Updates from April, 2009 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • jillghardy 5:25 pm on April 26, 2009 Permalink | Reply  

    Groundswell: corporate models and community models 

    I’ve been thinking about the book we read, groundswell, and if it’s appropriate to borrow groundswell techniques used by corporations and apply them to museums.  To me, corporations and museums are fundamentally different institutions and it’s important to acknowledge their differences when trying to understand and apply appropriate groundswell and social media strategies.  Initially, my question started off as: are these groundswell techniques universal in the sense that we can apply them across the board to for-profit corporations as well as non-profit institutions?  Now, my question has just evolved.  Maybe it’s my hippie parents and my punk rock youth, but I’m skeptical of corporations and their business models of unlimited growth cultivating a dept society that perpetuates the wealth of wealthy shareholders.  We are currently witnessing the collapse of this unsustainable Wall Street model.  So, if this business model is failing can we still gain insight from the groundswell techniques that are employed by these businesses?  Or, to ask the question differently, is it important that we are looking at groundswell techniques that are designed solely to increase corporate profit? And how, if at all can we apply these techniques to museums? I think it’s an interesting time to be looking at business models and comparing them to museums.

    Museums, I think, are actually at a significant advantage when we consider our economic unraveling and restructuring. While reading groundswell I kept thinking, man, museums are in such a sweet spot and corporations have it so hard!  Museums have real community, where as corporations have to cultivate a facsimile.  Corporations have to convince people to buy stuff that they don’t really need and they go to great lengths to do so.  They execute elaborate advertising campaigns, fabricate “community”, and buy evangelists to hype up their products.  Proctor & Gamble’s beinggirl.com was about as insincere as it gets.  So, this is where museums come in.  People trust museums, unlike corporations, because we’re not trying to sell something people don’t need.  What we have is something people will always need.  What we have is sustainable and authentic: continuing educational, collections that the public cherishes, and beautiful public spaces.  People come to museums and have an experience.  During our economic restructuring I think it’s important to focus on this.  We have a built in community.

    Ultimately, I think the techniques employed in groundswell originate out of a community model, not a business model.  In a slightly different way we can now listen to our visitors, talk to them, energize them and provide them with opportunities to contribute.  But this has always been there; perhaps we’ve just lost sight of this or taken it for granted. Groundswell offers some concrete steps for formulating a social media plan if you don’t have a built in community.  Now, imagine what museums can do with the communities we already have.

    • ninaksimon 9:27 pm on April 26, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      This is a great post. I really like your thinking here, and am curious where this beginning could take you. I totally agree that museums already have the community, and unlike most retail etc. corporations, direct access to users anytime we want. So the question is why aren’t museums doing this/leading? Is it because they think they already have fully functional communities and don’t need it? I meet a lot of museum folks who don’t know why they would need social media. I think analyzing the communities you already serve, the relationships you already have, and identifying the gaps is the way to figure out what would be smart for your institution. We don’t want to rest on our laurels too much…

    • kyliepine 5:39 am on April 28, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      “People trust museums, unlike corporations, because we’re not trying to sell something people don’t need.”

      I agree with you that museums house important resources and that this fufills an important function in our society that will transcend economic pitfalls. I’m not sure I would go as far as to say that everything a museum does is an important resource to the community. I think many museums these days are trying to convince vistors to spend precious leisure hours on stuff they don’t need (or perhaps want is a better term). I’m thinking particularly of exhibits and programming without relevance or resonance within communities.

  • Alex Curio 9:11 am on April 20, 2009 Permalink | Reply  

    I’m feeling better. 

    While at the 2009 Museums and the Web conference in Indianapolis this past week, I caught the tail-end of an “unconference” session on the topic of — you guessed it — stranger talk in museums (and prompted by our very own Jason –  props to him).  Four or five other people were participating, including Nina, and the discussion was really great and energetic, and going all over the place.  Lots of interesting questions were being asked: what kind of furniture arrangement is most conducive to talking?  Why isn’t there EVER adequate seating in galleries?  Did you know that a certain frequency of sound causes humans to automatically look at its source?

    So, you know, I decided to pipe up with my own question.  Piping up is what you do at a conference, right?  My question: does a profound need for strangers to talk to each other in museums truly exist? — And I blathered on, trying to seem less snarky & negative (I’m not!) — I mean, are there really legions of strangers out there, hapless, just begging for us to engineer museological ice-breakers?  Are people that desperate to talk to strangers, and do they need our help — in the form of kooky games, weird seating arrangements, stuffed gorillas, glowing touch screens, flashing projections, or blank sticky notes — to do so?

    Ugh.  Was I being lame?  I think I was being lame.

    The guy next to me, who was from Britain’s Imperial War Museum, blinked a few times and then responded.  He didn’t attempt to argue that, yes, people need help being people (which they might), or that museums have a responsibility to facilitate that humanity (which they might), or even that science shows people learn more when they talk it out (which it does).  He simply expressed that, in his opinion, it was a good thing for people to be having a good time – talking, laughing, mingling – in a museum.  It was good for the people, and it was good for the museum because the people, and ultimately (hopefully) their communities, would associate the museum with good times, and therefore, with value.   Those in the “unconference” nodded their heads affirmatively, and I found myself nodding, too.

    The discussion went other interesting places, but that exchange was what stuck with me.  I feel a lot better about the utility, if not the necessity, of facilitating stranger talk in museums.  I can get behind helping people have a good time in museums, and, as talk and being social are symptoms of good times and happiness, I can get behind the idea of strangers talking in museums, too.

