Co-authorship as Museum Leadership?

The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage has embarked on a new project, Push Me, Pull You, which investigates various issues surrounding (co-)authorship in cultural production. They asked MiJin Hong of the GLI to explore what co-authorship means in a management context, such as when it might apply to museums. Pew’s introduction continues: “If we expect that artists usually create work as individuals, we usually expect the same of organizations—we look to museums and theaters and dance companies to be autonomous, self-funding, self-directing entities that are dedicated to following their missions and their own programmatic vision. So what would it look like for an organization to collaborate with people outside its walls on its own management, its strategy, and its decision-making, in the same way that the artists you’ve read about in this series have done?”

MiJin responds by considering the opportunities presented by co-authorship through the lens of entrepreneurship: “First, let’s begin by trying to fully understand the following: ‘Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.’ —Howard Stevenson, Harvard Business School professor. Perhaps this sounds familiar. Is this not the case for museum leadership? After all, in the museum field, institutions are largely driven by unfunded ambitions. Stevenson’s classic definition of entrepreneurship may offer some potential insights into the lives and pursuits of many leaders in the cultural sector today. His definition is more or less about a practice, a kind of orientation—a mindset. He goes on to say that entrepreneurs ‘see opportunity and don’t feel constrained from pursuing it because they lack resources…they’re used to making do without resources.’ And the outflow of entrepreneurship is observed organizationally as anti-hierarchical: quick and nimble teams that enable fast decision-making. The ‘currency’ used and received by all is largely driven by sharing in the vision…”  Read MiJin’s full piece on the PCAH site, then come back here to join in the conversation online.

Measuring Success

The topic of how to measure success in museums is one that has enduring interest. Back in 2004, GLI commissioned Maxwell Anderson (at the time a Research Fellow with Princeton University, and now Director of the Dallas Museum of Art) to write a provocative piece for our Compleat Leader online resource library, entitled, “Metrics of success in art museums.”  The piece endures and still attract readers to this day.

A recent email we received, triggered upon reading the metrics article, asked us which process should come first when measuring success: reviewing best practice, undertaking evaluation, benchmarking or increasing business intelligence?  I think it depends. If you want to compare your museum’s success to that of other similar institutions then focusing on best practices and benchmarking makes sense—and such comparisons are no doubt of immense importance to potential funders and trustees. But, it should not be forgotten that each organization has its own organizational processes and characteristics that make “what you do and how you go about doing it” somewhat unique, so spending some energy on designing metrics for evaluating the success of your innovations/innovative practice is also important.

One couldn’t write about museum successes without paying homage to Stephen Weil, who in his article Success/Failure Matrix for Museums (published by AAM in Museum Jan/Feb 2005) emphasized the need to look beyond the numbers and seek qualitative success measures:

“Museums operate on a different time scale. To the extent that a museum’s public programs have a positive impact on the lives of its direct and indirect audiences, that impact may be subtle, diffuse, intermixed with the impact of other organizations, and not always immediate. There is probably no more important task in the museum field today than trying to establish some middle ground—something less than a numerical scale, but also something more than blind faith—between those funders (and others) who demand that museums provide them with hard evidence about their effectiveness and those members of the museum community who argue that the work of museums is of such self-evident value that no justification of that work is necessary.”

Obviously, before designing any evaluation methodology to measure success, you first have to define what success means for your museum, and this clearly should be closely related to your organization’s mission and values. Consider Phil’s recent post about dual rationalities and emerging leadership models. In this, he suggests that good leadership is both a combination of “aesthetic/creative judgment and organizational efficiency.” It requires leaders to 1) maintain distance from the issue at hand while also connecting with stakeholders and hearing their concerns, 2) become a deep subject experts while maintaining enough breadth to stay innovative, 3) protect and conserve while also taking risks, and 4) view issues at hand within the context of the past as well as envisioning all possible futures. A tall order, but no doubt your museum fits in somewhere along each continuum. Success therefore for one institution may in fact look very different from another. Really, what we want to know is “how well do we do what we say we do, and what impact does it have?”

Good museums don’t just have clarity around mission and values, but also communicate this well, internally and externally. They are transparent and accountable.  IMA (another prior leadership role for Mr. Anderson), really embraced the idea of transparency and created Dashboard as a way to openly collect and share measurements about the various aspects of the museums’ performance on its website. (The software is I believe available for implementation by other museums.) An AAM Future of Museums’ blog post from 2009, considered various ways to measure accountability within museums (discussing traditional metrics such as attendance figures, dwell time, number of exhibits, collections acquisition as well as more complex ones such as measuring outcomes, ROI, etc.) and concluded that, “In a future shaped by an expectation of greater accountability, it behooves museum practitioners to choose measures that are appropriate and can be implemented without disproportionate investment of resources.”  With limited resources, some choices have to be made; one cannot collect and measure everything!

