The Inclusive Museum : The Ideal State of Being for a Museum

 

The Japanese concept of Ikigai has been rolling around the Internet. The graphic describes when you are in the ideal state of being by balancing various states of work, life, meaning, and hope. The concept is either aspirational or depressing depending on your circumstances. The image did get me thinking. The museum has two important types of work: caring & sharing. How can you develop a balance that is ideal for visitor?

How can the idea of the ideal state of being be translated to the work of a museum? 

From Exterior to Interior:

This graphic helps show how the ideal museum, one that centers visitors, can balance its many roles and responsibilities. At the farthest edge, there are the core roles of the museums. Its worth noting that Impart was a term that I agonized over. Impart can sound negative, but I couldn’t quite think of a word that included: Teach, Share, Communicate, and Instruct.  Learn might be surprising as well, as you might see it as a visitor function. But, truthfully, good museums are constantly learning from visitor evaluation, tech workflow improvements, and object research.

The next tier, moving inward, are the modes that roles are implemented.

The next tier is why the museum uses those modes. Notice this tier moves from nouns to verbs. The museum ideally does something to elicit a reaction in the visitor.

Finally, the best museum experience is multi-faceted, drawn from the core competencies of the museum, but mounted in ways that are focused on the visitor.

Museums have a Problem with Fun (Data)

Museums need visitors. Anyone who flips through an annual report or glances on a website can attest to that fact. But, how do you get them there?

You entice them, of course. But, how do you do that? I can share how I did that. When I used to run programs, I would try to show “fun” through the publicity photos and in the description of the activities. But, saying something was fun always seemed a signal that the experience was anything but. If you need to say is fun, it probably really isn’t.

How do Americans define fun?

This is a challenging question. Ask your best friend, and you might find you differ in your responses. But, looking at spending trends helps form a picture of how society, as a whole, uses their well-earned leisure money and helps us begin to define fun.

Leisure can be defined as an activity that you choose to do for enjoyment.

Since the 1960’s people are working less, and spending almost 7 extra hours a week on leisure.  Similarly, people are spending more money now than they were 50 years ago on leisure. People spend nearly $2500 annually on leisure compared with $850 in 1960.  In other words, leisure is a growth proposition.

Americans spend real money in order to engage in leisure. For example, they spent 100 Billion dollars on sporting-related leisure in 2016.   They spend more than a third of their discretionary income on restaurants.  In 2015, Americans spent an average of $46 per year on arts and culture activities.

According to the American Time Use Survey, on any given weekend (in descending order of time spent), people watch tv, socialize, play sports, relax and think, read, play on the computer, and play games. The range is from 200 minutes of television watching to under 10 for game playing.  (Visual breakdowns offer some stark depictions of the relative scale of each activity.)

Expectedly, perhaps, but the childless have more time for leisure. And, despite education-level,  people do some type of leisure activity every day. In other words, everyone is doing some regularly that’s fun.

Drilling down a bit, what makes these activities enjoyable?

There’s variation, as well, there is variation in people. Some are of these activities are individual and others are collective. Some are within the home and some are outside. Some are affordable and others have great costs. In other words, fun has a great deal of variation. Fun purveyors might only fit in one of these niches, like books which are solitary. But, many fall into various niches.

What connects these activities?   On the whole, they are active and engaging. But, they are also activities where the norms and expectations are clear. Once you learn to read, you don’t need someone to help you engage with a book.  Once you make a friend, you don’t need a list of rules on how to talk to them. Going out to a movie needs a ticket, but not a docent/ intercessor. (See Graphics at the end for details on each of these activities.)

What does this have to do with museums? 

At a time in history where people have more time for leisure, museums attendance is in decline. This negative growth is really a global phenomenon. In the UK, BBC did a study that found that major art museums (National Gallery and Tate) lost 20% of their British audience in a five-year period up to 2014. The NEA found that museum attendance dropped in the US over last decade. 

The competition is steep. People can find plenty of fun at home. As the New York Times wrote in a 2016 article, staying home is the new going out.  More than 50 percent of American’s regularly order food in. Television-watching is the most common leisure activity.

In other words, there is a threshold that must be met to entice people out of their houses. And, this where we circle back to the idea of fun. Fun is about being with people and feeling comfortable doing it.

