Reflection 2: Learning from Intentionality

25th Anniversary ButterflySometimes when learning surfaces slowly, it is barely visible, until one day the world looks different.  Responding to that difference is the first layer of that complex process often labeled as learning.  The Cycle of Intentional Practice was a long time coming—emerging from many years of conducting evaluations, where I worked closely with museum staff and leadership as well as with visitors.  The Cycle of Intentional Practice is an illustration of an ideal work cycle that started to form when I was writing “A Case for Holistic Intentionality”.  I am visually oriented and I often have to draw my ideas before I write about them; in this case, I was writing about my ideas and then I felt the need to create a visualization to depict what I was thinking—in part to help me understand what I was thinking, but also to help others.  I included the first iteration of the cycle in the manuscript to Curator, but the editor said the Journal does not usually publish that kind of illustration, so I put it aside.

That original cycle differs from the one I use today—it was simpler (it included “Plan,” “Act,” and “Evaluate”), and while I didn’t know it at the time, it was a draft.  There have been several more iterations over time (one was “Plan,” “Act,” and “Evaluate & Reflect,” for example); as I continue to learn and improve my practice, I change the cycle accordingly.  Most stunning to me was that the first draft of the cycle showed nothing in the center—nothing!  I feel a little embarrassed by my omission and I am not entirely sure what I was thinking at the time, but I hope my oversight was short-lived.  At some point I placed the word “Intentions” in the center, and as I clarified my ideas, with the hope of applying the cycle to our evaluation and planning work, I eventually replaced “intentions” with “impact.”  I recall how difficult it was to explain the concept of “intentions” so I eventually needed to remove the word from the center (as much as I loved having it there).  If my goal was to have museums apply the cycle to their daily and strategic work, the cycle needed to represent an idea people found comfortable and doable.  Soon I realized that intentionality was the larger concept of the cycle and what needed to be placed in the center was the result of a museum’s work on its publics–impact.  So was born our intentionality work with museums.  Then I realized the true power of intentionality—mission could go in the center as well as outcomes, or anything for that matter.  The artist’s rendition below demonstrates the versatility of intentionality as a concept.

Cycle of Intentional Practice

An artistic rendering of the Cycle of Intentional Practice by artist Andrea Herrick

What I find most amazing is that two crucial ideas—reflection and impact—were not present in the first iterations of the cycle, although they were discussed when I talked about intentionality.  Our intentional planning work (which we refer to as impact planning) would be rudderless without the presence of impact and our ability to learn from our work would be weakened without reflection.  And that brings me to another realization, which I am reminded of daily—the never-ending pursuit of achieving clarity of thought, followed by writing a clear expression of that thought.

Today I talk about the Cycle of Intentional Practice as a draft—it will always be on the verge of becoming, but these days I am more comfortable with the idea of the Cycle being a draft—an idea in process—than I was a decade ago; in fact, I have come to realize that all work is a draft and that if one is serious about learning and applying new ideas to work and life, then all ideas, all products, all knowledge are mere drafts because learning is continuous, right?

Humbling?  Yes indeed.

Cycle of Intentional Practice

Welcome to the Intentional Museum Blog, an all-staff endeavor of Randi Korn & Associates.  We intend to share our thoughts and questions twice monthly about compelling ideas we come across in our work and readings.  The platform for our practice and the inspiration for our postings is the Cycle of Intentional Practice.

Cycle of Intentional Practice

This cycle has emerged slowly, evolving over the last 10 to 15 years, as I started to think about all I had learned as an evaluator and researcher while pursuing my passion of studying people’s experiences in informal learning environments.  In our work as planners and evaluators in museums, we have witnessed how difficult it can be to achieve results that reflect a museum’s original intentions.  Likewise, we have witnessed that results surface when organizations focus their energy, decisions, actions, and dollars towards well-articulated ends.  Thus, increasingly, intentionality is becoming a driving force in our work with clients, as we recognize how vital it is as an idea, action, theory, and practice.

Intentionality is not a new concept, as several well-known authors have written about it.  For example, business author Jim Collins notes in Good to Great that the work of a great organization must “attract and channel resources directed solely . . .” to their intentions and “reject resources that drive them away from” their passion and unique value.  Collins’ concept applies to museums, too, as described by museum scholar Stephen Weil in Making Museums Matter.  He wrote, “The only activities in which the museum can legitimately engage are those intended to further its institutional purpose.”  Collins’ and Weil’s concepts embody the essence of intentionality, where all actions are purposeful, deliberate, and focused on achieving the intended impact or results.  With funders requiring evidence that their dollars are being used in the way they intended, intentionality rings of relevance.  Likewise, with fewer dollars available to museums, how museums use those dollars is increasingly important.

The Cycle of Intentional Practice places “impact” in the center of the cycle and assumes museums want to make a positive difference in people’s lives, which is how I define “impact.”  Intentional practice requires that the museum articulates the impact it would like to achieve (by writing an impact statement), align a museum’s practices and resources to support the impact it would like to achieve, measure the ways in which the museum is achieving impact, and reflect on the results to learn from them for the purpose of improvement.  Intentional practice may seem insular, but it acknowledges a museum’s responsibility to its external community through evaluation and other efforts.  The tension between a museum and its public is real and the museum may need to work hard to balance its internal aspirations and resources with its community’s needs.  Balancing potentially conflicting ideals, though challenging, demonstrates that the organization is striving to be true to itself and its audience and community.   I have learned in my 30 or so years of experience that when a museum applies laser focus to the center of the cycle, it creates an opportunity to achieve meaningful, measurable results that an evaluator can detect.

We invite you to share your thoughts—agreements or disagreements—in the spirit of our collective learning, as learning has always been the motivational force behind our work.