At the start of this year, I started writing about the principles of intentional practice, and to date, I have shared three principles (#1, #2, and #3). For this post, I feature the next two principles of intentional practice, and I present them together because they are both critically important for achieving the museum’s intended impact, and yet, they are very different in character.
#4. Staff know the impact the museum hopes to achieve on audiences served
Principle #4, “Staff know the impact the museum hopes to achieve on audiences served,” may seem like an unnecessary principle to state; after all, staff participated in the crafting of the impact statement, and certainly they know the museum’s heart-felt intentions. Stating the obvious reinforces the important role staff have in the museum’s intentional practice. Omitting it as a principle would be a serious oversight. To “know” is not taken lightly among museum professionals. In the context of intentional practice, to “know” leads staff to internalize the impact the museum hopes to achieve, and such knowing enables staff to carry out its work. Oddly, the principle also feels static, which is the antithesis of how work tends to happen in museums—where there is always an abundance of activity. However static the statement feels, impact statements are never still, and neither is staff’s knowledge.
#5. Staff align its work to achieve its intended impact
Knowing the intended impact of the museum on audiences should affect and determine the work that staff do; however, realizing what one could do and carrying out those actions are two very different things. Innumerable tensions unfold in museums, as museums pursue the 5th principle: “Staff align its work to achieve its intended impact.” Alignment is about exploring whether a museum’s processes and products can deliver the museum’s intended impact within the resources the museum has to expend (staff and dollars), and within that, alignment can be also about course-correcting work to strengthen alignment between a program and the museum’s intended impact. Taken a step further, alignment can also become part of a strategy for reducing a museum’s workload if the museum is doing too much, as is often the case.
How can a museum use alignment to reduce its workload? One approach might be to analyze various programs from two perspectives: 1) a program’s ability to achieve the museum’s intended impact; and 2) the amount of resources required to implement the program—in terms of staff time and dollars.
If, through discussion, staff ascertain that a program has relatively low impact (compared to other programs) and requires considerable resources, does it make sense to continue the program? There are two options: a) the museum can change the program to strengthen alignment between the program and the museum’s intended impact and reduce the cost of the program to the museum; or, b) it can stop doing the program altogether, which could free up resources that the museum could put to better use. However, some museum programs are sacred cows, such as a holiday program or other long-running public programs. Sometimes programs become tradition, and they are the ones that are most threatened, in part because they were created before the museum started to pursue impact-driven planning. Some programs continue year after year simply because the museum has always done them—and sometimes for no other reason.
When a museum chooses to engage in impact-driven planning, logic suggests that the museum wants to change in some sort of way. If nothing changes during or after the planning process, something is afoot. While the thought of changing is inspiring, change is extremely difficult to actualize. For example, things could remain the same if someone becomes offended if their program’s effectiveness is being questioned or if those sacred cows are left intact. Alignment analyses are intended to be honest reflections about whether a program achieves the museum’s intended impact and uses resources responsibly. Without honesty, change is elusive and alignment is futile. Knowing that honest analysis and discussion is vital to alignment, convene with your colleagues to discuss your museum’s programs and plot each one on the above graph to help you determine what your museum can improve or stop doing. Regardless of where each program is placed on the grid, the objective is to have the conversation—which is the beginning of the alignment process.