Saturday, July 20, 2013

Growing Value, Harvesting Impact

For those of you in museums, zoos, libraries, or nature centers who are drawn to but daunted by demonstrating impact with the same or even diminishing resources, the universe has been paying attention. Recently, your colleagues have been sharing examples, challenges, and insights in their work to build public value and contribute to public outcomes.

I find this activity to be exciting and full of promise. The projects shared recently in journal articles and at conferences are ambitious in scope and scale, pointing to the range of ways museums are finding to work with and engage their communities, build on community strengths, and contribute to shared public life. This work represents an important shift from thinking and planning to doing, taking risks, assessing, revising, and trying again.

  • At the recent Visitor Studies conference in Milwaukee, outgoing president Dale McCreedy's opening remarks asked conferees about conversations they are having in their institutions being nice and necessary. Heads nodded; some of the sessions including a keynote address picked up and carried forward possible responses to this question.
  • The on-going public value work of 11 children’s museums is profiled in the Spring 2013 issue of Hand To Hand, edited by Mary Maher for the Association of Children’s Museums. Projects range from transforming a city neighborhood to workforce development to strengthening the teaching force. The scale of the projects and the focus of their impacts vary significantly but all are active in the convergence of community priorities and museum interests, in areas of committed expertise. A great addition is a commentary on each museum’s work provided by a project partner or parent. This piece brings not only a community perspective but also underscores the critical role of long-term committed partnerships in broad, coordinated efforts intended to achieve community-level change.
  •  The May-June (2013) issue of Informal Learning Review (ILR) includes 2 articles on public value. “Follow The Money to Community Success,” adapted from a presentation at the 2013 American Alliance of Museum conference by John Jacobsen of White Oak Associates, Inc. uses the lens of public value (support revenue) and private value (earned revenue). John’s thinking aligns in an interesting way with an article of mine in the same issue, “The Nice and Necessary of Museums.” In a recent email, John noted that, “nice generates earned revenue by providing private values, and necessary generates support revenues by providing public value.” John and Peoria Riverfront Museum CEO, Jim Richerson, also present a case study of this perspective in the ILR January- February 2013 issue.
  •  Clearly not a museum, but nevertheless a truly exciting organization, Growing Power is a 20-year old national non-profit based in Milwaukee with a vision of building a sustainable food system one community at a time. Founder, farmer-in-chief, and MacArthur Foundation “Genius” awardee, Will Allen shared the history, accomplishments, and impact in a keynote session at the Visitor Studies conference. With varied and extensive partnerships; three farms, training sites in 5 states, and international outreach; Growing Power is definitely large-scale (and growing bigger) with significant impact–including training, feeding 10,000 people, and sourcing food to Milwaukee public school children. Something I found fascinating was that Allen’s rapid-fire presentation of approximately 1,100 slides, mapped out beautifully on a logic model, from Needs across to Impacts and Outcomes, with many and specific examples every step of the way.

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