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Sketch-notes by author. Excerpted from Facilitating Collaboration, Brandon Klein and Dan Newman.

Recently, I’ve started a Facilitation Community of Practice for museum professionals. With remote work, we needed to vastly/rapidly improve our work in a virtual domain. We can’t let our low literacy of virtual work practices detrimentally affect our relationships or projects. Enter Liberating Structures. A way to structure conversations that leaves everyone energized, engaged and uplifted. The reason is pretty simple, at its core, our individual time is respected and their voices are heard. In small conversations, we can all feel comfortable to participate. With a clear purpose in mind and time for self-reflection, we can all collect our thoughts and feel prepared to contribute. Liberating Structures is a game-changer for results and it’s deeply compassionate. I have been using Liberating Structures for a few months and I found that the best way to practice is by doing. To do though, gotta have other people. I wrote up a brief list of suggestions for how to sell new working tools. …

Do you work at a museum? Psst, I have a secret for you. Museums aren’t a monolith. Oh no… I am the museum, you are the museum. Individual humans are the museum as much as the architecture, the brand and the legacy. Did I blow your mind? No? Well, let me try.

Imagine a world in which museums don’t have any human employees. An autonomous, white cube storage container if you will. Visitors enter not in a queue, but a tightly controlled pat-down procedure complete with singing the country anthem, iris identification and reciting recent late night jokes—security will also accept meme explanations as it improves their AI. After a delousing, visitors are given a complimentary hat (keeps hair in line) and whisked to their preferential department for browsing the object stacks. There are no exhibits here as it’s much more efficient to combine the glory of the cathedral to culture with the Manhattan grid of the storage room, you know, the one from Raiders of the Lost Ark. There’s no need to saunter around as if you own the place — like through your tax dollars or charitable contributions—because a self-driving vehicle will take you on a pre-determined path based on your InstaFace profile. Your eyeballs are money, considering you will get 4 commercials between every stop (and you’ve signed up for 25 subscription boxes just by walking in. Thank you for approving this purchase. You can manually unsubscribe, one per month obviously. ) After 30 minutes, the visit will come to an end and please be sure to rate via the HappyorNot on the way out the door. …

American History Of/By/For All

A text-only sign from the Tate Museum with the headline: Help Us Keep Tate Relevant, Welcoming and Inclusive.
A text-only sign from the Tate Museum with the headline: Help Us Keep Tate Relevant, Welcoming and Inclusive.
I like that Tate admits that there should be no “end” to inclusivity. Photo originally posted by Ariana French

Tomorrow is the first day of Smithsonian National Museum of American History Museum’s next phase. Strategic planning begins in union with the inimitable Nina Simon and Of/By/For All team. Thus begins a months-long process to help the museum craft its vision for the next 7 years.

Is there a way to write personally about professional nerves? Sorry. Reverse that. Is there a way to write professionally about personal nerves? I’m nervous and excited about the beginning of this new, raucous, risky, vulnerable process.

I’m no stranger to vulnerable processes at work. Post-shutdown, the design studio embarked on a mission to interview 70+ of our colleagues. We were curious and time was a little looser as the engines of a national museum need some time to warm up. We took the opportunity to ask about process and frustration and feelings. We asked our colleagues: What do you enjoy most about making exhibitions? What would you change? If you were king, how would you change it? (This proved to be a much harder question to answer.) Can you describe your changing emotional state throughout the process? If you can’t describe, use emojis. The process was draining. We kept it deliberately open-ended as this was about deep listening, not a quantifiable survey. We listened actively, we proceeded with compassion and didn’t pursue direct answers. We wrote about how it was said, as much as what was said. That meant hearing of many workplace frustrations: poor communication, unclear approvals, lack of clear direction, poor accountability. We also heard about the deeper frustrations that lead people to leave the field and lose hope in their own value or their ability to make a difference in the organization. Speaking for myself, active listening was draining, emotionally and psychically. After the interviews, we had beautiful hand-written charts from participants of their touch points, ebbs, flows, bottlenecks, feelings, hopes and fears. We planned to synthesize them, revisit them, absorb them as a whole instead of individually. Our hope was to discover ways to improve our process that could be implemented both for the benefit of specific individuals and for many, short-term and long-term. If there was a small tweak that we could make to one person’s workflow so that it was significantly improved, we were ready. If there was a change that would ripple to improve workflow for multiple parties, we were ready. But the gears started moving again. Projects were restarted, with high pressure for picking up momentum. Even with adjusted schedules, it was a rough quarter. And the interviews and the listening process faded into the background of other priorities. But I’ve just realized what the next steps of those interviews could be. They are a time-capsule of how our colleagues felt about their work with the museum at a specific point in time. One could argue the lowest point in time. In the wake of our longest shutdown, in the midst of a politically charged climate, with a brand new director entering on the heels of slashed budgets and priorities. If it sounds awful, I can attest to that being true for some, which is already too many. …

I’m back to work now. And very happy about that. There’s renewed sense of vitality and vigor, in part due to a soon to start new director, end of the year R&R, new year jitters, and the record-setting furlough for federal workers. Don’t get me wrong, there is despair, low morale and fatigue as well, thanks to the shutdown. But the focus of this essay is on what I learned through this put-upon, forced meditation on the benefits of a structured life. I wasn’t the only one who was furloughed, my almost 3-year old daughter was as well. (She attends a Smithsonian preschool program.) So I had the added benefit/opportunity/punishment of experiencing weeks of the life I did not choose- I was a stay at home mom. The hardest part was trying to keep her on a schedule which had never been reset after the sugar-filled bacchanal that is Christmas and visiting grandparents. We went to the same museum 3–4 times (it was the only age appropriate one open) and we danced around the house a lot. I enforced “quiet time” which was a “nap-time-lite” offering the sweet, sweet possibility of 2–3 hours of stillness and calm. It didn’t always work out…. but realization came on quick that without some willpower, that priceless time would be a B-list Black Mirror episode, a lonely housewife trapped in an endless loop of twitter, Facebook, news, instagram and listening through child’s door. I decided that I could at least use this time to catch up on reading that I needed and wanted to do. …

Isabella Bruno

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