LaPlacaCohen recently released a report, CultureTrack about Arts and Culture participation. The number one motivator  for arts and culture participation, a staggering 81%, was “fun.”   Over one-third (37%) didn’t see art museums as a cultural experience. (How many art museum people would it as a cultural experience). The Culture Track also helps develop a picture on what types of experiences draw people. And what did they think was fun? They enjoyed experiences that were outside of traditional institutions, like public art.  They see cultural experiences as interactive & collective. They want to be engaged rather than just receiving information.

People want leisure that doesn’t require onboarding, that isn’t going to make them feel out of place, and that isn’t hard. They want experiences that engage through content that is real and interesting. In other words, culture shouldn’t be hard; it should be fun.

Why do museums need to work so hard to get people to feel included in their spaces? 

Recently, I was chatting with a friend who works at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. This is a museum that has really made an effort to model and act fun in their spaces and programs. She was sharing her successes at serving as an ambassador to community members. She mentioned that the best community ambassador has a certain amount of built-in obsolescence. Once you get people connected to the museum, they don’t need you anymore.  On that score she is right. And, I have no doubt that she does a great job.

But, I asked her, and I ask you, what other leisure experience has ambassadors actively trying to get people to see the space as theirs. I mean–is the NFL really working super hard to get people to see that sitting in freezing temperatures, drinking beer with your friends, and yelling at men in tights is fun?

What are we doing wrong? 

One big thing is that we fundamentally don’t project “fun”. Think of the ways that we think of our spaces and our exhibition programs. We start with considering scholarly attributes and see how the idea blends the existing museum norms. We don’t start with the visitor.

Now, exhibition folks out there will say that they try to put in a few blockbusters every year. In other words, we look back at things that worked in our paradigms that drew visitors to get more of those same visitors.

This disconnection deals with some fundamental challenges:

  • Museums people, personally, often have a rarified or specialized sense of “fun”
  • Museums often see fun at odds with scholarship
  • Museums see “fun” as being for children
  • Museum spaces are meant to serve as both individual and social spaces; the fun norms can be drastically different and oppositional
  • Museums don’t make their rules and norms clear so people don’t know how to have fun there
  • Museums focus on content-transmission rather than experiences

How can museums be more fun? 

This is a billion dollar question (ask the sporting industry). If you manage this, you won’t be crossing your fingers on the blockbusters. You will be drawing new people who are willing to put on pants and leave their couch. You get new people. You will find those people that you are always wondering about (the non-museum-goers.)

And as LaPlacaCohen notes, our potential visitors are “necessitating a reassessment of experiences and services offered.”

You need to:

  • First, let’s not fake it. Don’t write fun in any add you write for your museum.
  • Spend time understanding what people actually this is fun. This can be going to Yayoi Kusuma but it can also be sitting down with friends. Don’t use yourself as the ruler for fun. Really look into other industries.
  • Use the lens of fun as a way to measure the relative value of programs.
  • Don’t demean play and fun in your own planning and thinking. Stop using the phrase, just a play space or just for people who want fun.
  • Center play in your own practice. Make fun part of your work. People can tell when you are bored.

(Also, why Americans? What about international readers? Well, friends, fun is relative and cultural. While somethings go across many societies, like alcohol, others are highly culture-specific. For example, never seen anyone from England posting about going to their alma mater’s home-coming football came while painted in their team’s colors head to toe.)

Addendum: Breakout on Leisure Activities.

 

 

Trust the Revolution

Museums need a revolution of trust.

The word trust is a common one in the museum field, embedded in mission statements and uttered by venerable directors.  However, in both instances, museums use the word most commonly in terms of their holdings.  Museums keep collections in trust for people.  Spend a moment considering that language. Museums hold important artifacts of history, human or natural, for us.  In other words, like a trust fund, the collection is kept safe and protected, for the next generation of beneficiaries.  This is, of course, commendable. Collections are often the body of museums. However, collections are not the soul of museums—ideas are.  These ideas are brought to collections by people: curators, educators, and visitors, amongst others.  Here lies the crux of so many challenges in this sector.  Trust is something that museums offer their collections, but don’t offer much of their staff or their visitors.  Without that trust, the people involved in museums cannot bring their best ideas to the fore, leaving collections poorly activated.

The issue of trust is at the center of many of the internal problems of museums. Executive staff, busy with responsibility, often cosset themselves away from visitors leaving lower level staff charged with attempting to translate the real concerns of patrons to the higher echelons. Such trickle up relationships can work if lower level staff are afforded trust by their superiors. Trust could be expressed through face time, decision-making power, salary scale, and/or credit for work.

