Large, complex social structures like health systems can be difficult to understand and trying to navigate them can make one feel powerless. But you begin to feel differently when you shift your perspective from the macro, which can be overwhelming, toward more actionable micro concepts, explains Charles Philipp, co-founder of MICRO, a New York city based organization that installs “tiny museums” in public places to spark social learning and engagement about topics and matters that affect us all.
That simple idea is what brought together MICRO and the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation (the Center) to collaborate on the MICRO Museum of Care, a six-foot-tall museum that can be replicated and installed in public spaces such as libraries, hospitals and parks across the globe.
“One of the things that we're always trying to think about at MICRO is how do you include new audiences in these really important topics,” says Philipp. “Anyone coming across this museum has some reference to care in their lives.”
The Center was founded in 2019 to convene action to address the looming 18 million shortage of health workers needed to meet global health goals. “The COVID-19 pandemic heightened the need to create awareness and rally support for frontline health workers,” says Lauren Moore, Vice President, Global Community Impact, Johnson & Johnson. “We thought the museum would be an excellent way to start conversations in public spaces about healthcare as a system that affects all of us and works best when patients can be educated and engaged partners with valued and respected health workers.”
The modular museum of care was first installed at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library last year and is currently traveling to libraries in all five New York City Boroughs. The refrigerator-sized museum explores various facets of care including:
- The Beginnings of Care: Scientific anecdotes and evidence about how people’s ability to care for each other drove human evolution more than we often realize, how our bodies and brains are designed to give and receive care, and how the advancement of society has influenced the administration of care.
- The Work of Care: The skills required to provide care today through the life stories of health workers across the globe from the US to India to Kenya.
- Care for All: The key factors and perspectives—including trained and supported health workers—necessary to achieve more equitable, resilient health systems.
- Your Role in Care: Illustrates the importance of each of us advocating for our own health, our community’s wellbeing, and for the health workers who care for us.
“It is fascinating to see how such a grand narrative—spanning our evolutionary origins through to the present day—can be told in such a succinct and relatable way,” says Joanne Peter, Director, Social Innovation at Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, who served on the museum’s advisory board. “The museum zooms out to explore the biological, historical and social basis of care, and then zooms right back in to introduce first-person narratives from real-world caregivers across the world. The MICRO team brought together a diverse group of advisors to help them craft this impressive storytelling journey."
The diverse advisory team included experts from Johnson & Johnson, global health coalitions, researchers, social media activists, and, importantly, health workers from various countries and settings.
“For a big corporation to believe in the public education possibilities of this museum is super exciting for us,” says Philipp. “We had the privilege to engage a number of inspiring people through this project.”
Margaret M. Gurowitz, Chief Historian, Johnson & Johnson, also served on the advisory team. “MICRO Museums really push the boundaries of what a museum can be, and they enabled the creation of a full museum experience in a very small and portable footprint,” says Gurowitz. “My hope for the Museum of Care is that it opens people’s eyes to the ways in which care is central to the human experience, and how important it is to have strong health systems and thriving health workers if we want to have health for all. This museum makes those connections in a great way.”
From micro steps to macro impact
Education and advocacy are core to the museum’s mission. It perfectly aligned with the Brooklyn Public Library’s existing public health outreach activities, and librarians curated books for children and adults that could complement the museum’s exhibits for further learning and action. The museum also includes QR codes that visitors can use to follow up on the topic after their visit, engage with health workers in real time through their social media feeds, record messages to health workers, and find ways to be health changemakers themselves.
“I hope that the museum helps audiences to reimagine the concepts of care and caregiving as a series of actions to promote health, rather than simply to manage illness or injury,” adds Peter. “Our ability to care is a fundamental tenet of our humanity.”
Among the many conversations the museum has generated, Philipp says he is particularly encouraged by ones around daily acts of care. “It's scientifically proven that helping others leads to positive reinforcement loops that create feelings of belonging which promote better health outcomes. I have seen people strike up conversations about how healthcare affects them and how they feel after they've given care. That’s really encouraging because it helps to further propagate care within communities.
Ernest Gardner, a community health worker in Philadelphia is one of the health workers featured in the museum. He describes his job as building bridges between members in his community—who for historical reasons may be distrustful of the health system—and their health providers—who may not be able to fully appreciate the patient’s social circumstances without a common lived experience. “Everyone is going to need someone to care for them at some point,” reminds Gardner. “I hope the museum promotes love and inspires visitors to help others as well.”
The museum is not just giving people the opportunity to learn, but empowering them to take action, adds Philipp. “Especially over the last couple years people have felt helpless, they aren't quite sure of the best ways to care. By giving people bite-sized actionable steps, the museum helping people understand their place within the system, and how they can leverage their small actions to have an outsized impact.”
Libraries in New York City are just a start. The Museum of Care approaches different systems of care in different places globally, making the museum relevant anywhere in the world. After its time in New York City, the Museum will be installed at the Aspen Ideas: Health conference and other locations globally.