Tag Archives: MCN

Unpacking MW2014 – Part One

by Ed Rodley

March has been a busy month at work, and when that hasn’t been occupying my attention, CODE | WORDS has. Think lots and lots of phone calls, Google Hangouts, and collaborative editing of documents. It was therefore a wonderful break to escape to Baltimore for a few days for the Museum Computer Network board meeting and Museums and the Web 2014. 
MW2014

Museums and the Web 2014 has ended, and I am so glad I was able to attend! The sessions were excellent, the conversation lively, and I came away feeling energized and excited about what the coming year holds for us. There was so much going on that my attempt to unpack it in a nice, brief post failed before it even left outline form in my notebook. So, I’m going to have to spread it out based on the themes that emerged for me.

Comings…

After you’ve been in the business awhile, one of the reasons to go to conferences is to see who’s moved in, who’s moved up and who’s moved along. And there was plenty of two of the three. Which is both encouraging and discouraging.

Given the price tag of conferences these days, it is always a pleasure to see younger colleagues, and particularly students coming and participating. I had some great conversations and inevitably, a lot of “What should I do?” talks with people. Some of the things I found myself saying over and over again included the following observations.

  • I think Museum Studies certificate/degrees continue to become less of a differentiating variable, and more of a box to tick. The resumes I see will almost all have some kind of museum studies credential on them, so if you’re looking to stand out from a crowded field, that will only save you from the initial cull. All of the resumes I’ve seen in the past few months that really caught my attention had something else in them; a concentration in media studies, design courses, education, etc… Don’t get me wrong, I think Museum Studies credentials have merit, but I don’t think they’re enough to get you into the field. And if you’re just embarking on your career, getting in is all that matters, right? I’m also not suggesting getting even more degrees. Just look at your courses, and your peers’ courses and find that thing that’s  going to make you stand out.
  • It’s nobody’s job to get you unstuck other than you. Can’t break into the sector? Can’t move on? Difficult boss? Visionless administration? Chronic understaffing/budgeting/resources? Whatever the problem, in the end, it comes down to you. Seeking outside advice and counsel is a great tool to helping you get clear about your goals, but it’s no substitute.
  • Stop thinking about where you want to work, and think about who you want to work with instead.  Given the peculiarly public-facing nature of digital projects and products and the small size of the community, it’s relatively easy to look at interesting, innovative work and figure out who made it. They also move around, so if you focus on the museum instead of the person, you run the risk of applying somewhere where someone innovative used to work. Do your homework. Find examples of work that speak to you, figure out who made it, and find out where they are. Go to the conferences. I know they’re expensive, but most of them offer scholarships and/or volunteer discounts. Find them and ask them about their work. Very few people I know hate to be asked about the work they’ve done. It’s a great conversation starter.

It was a lovely pre-conference gift to hear in January that Nancy Proctor had been appointed Deputy Director for Digital Experience at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Nancy has been a friend and colleague for many years and it was heartening to see another colleague who combines a passion for museums with a deep understanding of digital technologies climb into the senior management ranks. I look forward to seeing what she’ll do in the coming years. There’s a lot to look forward to. The number of C-level positions like Nancy’s being created seems to be going up every year. And the pool of candidates is full of some of the brightest, most committed, thoroughgoing professionals you could ask for.

…and Goings

I only worry that the growth rate of CDO-type positions won’t match the rate of colleagues leaving the field. Some flux is inevitable in a workforce, but this year has been particularly turbulent, and mostly flowing out of the field and not so much in. A couple has turned into more than a handful very rapidly.  I joked with someone that in a few year’s time, I’d find myself sitting alone at the bar at MCN or MW if things don’t change. It wasn’t a very pleasant picture. And I don’t know what to do, other than hope at this point.

That’s a bit of a downer, I realize, but one of the wonderful things about conferences is that they crystallize things. You start to see big pictures arise out of lots of little things. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes not. But I’d always rather have specific fears than vague ones. The next post will be peppier and look at all the energy around grass-roots museum advocacy. There’ll be invasions, clubs, and drinking!

