Innovate, Operationalize, Empower

This is the time of year to write the reflective, prophetic, or motivational blog that provides insight on where we have come from, where we are going, and how best to get there.  To add my .02 to the discussion I will blatantly rip the format from Beth Kanter’s The Networked Nonprofit blog that she ripped from Chris Brogan who notes that “Over the last few years, I’ve practiced something I call “my 3 words,” where I come up with three words that I use as guidance for how I should conduct my efforts in the year to come.”  Makes sense to me, so here are my three words:


Viewed as first on the chopping block in a troubled economy, there’s a good bit of hand-wringing about the future of Museums and Archaeology in general.  But there are also positive indicators, such as a recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that reports a predicted employment increase for museums in the coming decade.  Two recent publications from the Institute of Museum and Library Services contain innovative perspectives on Museums in the coming years: The Future of Museums and Libraries: A Discussion Guide and Museums, Libraries, and 21st Centuries Skills.  The 2009 publication by the American Association of Museums of Museums and Society 2034: Trends and Potential Futures is another excellent resource.  Each of the publications run less than 30 pages but has a wealth of insights and good things to think about.

Clearly, we are not in Kansas anymore.  A common lesson in all three of the publications is the need for innovation.  Much has been made of late about participatory, hands-on, engaged experiences as part of that innovation.  To that end, there has been a rush to create hands-on experiences with everything from touch tables for the sake of having something to touch to the full-blown sensory experience at San Francisco’s Exploratorium.  In fact, hands-on has moved from being innovative to the norm.


A line etched deep in my memory from my graduate school Anthropological Research Design class is the need to operationalize the concept – moving from the intangible to the tangible.  Nina Simon’s recent Museum 2.0 post provides an example of the Wallace Collection in Britain where youth were the co-creators of a Museum Exhibit, taking the hands-on approach to the next logical step.  In a way similar to the recent African American Cultural Heritage Exhibit at the C.H. Nash Museum here in Memphis, the British high school-aged students chose the pieces from the collection and actually created the exhibit.  A goal of such participatory hands-on projects is to develop students and visitors into active stakeholders in their cultural heritage institutions.  Both the Wallace Collection and C.H. Nash examples proved successful in this goal.


I am convinced that the long-term engagement in such creative processes will go far beyond the quick fix of relying on Blockbuster type experiences or events.  Such engagement as stakeholders leads to empowerment.  I thoroughly enjoy that I am the director of a small museum with tremendous developmental possibilities.  I have often likened my position to being a kid in the candy store.  In my short three years at the institution I have been able to develop many of the ideas I have thought about over the past couple of decades working as an archaeologist who had a strong inclination toward public outreach.  Perhaps one of the greatest things I have learned in this process is not just having innovative ideas, operationalizing them into regular programs, but also empowering other staff, interns, students, and visitors to participate and take on the process as their own and to play an integral role in developing the vision for the institution.  Such an approach will make sure that museums will live well beyond the ups and downs of economic cycles but will become as integral to the community as all other civic institutions.  To think outside the box (innovate), and produce a tangible product (operationalize) that leads to the partnerships with stakeholders who will carry cultural heritage institutions forward (empower) is my New Year’s Resolution.

What is your resolution?

The Networked Nonprofit

I previously posted about Beth Kanter’s blog and Allison Fine’s Social Good podcast.  Together, they just published The Networked Nonprofit, a volume that brings together the basics of their message on social media.

So, how is this relevant to Archaeology, Museums or Outreach?  A few thoughts.  First, archaeologists, somewhat begrudgingly in many instances, are coming to embrace the digital age.  A good bit of our internet presence is geared toward dissemination of information to other archaeologists.  For example, here in Tennessee, Kevin Smith maintains an excellent resource with the Tennessee Archaeology Network.  Of late, archeologists are starting to push info out to the public in a digital format.  For example, Panamerican Consultants recent Lamar Terrace webpage is an excellent resource written and designed with a general readership in mind.

Next, from  the Museum end, the digital presence is more firmly in place, largely due to the public orientation of the institutions.  Finally, the relevancy of the Outreach component to digital media is often perceived as a means for cheap product or event promotion and a resource to make money.  This perception is akin to my earlier post on the Myth of Volunteers as Free Labor.  Rather, as an outreach tool, social networking provides an opportunity to truly engage with audiences in new ways, build community, relationships, and carry a mission forward – all of which can produce increased revenues attendance, but it’s not free.  Oh . . . and all the above in combination – Archaeology, Museums & Outreach – pretty much operate in the nonprofit world.

So why is the Networked Nonprofit relevant?  In a short 200 pages (inclusive of notes, glossary, resources, and index) of highly accessible and well-illustrated discussion, Kanter and Fine lead readers through the process of conceptualizing an organization’s coming into the age of social networking.  From initially addressing the Luddite myths of this newfangled digital thing, such as “Our constituents aren’t on-line . . . Face-to-face isn’t important anymore . . . social media isn’t core to our work . . using social media is hard . . . and time-consuming (pp. 8-9)” the authors present a clear and concise discussion of social networking and building networked communities.  For example, in Chapter 5 – Listening, Engaging and Building Relationships – the authors walk the reader through the utility and process of becoming networked.  The last section of the book deals with the mechanics of functioning as a networked nonprofit.

The book contains lots of case studies and most chapters end with very useful reflection questions.  The 20 pages of end notes and resources is largely composed of on-line references.  The book is ideal for the beginner to social networking and also for those who have worked at this for a while in a piecemeal hit or miss fashion.  I consider myself in the latter camp and have simply decided that the potential of social networking is incredible and it’s time to really get serious about the process in a strategic long-term way.  The Networked Nonprofit is a tool to frame those discussions.

So, I come back to asking what has all this got to do with Archaeology, Museums and Outreach?  I am convinced that viewing our discipline’s institutions as networked nonprofits is important – and perhaps a considerably more than Kanter and Fine perceive as well.  True, their case studies tend to focus more on social issue organizations, charities, causes, and so forth.  However, the application to the nonprofit nature of Museums and the growth of public or applied archaeology/anthropology is quite relevant.  I suspect that other disciplines will use the The Networked Nonprofit as they build on-line networked communities and relationships.

You can review the first few chapters of The Networked Nonprofit online at  – see if Kanter and Fine’s approach works for you.