to zoos.


Waag Society