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Museums and Transparency Part 5 – Guidelines for Implementing Dashboards

Museum TransparencySo, the time has come to wish a fond farewell to our series of articles on Museum Transparency and Dashboards!  We’ve spent the previous 4 weeks covering a range of topics dealing with issues of transparency and performance metrics.  I hope that the posts have been valuable and that they might be a touchstone for conversations within your own organazation about being more transparent.

If you’re just joining us, you can find links to the previous articles here (tag: transparency)

To leave you with a bit more to chew on before we head off, this last article provides some suggestions for how to implement your organization’s own dashboard.  Feel free to add your own suggestions / questions to the comment stream after the jump!

7 Guidelines for Implementing Dashboards

For museums that would like to take the plunge into revealing and tracking their performance metrics online, the software used in the creation of the IMA’s Dashboard tool has been made freely available to the community under an open source license. ( Regardless of the tools used to embrace practices of Transparency, the following are some pragmatic suggestions to consider during your planning processes.

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Transparency and Museums (Part 4) – Transparency in Practice

Museum TransparencyIn the past few days, I’ve spoken to a number of people about how the IMA’s Dashboard effort is similar to and yet different than many of the commercially available Business Intelligence packages that are out there.  It still surprises me that after two years, people are still interested and intrigued by the process behind the tool.  I guess that’s a good sign!  The Dashboard has proven to be one of our stickier projects since we’ve launched it.

Two things in particular which set our Dashboard effort apart from other business intelligence or executive dashboard tools are the way we engage our staff in the process, and the extended integration we’ve done with core museum systems.

In the past several weeks, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the theory and the underpinning logic of why any museum would consider moving forward with a strategy like this.  If you’re just joining the discussion you can find the previous articles here:

  1. Walking The Talk
  2. Reasons for Transparency
  3. Impact on Institutional Culture

This week we’ll take a detailed look at how the Indianapolis Museum of Art implemented these ideas in the IMA Dashboard.  We’ll examine how we structured the experience, what our goals were and what some of the results and unintended consequences turned out to be.

We’ve had some really great questions and points raised in the comment sections of the previous articles, and I’d really like to hear questions / thoughts from the peanut gallery as it were.  Don’t be shy!  I’ll do my best to respond to every thoughtful comment in turn.

Transparency in Practice: IMA’s Online Dashboard

As discussed in previous posts, one of the most important aspects for museums wishing to take steps to be more transparent about their successes and failures is a decision about the best way to share this information.  There are many ways museums might accomplish this. Ideally an organization’s information should be freely available to all interested parties with a very low barrier to access. Many museums have adopted the practice of making their annual reports and even tax returns available online for public access. It would be difficult to make the argument that these mechanisms provide “easy access” to this information since these documents are often lengthy, technical, and difficult to interpret.  The investment required by a member of the public must be high enough to overcome these barriers in order to develop an understanding of the museum’s performance.  While well intended, this method of presentation obfuscates the information which, if shared in a simpler more user-friendly model, might otherwise lead to valuable interactions and discussions with media, donors and the general public.

In the summer of 2007, the Indianapolis Museum of Art began to take steps to capitalize on an institution-wide effort and commitment to organizational Transparency. A team of web developers and graphics designers led by the Chief Information Officer set out to design a presentation of information and statistics about the museum which would enable an at-a-glance interaction as well support of deep-diving investigations into specific topics of interest. The team desired a system which was easy to digest and easy to navigate, and could support the wide array of information important to the mission of a diverse institution.  The project took inspiration from contemporary web design and interaction trends to create a site which would feel fresh, fun and visually engaging.  Feeling that many corporate dashboards were both intimidating and hard to understand, the team strove for a simplicity of presentation that could hook interested visitors into a deeper investigation and tracking of the museum’s performance over time. Finally, the institution needed an easy to use tool which could be integrated into the pre-existing workflows and job demands of many of the different staff around the museum.  The result was a tool called the IMA Dashboard, which was launched by the museum in September, 2007 and later released as open-source software for the benefit of the larger museum community.  Many museums and institutions have downloaded this software and expressed an interest in using it to fuel similar endeavors within their own organizations.

Figure 1 - The IMA Dashboard

Figure 1 - The IMA Dashboard

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Transparency and Museums (Part 3) – Institutional Culture

Museum TransparencyLast week, I had the opportunity to attend the 2009 Museum Computer Network Conference in Portland, OR.  While Portland was rainy and cold all week, I found the conference to be both engaging and thought provoking.  While the sessions were great, the thing that keeps me coming back for more is the community.

Community – the culture of this gathering – is where the real diffusion and impact occur.  Although the speakers and panelists were great and a good trigger for conversation, the value really took hold in the hallways over coffee or in some of Portland’s great pubs over a beer.

In thinking about this next post on transparency, it struck me that the same is true about our own museums as well.  The culture of our institution – the hallway and cafe conversations that happen between colleagues – is where much of the success and innovation will come from.

