Randy C. Roberts is a 2013 graduate of the PhD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Below: Dr. Roberts at her Dissertation Defense. [ Right] with her Dissertation Chair, Dr. Carolyn Kenny [Left].

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In times of great change, institutions must be able to adapt while not losing their essence, those qualities that are central, enduring, and distinctive. While it is understood and acknowledged that museums must change their approach to be relevant and sustainable in a world in which there have been monumental shifts in the ways that people communicate, access information, and experience connection, the essential qualities of museums are not well-defined or agreed upon. More than a decade into the new century and in spite of much discussion, contemplation, and experimentation, the 21st century museum model remains unsettled. To explore the question of essence, this study turned to the realm of philosophy and particularly hermeneutic phenomenology. Based in the work of Martin Heidegger and Hans Georg Gadamer, the study was designed to gain deep understanding of the museum visit experience particularly in terms of what it reveals about: the connection between human experience and museums; the work of museums as sites of exploring the question of "being-in-the-world" and "being-with-others-in-the-world;" and the essential role of museums as communal and cultural institutions. The research approach is based in hermeneutic phenomenology and includes a two-phase process involving twelve participants conducting narrated visits to museums of their choice, followed by post-visit conversations with seven of those twelve. Six themes emerged from the data: seeing the self; experiencing others' experiences; being at the fusion of horizons; mindful presence; embodied experience; and touching and being touched. While not discussed explicitly in terms of what it means to "be-in-the-world" and to "be-with-others-in-the-world," participants engaged in deep consideration of memory, identity, relationship across time and place, spirituality, life meaning and mortality. The act of being in conversation, which was at the center of how people encountered objects in the museum, emerged from this study as a defining feature of the museum experience. It is in its role as a site of "being in conversation" with self, with others, and with objects that the museum is set apart from other institutions and activities. Implications for museum practice, leadership and change studies, and future research are discussed. The electronic version of this dissertation is at Ohiolink ETD Center,