Sunday, August 8, 2010

Vision, Mission, Shmisson!

I spent a day last week facilitating a conversation with staff at a museum beginning the work of revising the mission and vision statements.  To prep for the day, I randomly wandered the web in search of museum mission and vision statements and came away unsure of what we think we're doing when we write new guiding statements.

Yes,  we're exploring, we're engaging, we work in communities.  We reach out, we work with others, we want to educate and promote.  Rarely anymore do we only document, collect and preserve.   Should it be one sentence only?  Does it need several supporting paragraphs?  Is it really a true vision to say you want to be the best [insert type of museum or locality here] there is?

But the discussion with both staff and design/branding experts was an intriguing one.  We raised perhaps more questions than we answered.  Among them:
  • Who is the mission really for?  To be used internally or written so that front desk staff can articulate it to visitors?
  • Why is it that sometimes artifacts seemed to sneak away from the mission statement?
  • Who are we for?  What does the word "family" mean?  Does that mean some people stay away?  
  • Are there other ways to say "general audiences" rather than everyone?
  • It's great to be aspirational, as in a vision statement, but does an organization really need two statements?  Could it not be condensed into a single statement of purpose?
  • How does that vision/mission really connect to branding and design?
  • Can a museum commit to pushing all of its activities through the sieve of vision and mission?  What happens if you don't?
  • Can you please all of the people all of the time?  (pretty much no, I'd say)
If you have just revised your museum's vision and mission, I'd love to hear about it, particularly about the process and the final wording.   The work of deeply and collectively thinking about the work that museums do is critical--so those discussions about vision and mission need to happen--but I wonder whether there's a different way to capture those discussions for our stakeholders.   And of course, as I read somewhere in my random web travels last week (apologies for the lack of attribution),  a mission without a strategy is only a wish.

Why a bowling photo at the top of the post?  Because I found what has now become my favorite vision statement online.   It's for something called Bowling, Inc.  and it is:

More people, bowling more often, having more fun.



Nina Simon said...

One of my favorite mission statements is that of the New York Public Library. It's short, succinct, and presented in a way that demonstrates HOW their program accomplishes it (or tries to). The language could be a bit less generic, but for such a big and complex institution I think they do a pretty great job. If I worked there, I think I'd understand how my job connects to the mission.

James said...

We are discussion and exploring how to set goals for the museum and how that starts with the mission statement. Very interesting discussion for a developing museum in Ukraine. The discussion is difficult when you do not have a staff that is dedicated to serving the public.

Linda Norris said...

Thanks James--seems like a chicken and the egg question. Does the mission come first or the staff dedicated to serving the public? And in Ukraine, as I know, particularly challenging, but I remain hopeful!

Nina, thanks for the library one--I feel like I should start a collection of good ones as they're so rare!

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