At the MCN conference we heard some great conversations about strategy and innovation.  But I think all would realize, the harder part of strategy is finding a way for it to take hold and become REAL.

As a final salvo offering reasons why your museum should adopt open and transparent practices around institutional performance, let’s talk a bit more about the impact this choice can have on the culture of your museum.

If you’re just joining the conversation, here are links to parts 1 and 2 of this series. (Part 1 – Walking the Talk) (Part 2 – Reasons for Transparency)  Please join the conversation in the comments and tell us what you think! A little virtual water cooler would help us all.

Reasons For Transparency: Impact on Institutional Culture

“The organizations that will be truly successful in this environment are those that have integrated Transparency as part of their organizational culture and not just their communications strategy. To the extent that the two are inter-related, the communications strategist has a substantial role to play here.”

Mark Hannah, “Transparency as a Principle not a Tactic”,, January 7, 2009

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Transparency and Museums (Part 2) – Reasons for Transparency

Museum TransparencyLast week in part one of this series, we looked at a working definition of transparency on which to base the context of our conversation.  There was some good discussion in the comments about the concept in general and specifically about the differences between the valuation of museum collections and deaccessioning practices.   Thanks to those of you who commented, and/or tweeted about the article.

Saying that transparency is a “good idea” is not enough to address concerns that many museums have about sharing  information in this way.  Today, we’ll spend some more time examining a few reasons why museum administrators should seriously consider an open approach to transparency as a strategic choice in running the museum.

Again, please chime in with thoughts / questions / analogies / etc…  Your thoughts really add to and enrich the conversation.  Do you think this would work in your museum?  What would be the biggest concerns that would arise?

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Transparency and Museums – Walking the Talk Part 1

Museum TransparencyOne of the things I’ve been proud of during my time here at the IMA is the museum’s commitment to institutional transparency.  It’s always just made sense to me to concentrate on doing the right thing first, and then sharing as much as possible with others. (See, Mom… I wasn’t tuning you out all those years)  If you’ve followed this blog for very long, you’ve probably heard us talk about the IMA’s Dashboard a time or two.  Well, it’s hard to believe, but the Dashboard turned two years old in October!  I thought this would be a fitting time to spend a bit of time talking about the how’s and why’s of transparency and IMA’s experiences in running the Dashboard during that time.

I had originally authored this as a paper to be published in print form, but I think it will actually work better in a blog format like this one.  I’ve really appreciated the feedback and input readers have contributed to my last few posts, and would love your thoughts on this text as well.

Perhaps the most prevalent concern shared by peers about adopting similar approaches to transparency is a latent fear of the unknown, or a feeling that sharing the gritty details with the public will be too overwhelming and therefore misconstrued.  I’m happy to say that the wheels haven’t fallen off the IMA’s apple cart yet, hopefully this series will illuminate some of the benefits we’ve seen from taking these steps.

Walking the Talk – Part 1

The concept of Transparency has received significant attention in the media and online recently.  This attention comes at a time when public doubt in corporations, government and corporate executives is at an all-time high. High profile failures of some of the nation’s largest and most trusted institutions have shaken our assumptions about what had always seemed to be untouchable industries. Museums have always jealously guarded their trusted place in the public’s perception, but is there a risk that this trust will someday be lost?  As caretakers of this trust, what is the best way to foster open communication about the challenges and opportunities that face us as we try to achieve the mission of our museums?  As comprehensive and easy access to operational information becomes the norm, how can museums embrace this as an opportunity and confront internal fears about sharing their performance metrics with the public?

A Working Definition of Transparency

To begin, we must first come to a common understanding about Transparency. Institutional Transparency is a concept that is notoriously difficult to define precisely.  Principally, Transparency can be defined as the open sharing of information regarding a museum’s operations and performance.  But questions soon arise regarding what to share, when to share, and how to share it. These issues are much more significant for museums to consider when crafting an organizational stance about Transparency.

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About Rob

Job Title: Deputy Director for Research, Technology, and Engagement Interests: Anything related to coffee, hanging with the my fam, cooking crazy stuff, strategy games, camping / hiking / exploring, the Colts, watching TV, watching TV. Favorite Movies: Run Silent Run Deep, The Princess Bride, Gladiator, Young Frankenstein, Hunt for Red October. Favorite Music: Jazz: Dizzy, Miles, Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, Sonny Rollins, Lee Morgan, Freddy Hubbard, Chet Baker, Charlie Parker, Ray Charles, Coltrane, early Tito Puente... Favorite Food: Gumbo!, seafood of any kind, good beer. Pets: a giant yellow lab named Tana, a pretty little kitty named Nosy. Something you should know about me: I rock at Trivial Pursuit, but can rarely remember my own cell number or zip code :-)

Rob has written 23 articles for us.