Notes from the 5/6/09 Directors workshop.

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[Note: Yellow text signifies things to highlight/elevate. Green text signifies Action Required. M.E. 5/11/09]



We have essentially 4 questions to address today:

1) You are the leaders of the Smithsonian. Help us understand what this place looks like 10 years from now. Where are we going? Where are you taking SI?

2) What is the role of media technology, as an enabler?

3) How do we structure ourselves to deliver the technological tools & services necessary to support the mission?

4) How do we pay for it?

Q: How many have been at the SI for 2 years or less
  • only a handful
  • many (most) have been here 15 years or less
  • roughly 10 audience members have been here longer

Q: How many have Director in the title?
  • many (most) in the room

Q: How does SI look 10 years from now. Where is the growth coming from?
  • average age will be younger, browner/more diverse, on cutting edge intellectually, technologically
  • get with people who've been here 2 years or less, people who are outsiders who can weigh in and inform us. Set up collaborative dialogue with that group and those of us in this room. See a SI younger, diverse, and very holistic (not isolated by unit or geographically). A world SI, pan-institutional SI.
  • (Portrait Gallery, less than 2 years): ditto. Agree with idea of more holistic approach. Silos are still here. We'll keep doing it this way unless someone bangs us over the head to change. Web is transitionary tool to make this happen.
  • be all things to all people (more diverse than right now); SI anywhere - get what you want, how you want, when you want delivered. Still limited to visitors today. Use cell phones, computers, lengthy scholarly articles, etc.
    • [Not mention of mobile throughout the 5 workshops, but it's really important! And I love the phrase "SI Anywhere" M.E. 5/11/09]
  • more informed audience, less passive in their experience, here to be engaged and offer something back; have a dialogue with what they're looking at/thinking about instead of being a receptacle for what we have to offer them.
  • combine UGC with expertise we hold here and other outside organizations that we collaborate with
  • physical structures - good/bad: good: if we find resources to take care of buildings, we can expand programs. If not we need to find different housing structures.
  • 10 years from now we'd like an inst based on Web - flexible, able to react to immediate desires of audience, content and subjects, reach across SI, create interdisciplinary programs, etc
  • Second Life project - exploding! great. Audience wants to be part of that dialogue. Immersive learning. New models for participation. It's happening now - not 10 years from now.
  • fundraising: hope we have a deeper, broader donor base and infrastructure to support it

Q: Think about the economics of getting there. In 10 years does your funding model look the same as the current model?
  • (here under 2 years): formerly in public education when they were going to change the face of learning forever... be careful thinking the Web is the answer in itself. It's a tool to help leverage where we want to go. Don't get away from what we're world famous for. 10 years is not the destination, it will be ongoing for a long time.
  • fundraising regarding critical campaigns: don't underestimate connections as a whole, and the objects. Connect that sentiment to raise money for new programs, etc. Micro donations. Adopt an object.
  • Web will become just one of the "things we do" here. Challenge is now professionalizing, coordinating efforts.
  • there's a value in the actual object, we agree we want to share with as many as possible. Digital offers opportunity to share. Solution isn't just to digitize everything and put up on the Web.

