Communication complicates the best laid plans—that is what I have been pondering recently as I reflect on what I have learned in my 11 years working for RK&A. Communication is pervasive in every aspect of our work, and in life. It is both omnipresent and invisible, hovering somewhere in the background of every project, waiting to propel the project forward or stop it in its tracks at any given moment. In reflecting on the successes and challenges of any given project, I find myself asking, “Why did that work so well or why was that so challenging?” Often the reason has to do with what was communicated and how it was communicated throughout the project.
Take, for example, our impact planning work, which Randi spearheaded and which RK&A has honed over time. The whole process is an exercise in communication. While there is a precise method to the work, which Randi outlines in her book, Intentional Practice for Museums, communication is the wild card. People are the lifeblood of any organization, and they all communicate in different ways. These differences—how we communicate information and process the information that is communicated to us—are what make the impact planning process messy.
The first workshop in the process of defining a museum’s impact often includes a gentle reminder of this fact—an image of a road sign with what appears to be a child’s scribble scrabble in the middle and a single arrow emerging out of the fray. That road sign indicates: “This is going to get messy. You cannot stop it from happening. But, if you take this journey with us, there is a way out of the mess (hence, the arrow).” At this point in the workshop, I think there are always some who believe us that there will be a way out and others who are not yet sure.
When it comes to helping museums articulate impact, we cannot change the fact that bringing together people with different communication styles makes everything more complicated. But how we perceive these complications can change and evolve over time. And, a change in this perception is really at the core of what I have learned. I have found that different communication styles lend an air of unpredictability to every project that is exciting. Have I always been excited by this unpredictability? No. I used to view it as inconvenient, intimidating, stressful—all the feelings that come from a perceived lack of control over what is inherently a complicated process. And, even now, during the course of any given project, there are many times where all I see is that scribble scrabble. But, each time, there is a point in the process where we break free from the mess and reach a sense of clarity—just like that arrow promises. This certainty that we will emerge with a sense of clarity and purpose is part of what makes the impact planning process so enjoyable and allows me to shepherd those who are not yet believers.