Two weeks ago, I attended the Learning Value of Children’s Museums Research Agenda Symposium. When I received an email from the project evaluator asking me about what most resonated from the first day of the symposium, I found that my most immediate thoughts had nothing to do with children’s museums, despite the many interesting conversations in which I participated throughout the day. Rather what most resonated was spurred by a comment from Kevin Crowley, Professor at University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education, as he gave advice on the process of brainstorming around the research agenda. He recited a quote from Woody Allen: “A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies.” He noted that researchers, in particular, can get caught doing mental gymnastics around ideas ad nauseam, but that we needed to push forward and drop pen to paper to avoid having a dead shark of a research agenda.
I have absolutely experienced what Kevin described. As someone who likes data, it is very easy to get caught up in interview transcripts, wondering, “What did they mean by that?” I also could spend gobs of time running statistical analyses by every variable available looking for any kind of relationship. Heck, it took me two years to finish writing my master’s thesis because there was always one more book, article, or podcast to review that might be relevant. However, the reality of my work as a consultant evaluator is that I have been contracted by a museum client to collect data to inform exhibition, programming, or marketing decisions—all of which have deadlines. When I first started working with RK&A, “deadline” was a scary word. I worried about missing something in the data or not wording something exactly right in the report. Now, I find deadlines as a necessary (and often welcome) parameter in which to work. They help me hunker down and focus on key trends and salient information. In that regard, deadlines have become a symbol for progress. When I finish my work, the museum can move forward with its work—thereby saving the shark.
If you’d like to see how ACM is moving forward on its research agenda, check out the Web site: http://www.childrensmuseums.org/index.php/playing-for-keeps/play-research.html. The agenda is open to comments through October 20th if you would like to provide your two cents.