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III. Strategic Goals (continued...)

Goal 5: Interpretation

Support the work of Smithsonian staff


Interpretation and explanation are the basic building blocks of learning: They are at the very core of the Smithsonian's research traditions. The Smithsonian has long excelled at harnessing human curiosity about the origins of the universe, the evolution of life, and human diversity and culture. But according to many stakeholders the public is largely unaware of the depth, breadth, complexity, and importance of the Smithsonian's research activities.

Web and New Media technologies are crucial to the Smithsonian’s core research activities and to the wide collaborations that must occur among geographically distant participants, but many staff members have insufficient support and training to use Web and New Media tools. These technologies are key to advancing many research initiatives, to achieving a broader distribution of the Smithsonian’s intellectual products, and to raising public awareness of the importance of research to the Smithsonian’s mission.

Policy/Program Goals

  • Balance: Ensure that the Institution’s experts have access to the technology, training, and resources to support both the increase and diffusion of knowledge
  • Support: Create a pan-Institutional platform with standardized protocols to facilitate broad communication and collaboration among Smithsonian researchers, scientists, curators, and their internal and external audiences
  • Transparency: Encourage Smithsonian knowledge creators to expose their research to public audiences and invite collaborative inputs
  • Accessibility: Identify expert voices among the Smithsonian’s staff and share their expertise and passion through Web and New Media tools
  • Public Outreach: Communicate the depth, breadth, and quality of the Smithsonian’s research initiatives to internal and external audiences

Tactical Implementation

  • Implement SharePoint collaboration intranet and extranets
  • Evaluate the technology-related support and training needs of Smithsonian’s researchers/scholars/experts
  • Provide incentives and resources to support collaboration and the sharing of research. Develop a pool of internal consultants and support staff—a center of excellence—to support the core work of Smithsonian experts and Web and New Media practitioners
  • Highlight and encourage public engagement with Smithsonian research and researchers through new and existing blogs, Web sites, mobile platforms, geospatial information, and other channels

Goal 6: Technology

Develop a platform for participation and innovation


The word “platform” is used in this strategic goal to advocate for a particular kind of technology in which a central entity creates a set of standards, tools, and interfaces that others can use to do meaningful work. Successful platforms can be built incrementally though the strategic alignment of many separate, small, useful components.

The Smithsonian innovates and experiments with Web and New Media technologies across the organization. This innovation occurs despite barriers caused by internal bureaucratic processes and the absence of dedicated funds to support IT innovation and development over time. While individual instances of innovation may flourish, such practices are not being replicated efficiently, or applied to pan-Institutional challenges, resulting in missed opportunities and duplication of effort.

Smithsonian stakeholders expressed differing views of the benefits and risks of centralizing versus decentralizing Web and New Media IT services. Many Smithsonian Institution stakeholders appear to favor some form of a shared-services model that incorporates the benefits of decentralization while reducing the risks of too much centralization. This is harmonious with the principle of balancing “innovation at the edges” with a commons in the middle.

Many of the menial or difficult tasks performed by unit Web and New Media teams—and the public—can be served by a unified Smithsonian platform, and the development of a shared platform, over time, will allow data, ideas, e-commerce, and collaboration to flow across institutional boundaries in ways that are not possible in the current decentralized model.

Policy/Program Goals

  • Platform: Inventory all Web and New Media tool/functionality and determine the core set to be provided as a shared- solution platform. (Should include enterprise applications like e-commerce, online donations processing, customer relationship management, search, analytics, and social networking.)
  • Mobile: Support the growing role of mobile devices, and configure Smithsonian sites and exhibitions for availability to wireless/handheld devices
  • Support Services: Recruit and train a core Web support team to develop technology solutions that can be made available to units on a free and/or cost-chargeback basis
  • Analytics: Work with units to establish success criteria for individual site performance. Collect, analyze, and communicate accurate and timely data to all units

Tactical Implementation

  • Establish clear roles and responsibilities for the development and operation of a platform and shared-services model
  • Evaluate the most pressing technology support requirements across all units and recruit a core team with skills to match the unit needs
  • Coordinate with digitization strategy by taking input on needs/means for internal/external information sharing
  • Use best practices in metrics and analysis to understand the dimensions of audience engagement across SI and external sites, mobile platforms, in-exhibit multimedia, etc. Validate accuracy of all Web usage statistics and build skills necessary to use data
  • Implement technologies such “browse paths” (or “breadcrumbs”) to encourage broader and deeper avenues for site exploration
  • Provide tools to share research and collection data
  • Implement a mobile-friendly version of the Smithsonian Web site and mobile-friendly templates for new development

Goal 7: Business Model

Increase revenue from e-commerce fundamentals and Web 2.0 perspectives


The Smithsonian’s basic business model is to create social and economic value through the increase and diffusion of knowledge. Web and New Media programs are both an intrinsic part of this overarching model and an opportunity to develop new kinds of revenue in harmony with the mission. The Smithsonian’s current Web and New Media portfolio includes numerous separate transactional Web sites offering products, services, memberships, and tickets from isolated systems. While each of these systems may be sufficient for their individual tasks, the fact that they are not conceptually or technically integrated makes them more expensive to build and maintain, diminishes the user experience, and undercuts the Smithsonian’s ability to understand, serve, and grow the audience as a whole. By neglecting to present desirable e-commerce opportunities to visitors, and failing to understand visitor needs and interests, the Smithsonian loses countless opportunities to build loyalty and generate revenue every day.

