Chapter 3 of Nina Simon’s The Participatory Museum is titled “From Me to We” where she considers how an individual’s museum experience might be enhanced by other visitor experiences at the same institution. She writes:
Designing experiences that get better the more people use them is not simply a question of providing experiences that are well suited to crowds. While many people cite social engagement as a primary reason for visiting museums, they don’t necessarily want to spend their entire visit talking or interacting with other visitors in groups. Successful me-to-we experiences coordinate individuals’ actions and preferences to create a useful and interesting collective result. Technologists often call this “harnessing collective intelligence.”
This passage suggests the very real potential of moving the Me to We concept beyond the visitor experience to the institutions themselves. In my capacity as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, I believe this understanding is ripe with opportunity. In the past couple of months, museums in West Tennessee formed a loosely structured consortium of institutions. In reviewing an admittedly incomplete listing of West Tennessee Museums I counted nearly 75 institutions, many of which I was unaware of their existence. This led me to thinking about the following:
- If our newly founded consortium takes a unified approach, how will each institution and the group be strengthened in “harnessing our collective intelligence” in cross-promotional efforts?
- Beyond simple promotion, what is there at each of the 75 West Tennessee Museums that will produce a better collective experience both regionally and at each location?
- How do we maintain our individuality as institutions to prevent becoming clones to every other museum’s good idea?
- How do we create multiple webs of interconnectivity without getting completely bogged down in the process?
Related, a few weeks ago a friend was talking to me about the wonders of Spotify. I signed up for the service and now have direct access to a greater diversity of music than I imagined available – all that I can download to my iPod. Of late, I have thought about how when I entered high school in the mid-1960s, for my cohort there was Top-40 radio, and that was it. Shortly, rock took off on FM radio and broadened the scope a good bit. But today Spotify advertises “millions and millions of tracks” to choose from instantly. This new choice is both a qualitative and quantitative leap of staggering proportions.
The same is true for the cultural heritage venues. Besides the increasing number of the institutions of all shapes and sizes, budget cuts, the virtual world, competing leisure time and informal learning opportunities, all diminish the immediate visibility of museums and other cultural venues. We took for granted the success of these cultural heritage sites in the past.
Moving from Me to We is not simply a matter of pragmatic self-interest and survival. Rather, moving from Me to We is a means to most effectively live into our missions in the 21st century. There are tremendous potential and current successes to this movement. I will review some of these opportunities in the coming weeks.
How will your institution move from Me to We?