In my last post, I refrained from sharing examples of impact statements because I wanted readers to ponder the idea for themselves (always a very useful activity) but promised I would delve into what comprises an impact statement and provide examples in future posts. I believe museums need impact statements because if they aren’t clear about what they want to achieve, how will they make decisions to get there? Museums need impact statements to guide their planning and decision making, but more importantly, they need to clarify (to themselves and stakeholders) why their work has value—public value.
Simon Sinek states with enormous clarity the importance of understanding why an organization does what it does in this Ted Talk: (http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html) He makes the distinction between what organizations do and why they do their work. He notes that people care about the why much more than they care about the what. While all of his examples are from the business world, his point is clear, well articulated, and relevant to museums and other non profits. I see a clear connection between answering the why question and articulating intended impact, as impact describes how the museum will make a difference in the quality of people’s lives, and presumably, that quality is of tremendous public value.
There are three ingredients or building blocks to creating an impact statement:
- Passion: discovering the collective passions of staff—why you do what you do. What about your work are you most passionate, and why that work is important (ask the why question three times to arrive at people’s deepest passions)? As Sinek notes, talking about the why behind your work will help others know why they should care.
- Distinctiveness: identifying a museum’s distinctiveness—what does your museum do better than any other organization for the people in your community? Distinctiveness is of vital importance because if you can describe what is distinct about your museum, you begin to suggest your museum’s value—its public value.
- Relevance: is about exploring the intersection among staff passions, the museum’s strengths and greatest assets—both of which suggest its distinctiveness, and what is relevant to the public. What the museum presents and how it presents it must be responsive to the museum, stakeholders, and the public.
In our last post Amanda was writing about the director at the Tate who believes “that art is a vital force for civic good . . .” (https://intentionalmuseum.com/2013/03/27/returning-to-your-core-radically-rethinking-the-museum/) The concept—for the civic good—comes close to what an impact statement might embody, although some unpacking may be required to fully understand what he means by those words.
Here are a few museum mission and impact statements—both statements work together to convey what the museum does and the result of what the museum does on audiences served:
The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture creates a better understanding of the world and our place in it. The Museum is responsible for Washington State collections of natural and cultural heritage and sharing the knowledge that makes them meaningful. The Burke welcomes a broad and diverse audience and provides a community gathering place that nurtures life-long learning and encourages respect, responsibility and reflection.
Vision (the Burke calls its impact statement its vision statement):
People value their connection with all life—and act accordingly
The Baltimore Museum of Art seeks innovation and excellence in an artistic program that focuses on art of the modern era, from the 19th century to the present. The Museum is committed to creating an environment that inspires creativity, encourages learning, and fosters human understanding in a place where everyone feels welcome as a place for personal learning and civic engagement.
Visitors will expand their creative thinking, deepen their understanding of human experiences, and value the museum as a place for personal learning and civic engagement.
The mission of Mid-America Science Museum is to stimulate interest in science, to promote public understanding of the sciences, and to encourage life-long science education through interactive exhibits and programs. The Museum also serves as a premier tourism attraction in Arkansas.
Inspired by discovery, visitors are encouraged to investigate the world around them and realize science impacts everyone and everything.
As you and your staff explore their passions, the museum’s distinctiveness, and what is relevant to the public, you will begin conceptualizing an impact statement. With passion and focused attention on what you do best—in other words, playing to your strengths—and a deep understanding of your public, your value will be felt by all who experience your museum’s work.