As the Museum goes into the next stage of corporate planning what are the big themes we need to consider?
Our Director, Frank Howarth, has circulated a series of thought-starters for us to consider as we into the next stage of corporate planning. Here's Frank's list of big themes (in no particular order) with an associated thought-starter.
1. Increasing the accessibility of the Museum and its programs
Frank's questions: How do we make our Museum as accessible as possible to all visitors, regardless of their ability? How are we equitable in giving access? How do we ensure that we always think about equity of accessibility as we do things?
Thought starter: Making Museums More Accessible: report on Conference Day in Barcelona "How can we help blind people see art? Is there a way for people with impaired hearing to hear the power of artistic expression? How can we enable a person with a mental disability get the most out of art? In short, how can we improve access to museums and exhibitions for everyone? These and many more issues were the subject of a very intense Conference Day on 26 October in Barcelona."
My comment: people with disabilities are a key audience for museums. Our research found that while access was a key issue it was actually the content and social experiences that were the major drivers of visitation for this segment. As Frank points out, mental health issues will be a major social issue over the next 10-20 years - how will museums respond??
2. Pushing the digital envelope: doing more in the virtual world
Frank's questions: How do we move fast and creatively enough in this rapidly developing world? How do we continue to see the virtual as part of our real business, not just an add on? How do we lead in areas of social media and for Museum users who exist and connect more and more in the virtual world?
Thought starter: Five rules for museum content (via Amsterdam), Seb Chan
My comment: We need to embrace the concept of write once, publish broadly, across a wide range of mediums. We need to find ways to streamline our jobs and and make the task of engaging audiences in inspiring ways wherever they are easy and efficient (and fun!). Web 2.0 is the tool that is now enabling serious discussions about organisational change.
3. Partnerships: more leverage and influence
Frank's questions: How can we gain in effectiveness and impact through partnerships and collaborations? How do we build useful collaborations in all areas of the Museum’s endeavours? What makes up a successful collaboration?
Thought starter: The Physiology of collaboration an investigation of library-museum-university partnerships, Miguel Angel Morales Arroyo, B.S., M.S., a study into how much we really know about collaboration.
My comment: Sorry, but I'm gonna be negative here. Unless the museum sector in Australia takes collaboration seriously we 're unlikely to get anwhere and I don't see it happening much in our industry (or else is a very slow and frustrating process). Is that just my jaded cynical brain at work here?
4. Linking cultural collections and communities
Frank's questions: How do we continue to build our connections with creator and other communities? How do we ensure our cultural collections make a difference? How do we get communities involved in the Museum?
Thought starter: The Museum of Anthropology's Native Youth Program (NYP) was introduced in 1979, it was the first such initiative to offer Native youth the opportunity to research and interpret their own cultures in a museum setting. [LK Note: this was all I could find online which is frsutrating if the program is so good...]
My comment: We did a large study with Indigenous youth which found that they want what all audiences want with the addition of being able to work in our museums, whether on the front desk, in the galleries or in the collections interpreting them from a young person's perspective. Are we willing to accomodate this??
5. Increasing our advocacy: taking a stance on things that matter
Frank's questions: How do we better harness the trust people have in museums? How do we decide what to make a stand about and what not to? Where is the line between objective comment and political activism?
Thought starter: Museum Advocacy and the Law, Walter G. Lehmann, Lehmann Strobel PLC [scroll down the page a bit for this report]
My comment: This is a perennial debate in our sector and often used by museums as an excuse to do nothing as we need to be seen to be "impartial" or something along those lines. What is the balance between taking a stance and being the "honest broker"? What is the role of authority? There's a nice article by Dan Spock about this in the current edition of the Exhibitionist which I talked about here.
6. Getting more creative and lateral with what we call “exhibitions”
Frank's questions: What will “exhibitions” look like in five years? What is the most creative and effective 21stC approach we could take to exhibitions? How are we most creative and lateral with exhibitions?
Thought starter: Report of a discussion on The Business of Design at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, Agelina Russo.
My comment: Couldn't agree more with this theme - let's ban the word "exhibition"! (just joking Michael...) However, we need to develop an innovative and creative organisational culture that allows risk taking and celebrates failures. There is a really interesting piece, again in the current Exhibitionist, that discusses creativity with some choice quotes:
Michale Lane "I still believe that museums can kill creativity and I believe that is because we take oursevles much too seriously" and " [the facilitator said] the importance of an organisational structure that separates creativity from execution" (not sure I agree with that one!).
Matt Matcuk "We can't assume that creativity will just be an inherent part of the exhibition process that needs no special time devoted to it"
7. Getting more commercial without jeopardising our brand or values
Frank's questions: How can we do it best? How do we raise money while doing the things the Museum does best? How do we develop a culture of taking care of our own financial destiny?
Thought starter: International strategy for V&A Enterprises (scroll down the page a bit) - "The sense of 'world vision' inspired by the V&A, and by the wealth of its collections, is of central commercial importance to VAE."
My comment: To be honest - the money issue both bores and worries me. I perfectly understand the need to be more commercial and financially savvy/viable but I worry that it will be at the expense of what we're here for (in public programs at least) - to create fantastic social learning experiences for visitors that inspire the exploration of nature and cultures. I believe if we stick to the sentiment of this, then the money will follow (but then again I might be totally off the mark!). I think this warrants further discussion - we must be able to establish a happy medium.
8. Towards new approaches to cataloguing and understanding our biodiversity
Frank's questions: Many people are motivated to save the natural world. How do we harness that? How do we get the broader community involved in our research, collections and public programs?
Thought starter: Biodiversity: Amateur Biologists Join Global Bid to Catalog Species Report about the Encyclopedia of Life project
My comment: While money bores me, citizen science excites me - let's go for it! Visitors have long been wanting to engage with museums in a two-way conversation, and biodiversity provides the perfect vehicle for engagement, especially now as the web makes it even easier. The Centre for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) have released a report on "citizen science" which is well worth a read too.
9. Doing the things that are important and have impact, and stopping those that don’t
Frank's questions: How do we decide what to increase and build and what to reduce or stop? How do we alter what we do to respond to rapidly changing external priorities? How do we make these decisions for all parts of the Museum?
Thought starter: From the Corporate Plan of the NMSI - "Whilst ultimately we want to achieve maximum impact and benefit the largest audience we can, it is recognised that along the way we may need to work with smaller numbers if we are to reach new and diverse audiences and experiment with the creativity of our offer. However, such work must ultimately lead to an improved impact of experience for larger audiences. Likewise we must assess the value of investment in work which reaches larger audiences but which does not have a high impact on these audiences." They have a nice diagram which you will find in their plan somewhere.
My comment: I actually have no comment to make here but to agree, and say that let's then get serious about this. It will require a change in thinking and a change in organisational structure to demonstrate that we are taking this seriously.