Q: Regarding more diverse, integrated Smithsonian / breaking down silos... Is there a role the Web can play to "de-silo" this organization?
  • I'm sure the answer is yes, but I want to make a plea for management (us) to push envelope this year for reconciliation on basic level. Lots of hot, wonderful stuff going on today. Lots will feel left behind at multiple levels. Can't take very long, because it's happening now.
  • Web is not the answer unless the administration finds a way to reward collaboration and activity.
  • Web has potential for collaboration. We run into systems and databases that aren't compatible. Need to work across collections and databases. Huge obstacle, even for those of us who want to do it.
  • users want to search across our collections online, so we have to collaborate to provide online audience what they're looking for. Web sites are a good reflection of what's going on internally today.
  • regarding virtual museums, Web offers place for national / international audiences - different versions of content
Q: Is there a relevance issue feeding content to target demographics?
  • every day.
  • people go to Google or wiki
  • younger, digital natives - see no difference between online and offline (bricks and mortar). The Web site is the organization to them. At American History, there's a lot happening in the culture that's digital. How to collect and preserve that is something we haven't begun to address.
  • Web will be the "great facilitator". Young people will need to help make an impact on changes at SI, otherwise we will become irrelevant to them. Donors will be different - those who see the relevancy of the institution to them. "This is my Smithsonian"
  • "de-silo" the conversation about Web and technology and texture it. Explore what different people mean when they say different things. There needs to be a place where the public and SI employees can connect. Would be great to have a portal that could connect you to the various places. What do people mean by collaboration - for what, with what? Younger like multiple platforms - they like the Web, they like the museums, etc. It's not either/or.
  • subject to utopian visions, but we have concrete things to focus on: have some kind of office (who should be "managing editor of main SI website", what's their responsibilities); interoperability / exchange of content - allow us to move content from one website to another and to the central portal with one look and feel that says to the public we're doing this unified thing.

Q: Can there be one web master?
  • Web and technology are powerful tools to conduct research as well as communicating with the public. We share all the time with researchers, scientists. Most research at SI is out in the world in the field. Web technology is very mobile, many ways - to bring it colleagues and public both.
  • on a tangible level - capacity, system-wide. A staff that's been there for awhile. We can't keep up in current configuration. We don't even have the equipment to keep pace. For example, we have a T1 line. Still a huge digital divide between those who have access to this technology and those who don't (general public). Is it creating a new tier in society - status based on access to technology / knowledge?
    • point related to ethnic diversity, age, income, etc. We will not be the nation's museum unless we can make those connections happen. Right now, SI means "a place to visit in Washington".
  • we are seen as a source of info/authority even for those who don't come here. We already do have a larger role.
  • 10 years ahead we can't predict what technology there will be.
  • we don't express concern with people who can't travel to museums. There's a geographic divide as well. Content is owned by everyone. We need best practices, guidelines, user research, etc - gaps in our professionalism of the Web.
  • how SI matters - 1) pan-inst. umbrella brand (magazine) and 2) number of contacts between researchers, indiv, people with topical interests. It's indiv specialized interests (long tail) that's built audiences for SI - not the big umbrella. Need to cultivate responsibility down to people. You can have a democracy. Interoperability would be core. People aren't going to type in a URL: si.edu. Need to be findable at the granular level.
  • I wasn't suggesting we have a centralized Web master, but a unit that functions solely on the Web at the institution that produced online publications, online store, etc. Place at inst where we could do this evolution. A platform, not bricks and mortar. Staff differently. Functions parallel. Services on demand. Only works if everyone is onboard with standards and use of digital process. We need to talk about servicing our own needs too. If someone was interested in autos, they could find it across multiple museums (American History, American Art, etc). If we can't do it for ourselves, we can't do it for others in the public.
  • (Postal Museum): Web as be-all end-all is scary. It's part of the process, change. Channel. Could be a different channel for different customer segments. It's part of a bigger system. Need to talk about the Web in terms of getting something done.
  • moral imperative. practical. fundraising opportunity. Divide is less so in the cell phone world - most have cell phones. We will be truly isolated if we don't look at demographics of this country - penetrating communities. Enormous issue and funding opportunity.
  • digital divide is actually an opportunity. To be engaged with communities around the world, we need to do projects like that. Engage with communities to document themselves, create exhibits online about their traditions. To do this, we need to apply for grants that take digital divide in consideration. Research and model best practices.
  • need to metabolize a paradigm shift

