Sunday, July 19, 2015

Harnessing Vision, Data, and Collective Action

Paper Cave; Kotaro Horiuchi Arkitektur
Several ideas I have explored over the past few years on Museum Notes have come together recently in a clearer, more helpful way. Reading Nina’ Simon’s blog post on local data and picking up on Marsha Semmel’s reference to collective impact in a recent conversation connected Revisioning Vision Statements, Vision With a View to Impact, and Collective Impact, casting new light on the relationship among them and their value to museums. As she always does, my strategic planning partner, Andrea Fox Jensen, brought additional clarity and a few valuable pieces to the relationships between these parts.

Individually, each of these topics is concerned with museums helping to build stronger communities. All–vision, data, and collective action–are capable of engaging more fully with one another in a coordinated approach to community-level change. Guided by a common vision of a community, its challenges and opportunities and supported by shared information, the collaborative efforts of a museum and its important partners hold the promise of long-term, broad-based impact.

Many museum visions focus in on the museum. They list how it hopes to be perceived by its partners and stakeholders: high quality, a premier resource, a place of choice, etc. Museum visions can also project out to the community to embrace a deeper and more expansive purpose. They can express the positive change a museum believes is possible for its community that it can help accomplish with partners and stakeholders.

Where the community’s challenges and opportunities intersect with a museum’s long-term interests and strengths, is a museum’s niche in making a difference related to conservation, health and well-being, strong families, the achievement gap, or workforce development. A museum’s mission expresses what and how it intends to contribute to this change. Similarly other organizations build on what they already do well that the challenge needs. The collective intentions of these organizations begin to describe a common agenda and a set of priorities.

The externally oriented vision is a catalyst for moving from intention to impact, from isolated initiatives to coordinated action. By engaging local stakeholders and considering their perspectives in framing its vision, the museum finds partners with shared interests and related initiatives in priority areas. In getting to know each other, partners begin to identify valuable organizational assets such as relevant expertise, lessons from previous collaborations, infrastructure, and related organizational data. At this initial stage, a shared platform takes shape, one that supports collective conversations on an on-going basis, brings partners together before acting, and encourages shared development of questions and information, and joint ownership.

Data, Local and Shared
To move the needle on community-level change, a museum and its partners need more than multiple organizations with a shared agenda delivering relevant programs where they have current capabilities. While helpful, partners also need a common understanding of the challenge and what they hope to accomplish; where they are starting and what progress looks like. This requires information–data–about the children, youth, families, or neighborhoods they serve; the quality of life measures at present levels; and supporting indicators capable of indicating progress.

But what information is needed and were does it come from? Information should describe relevant aspects of improved lives for targeted individuals and groups. Long-term outcomes typically relate to a more vibrant community in areas of health, safety, education, civic engagement, social capital, or the environment. Indicators tracking outcomes may relate to youth believing they can achieve their goals; lower obesity rates; increased levels of civic engagement; greater access to learning technology; involvement in meaningful community activities with opportunities to contribute.

Data sources include readily available information from other entities as well as data generated by partners. In her blog post, Learn to Love Your Local Data, Nina Simon points out that often the data partners need already exists. Baseline information may be available from community assessments, the local United Way, or area foundations. It is local, shared and manageable for smaller organizations. Community-wide sources of data are place-based with a high degree of relevance. Furthermore, since this information is already shared, it reinforces the common purpose of the efforts and sets the tone for joint ownership of information.

A more ambitious approach is working collaboratively to collect data with partners. This is the approach the StriveTogether Network uses. And, although organized for evaluation and research, groups like the Denver Evaluation Network do have the capacity to collect local data for museum partners or local partnerships. 

Collective Action
Complex social problems are a function of a wide range of factors interacting over time. Collaborative efforts that create and sustain positive change at a meaningful scale require organization to coordinate and align efforts. The supportive organization can take varied forms, ranging in structure, size, and level of infrastructure.

Since 2000, Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) has taken a comprehensive, holistic, and place-based approach to supporting the Harlem community, starting with babies. With its clear vision, pipeline of programs, evidence-based decision-making, and robust infrastructure, it has made it a model for other transformative partnerships. Many communities and museums are familiar with the HCZ-inspired federally funded Promise Neighborhoods with cradle-to-career programs.

The Strive Partnership launched in 2006 developed a shared agenda to improve student achievement in the Greater Cincinnati area. Its approach, often referred to as Collective Impact, follows 5 principles that together build alignment and lead to significant change: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone organizations. 

When 40 organizations in Norwalk (CT) came together in 2005 to form Norwalk ACTS, the focus was on 6 cradle-to-career outcomes, from kindergarten readiness to post-high school guided by volunteer management. Now a group of over 100 organizations, Norwalk ACTS uses the Strive model. One of the original members,  
Stepping Stones Museum for Children serves as the anchor organization.

All efforts aren’t as formal and structured as HCZ, Strive, or Promise Neighborhoods. Lower maintenance structures typical of many museum partnerships use similar principles: an articulated joint vision, shared data, identified outcomes and impacts, and collective action. Over the past 3 years, the Children’s Museum of Tacoma and its community partners have been collaborating to build a child-centered community, supported by a volunteer structure similar to the one initially supporting Norwalk ACTS.

These and other efforts are gaining the attention of museum associations. IMLS will be analyzing current projects to support comprehensive community revitalization. Through a partnership with Local Initiative Support Corporation, IMLS will look at best practices and strategies to better understand how museums and libraries are engaged in sustained commitments to community-level change. For those attending InterActivity 2016, Collective Impact will be the theme of the Association of Children’s Museums annual conference hosted by Stepping Stones Museum for Children. Geoffrey Canada, President of Harlem Children’s Zone, will receive the Great Friend to Kids Award.

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