We may not have it all together, but together we have it all”
The Cycle of Intentional Practice is proving to be a very useful framework for planning (see “Cycle of Intentional Practice” for more information). We have applied the Cycle to many different projects—from planning global initiatives, to developing action plans for individual museum departments, to planning a museum’s future, to planning exhibitions. While all of these projects are completely different, common to them is the museums’ intention for their work to make a difference in people’s lives, which is how we define “impact.”
When I reflect on our intentional planning work to identify the attributes that have made our approach successful, I land in a pretty simple place, which I have started to share during the workshops. “I don’t need to be here for you to do this kind of deep thinking,” I note during all of the workshops. But I also realize that the one thing that makes intentional planning an invigorating and very useful process is the one thing that is hard for organizations to do—convene to talk about the work of the museum. Our intentional planning process uses a workshop format because we believe that when staff work collaboratively to develop a common focus—a requirement for intentional thinking—the conversations, products, plans, and enthusiasm for their museum’s work are richer.
Another related necessity is that we ask that representatives of all departments participate in the workshops; while sometimes there is pushback (due to the unspoken hierarchy that may exist within an institution), we hold our ground because collaboration is a primary tenet of intentionality, and deep facilitated discussions are the only way people from different departments can find their common pursuit. In nearly all of our intentional planning work, staff recognize the depth that emerges from hearing everyone’s perspective and having everyone working together towards a common end. Clarifying language often becomes part of the conversation. For example, we are working on an international initiative for a large art museum and everyone was talking about wanting visitors to experience “cross-cultural connections.” One brave staff member eventually asked what everyone means when they say that. A great question that took participants a while to ponder and judging from rich conversation that ensued, an exceedingly simple and crucial question to pose. We are all guilty of using words/phrases without ever clarifying what they mean (my personal favorite, overused and now somewhat meaningless word is “engagement”). When clarifying a museum’s intended impact, part of the conversation should include what people mean by the words they use to represent the results of their museum’s work.
Another primary tenet of intentional planning, in some ways as illustrated above, is inquiry. For inquiry to work, though, people need to listen to understand (rather than to respond reactively). Certainly, facilitating inclusive workshops and using inquiry are not new; many organizations use them at different times to do their work. We think they are successful with our intentionality work because we are using these practices collectively within the context of the Cycle of Intentional Practice (see the diagram). When used all together, they provide a massive dose of intentional thinking about the topic at hand—whether a strategic plan, a departmental plan, or a plan for an international initiative. We have observed that bringing staff together for several hours creates an amazing feeling among those who gather—likely because it is a rare occurrence for people to take a moment to breathe and think about the interesting and thought-provoking questions we and others are asking. They are delighted to have a chance to reflect on their individual work and how it supports the collective work of their colleagues, and sometimes there is a Kumbaya moment where everyone feels like they are on the same wonderfully beautiful page.