MCN 2012 – Directors’ Roundtable

  1. This is going to be a long post on love. If you’re feeling a bit jaded, or just not in the mood, you may want to come back another time when you’re more open. You have been warned…

  2. The thing I love about conferences is the way they surface themes and trends that may lie bubbling in the minds of colleagues all over the world. Put a critical mass of people in an anonymous hotel and suddenly; magic happens! For those of us interested in museums and digital technologies, we are doubly blessed, because of this weird dynamic where we have two intensely dynamic, fruitful international conferences that happen six months apart; Museums and the Web (MW) in the Spring, and the Museum Computer Network (MCN) conference in the Fall. Ideas that arise in one venue often get expressed in the other in a kind of virtuous circle of innovation that I’m not sure would work if there were only one conference or the other and there was a year-long gestation cycle.

  3. Months ago, a group of us had a long talk about strategy and leadership over Twitter and then a shared Google doc which bore some wonderful fruit. The two main strands of that discussion involved broadening the voices in our discussions of how digital technologies can advance our practice, and figuring out ways to provide professional development around digital technologies, so more people are able to participate. At the Museums and the Web conference, which I only sort kinda went to, a lot of these ideas reappeared and got processed. This was timely beyond belief, because the MCN Board of Directors was starting to consider major new initiatives like MCNPro, as well as more low-hanging fruit, like “should we suck up the not-inconsiderable expense of videotaping all the sessions, and livestreaming select ones to maximize their impact?” I love that feeling of flow, when everything seems to build on everything else and new understandings rise up. I also love the way MCN commits to translating that into action, and follows through.

  4. The professional development part seemed to be well in hand, so I decided to focus on bringing new voices to the table. If you’ve ever been to one of these conferences, you quickly find out that there are two major tribes of people who don’t attend: curators and senior managers. And common conversational tropes are, “I’d love to try ____, but our curator would never go for it.”, and “if only my director would ____, we could ____”  What would a group of directors have to say about our pet issues? What kinds of questions would an audience at MCN want to ask? So I started sending out emails.

  5. And you know what? Nobody said “Get lost! I’m busy.” Janet Carding had never been to MCN and thought it would be good to see what it was about, and agreed to come with only the vaguest assurance from me that there’d be some useful role she could play. Eric had been once and thought the idea was important enough that he invited Dan Spock, who said yes immediately, and *then* asked for details. Brian Ferriso agreed, even though he had just about enough free time to drive up from Portland, attend the session and drive back. Even the people who declined, declined for solid reasons, Stephanie Stebich, who was flying to New York for a dinner event, even offered to Skype in if we needed her. Thus was the Directors Roundtable put together. It was my first inkling that the tribe of unconcerned, aloof “Directors” might be more of a mental construct we create to disenfranchise ourselves than a reality. By the time our session ended, that idea had been pretty well destroyed.

  6. I don’t know about you, but I am *not* one of those people who can participate in an event and live-tweet it, or even take decent notes. As the moderator, I was focused so much on the time, the mood of the speakers and the room, whether anybody sneaking out due to boredom, etc… that I didn’t have a chance to really process everything that came up. I can’t wait for the video to get posted so I can relive it. I’ll post a transcript too, because I think there are are cite-able pieces of wisdom in there. For now, though, here are some of the moments that stuck out for me.

  7. Everybody reports to somebody

    I’ve known this intellectually for years, but hearing museum directors talk about how they have to manage up just like the rest of us was instructive.

  8. It’s not just somebody else’s job to understand your museum’s finances

    Money and the lack thereof is such a sore spot. The panel was pretty clear, though, that nobody has unrestricted income sitting around any more. The notion that directors hoard piles of money that they don’t bestow on new initiatives was roundly dismissed. The money that does exist is usually restricted in some way, so everything boils down to making the case for why something has strategic value to the museum. If you can’t make that case, chances are good that it’ll never happen. And who’s job is that? Anybody who wants to get something done. Coalition-building, horizontal management, and just getting together to discuss how to do things better came up repeatedly. And none of these things require a huge budget and much, if any, managerial buy-in.