Emerging from the Smithsonian’s 2.0 thinking is the potential for a new revenue model based on users and content. Amazon’s success is linked to the way it harnesses the collective intelligence of its huge base of users through recommendations and rankings. Google develops powerful information-access tools, then gives them to its users—for free—and makes billions by selling ads. In these models, the revenue-generating potential of a Web site is exponentially amplified by the size and activities of its audience. A Smithsonian digital audience 100-times larger than today’s can open up countless revenue opportunities that just are not financially feasible now. Ultimately, the most valuable business asset we can cultivate—and the one that is most fundamental to our core mission—is a community of engaged and committed Smithsonian enthusiasts.

Policy/Program Goals

  • Revenue Generation: Use a coordinated approach to revenue generation across the Institution
  • Incentives: Establish a model that offers units incentives to participate in business development. These include increased revenue share, visibility, traffic, and access to shared tools that reduce labor and costs
  • Success Metrics: Require that business plans be created to evaluate the cost / benefit profile of proposed online revenue-generating initiatives and ensure that business owners track performance against that plan
  • Revenue in Harmony with Mission: Develop opportunities that are efficient and scalable, and that harmonize with the overall mission to increase and diffuse knowledge
  • Marketing and Promotion: Create pan-Institutional and museum-specific online marketing campaigns to drive site traffic and grow audiences for content, philanthropic, and e-commerce purposes
  • Audience Development: Focus on creating dramatically larger and more engaged audiences by providing consistently outstanding content, experiences, and engagement across all Web and New Media properties

Tactical Implementation

  • Implement a shared e-commerce and online fundraising platform as a pan-Institutional resource and manage it as a partnership, providing incentives for units to participate (revenue share, cost avoidance, productivity, etc.). Use best practices for measurement and analysis of all revenue-generating activities
  • Create/maintain a pan-Institutional customer relationship management system for members, customers, prospects and other audiences to maximize the lifetime value of each through a system of contact, solicitation, and promotion management
  • Establish a policy and framework for selling corporate/institutional sponsorships on Smithsonian Web sites and mobile platforms
  • Enable Smithsonian Web visitors to shop, donate, become a member, or register for e-mail updates from every page, and promote Smithsonian membership opportunities from all Institutional Web sites
  • Establish a plan to accept individual micro-donations online that can be earmarked for specific museums, programs or content
  • Increase the level of integration between offline (direct mail, telemarketing) and online fundraising
  • Develop expertise in mobile development (e.g., cell phones, iPhones) and evaluate long-term revenue potential of the mobile platform
  • Explore a “freemium” business model (offering some services for free while charging for special features/products) using the Smithsonian Commons as a test bed (see section IV. The Smithsonian Commons: A Place to Begin)
  • Explore the feasibility of creating in-museum digital experiences (e.g., mobile tours, virtual-reality games) with appropriate fees

Goal 8: Governance

Design and implement a pan-Institutional governance model


Governance is the kinetic exercise of management policies related to decisions that define expectations, grant power, or verify performance within an organization. The Smithsonian Institution operates in ways that are arguably unique and distinct due to its unique trust status, making direct comparisons with similar entities difficult, if not impossible. The Smithsonian lacks governance policies for many online and digital media issues and does not always exercise those policies it does have consistently across the Institution. Stakeholder governance concerns tended to group on three main topics: broadly felt ambiguity around questions relating to content in general (ownership, publishing approval workflows, etc.) and restrictions relating to usage and/or licensing of content for online distribution; concerns relating to the use of social networking tools in general, and restrictions for posting Smithsonian Institution content to platforms like Facebook or YouTube; and the absence of accurate measurement tools, metrics, and financial data relating to the use of Web and New Media technologies.

Web and New Media technologies that are supported by some level of centralized platform will require well-reasoned and well-articulated governance policies to ensure their ultimate success within the Smithsonian Institution’s mission and government charter.

Successful governance and leadership are the keys to accomplishing any of the goals in this strategic plan.

Policy/Program Goals:

  • Policy: Create a policy and governance model that addresses roles and responsibilities for centralized and unit activities, and determines the means by which centralized technologies, support, and oversight are administered over time
  • Content Usage: Establish a pan-Institutional policy for sharing and using the Smithsonian’s digital content, with particular focus on Copyright and Public Domain policies that encourage the appropriate re-use and sharing of Smithsonian resources
  • Budget: Coordinate inputs to pan-Institutional budgeting processes to ensure that Web and New Media activities are funded in accordance with their importance to the institution
  • Legal Compliance: Define policies and procedures to secure approvals, at appropriate levels, for online publishing and participation in social networks

Tactical Implementation

  • Determine where in the Smithsonian structure the governance function should be housed and who should manage it. (See also “Recruit a pan-Institutional Web and New Media leader and give that person the decision-authority and visibility to lead change” in Goal 1: Mission)
  • Develop a resource and staffing plan to lead and execute the Web and New Media strategy and ensure that adequate resources are included in budgeting at the centralized and unit levels
  • Set intellectual-property policy with particular focus on Copyright and Public Domain. Review and approve the draft directive for Digital Asset Access and Use
  • Review and approve draft Smithsonian Directive 950: Web Management (which describes internal policies for various aspects of Web operations)
  • Review and approve draft policy for participation in social networks

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