Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Big Changes Start Small

Change is a tough thing--and there are plenty of big issues in our field that need changing--from equitable pay to lazy collections to enhancing our creative practice.  But one of the things that Rainey Tisdale and I always remind people of when we talk about creativity is the idea that change starts small.  A successful (or even not successful with lessons learned) experiment will lead to more and more and more.  In the last few weeks, some small changes have bubbled up and I wanted to share.

Above is a photograph of a lobby space at the Rosenbach Museum and Library.  We'd been having some conversations about how to make the entire museum (slightly forbidding in its Philadelphia town house) more family--and overall visitor--friendly.  This space previously had only two chairs, separated from each other, and a few children's books.  Emilie Parker, director of education,  made just a few simple changes.  There's a rug and a floor lamp, so it feels more homey.  There's a coffee table with books piled up, inviting you to sit down and take a look; there's additional chairs (and unseen, free wifi).  Nothing here cost anything but the space is now regularly used and feels inviting and welcoming (even before the addition of the coffeemaker).  We came to the idea of this change by observing visitors and by, equally importantly, talking to the visitor services staff and asking for their ideas.  The result, as Emilie put it, "adult learners learning informally!"  

Walk away from your computer, go look at your lobby, and see what simple change you can make.

At the end of our Visitor Voices workshops in Ukraine, we asked participants what one change they would make.   It's extremely rare for opportunities for visitor feedback in Ukrainian museums (but not for the National Museum of Art, above) and many of our participants said that just beginning a feedback board would be an important change from the comment book.  "I want to create feedback wall to find out thoughts of visitors." Ukrainian museum comment books often have to be asked for, pulled out from a desk and grumpily provided--a practice not conducive to visitor feedback.  But putting out Post-It notes in a place where everyone can comment, is the simplest of change.  That small change shifts our own--and the visitors--understanding of our museum's potential. One participant wrote as a task, "Understand more that visitors are not as ideal as we want and cannot “consume” all this volume what we want to give."  

I'm working with the Lake Placid Olympic Museum on interpretive planning and Alison Hass, their director, designed a very simple way to capture visitor interest in potential topics.  Big posterboard and stickers.  As you can see, visitors have lots of opinions about what they'd like to see.  Very simple, easy way to begin to get visitor feedback.  And, by the way, I've never seen visitors who weren't happy to share their perspectives.

Walk away from your computer, go into your museum, and ask visitors what they think.  Next, walk away from your museum, go out into your community and ask people what they'd like to see at your museum.  Big changes start small.


Nina Simon said...

Small question about the dots: why are they mono-colored per topic? Seems very surprising that people would pattern-match that way!

Luis Vazquez said...

"Big changes start small" is definitely a great principle to go by not only for museums but on a personal level as well.

Thanks for sharing!

Alison Haas said...

The Lake Placid Olympic Museum's "dot poll" did not need to be color coded, but that is what we had in our supply drawer. The poll would work just as well using the same color as long as the columns were distinguished from one another.