Archive for September, 2015

Roadmap to Success

When evaluators are called in to evaluate a program, exhibition, or museum, the first question they ask is, “Who is your primary audience?”  After fully addressing the “who” question, the next question is usually, “What are you hoping to achieve among [insert primary audience]?”  This question is code for “What are your intended outcomes?”  While most people associate outcomes with the evaluation process, what many don’t realize is that outcomes are even more vital to the planning process!  As such, it is disconcerting to witness museum practitioners avoiding clarifying outcomes and exuding that they fear doing so.  I have a few ideas as to why some might fear clarifying outcomes.  First, it is very scary for a museum to put itself out there and boldly say, “This is what our museum wants to achieve.”  Fear of failure starts to quickly emerge and squelch the possibility of articulating intentions with any kind of specificity.

Second, some practitioners believe that evaluators should just leave people alone; let them experience whatever, because museums can’t control people anyway.  True, museums can’t control people’s experiences, but they can provide opportunities to affect people’s experiences.  Museum experiences are two-way streets and both parties (the museum and the visitor) play a role and take liberties. Why wouldn’t a museum want to clarify what it wants people to experience and create an environment that purposefully aligns with those intentions?

Third, clarifying outcomes is a difficult process that takes considerable time, thought, deliberation, and prioritization.  If museums want to make a difference in the quality of people’s lives, then all staff will need decide together on the work of the museum and align their actions with intended outcomes.  The first step to planning is articulating results in the form of clear, measurable outcomes.  Articulating results is not an exercise in futility as those results can be used to plan subsequent work!

I appreciate outcomes for two reasons—the first reason is a prerequisite for the second reason:  First and foremost, outcomes provide an excellent roadmap for planning—whether for a program, exhibition, and an entire museum.  Yes, outcomes are a planning tool!  I know it sounds odd because evaluators champion them, but they are most useful for planning.  They clarify what practitioners want to achieve, after which they might ask, “Okay, this is where we want to go, so what do we need to do to get there?”  Outcomes can be used to make decisions about what one needs to do, what one can stop doing, and what one might need to change moving forward.   Oh, and the second reason: outcomes provide evaluators with a gauge for examining evaluation data; without outcomes, evaluation is moot.  However, if I were asked which is more important, using outcomes for planning or using them as a gauge for evaluation, I would say, using them for planning!  When good intentioned outcomes are used regularly to guide a museum’s work, the result is generally a “successful” exhibition, program, or museum experience.  By contrast, when outcomes are only used for evaluation, the evaluation often indicates that outcomes should have been considered in planning and throughout development to achieve a successful exhibition, program, or museum experience.  It sounds like a catch-22, and that is because it is.

If you’re interested in talking more about outcomes, be sure to participate in our next #RKAChat— “Thinking Critically About Outcomes”– on Wednesday, October 7th from 2-3pm EDT.  We look forward to chatting with you!

 

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New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra poses at spring training in Florida, in an undated file photo. (AP Photo)

New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra poses at spring training in Florida, in an undated file photo. (AP Photo)

Yes, at first glance you might think that Yogi Berra and evaluation couldn’t be farther apart in ideology.  Not true.  By now everyone probably knows that Yogi Berra passed away last week at 90.  Most know Yogi because he was a great catcher, coach and manager for the game he loved.  My knowledge of and respect for Yogi are in two very divergent directions: I am a baseball fan and aware of Yogi’s greatness as a ball player; he is a Hall of Famer and was respected on and off the field, which is notable in today’s world.

The other way I know Mr. Berra is through his quotations.  I’m sure we all know a few, but I want to share one that I use very often: he said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up some place else.”  I recite that quotation during workshops when talking about the value of articulating outcomes for planning purposes and always pay homage to Yogi, saying, “I bet you didn’t know he was a museum planner and evaluator.”  Many people equate outcomes only with evaluation, but outcomes are also invaluable as guideposts for planning.  If you don’t have any outcomes for your exhibition, for example, then you can do whatever you want because it doesn’t matter where you end up.  But developing a program or exhibition without any place to go in particular might end up as a free-for-all—not a good idea for museums that want to make a difference in the quality of people’s lives.  Mr. Berra might be appalled to hear that museums might move forward without any particular direction in mind.  I supposed if those museums came upon a fork in the road, they might just take it!

If you are like Yogi and are interested in being intentional with your work by articulating outcomes for the purposes of planning, then you might be in interested in our next Twitter Chat (#RKAchat), on Thinking Critically about Outcomes.  We’ll be announcing the exact date and time soon.  Stay tuned!

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It has been a busy summer!  We are feeling a little bit like Carmen Sandiego with our small staff travelling all across the United States for work and fun but appearing very little on our blog.  Check out our travel map and see just what in the world we have been up to from Memorial Day to Labor Day!   Use this travel map link for optimum functionality (versus through the embedded image below).

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