So, 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!
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. (http://code.google.com/p/museum-dashboard/) Regardless of the tools used to embrace practices of Transparency, the following are some pragmatic suggestions to consider during your planning processes.
In 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:
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.
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.
Last 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.
“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.”
Last 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?