In condensed text version, here are my three steps to being a great multi-platform organization:
- Listen to and understand what your visitors/users need.
- Confidently and clearly state your institutional mission, values, and capabilities.
- Develop relationships via any and all useful platforms that allow you to connect 1 to 2.
The most important part of this is that 1 and 2 be as specific as possible, detailing both what is IN and what is OUT. Your mission should be an actionable measuring stick. You should be able to read your mission statement like a chapter of the Torah--exploding out its implications and using it as a kind of legal text for proper action. Every program, old and new, should be evaluated against the mission (and the business model) for soundness.
I used to think of mission statements as fluffy pieces of fakery. Now I feel like they are--or should be--integral to keeping institutions on track. If they are too flabby or meaningless, they don't serve anyone. The Smithsonian's current (and historic) mission has only one actionable statement: "increase and diffuse knowledge." I'm not sure that's enough to go on for such a complex and diverse set of research, education, and civic facilities.
I bring this up in part because the Smithsonian is currently undergoing a massive strategic planning process across many sectors of the institution. I sincerely hope this will lead to some actionable statements about what the Smithsonian is and isn't, which audiences they will prioritize and downgrade. There is no good strategic plan without a clear sense of what will be left out.
Admirably, the Smithsonian has opened up their new media strategic planning via a public wiki. They want your help, but they are also offering up what they are doing for the rest of us to explore. And if you don't have any serious scars from your own strategic planning experiences, it's a fascinating read. In particular, I've enjoyed digging into the workshops that were held on Education, Business Models, Technology and Ops, Curation and Research, and Directors. If you look at any given workshop, you can access the discussion guide (questions the facilitators thought were important for that group) and even more interestingly, a few participants' followup comments in an evaluation offered after the workshops. (Side note: three times as many educators filled out surveys than any of the other groups.) While most of the voices represented are positive about a "Smithsonian 2.0" future, you can also see the passion of different groups that feel underrepresented or unheard in the evaluation comments. I love that the new media team published these evaluations and responded to the individual comments. There's lots of content there that could be used as conversation starters in the next iteration of this process--whether at the Smithsonian or any other museum grappling with issues of how to integrate participation and multi-platform experiences into their institution.
Sure, there's a part of me that is skeptical that all of this may be a lot of meetings and talk for little change. I am an impatient person. I've always preferred working in small museums, where there may not be money but there is eagerness to experiment and the approval line is only one or two people deep. I get impatient with long complicated processes that require buy-in from hundreds of people. But the Smithsonian, as Elaine Gurian once wrote, is an ocean liner. I admire all the people who are trying tirelessly to turn it towards more open, inclusive shores.