I first read this thinking about different kinds of support for projects in Ukraine--watching international aid programs from a closer perspective has been a fascinating process. But then I read it again--and realized that these five guidelines provide a road map, not just for funding, but for the development of a thoughtful, engaged museum. Let's take a look.
- Consider and fund with an eye to nested, whole systems rather than fixes for specific issues or problems.
- Find “nodes of leverage”—conditions that can be changed with little effort in order to produce big results—rather than shotgun or priority-setting approaches.
- Focus on developing personal agency by supporting the efforts of individuals to take accountability for their own lives, and to exercise entrepreneurship in creating businesses and in serving their communities
- Measure effectiveness by how well systems change, not by the efforts made in pursuit of change.
- Ensure foundations have integrity in all of their activities (for example, by fostering personal agency within their staffs).
Consider and fund with an eye to nested, whole systems rather than fixes for specific issues or problems.
I remember reviewing a long-ago grant application where a museum requested funding to purchase reproduction costumes--but it was clear that the site lacked substantive research and planning to even establish a time period. I think of these projects as band-aids. Because I work on the interpretive side of things, I always hope that institutions will put everything on the table when we begin a conversation about new tours and other elements so they can make the kind of systematic change needed to create more engaging institutions. I'm sure my collections colleagues would agree--conserving one object has to be balanced against system-wide efforts to improve environmental conditions. And we're all familiar with those new outreach programs that exist for a year, due to funding, and then disappear. Thinking holistically and sustainably make a big difference--and of course, that's what planning is for. A clear strategic plan, that's understood by all and referenced often can help ensure that change, not band-aids becomes the way forward.
When I read this I thought first about museum entrances--both virtual and real. Those are the places that your audiences first encounter you--they are "nodes of leverage" and often changes take little effort. Updating your website calendar or news. Just a few weeks ago I went to look for something on a service organization's website and found their latest news--from 2007! Make your entrance friendly, have your open hours posted, and train your staff and volunteers to be friendly greeters. Huge differences in public perception could ensue. Then, keep going with the changes. This has to go hand-in-hand with the whole systems approach above. It's a version of thinking globally (whole systems) and acting locally (those nodes of leverage).
Focus on developing personal agency by supporting the efforts of individuals to take accountability for their own lives, and to exercise entrepreneurship in creating businesses and in serving their communities
If you're a museum leader, do you regularly say "no" to your staff's ideas? Do you insist on micro-managing every decision (I know one museum where the director has to approve every single Facebook post)? Or do you encourage, mentor and facilitate new ideas and accomplishments by staff, no matter what their position? Can you make staff meetings places to share ideas and new approaches? Despite tight budget conditions, is there still some funding and commitment to professional development?
Measure effectiveness by how well systems change, not by the efforts made in pursuit of change.
Ensure foundations have integrity in all of their activities (for example, by fostering personal agency within their staffs).
I've had some conversations lately with colleagues about what values are embedded in museums. I don't just mean the ones that your values statement says, if you have one. I mean the ones that are sneakier, hidden in your history and organizational structure. Do you divvy up your jobs into a number of part-time positions so you don't have to pay benefits? That's a value judgment about your employees and their value. If you're a director, do you hoard information from both your board and your staff? That embodies a value. Do you actively seek out collaborations and partnerships. That's also a value in action. I think we tend to think about values as warm, fuzzy things, when in fact, all values are not positive ones--and it's the not-so-positive ones we sweep under the carpet.
Do you work hard to attract family audiences and make your workplace family-friendly for your staff? Recently I had a conversation with a colleague who remarked about how much she hated strategic planning, because often it seemed all thunder and lightning--in pursuit of change--rather than actual change. That's where a plan that has accountability and benchmarks really comes in--you need to be able to measure real change.
What five guidelines would you propose for a healthy, responsible organization?