The dearth of trust in museums extends to their relationships with visitors. Museums often do not express trust in visitors in their spatial and cultural norms.  Instead of trust, we project fear to visitors.  We fear them with our collections. Think of the deportment of guards. These museum professionals have the greatest face time with our visitors; yet they are often trained to project a restrained, if not punitive, attitude.

The lack of trust in our visitors is also expressed in the way that collections are interpreted. Permanent collection galleries use labels with often illegibly small font and inscrutable text. Exhibitions are allowed greater latitude in general, due to their temporary nature. In other words, in general, visitor-centered interpretive and design norms can only occur in museums in the places that do not create permanent change to the culture.  While some museums solicit visitor feedback, the change to our field is incremental. Said differently, we do not trust the change our visitors might advocate. Sure, we might have an exhibition that has a Post-it note talkbacks. But, this type of change is barely noticeable to a visitor who has lived through the whirlwind of technological changes that are the essence of contemporary society.  Herein is a major factor of fear; visitors might want something that is totally different than what museums do.

The lack of trust offered to staff and visitors have massive ramifications for our field.  Staff burnout and turnover is a problem.  In fields where external jobs have better pay, like technology and marketing,  staff leave and take their field-knowledge. In other fields, like education, staff stagnate and wither. The staffing challenges then are translated into visitor experiences that do not embody trust.  Visitors in turn often feel uncomfortable in our spaces; they can tell we don’t trust them.  Visitors move into other leisure experiences.

In the end, if our collections are held in trust. then our visitors are our constituents, a relationship not unlike a voter to an elected representative. And, just as a senator who has broken his trust with his voters can be voted out, people vote with their actions in the museum sphere.  Our attendance is decreasing. In other words, increasingly people are choosing not to trust us with their time. Visitorship is already skewed demographically towards wealth and whiteness, and rather than diversifying our visitors, those wary of being profiled are less likely to visit.

So, what are we going to do to earn their trust?  We need to change our whole culture, from the way we treat our staff to the way we treat our visitors.  We need to face our fears of change. We need to trust that the people who want to participate in our culture (from lower level staff to general visitors) have a personal stake in our success.  We need to express our trust with systemic change, rather than peripheral amendments.

Without these fundamental changes in the structure of museums, currently focusing trust and transparency on a small set of our culture (the executive team and board), the work we do is less than optimum.  We can’t speak of political movements and yet remain immune to them.  A trust-based model means that more people share the decision-making, but then that also means more people share the ownership. This trust revolution, and with its concomitant, and required, decrease in fear of change, would transform museums from places that hold collections in trust for people to places that trust people with collections.

So How Will We Do This? 

First, you need to think about trust itself. Trust is a moment of vulnerability and two-way connection. Trust takes honesty and courage. You lose something certainly, power particularly. But, you also gain, empathy and connectedness.  In the end, you find yourself amongst people who feel a connection to you. You are in other words insulated by their trust in you.

In terms of museums, there are three keys: trust collections, visitors, and staff.  We are going to focus on the people because we are really good at trusting the collection.

Let’s start with Visitor

When of the biggest challenges of trust come when the visitor meets the collection. Many objects cannot be handled. Explain why or better show why touching objects can often lead damaging those pieces. They know that we don’t trust them. They can tell. Visitors don’t feel comfortable in our spaces, and our spaces are generally almost purposefully uncomfortable. Don’t think so? Just look for a comfortable seat in a museum gallery.

So what are some ways we can turn this culture of distrust around?

  1. Share don’t tell. (Be open in your interpretation. Allow people to come to their own conclusions.)
  2. Make the visitor a co-steward in the welfare of the collection. (Think of the difference between snapping, “don’t touch” and mentioning “we need to keep this safe.”)
  3. Believe they can handle difficult topics. (Ignorance of a certain topic is not stupidity in general. They were smart enough to enter the museum :>)
  4. Be open to multiple ways that visitors may approach the collection.
  5. Be more thoughtful in the ways your guards connect to visitors. (Empower guards to be kind.)
  6. Make your spaces less inscrutable. (Don’t make them feel lost.)

And now Staff

Museums are, however, inherently hierarchical. So, trust can be parsed out by where the other person stands in relation to you.

