The quarter-century mark feels like the right time to take stock of where RK&A is, and at the very least, think about what we have learned along the way. Reflecting on the past is a task that feels comfortable; we know where we have been, and we are familiar with the present. Making sense of the past and forging new ideas from the past is far more difficult—yet, as a staff, that is what we have decided to do for our 25th anniversary celebration—which will take the entire year! As some of you know, we have been blogging for exactly a year—at rka-learnwithus.com/blog/. What better platform is there to share what we have learned over the last quarter century?
Evaluation, visitor studies, audience research—that is the work I set out to do and it remains our traditional work. RK&A has carefully grown to seven people, including a small satellite office in NY. Along the way all of us have learned so much—about visitors, about cultural organizations, and about the relationship between the two. As a staff that has always strived for excellence, we try hard to apply new knowledge to our practice.
About 10 years ago I gravitated towards the notion of intentionality as a concept I wanted to explore. Conducting evaluations had shown me that it would be worthwhile to figure out a way to help cultural organizations focus their passions, skills, and resources towards their vision of impact. Helping organizations determine what impact they wanted to achieve seemed like the first step, and so was born our intentional practice workshops (which took about two years of R&D). Achieving impact with audiences is harder than one thinks, so in order for cultural organizations to achieve impact, they need to be intentional in how they carry out their work.
The demand for our intentional practice workshops continues to grow, and because our intentionality work emerged from our evaluation work, it was only a matter of time until we would begin to weave what we have learned back into our evaluation practice. We now offer intentionality-like workshops as part of our evaluation services to help staff understand and apply evaluation data to their planning. Rarely do staff from across the organization get together to discuss and debate their visitors and work, but when they do, the results are inspiring.
However, inspiration doesn’t always lead to action. While most people and organizations want to change, saying so is easier than doing so. I have learned the virtue of taking baby steps towards change, and sometimes baby steps give people time to learn and internalize a new way of thinking and working. It’s that way at RK&A. Sometimes our intentionality work feels organic and sometimes we need to be more deliberate and forthright in our decision making in order to sustain a change in our practice. It is human nature to gravitate to old ways of doing things until new ways become comfortable; it takes conviction and focus to continue to move forward. To sustain our learning and help RK&A maintain its momentum with our new intentionality work and traditional evaluation practice, we will share 25 years of learning with you over the next 25 blog posts. We hope our 25th year celebration of RK&A’s learning inspires you to learn along with us.