Q: What did you think of Sec Clough's call for a new shift - education?
  • excited, use multiple platforms myself (Blackberry, flickr, blogs)
  • voice for millions of kids who will never set foot in museums: I'm hoping this evolution for us allows us to engage kids in their classroom, in homes, on weekends, like wiki (it grew because it was accessible and interesting). Engage kids - interactively. They can then do research, collaborate around the world or their states, using our resources that we can provide. This group is expecting technology to be part of their daily life. Need to be flexible not knowing technology that will be around in 10 years, but go after it.
  • under Ann, she's encouraged sharing of information. We index collection info records which gives public ability for one-stop searching, and allows new apps to be developed so focused, in-depth info retrieval is available. Some museums are more ready than others. Staff is frustrated. They want to participate in this pan-inst mission, but their museums focus is on something else. For example, only required to curate/catalog 4 objects per year.

Q: How do we define roles for a centralized platform "sandbox"? What needs to happen in units still?
  • not content control but valuable services. Responsibility for becoming familiar with digital is extended to all on staff. We're frustrated reinventing what other units already invented. Who has the contract for organizing/digitizing images, for example. Need those types of central services. Will allow us to do more work. Another example - Survey Monkey. We don't get useful, helpful info on these services when needed.
  • many units have rigorous vital interaction with peers around the world. What's the added value that SI brings? Why is it so difficult to collaborate with peers at SI, but so exciting to collaborate with peers around the world? What are 10 things we don't need anymore (washington post article). I fear we may say we don't need the SI anymore - focus on units and connect them with their peers. What's keeping us apart from each other?
  • I don't feel as much silo effect. We've collaborated cross-museums. More than 70 collaborations that she's aware of. Create a site on prism where units can post their collaborations. Show that collaboration is actually happening.
  • barriers come down to policies and processes. We shoot ourselves in the foot with bureaucracy.
  • regarding platform or tools for education, collaboration, etc: one requirement for successful platform is that it clearly defines the rules of participation in that platform. How we allow others to talk about / use our collections and information. Need rules and standards amongst ourselves. What am I allowed to say about another museum's object? It's not "our" object, it's "their" object. There are even divisions within our museums. How are we allowing ourselves to use our content, let alone public outside SI.
  • consider scale when talking about collaboration. Often one-to-one between scholars, designers. Enormous amount of this type at SI. Some museums do it, some don't. There's always new people to work with here, takes time to make collaboration happen. It's beneath the radar.
  • there's collaboration at org levels at SI and all around the country. I travel a lot and see research/lending/education collaborations. What is the IMPACT that we're trying to make through Web strategy? We'll be dragged forward one way or another (platform, technology). Sometimes we'll be in control, sometimes not. Do we want to be the world's largest encyclopedia of knowledge, or get down to community level to impact lives, how they interact with their environment, etc. What changes are we affecting - what impact are we having on people? We never sit down to address this subject. Varies by age ranges/audience. Dynamics of change, what causes change, how do we relate to our environment, etc.
  • tip of iceberg moment. Opportunity to grow. Grants proposals aren't drawing from multiple units, but could be. Education can weave this place together, draw on expertise from various museums. How can we do more educationally to make an impact - inside and outside of schools, for kids and adults?
  • because of govt funding and geography, puts us in a unique position. Not a culture that shares easily outside of ourselves. Might be OK (academic model) but is opposite of dynamics of Web, and the public.

Q: Are we measuring impact of the effect we're having?
  • collaboration in and of itself isn't a goal. It's a means to an end. It's not a natural act for an inst of this size. You do it when you need it. It hasn't been particularly rewarded. We don't have ways to measure impact we're having on those walking through the door. Move away from counting eyeballs to counting experiences.
  • educators might be able to answer. Third year of Edge program - many participate here at SI. Looking at outcomes and impact. Not just number counts. I hope someone follows up on this comment.
  • we have a dysfunctional, outdated central portal. Doesn't feature what's going on in the units. Could create a common blog for example, revise/centralize the si.edu portal (Torch is great). Figure out who should manage the portal.
  • authoritative versus user content - would like to hear Director's POV.
  • needs to be multi-tiered. Regarding responsibilities central/units. Policies on usage should be central. But also open up visitor curated activities. Central should make sure we have capacity to take advantages of Web resources, and stay current. We don't keep pace. If we're going to be a leader, using the Web, to forward the mission, we have to stay current.
  • [To measure the effect we are having on the Web, we have to tackle the tough question of how do we measure our success when we participate in Web presences that are not SI? For example, Facebook, flickr, and Second Life. We need to capture these metrics as well. PSmith 5/6]