To your superiors

  1. Find ways to share what you really think. (Test the waters will small moments to see if you can trust them.)
  2. Be sociable. (Take this one slowly. Feel them out.)
  3. Work hard and show your work. (Let them know you don’t magic your deliverables.)
  4. Question kindly. (Don’t just disagree so you can. And, ask in ways that don’t sound personal.)
  5. Don’t say anything about them that you wouldn’t say to them. (That said, find a way to let out your negative feelings, say journaling, telling spouse, voodoo doll (?))

To your peers

  1. Share your ideas. (They might steal them. But, you have more ideas).
  2. Don’t personalize. (It’s not all about you.)
  3. Help them. (Open doors. Share Pens. Pick up the slack.)
  4. Be on their team, even if you are in different divisions. (Listen, hear, and care.)

To your staff or those junior to you:

Trust in one’s staff begins with valuing the staff. Trust goes both ways. Here are concrete steps in developing trust in your workspace. Because there is a power differential between you and your staff they need to know that they can trust you.

Before you can trust your staff, you must set the conditions for a work culture that allows for or encourages trust.

  1. Train the staff to be good at their job. (Training takes time, money and effort, so make sure you plan for that).
  2. Set expectations then allow them to operate within those expectations. (Tell them what success looks like. If you don’t know, you are not leading.)
  3. Don’t micro-manage (If you really know how to do their job better; take that job instead).
  4. Voice concerns early before they fester. (Don’t tell them 6 months after they pissed you off. Also, why are you still angry after 6 months? You are the one who did nothing.)
  5. Give staff clear/ concise goals. (What do you want? They are not mind-readers.)
  6. Believe they know the best way to accomplish their job. (Don’t worry. They got this).
  7. Be transparent about decisions made that affect your staff. (I assure you they will guess on your motivations. Why waste their time?)
  8. Be honest about why you are asking for staff’s opinions. (is it for a show? Or do you really want to hear their opinion? Be honest if you don’t.)
  9. Know names. Use them. (They are human. Treat them that way.)  
  10. Be social. Be kind. (Don’t treat them as your inferiors, unless you want inferior work from them.)

Yourself

Finally, and most importantly, show yourself trust. The more you can trust others with your true self, the more you will grow in the field. Know that you are doing your best. If you feel like you are not, then move yourself to the place, mentally, where you can.

What next?

If each person in the field picked four ways to add more trust in our field, four simple concrete items, we would start a revolution.  It’s a simple numbers game.  4 times everyone in this field, of 1.6 million more moments of trust. Over time, there would be an exponential shift in the culture of the field, in the way that visitors feel, and in the way that museums are perceived. The collections, a core defining feature, would remain as trusted as ever. But, instead of being part just housed in buildings, they would be surrounded by people who feel as trusted as the collections.

This is post is my summary of my MuseumNext USA talk in Portland. Thanks to them (Jim and Kala) for letting me share my ideas on that large stage.  To hear the talk, catch the video. 

Team Dynamics in the Nonprofit Workplace / The Pride and Prejudice Guide to the Non-Profit Workplace

Pride and Prejudice, written by Jane Austen, was first published in 1813. In the subsequent 200 years, the tale of a family of unmarried daughters and their subsequent marital aspirations remains a popular novel. In my recent reread of the book, I started to focus on the staying power of this literary classic. This novel is about interrelationships, communication, and strife. In many ways, this book, with some plot transformations, could be any nonprofit. Rather than regurgitate the novel, check out the synopsis before digging into the rest of the post.

Donors

In many ways, this book, with some plot transformations, could be any non-profit office place. Instead of the ideal husband, rich and loving, the non-profit organization is seeking the ideal donor. While we dream of a Bingley, a rich, affable donor who lets us do what we want, we end up with ever so many Collins, the low-level donors with outstripped demands on our time. The rare Darcy might come up; this donor is demanding but in ways that appreciably grow your organization.

The Non-Profit Team

So, if the suitors are the donors, then the Bennett family is a useful metaphor for the non-profit organization. Each working team has a set of people: You will likely have a number of Jane’s and Kitty’s. These are people who do their work and keep things going, but they don’t make waves. You will have a fair number of Mary’s. These are the people who follow rules above all other choices; they don’t bend.

You will likely have a number of Jane’s and Kitty’s. These are people who do their work and keep things going, but they don’t make waves.