    This is where I think I was getting hung up: I was primed to think of facilitating stranger talk in museums as a task that necessarily involves a gimmick, a contrivance, a rig of some sort.  We have this assignment: design an exhibit to get strangers to talk to each other.  I felt on some level, I think, that our charge was to trick unwilling people into doing something they didn’t want, or weren’t inclined, to do.  Ok, we have no content and no money, so how do we lure these people into conversing?  What can we do to dupe strangers into fulfilling this requirement?  Do we put out food, change their habitat, give them stuff to play with?  Faced with the challenge of our group creating something so brilliant, so seamless, so sneaky that it got complete strangers to have a conversation, I was having trouble seeing why the effort might be worth, well, the trouble.  Especially for your average museum, which has trouble enough already.

    The “unconference” session reminded me that, duh, people like to have a good time, whether or not they’re in a museum, and talking to new people about interesting things or ideas is one way to have a good time.  From now on, I hope to approach this project and this class without letting myself be paralyzed by the task of coming up with the most ingenious way to rope people into talking to each other, and more enthusiasm for making an exhibit that is conducive to the less-scary, but genuinely important, activities of having a good time and talking to new people.

    NOTE: I’m editing this entry rather than commenting because I wanted to include two links, and I can’t figure out how to accomplish that in comments. I hope that’s ok! – KF

    Alex, I love this post. You’ve put your finger on something that had been nibbling at the edges of my thoughts, too, and I very much like the redirected mindset of facilitating and encouraging a good time rather than coercing people. Although our experiments at the zoo were a wonderful way to begin the course and get us thinking about the intricacies of stranger interactions, I’m not convinced that we helped anyone have a good time by playing tic-tac-toe. So I’m all for embracing this way of framing the task, and kudos to you and your Imperial War Museum friend for speaking so eloquently on the matter. (By the by, I remember having a surprisingly good time at the Imperial War Museum with my parents — for a bunch of pacifists, we found it surprisingly non-jingoistic, and the exhibits inspired a great deal of conversation, both at the time and later.)

    BUT (oh yes, there’s a but), sorting through this level of my issues with the goal of “getting strangers to talk in museums” allowed me to focus more clearly on another level that bothers me perhaps even more. Sometimes I don’t want to talk in museums. And it goes deeper than that: I don’t want to listen to other people talk, either.  For people who want a deeply intimate, contemplative, or even spiritual experience in a museum, don’t-talk-if-you-don’t-like-it isn’t a solution.  You still have to hear other people talk, and that can be excruciating.  Nina hits on this theme in a post about being an elitist jerk: “For elitists, it’s impossible to ignore the ways others are degrading what is for you an intense aesthetic and emotional experience. I get it now.”  In one of my favorite articles, Caring for Your Introvert, Jonathan Rauch says that introverts “tend to think before talking, whereas extroverts tend to think by talking” and they are “driven to distraction by the semi-internal dialogue extroverts tend to conduct.” Introversion does not imply a lack of social or conversational skills, nor any disturbing antisocial behaviors.  What it does imply is the need for personal space, for mental breathing room.  Museums can be a wonderful place to seek and find that stillness and quiet.  For introverts, not-talking can be a symptom of having a good time.  I hope that we can find a way to respect that even as we facilitate the conversations that make extroverts happy.

    Alex and Kathryn, great blog posts and comments (I like this editing that allows for links in comments -JH). You guys have done a brilliant job of separating out the differences between coercing people to talk to each other and facilitating a good time. And further, exploring the difference between introverted and extroverted ideas of a good time. This reminded me of Judy Rand’s exhibition class last quarter and the different learning styles (4-Mat Learning, VTS) and thus approaches museums must take to in order to accommodate different kinds of learners.  Ultimately, I think exhibitions are about people learning something and we can facilitate learning by providing a good time.

    So perhaps we want to come up with a learning objective. What do we want people to learn from our exhibit? OK, we would like people to learn that they have valuable advice to share with their fellow students who are graduating (I’m just throwing this out as an example). Now, how do facilitate this learning objective though conversations or a good time? And, what experiences can we create that accommodate different kinds of learners within this conversation?

    • Jason 4:04 pm on April 20, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for posting about that unconference session, Alex. I tried to take some note via twitter and the #strangemuse tag. I think Steve, the guy from IWM, made a great case for why we should want strangers to talk to each other, but I think it goes a bit further than “value.” Positive chatter in a museum is a great way to demonstrate value to museum directors, to visiting senators and representatives, and to foundations. It is a visceral demonstration that the museum is impacting people enough that they want to talk about it; and that is really where we should be going.

      I wrote out an equation to summarize all of our points, and I think it is useful:

      Focus object + Emotional experience + Comfortable space + Strangers + Permission = Conversation

    • Kelly C. Porter 4:43 am on April 21, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      All good points. I would add that the act of conversing with strangers in particular as opposed to people who we already know has a variety of values that could be added to the balance of Jason’s equation. In this sense the output is not just conversation but exploration of new perspectives and lives, questioning of values, the humanization of people that may otherwise seem very different, the exploration of the nature of difference, collaboration . . . and so on. Conversation is the first sign that something is happening– what that something is can be much richer than just talk, or the mere public ratification of our institutions.

    • Egg Donor 9:10 am on December 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      stuffed animals are very cute and lovely, i bet that most kids and even women loves them :’:

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