  9. PDXCollections
    “Technology is part of what we do; it’s not an add-on.” RE: Science/Tech museums . . . how to make this true of ALL museums? #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:27
  10. PDXCollections
    Great question, @shineslike re: strategic thinking vs. good ideas and how to teach not-yet-senior-staff how to translate/learn #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:30
  11. richbs
    Using technology to increase access to collections will help protect tax-exempt status #mcn2012dir #mcn2012

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:29
  12. sluggernova
    Yes! Janet Carding: staff reluctant to bring new ideas thinking they wouldn’t happen. Started workshops to change culture. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:34
  13. It’s not just somebody else’s job to understand your museum’s mission

    One of the most unexpected moments of the session was delivered by Eric Siegel, who said that one of his most intractable problems was getting his staff to actually communicate up. People come to him and say, “I’ve got a great idea!” to which he would respond, “Great! Write it up and send it to me!” and that will all too often be the end of the story. Anything less than an unqualified “Let’s do it!” from him would seem to be received as a “No.” And to drive home his point that this is a common problem he offered up his services to anyone in the audience who had a great idea they needed or wanted feedback on how to turn into something actionable. He gave out his email address and promised to respond with comments in short order. And he bet the audience that his inbox would not overflow. And Dan Spock joined the offer. Two museum directors at your beck and call to give you personalized feedback. What an offer! And the silence that followed it was deep and complete. You could almost hear the crickets chirping. It was exactly the kind of dialogue that couldn’t happen inside our community of practice. I love being challenged like that! I’ll have to ask Eric if he’s gotten many responses. And, yes, I’m working on my idea to send him. And, no, I haven’t sent it to him yet. Go figure…

  14. PDXCollections
    Eric Siegel reiterates the importance of integrating/incorporating more people into strategic thinking at high levels. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:28
  15. sluggernova
    Yes! Brian Ferrizo @PDXArtMuseum: Managing up. Try to put yourself in your bosses shoes. #MCN2012 #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:30
  16. PDXCollections
    “What are the practical steps that we can do so that the ideas that you think are important can gain traction?” Eric Siegel #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:28
  17. sluggernova
    Eric: working on coaching people thru steps to success. Need to work on communication & involving others #MCN2012 #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:30
  18. PDXCollections
    We have a social contract that constantly needs to be renewed. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:28
  19. sluggernova
    .@shineslike: How can staff learn language of sr. mgmt to communicate more effectively re: new ideas? #MCN2012 #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:30
  20. PDXCollections
    “There are things you can make irresistible if you have allies.” Daniel Spock #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:31
  21. PDXCollections
    BEST QUESTION: What is the ratio of people coming to you with problems : people coming to you with great ideas? Which is worse? #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:33
  22. caw_
    Lateral learning, invite staff to teach you (before you complain that you don’t know) Likewise, be open to teach @janetcarding #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:32
  23. PDXCollections
    “Learn how to communicate the core of your idea. [In two pages with pictures.]” Eric Siegel #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:31
  24. richbs
    Teams are human dynamic chemistry sets #MCN2012dir #mcn2012

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:34
  25. Leadership is about creating disruption, management is about avoiding disruption

    Janet talked at length about the joys of working at a large, encyclopedic museum where you can’t even assume that people have ever met, let alone worked together. I was struck by a remark she made about expecting something to be transformative being unrealistic unless it was intentionally transformative. Doing something new and expecting things to change is not how things change. And that’s where leadership comes in. Good leaders disrupt the status quo, and work to create a new normal. Janet’s example involved launching ROM’s latest website and how it is being built to democratize staff access. Everyone will be able to blog or tweet, without moderation or asking someone in IT to post something for them. The product is the same – a new website. But the kind of product ROM is making is much more likely to be a model for the field, because it was designed to be disruptive.

  26. PDXCollections
    “Museums have a built-in public face. Let’s use it correctly.” Janet Carding #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:33
  27. sluggernova
    .@PDXArtMuseum Director Brian Ferriso: “I think NOT having technology is disruptive” #MCN2012 #MCN2012dir #MCNbuzz