Q: Resources. Let's talk about this point. Web can clearly play a role in generating revenue. How should we pay for what we're dreaming up?
  • hard because of the way budget is structured. "standard big pot" and everything new is a budget increase - yes/no - can we afford this additional thing? Keep doing things we're doing because there's a budget that's paying for them. Can we give up things? Prioritize?
  • evolve staff in ways that institution is evolving. Realign unit to reflect these changes. What does it mean job description for people who have been here for decades.
  • hard to measure ROI. Web 2.0 is based on connectivity - what does that mean? Who care is 2mil people follow you on twitter?
  • we are the authority, not authoritative. Info will get misused, misunderstood, etc no doubt. Not about guarding everything centrally, but everything we put out should be of utmost accuracy.
  • we've had an extraordinary experience putting up stuff that we didn't even know about from our collections. There are communities out there that will help you.
  • there are situations that could undermine the brand. Some negative phone calls about museum content, even. Some in general public are OK being, for example, racists and will say negative things to our audiences.
  • we're talking about info versus interpretation: we are skilled enough to filter the interpretations that aren't correct
  • haven't heard the word marketing yet. Missing the boat identifying "what is the Smithsonian". Without central branding/marketing, knowing what we do internally, we're not going to be able to do a good job sharing with the public. Tell people what we're doing, how we're doing it. Increase our baseline support. Let kids know there are SI websites to get all the research they want, then they may grow up and have money to donate for all the help we've provided.
  • (announcement) there's a new branding initiative underway.

Q: Is there a role for Web to generate revenue sources you don't currently have?
  • regarding micro donations: argument between getting large vs. small donations. We see a lot of potential in the micro donations - ties into the long tail, special interests. Our accounting structure is opposed to this, and makes it difficult to deal with small donations. We can't allow others to sponsor the Star Spangled Banner, for example. The Zoo has had animal-specific campaigns/fundraising/donations. Target your audiences.
  • online funding manager - has done this for 3 years, growing, still a tiny portion compared to larger donations. Backend, staff resources, paperwork makes it cumbersome. Put a donate button on the Home Page of websites (low hanging fruit)... we don't even do that.
  • what about tasteful online sponsorships (not animated ads) like NPR, NatGeo - corporate sponsorship?
  • fine, but be clear about amounts.
  • bring back conversation to Web and new media: I want to see a website that allows people to find things and not have to know our bureaucracy and structure. Would like to see a face to offer suite of services, software that can be made institution-wide. For example, blogging exercise, I can go there to see different software available and best practices. Not authoritative, but recommendations. Overcome infrastructure problems - make databases talk to one another so they can be used in collaborative ways.
  • agree. We need wi-fi everywhere too. Add that to the list.
  • HOW do we change? Need positive incentives for people to want to change. Folkways adopts to how to generate revenue (sell CDs, available content to public, etc).
  • Just saw ad for Night at the Museum - almost an experiment. We could use that movie to see what audience reactions are. Could conduct exit interviews, etc. This is the direction we're going.

Q: I encourage you to continue this dialog on the wiki. One piece of homework: we're driving a very focused message to the Secretary. Through this Web and New Media Strategy, we need to talk about the things that need to be changed at the Smithsonian - and the things that should NOT be changed. Give us your top 3 things for each, please.

See Tell the Secretary


Index of Workshops