Many organizations (not just museums) focus most of their energies on measuring outputs, but as highlighted by Weil, to really understand whether our activities have impact we also need to measure outcomes. Colleen Dilenschneider, in her blog Know Your Own Bone, explains, “Measuring solely outputs in a museum environment (especially in regards to community engagement, provides an immediate advantage and a long-term disadvantage in attracting donors… reporting the output (50 people) may look impressive to higher-level management and potential donors at the time of an annual report, [but] the knowledge of the true outcome of the program (that it altered the lives of 5 individuals in a positive way) is more impressive than the fact that 50 people merely participated.”  We are currently in the second week of our MLI program, and one of our participants today spoke of how much more compelling such impact narratives are if trustees hear them directly from external sources outside of the museum staff, e.g. from museum visitors themselves.

So, how best to measure impact, especially where the impact is not immediate? The first step is to clearly articulate objectives for the activity, i.e. what opportunities are offered. With objectives in place, we can start to identify anticipated outcomes from the activity, i.e. what the visitor will learn/do/feel/etc after the opportunity is experienced. Lastly, we can start to identify the discrete ways in which we might be able to gauge the achievement of said outcomes. When the impact is not immediate, longitudinal research will also be necessary.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has some evaluation resources that might help. If your mission includes education, then also check out Museums Now’s post on measuring museums, which notes that “The evaluation model an organization uses also speaks to its relationship with its audience. Does the museum see itself as a teacher, a resource, a mentor, coach, research assistant, partner, activist, other? The roles museums take on turn out to matter a great deal.”  The post goes on to provide a great synopsis of the four different learning models—content transfer, skills building, lifelong learning and changing attitudes/behaviors—used by most museums. Barbara Soren has created an audience-based evaluation template which she shares in her audience based measures of success article and also offers two detailed case studies for measuring success from an audience perspective.

And now there is a whole new area to measure—the growth of virtual engagement with your museum as opposed to in-person visitation. Your museum is not solely a physical destination to which visitors come, but also a place from which you now need to engage with your community, wherever they may be. We could collect numerical outputs such as social media traffic, but how to measure outcomes in this context? Well, it depends upon your goals. Is the reason you are engaging virtually to extend the museums reach? To encourage visitation to the physical museum? Or something more innovative, perhaps to extend the museum’s mission into the online environment? This last one is all about measuring impact, and a starting place in designing metrics for the online activities would be to consider how you would go about measuring the impact of your museum’s non-virtual activities. Ms. Soren’s second case study (see above) offers some suggestions for measuring the impact of online activities.

The above links are certainly not meant to be comprehensive. They represent just a few of the measuring success/evaluation-related posts I’ve come across and found interesting reading.  Perhaps, with your help, we can build a more comprehensive resource? What are your thoughts on the matter? How would you define and measure success for your museum? Have you read anything useful or provocative recently on the subject? Perhaps you’re aware of some recent evaluation or benchmarking research. Do share your thoughts below.

By Leonie Fedel, Director of Learning Technologies, Evaluation and Dissemination, GLI

Name the beast!

Among the themes common to the great myths, particularly those  involved with a culture’s rites of passage, is the search to discover the name of the (always) threatening beast. To name the beast is to tame the beast. One of the beasts roaming the corridors of museums  is the “you’re-less-central-than-I-am”  beast, the beast that asserts that it protects the organization’s buried treasure, its core values, and you—well, not so much—in fact you may not really belong at all.

Museums are famous for their culture wars, not always stopping short of the temptation of one group to visit ethnic cleansing upon another. If we could just name the beast.

An article I’ve mentioned in an earlier post may help. The authors (Cray, David, Loretta Inglis, and Susan Freeman) name the beast “dual rationalities” and turn institutional tensions inherent in these differing rationalities into something to be valued and respected and even relied upon. The dual rationalities in arts organizations are that of aesthetic/creative judgment and organizational efficiency. The article covers two functions—leadership styles and strategic decision-making processes—tools that must be held accountable to the overarching importance of both creativity and efficiency. The authors examine four leadership styles for decision making in terms of their strengths, weaknesses, and applicability to arts organizations.

The consideration of any significant opportunity or threat is never finished until both aesthetic judgment and organizational efficiency have been used as valued lenses. See “Managing the Arts: Leadership and Decision Making under Dual Rationalities.” The Journal of Arts management, Law and Society 36, no. 4 (Winter 20007): 295-313. This article is among the GLI-National Arts Strategies compendium of “Must Reads” for arts and cultural leaders.

Further to this idea of dual rationalities, at GLI’s recent strategic retreat, there was a fascinating conversation about what a newly emerging leadership model built on three sets of qualities or skills should look like. MLI faculty Jeanne Liedtka, did a creditable job summarizing the conversation. Her notes follow.

Jeanne’s summary shows that these skills and qualities come together in helping an organization define its relationship to self and others; the importance of expertise learned and newly emerging learning; and that the present is always a combination of past and future as well. We are playing with some of these ideas in the evolving GLI curricula.

I’ve just returned from a board meeting of the Instituto de Liderazgo de Museos (ILM) in Mexico City. ILM is expanding in Latin America, I’m happy to report.  MiJin is traveling in India and doubtless making new GLI friends there. Emily is at AAM this week and looking forward to seeing many of our alums at the reception this Tuesday evening.

Wishing you the best!

by Phil Nowlen, Executive Director, GLI

Lead or Follow?

