Saturday, September 12, 2015

What Do We Do with This Learning Framework?

ArtZeum - Telfair Museums

Recently I worked with the learning innovation team at a museum to develop their first learning framework. With a newly minted strategic plan, midway in celebrating their centennial anniversary, and on the threshold of their 2nd century, the museum and its learning team were well positioned to look back and forward and consolidate their most important learning interests. Over the course of 3 workshops I observed growing clarity about the core ideas, increasing congruence among them, and occasional references and connections between framework elements. Discussion around key ideas became more extensive in ways I imagined it would be as the group applied a framework.

In the final workshop, a participant who had been very engaged in discussions and provided thoughtful feedback asked about the ways to use the framework. I was pleased the question of use arose. It conveyed a view of the framework as a working tool in the learning life of the museum.

The question made me pause. Highlighting use of the framework had been a priority all along. Workshop-by-workshop, with pre-work and off-line assignments, I was laying the foundation for using the framework in planning and evaluating programs, events, and exhibitions. In introducing each framework element, I had described what it was and what it contributed to the framework. To be certain I’d cover the essentials, I followed my written notes closely. I chose examples of how a part might be applied; for instance how learner impacts help in developing exhibition goals. Along the way, I’d asked them about how they thought a part of the framework might be used.

Pivoting from Creation to Implementation
The question also alerted me that a pivotal point in the creation of any framework or plan had arrived. There is a moment when the focus shifts from developing and building to providing for use and application. Elaborating and detailing yield to developing familiarity; possibility yields to reality; and intention yields to action.

Explanations, definitions, examples, exercises, discussions, and repetition along the way are essential. They help in previewing the process and framework parts, generating content, and assuring parts engage firmly. The building process brings the group along. Initially, developing the substance of a framework is the main task. Ultimately, ownership and usability must take the lead.

Navigating the transition from developing a robust plan or framework to using it everyday means shifting perspective from co-creation to ownership. Focus moves to the users, context, and practices. What are the everyday ways this group can work with the framework? How do they work together as a team? What do they need to interface with the rest of the museum? What is attractive and to whom in using the framework? Where will they encounter the biggest challenges?
Becoming Routine 
How does a framework become used routinely among team members, accessed regularly, and part of the collective mindset? The cumulative effects of actual everyday, repeated and on-going use exercise, test and strengthen a plan or framework. Often it isn’t possible for a facilitator or consultant to stay involved during the early phase of implementation or be on-the-spot for coaching. Constructing the implementation piece with a group can, however, bridge development and daily use. A team’s or department’s internal knowledge and deep familiarity with the everyday context connect implementation steps with existing practices, routines, schedules (and idiosyncrasies) for easier use.

Ease of use is critical because a framework or plan is a use-dependent tool. The more it’s used, the better it is understood and the more it is able to support connections and generate new insights. Contributions from teams about making a framework a well and regularly used tool and guide typically cluster into four areas: developing familiarity with the framework, building internal capacity, integration with the museum’s work, and growing the framework. These four areas provide a structure for selecting and organizing activities that are relevant, span short and long-term interests, and accommodate multiple approaches.

• Broaden awareness of the framework includes practices and activities that familiarize staff, volunteers and the entire organization with the framework, its purpose, content, and applications; that introduce it to partners and funders; and that celebrate framework accomplishments and successes. 
• Develop internal capacity includes practices and activities that incorporate the framework into professional development plans; orient staff and volunteers to the framework, its purpose and use; share and explore related books, studies and articles; and build expertise in key areas.
• Integrate the framework into museum processes includes practices and activities that incorporate the framework into team, department, and organizational schedules, procedures, and practices such as position descriptions, experience planning and evaluation, and budgeting; and that make the framework the foundation of the museum’s interpretive plan.
• Grow the framework includes practices and activities that explore and test the framework; develop supporting tools and fill gaps revealed by use; and that adapt and update the framework with lessons from its application and based on changes in the museum and community.

Two areas I have found are helpful to add to these four are getting started and leadership. 
• Getting Started focuses on taking the very first steps to assure an easier, stronger start on the framework or plan. Working with activities in all four implementation areas, identifying those that can and should be worked on first, and sequencing these activities across the first year sets priorities and makes way for later activities. 
• Leadership and advocacy. Support and leadership related to the plan or framework must be visible and active and come from the head of the team, department, and museum. Leadership is also informal, taking the form of advocacy for the plan or framework, referring to it and bringing it into discussions. Enthusiasts, the curious, and early adopters are natural candidates for advocacy. 

By the way, I would certainly invite that workshop participant who asked about using the framework to be just such an advocate.

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