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:29
  28. PDXCollections
    “I assumed that any big project would be transformational, but learned that projects have to be intentionally transformational.” #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:35
  29. PDXCollections
    “I don’t care what the technology is. It doesn’t work if you don’t have the right people.” Again, well said, Brian Ferriso. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:29
  30. rondlg
    Giving people the open access and the ability to reuse data/information freely helps to make museums relevant. #mcn2012 #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:31
  31. And as a delicious little bon bon after that, Janet said she obviously couldn’t expect her staff to blog if she didn’t, so she guessed she was going to have to learn. That’s what leadership looks like. The whole panel demonstrated that same quality at one point or another. To say it was inspiring doesn’t do it justice. I learned a ton just from being in the room.
  32. PDXCollections
    Listening to @JanetCarding talk is like hearing lightbulbs pop all over the place. Totally inspirational. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:35
  33. sluggernova
    Leadership: @janetcarding joined twitter to model behavior for staff & move things fwd. Soon she’ll start a blog #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:36
  34. shineslike
    Cannot wait for @janetcarding to start blogging! Great to hear directors talk about modelling behaviour. #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:35
  35. cb_sexton
    @janetcarding You are inspiring me! Great leadership advice. Thnx #mcn2012dir #mcn2012

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:33
  36. innova2
    @janetcarding you’re an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your fresh ideas #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:36
  37. caw_
    Impt to see directors leading by example : twitter, blogs, etc @janetcarding #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:36
  38. Tribes are useful, to a point

    The “us vs them” mentality is a natural one, and conferences, even ones as diverse as MCN tend to be tribal.  Sometimes, it’s wonderful, like when a newcomer realizes that they’ve found their tribe and that there are others out sharing their passions and concerns. Lots of hugging happens at the beginnings of these conferences, which I’ve never seen at AAM.
    That said, tribalism is a way to downplay one’s own ability to affect change. Which was part of the reason to have this discussion in the first place.

  39. PDXCollections
    “We need to be GREAT listeners. Much better than we are.” #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:27
  40. richbs
    Avoid “them and us” conversations. Different points of view are a strength #mcn2012 #MCN2012dir #MCNbuzz

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:37
  41. sluggernova
    Hear, hear! @janetcarding recommends no more “us and them” – embrace variety of perspectives & see it as a strength. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:37
  42. PDXCollections
    “See the diversity of perspectives that you have in your organizations as a strength and not a weakness.” @JanetCarding’s advice #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:37
  43. caw_
    This session a great solution to that RT @richbs: Avoid “them and us” conversations. Different points of view are a strength #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:37
  44. (As usual) It’s not about the technology

  45. sluggernova
    .@erodley at Director’s Roundtable “I’d like everyone to notice how little we’ve talked about technology.” #MCN2012 #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:32
  46. PDXCollections
    “It’s not so much about technology. It’s about doing good work.” Eric Siegel #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:36
  47. rondlg
    Technology isn’t a bauble any more it’s a given. #mcn2012 #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:37
  48. weatherlore
    @danspock: Museums are better at generating curiosity than answering questions. #mcn2012 #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:33
  49. rondlg
    #mcn2012dir People live their live anecdotally, the world behaves statistically. How do you link them? With stories. #mcn2012

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:30
  50. PDXCollections
    “There is a difference between a thesis and a story.” Daniel Spock #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:29
  51. PDXCollections
    “We have a desperate need for safe, rich environments that have the potential to make your kids’ lives better.” Eric Siegel #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:33
  52. rondlg
    No idea is too ridiculous: An Experiment in Creative Practice. #mcn2012 #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:34
  53. And of course, the quotable moments…

  54. shineslike
    Love that @danspock just referred to himself as a “meat space guy”. #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:32
  55. PDXCollections
    Best quote of the directors’ roundtable MIGHT be “Boop beep bop boop.” Thank you, Eric Siegel. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:32
  56. My personal favorite was when Dan Spock said that he saw his job as “not being a dick.” Priceless.
  57. For more information:
    The conference video (coming soon)
    The transcript is here! 
    Download and take a read.  

Next Drinking About Museums: BOS, Nov. 28, 6PM

Outtake 38:365 CC BY-ND 2.0 by Flickr user david.dames

Greetings, y’all!

We’ll be kicking it old-school this month and just hanging out. Fear not, though! Your continuing professional development/drinking needs will not be neglected. Jenn Schmitt from the De Cordova, Jim Olson from PEM, and I will be happily  discussing our experiences of the MCN conference in Seattle (which ruled, btw).

Come join us at the  Cambridge Brewing Company in Kendall Square, Cambridge on Wednesday, November 28th at 6PM. I’ll be there a bit before 6PM and try to scope out a good spot. Call or DM me if you need directions.

See ya there,

Ed

P.S. As always, forward this to your friends and colleagues you think should join us!