You will have a fair number of Mary’s. These are the people who follow rules above all other choices; they don’t bend. These are not leaders, but sometimes they are also not followers.

The smallest categories of workers are the Lizzy’s and Kitty’s. In many ways, they are like ying and yang. For all of Lizzy’s amazing characteristics, her judgmental nature makes her challenging in the workplace. Similarly, for all of Kitty’s negative characteristics, she is definitely doing something. So many of the people in the non-profit ecosystem are maintaining the status quo, and the Lizzy’s are a rarity.

So What? 

In the novel, Lizzy, the main character, slowly comes to value people for who they are. For example, when her friend marries Lizzy’s horrible cousin Collins, she comes to see that the match is actually fairly good.  Love isn’t the only path to marriage, she realizes.

Working with other people is often about just getting along well enough to get the project done without impaling each other.  A big part of this is realizing that you can’t change people. Frankly, it is hard enough to change yourself, and you are generally in control of your faculties. So instead of changing people, you are often better served by understanding others.

Certainly, the characters of Pride and Prejudice are more simplistic than real people. Most people aren’t straight Lizzy’s or Lydia’s. But, when you are sitting in a staff meeting, wondering why your insane coworker is allowed such latitude, step back. Try to consider what positive things happen when this person goes off the deep-end.

Inclusion-Centered Leadership

Inclusion occurs through considered actions. Leaders play an important role in transforming the ethos of inclusion from words into actions. That said, often, inclusions practices are translated into large actions, like requiring diversity training or implementing diversity hiring policies. Those are like bringing in the right ingredients for a great feast. If you don’t deal with them, they will spoil. You need to put in an effort to turn those raw ingredients into something appetizing.

Many of the most important action in supporting diversity is small, unseen actions. As a leader, first and foremost, remember you have two jobs: being a leader of a group and then your own work. If you don’t do both, you aren’t doing either well.  You need to think hard about how your beliefs are translated into action. So, if you believe in equity, you can’t treat your staff as lowly servants, saying to them that “they shouldn’t care that you don’t reply to their emails”

You need to think hard about how your beliefs are translated into action. So, if you believe in equity, you can’t treat your staff as lowly servants, saying to them that “they shouldn’t care that you don’t reply to their emails”  Never tell someone not to care. You are in charge of their work, not their emotions.  In not replying to their emails, you are showing that their needs don’t matter. If you don’t care about their needs, you don’t really care about equity, as you are expressing that your needs matter more.

In the end, equity and inclusion will only be disseminated throughout your organization, if you, and all leaders, where ever they are in the organization, commit to taking all the small steps that support the large steps your organization makes. .

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Docent Programs (Data Template)

How can you quantify and assess the relative benefit of staff teachers to docents? Not easily, truthfully. This is a fuzzy math problem, at best. But, before I lay out some ways to consider this, let me offer some useful thoughts and questions to help you on your path.

Mission-Driven & Client-Driven

Most, if not all, museums have education in their mission. Yet, education is the most likely element of the mission largely delegated to volunteers. What does that mean? Simplistically, one might see a value proposition; education is the only mission-driven function that can be value-engineered to be accomplished for free.

But, this simplistic notion is patently untrue. Docent programs are far from free. Using volunteer educators can be as much about meeting the need as trying to do so in a cost-effective manner.  In some areas, there might be more need for gallery teachers than available staff. Without docents, they would not be able to meet that need.

That said, cost-effective or meeting need are only two elements in decision-making. Meeting the need in budget only counts if you meet the need well. If you meet this need badly, eventually you will look clients and the need will go down.

Costs and Benefits

Before running the numbers, let’s think of ideas. There are several ways to think about the advantages and drawbacks for docent programs. Let’s create a sort of ledger of ideas.

Costs: (you can also download these as a table for you to fill out)

Easily quantifiable costs: Some costs are easy to tally. Think about things that show up in your budget ledgers. Every year, you spend X about of money for a docent party. If you don’t have a staff party, or you make it potluck, the docent program is costlier.

Relatively easy to quantify costs: Parking is another quantifiable cost at some institutions. It is one that I always dreaded in my monthly ledger. Most docent programs are considerably larger than staff-led programs. As a result, many more parking spots would be used for docents than staff. Why calculate parking if it doesn’t show up in your ledger? Parking is a finite resource in most areas. If your staff and volunteers use spaces, you are displacing paying people.