Join me for an ArtsJournal online discussion:

LEAD OR FOLLOW: Increasingly, audiences have more visibility for their opinions about the culture they consume. Cultural institutions know more and more about their audiences and their wants. Some suggest this new transparency argues for a different relationship between artists and audience. So the question: In this age of self-expression and information overload, do our artists and arts organizations need to lead more or learn to follow their communities more?  Twitter hashtag is #leadorfollow.

In my initial post, I argue to follow, at least for now:

Institutions can learn by following…and following they must, for now

By following, I mean observing.

Institutions are not static. In fact, the best of them are living, breathing places from which there is a great deal of interactivity. Key to assessing one’s impact is to understand the nature of this interactivity at every level. By keen observation, one only begins the process of trying to suss out the importance and meaning of art and culture today. Unfortunately, many leaders operating in today’s cultural sector lack this ability.

To learn more, go to ArtsJournal and join in the discussion!

by MiJin Hong, Director of Academic Affairs and Program Development, GLI

Reflections from China

Forbidden City  © TravelChinaGuide.com

Forbidden City © TravelChinaGuide.com

Just back from two weeks in China where MiJin and I were guests of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH).  The campaign to open hundreds of new museums has already begun.  The cultural sector has received significant government attention and investment.  Leaders point out that there is one museum for nearly every 450,000 persons in China (source China National Bureau of Statistics and Hunan Provincial Museum) while the ratio in the U.S. is more like one for every 17,642 persons (source: U.S. Census and AAM)—an important difference for a nation deeply proud of its cultural heritage and ambitious for recognition.  The government is pleased with its economic progress but concerned about materialism and corruption, seeing new value in museums’ communicating China’s spiritual and ethical traditions. There are a few private museums and almost all cultural organizations are supported and governed by the Ministry.  The Chinese are frank about their museums’ shortcomings and determined to improve them.

The scale and pace of development is breathtaking.  Beijing is a forest of Swedish cranes.  The GDP growth in the 90’s averaged 12% and a “slow-down” to 9% is still the envy of the U.S. and Europe. Having succeeded in manufacturing, the Chinese are determined to increase and diversify their service sector, and have found many unobtrusive ways for customers to evaluate the quality of services on offer. There is compulsory retirement for men at age 60, for women in civil service it is 55 and for those in state-run enterprises it is 50.  Developing health care for all and something like the U.S. Social Security system are important national agenda items.

There were many light moments. The English translation of “Do Not Disturb” in one hotel was “Leave Me Alone!”  MiJin and I were warmly welcomed everywhere, especially during our visits to 15 different museums and historic sites.  Conversations were honest and realistic.  I hope it is the first of many exchanges between SACH and GLI.

By Phil Nowlen, Executive Director, GLI

Reflections from Erbil

I recently had an opportunity to visit Iraqi Kurdistan with a team from the U.S.   Our mission was to support the work of the Iraqi Institute for Culture and Heritage (IICAH).  My responsibility was counseling the IICAH board, currently devoted to defining IICAH’s mission and strategy and the board’s structure and processes.  The team included conservation colleagues from a half dozen museums, the University of Delaware and the Getty Conservation Institute.  The board includes both Arab and Kurd Iraqis.  The Conservation Institute in Erbil occupies a modern building, formerly a library, and has outfitted several laboratories and classrooms.  The meetings were held in Erbil (sometimes spelled Arbil or Irbil), the major city of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).  Erbil boasts one of the oldest earthen citadels, several museums and an airport with direct service from Istanbul and Frankfurt (flying to Baghdad and renting a car is not yet recommended.)

Our scheduled meetings left us with a bit of time to see some of the countryside in Kurdistan.  Iraq isn’t just sandstorms and oil rigs.  The mountainous area in the northeast enjoys a moderate climate, an extensive river system dominated by the Tigris, lots of trees and grazing land.  Erbil itself shows almost no signs of the war, clearly benefiting from a no-fly zone enforced between the Gulf War and its successor.  The Kurds are incredibly entrepreneurial and have taken full advantage of their economic expansion.  The KRG has been generous to cultural institutions, including IICAH. A meeting held with the KRG Governor in Erbil triggered an additional pledge of $500K (US) to support IICAH’s work of training and conserving. The hospitality of our Iraqi hosts was warm and constant.

Next, MiJin and I travel to China at the invitation of the State  Administration for Culture and Heritage.

By Phil Nowlen, Executive Director, GLI

The Ambidextrous Organization

In my last post I talked about having attended “The Power of  Collaborative Intelligence,” a program of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, and how it triggered some new ways of thinking about managing and leading—namely that greater change can be achieved when creativity, innovation or problem solving is pursued among persons of varied values, ways of thinking and interpersonal styles, than among those more similar in such ways.

A parallel theme, particularly important for museums, was also taken up.  Innovation and creativity are essential to the 21st century organization but so is efficiency.  What are the concepts and skills required to build an “ambidextrous” organization?  How does one know when the right balance has been struck?

This was the course’s trial flight.  Too much may have been attempted in only three days but the experience was both thought provoking and practical.

By Phil Nowlen, Executive Director, Getty Leadership Institute