With the new year in swing, I have jumped into professional development mode. I was gifted a subscription to MasterClass and have been watching lessons on business leadership and strategy by Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney. His advice and experience immediately resonated with me. He relishes the solitude of morning hours to prepare for the day, believes that strategy is only as good as the ability to communicate it, and finds important differences between reverence and respect. Then, he said something that made my pause: he puts more stake in instinct over data and research.
Obviously, as an evaluator, I think data are important. Bob’s assertion threw me off-guard, particularly given how much I felt I understood him to this point. However, when I thought about, I realized that there was quite a bit of nuance in his position, much of which I could agree with. For example, when Bob spoke of data, he spoke of spreadsheets and numbers. His definition of research and data seems to be very narrow in my opinion. At one point, he stated, “I am not a big believer in doing research that in any way leads to an answer to the question, ‘What does an audience want?’”
This statement is where the nuance revealed itself to me. I and others at RK&A would agree with Bob’s statement that you don’t ask an audience what they want. Rather, we believe that research and evaluation is a tool to help museums bridge the gap between their intentions and its audience. The data uncovered in the research and evaluation process is powerful, but it requires what I would call interpretation. What I call interpretation, I think Bob would call this “boots-on-the-ground experience “and “doing your homework.” In essence, I think he would agree that you have to bring something to the data to make sense of it. Data alone will not generate the roadmap forward. People, both evaluators and museum practitioners, with their lived experience, generate the roadmap. So maybe “data-driven decision making” is a misnomer.
People and their instincts are still the drivers. Data are our dashboard gadgets to help us along the way.