Complicated costs: Other costs are harder to quantify but important to understand. Think about printing. My first museum job, one that I proudly earned after getting a master’s degree, was to photocopy out of print books for the docent program. Think a little about the costs there, leaving aside my salary for the moment. There is the cost of the paper and the printing ink but also wear and tear of the printer. That poor, sweet machine, my old office-buddy, bit the dust long before any of the other machines in the building. As a rule, docent programs have far higher printing requirements than staff-led programs. Why? A few reasons. First, staff usually have broader access to libraries and the stacks than volunteers. Second, staff often come in with degrees and as such don’t need copies of books. Thirdly, staff is expected to have the education underpinnings to be able to find and use the appropriate resources. I cannot remember a time when I was a gallery teacher that my boss gave me a printed book, but I certainly remember her checking my sources.

The most imperative, and perhaps hardest to quantify cost comparison is in terms of staff time. In terms of staff time, what percentage of your staff interacts with docents, particularly those who don’t have the word “docent” in their title. Think about the variety of people impacted by docents. How much of your security staff is spending time reprinting badges? How much of your curatorial assistants’ time is spent answering questions for docents? What about time spent communicating protocol changes? How much of the visitor experience staff is spending time answering docent questions? You might find that every division is spending time working with docents. I am not making a value judgment; I assure you. When we get to benefits, you will see that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Opportunity losses: Finally, make sure to account for opportunity costs. Where are you wasting money without even knowing it? For example, most docent programs have a room that is easily accessible to those with low-level access. In other words, they occupy a space that could be used for visitors or for fund-generating programming. Account for each opportunity lost when you use resources for docents.

Benefits: (you can also download these as a table for you to fill out)

Benefits are the portion of this equation that pushes us into fuzzy math. I want to diverge for a moment into a memory. Not too long ago, I was at the funeral for a docent I knew from my days in museum education. I sat at one of the largest churches in Cleveland, a town with ecclesiastical structures of scale, looking down at more than 100 people touched by this one docent’s commitment to one museum. Time and time again during the service, people shared that they learned to value the museum through the eyes of this one man. This docent happened to be an extraordinary man; he was the kind of person who knew teaching required constantly learning. But, his life also shows how part of the value of docent programs is “the love they share.”

The unquantifiable: Hyper-committed individuals populate docent programs. These people have the time to lavish time on an institution, and their bank accounts usually reflect his ability to spend time at your museum. Docent programs are donor groups, marketing machines, as well as teaching forces.  Staff teachers are not going to be able to donate the amount of money that docents are. And, in terms of the soft benefit of marketing, most staff teachers don’t regale their friends with the type of unmitigated love for a museum that docents do. Docents are in it for the love; it’s their avocation. (After all, staff usually gets to see the good and bad; and we all enjoy taking a break from work)

Quantify marketing benefits: So, how are we going to think about this? Well, let’s think a little bit about some concrete things. You can think about things like the number of times docents share your messaging. Compare that to staff messaging.

Quantify donations: Most museum educators don’t have the ability to donate money, but some do. Compare what money comes in from docents compared with staff. In many ways, in your docent program, you are creating a highly engaged donor class. You might not have been able to get these donors without this type of engagement.

Quantify Total Percentage of Actual Teaching Capacity: More than anything else, docents allow you to impact more patrons. There is no way to argue that 80 people can teach more people than 8. It is important to quantify this. (I have created a spreadsheet to help you do this.) Additionally, numbers are an essential metric when showing value; grants, for example, usually seem the number of people served as a measure of success.

Visitor Experience

But, now here is the wrinkle. Is the docent program helping you get out the best product? One way to think about that is to see if your program is growing. Now, be warned many variables impact growth or decrease in any program. But, comparing the change in scale with visitor feedback will help you get a picture of perception of quality. In other words, if the numbers are going up, and your reviews are good, the docents are probably doing good work.

Yet, the equation is still not complete. Think about what your visitors might want. Schools might be asking for in-depth programming that teaches specific standards with measurable assessments. Can you train your docents to do that? Will your docents want to do that? Will your docents do that well? How much time will you spend training them? Will this eventually result in greater benefits (more students, more grants, and/ or more revenue)? (Remember, also, in the US, volunteers cannot do work that is a staff function, so be careful not to accidentally start a tussle with the Department of Labor.)

