Innovate, Operationalize, Empower

This is the time of year to write the reflective, prophetic, or motivational blog that provides insight on where we have come from, where we are going, and how best to get there.  To add my .02 to the discussion I will blatantly rip the format from Beth Kanter’s The Networked Nonprofit blog that she ripped from Chris Brogan who notes that “Over the last few years, I’ve practiced something I call “my 3 words,” where I come up with three words that I use as guidance for how I should conduct my efforts in the year to come.”  Makes sense to me, so here are my three words:


Viewed as first on the chopping block in a troubled economy, there’s a good bit of hand-wringing about the future of Museums and Archaeology in general.  But there are also positive indicators, such as a recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that reports a predicted employment increase for museums in the coming decade.  Two recent publications from the Institute of Museum and Library Services contain innovative perspectives on Museums in the coming years: The Future of Museums and Libraries: A Discussion Guide and Museums, Libraries, and 21st Centuries Skills.  The 2009 publication by the American Association of Museums of Museums and Society 2034: Trends and Potential Futures is another excellent resource.  Each of the publications run less than 30 pages but has a wealth of insights and good things to think about.

Clearly, we are not in Kansas anymore.  A common lesson in all three of the publications is the need for innovation.  Much has been made of late about participatory, hands-on, engaged experiences as part of that innovation.  To that end, there has been a rush to create hands-on experiences with everything from touch tables for the sake of having something to touch to the full-blown sensory experience at San Francisco’s Exploratorium.  In fact, hands-on has moved from being innovative to the norm.


A line etched deep in my memory from my graduate school Anthropological Research Design class is the need to operationalize the concept – moving from the intangible to the tangible.  Nina Simon’s recent Museum 2.0 post provides an example of the Wallace Collection in Britain where youth were the co-creators of a Museum Exhibit, taking the hands-on approach to the next logical step.  In a way similar to the recent African American Cultural Heritage Exhibit at the C.H. Nash Museum here in Memphis, the British high school-aged students chose the pieces from the collection and actually created the exhibit.  A goal of such participatory hands-on projects is to develop students and visitors into active stakeholders in their cultural heritage institutions.  Both the Wallace Collection and C.H. Nash examples proved successful in this goal.


I am convinced that the long-term engagement in such creative processes will go far beyond the quick fix of relying on Blockbuster type experiences or events.  Such engagement as stakeholders leads to empowerment.  I thoroughly enjoy that I am the director of a small museum with tremendous developmental possibilities.  I have often likened my position to being a kid in the candy store.  In my short three years at the institution I have been able to develop many of the ideas I have thought about over the past couple of decades working as an archaeologist who had a strong inclination toward public outreach.  Perhaps one of the greatest things I have learned in this process is not just having innovative ideas, operationalizing them into regular programs, but also empowering other staff, interns, students, and visitors to participate and take on the process as their own and to play an integral role in developing the vision for the institution.  Such an approach will make sure that museums will live well beyond the ups and downs of economic cycles but will become as integral to the community as all other civic institutions.  To think outside the box (innovate), and produce a tangible product (operationalize) that leads to the partnerships with stakeholders who will carry cultural heritage institutions forward (empower) is my New Year’s Resolution.

What is your resolution?

  1 comment for “Innovate, Operationalize, Empower

  1. January 4, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Good thoughts Robert! Now I’ll steal your 3 words for my own non-profit, if you do not object. All 3 are essential for the survival of any non-profit no matter the economic climate. Personality-driven entities and operating “the way we’ve always done it” are relics of the past. For a non-profit even to exist we must include as stakeholders everyone with whom we come in contact. We are all thinkers and to dismiss even the smallest idea or dream of another is to discount the importance of innovation and making the dream tangible.

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