Now for the Numbers

Years ago, when I got through 1/2 of business school, I had a terrible revelation that accounting is magic. And while that is a story for another day, it is important to remember what I stated over and over here. This will be fuzzy math.

Take your notes from the costs and the benefits and start adding them to the spreadsheet. Do this for the docent program. Then do this for a staff-led experience.  Now add your visitor experience information. Which one outweighs the other?

In the end, your equation should be:

Docents: Costs + Visitor Experience Opportunity Losses VS Benefits + Visitor Experience Benefits 

Staff: Costs + Visitor Experience Opportunity Losses VS Benefits + Visitor Experience Benefits 

Conclusion

Where does this leave you? Well, you will likely come up with useful data but not an answer.  One will side of this scale will be higher. Visitor experience considerations might make staffing a better choice. The scale of impact might make docents a better choice.

You might not be able to make a change due to hard cash. After all, even if staff is a better choice, you might not have the money to hire them, right now. So, why do this?  Well, this is the kind of planning tool that will help you move forward in a strategic manner toward your best solution for putting your mission of education into action.

Inaction is an Action: #MuseumsResist is a better One

thanks to Robin Cembalest for the photo

I had the extreme pleasure of being part of this year’s MuseumCamp hosted by Nina Simon at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. For those who are unaware of this program, it’s sort of a hybrid museum conference, personal growth program, and summer camp smushed into three days. Intense would be a useful descriptor. Useful, impactful, and thought-provoking also work.

This Monday morning, after such wonderful experiences with people from around the world in the cossetted kooky culture of Santa Cruz, I had hoped to create a blog post from my MuseumCamp notes. Instead, my heart feels exhausted. I wanted to share some of the hope a community of change-makers felt. Instead, my brain is misfiring. I wanted to pass on useful advice to colleagues who couldn’t be in Santa Cruz. Instead, my soul needs rest.

Why? Well, because for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  In this case, for all the changemakers aimed at an inclusive society, there are those who want exclusion. There are those who fear more people at the table will mean less space for them. There are those who only feel full when others are starving.

If you do not know me personally, I have made my life, career, being, on being an active participant. You tell a funny story—I laugh. You ask for a volunteer—my hand is up. You need some help—I will be there. Why? Because inaction is a much less fun choice than action.

As I said, though, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. You can choose your opposite reaction or not. If you don’t react to negativity, you are still acting. Your lack of action is still a reaction. So, when you see evil, when you see people actively fighting inclusion, and you decide it might be too political to act, you are being political in your inaction.

Today, everyone in America woke up in a country where people spouted hate publicly and proudly. Today in America, we saw the emblems of enemies past parading in the streets of one of the nation’s best college. Today in America, we remembered that our own worst enemies are our own neighbors.

What does this have to do with museums? Museums are the best of our nation, even literally, holding our national heritage for eternity. Museums are ideas. They are hope. When the best of our nation doesn’t do anything, then they are choosing—and they are making the wrong choice. There is a simple binary: chosen action (1) or choosing inaction (0).

How can museums react?

  • Staff can be allowed time to share their feelings together
  • Staff can raise money for organizations that support inclusion (Bake sale, anyone)
  • Staff can reach out to colleagues in Charlottesville with unencumbered, unquestioning support
  • Museums can host conversations for visitors
  • Museums share their stories of colonialism and inclusion as a model for growth (History isn’t erased any more than hard drives; bits always exist)
  • Museums can model inclusion in their programming
  • Museums can work together in regions to create safe spaces for inclusion

Do what is your museums doing? Let’s grow this list until every museum has something they can check off. After all, action is so much more fun.

Also, check this post out on Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 ; similar to this but with a different picture of me.

Self-Care: Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry is a positivity-focused planning process that allows teams to build on the best of their past to dream of the best future. This strategy can be helpful in organizational problem-solving.  You start with a goal (rather than a problem, as in problem-based learning or design thinking), and then you go through five steps: define, discover, dream, design, and deliver.  Alliteration aside, the process asks you to start with what’s good, discover what’s next, put down your dreams, design your dreams, and then deliver on them.

I have been playing with this process developed by Case Western Reserve University to facilitate organizational change. But, I have also been playing with this tool as a means of personal growth.

How about you use Appreciative Inquiry to help your self-care practice?

Self-care is basically a process of making sure that you aren’t burned to the core. You make sure to keep your inner-self nourished and whole. It isn’t about being selfish or self-focused. Instead, it is about self-preservation. Self-care is about making yourself ready for anything the world throws at you. Here are the steps to help you make the most of yourself.

  • Define: This is an illuminating and essential step. Take stock of yourself. Ask yourself a series of questions. Write your answers. Draw your answers. Think your answers.   It’s the type of work that is best done with a little procrastination. This is the kind of stuff that bubbles up when you are driving the car or standing in the shower. So, start, stop and start again.  As yourself questions, like, who are you? What makes you tick? What makes you freeze? What exhausts you? What ignites you?
  • Discover: This is a process that can work in many ways. In traditional AI, you can frame a series of exercises to go through discovery. But, for self-care, try giving yourself this challenge: write 5 sentences about your greatest desires.
  • Dream: Now that you know about your greatest desires, spend some time dreaming. What are ways that you can make it to your desires? Don’t negate your dreams. Don’t say no to yourself.
  • Design: Alright, so now you have your beginning (defining) and your ending (discover), and some of the ways you can get there (dreams). So, what next? Design concrete ways that you can get there.  For example, if your greatest desire is to be healthy, and you dream of being muscular, then design a way to make exercise part of your life. Now, this is a concrete example, certainly, and goals like “be happy” might be harder. When your goals seem too abstract, break them down. So, go back to your define statements, what makes you happy?
  • Deliver: In a non-profit, this is easy. You turn your strategic plan into action points and show how you did it.  But, for people, this is the same in some ways. You make yourself accountable to your goals. Put them on your calendar. Give yourself tasks. Basically, make ways to help yourself achieve your goals.

 

Centering Empathy in your Visitor-Practice in Museums

Empathy is one of those things that is hard to verbalize and even harder to feel. If sympathy is when you say “I know how you feel” then empathy is when you connect with someone’s pain to not be able to say anything at all.  Empathy is hard to gain, requires time, and involves work. You don’t gain empathy by looking onto something in a disconnected manner. You gain empathy by linking with others in real, authentic ways. These connections return enormous gains.

Think of your visitor. You no longer think of them as one monolith. You start to differentiate the mass into individuals. You start to wonder what they would think, not in an abstract way, but in a solvable way.  You move from inaction to action.

How do you gain such powers?

Pretty simple. Walk out of your office. Sit where your visitors sit. (Didn’t put a bench there? Well, then you think about sitting where your visitors think about sitting.) Talk to people. Be careful–this is not an evaluation that I am talking about. Don’t take this sample size of a handful as

Talk to people. Be careful–this is not an evaluation that I am talking about. Don’t take this sample size of a handful as an anecdotal study.  Just get to know your visitors as people. Let them be actual people rather than abstract numbers.

Then go back to the problems that face you. Think of those people that you have been getting to know.  Try to solve these problems for them.

Oh, and ask facilities to put an extra bench in the galleries.

6 Steps to Combat Implicit Bias in Institutions

Museum staff are in power to combat implicit bias in organizations. This work is imperative to maintain current audiences and grow new ones. But confronting bias can be scary and challenging. Here are some concrete steps to help museums start on the path to combat bias.

1.Don’t ignore bias

Bias will not go away just because you don’t see it. Talking about bias explicitly will help you and your colleagues bring to light blind spots in your work and processes.  These types of conversations should be ongoing, however, as bias can be minimized but never disappears.

 

2. Avoided making judgments when in heightened emotional states.

Happiness and joy are wonderful emotions, but the power of those emotions, as well as their polar opposites, can prevent you from making bias-tempered choices.

 

3.Communicate in ways that minimize ambiguity.

Try to communicate directly. Certainly, you might get some confrontation, but you will also create less confusion. This is certainly true in verbal communication, but it also translates to textual communication.

 

4. Be informed with appropriate language.

Understand what words mean in your specific circumstances. Think of this example. In your museum, do you have labels and placard? How do you feel when someone uses the wrong word? Now imagine that feeling magnified exponentially; that sort of estimates the feels that come from hearing yourself described with inappropriate terms.

 

5. Create feedback loops

No matter how consciously you might work, you are always within a certain ingroup. Make sure to build in ways in working processes to have feedback from different audiences. Pluralities of voice can make for a less biased final product.

 

6. Look for help

Just as you might have a hard time proofreading your own work (I do), you often can’t see bias problems in your own organizations. This is the ideal time to invite knowledgeable professionals to help you identity and address places for improvement.