If today's title sounds vaguely familiar, you might be a fan of Star Trek: Generations. "Resistance is futile" was the trademark statement of the Borg, an amalgamated race of biomechanical beings determined to assimilate every group of humans it encountered. If the targeted population refused to be assimilated, they were simply destroyed and the Borg moved on to its next target. In many respects, this scenario is not very different from the situation facing our small museums today.
Please, hear me out.
I had lunch with a colleague this afternoon to discuss her plans to overhaul the decades-old exhibits in the small museum where she is director. She's been there several years now and has better understanding of her community as well as her organization. As with most progressive thinkers in this business, she knows they need to create new, engaging exhibits and change them on regular basis to encourage repeat as well as new visitors. She also knows the challenges she'll face when she begins to implement change -- not with the design for the exhibits, but with the board of her organization and some of her volunteers.
Change is scary.
It's human nature to be apprehensive about or even afraid of the unknown. It's especially difficult when it involves a situation where an individual has made an emotional and personal investment, where any suggestion that change is needed might be perceived as a reflection on the ability of the individual (i.e. if you want to change something I've done, then you must think I didn't do a good job, did something wrong, etc.). Yet change must take place if our organizations are to survive. So how do we do that without traumatizing our board, staff, and volunteers?
Think BIG, but start SMALL
Even if you're a staff of one, you still need to have plans -- long-term, mid-range, and immediate. Assemble your information, determine your priorities, and decide a plan of attack. Tackle the small things first -- you know what I mean, those items that you can change without causing panic in the ranks or on your board like upgrading your website or rearranging displays. They don't have to be costly changes; in fact, many can be made with little or no expense. Wait a while so you can gauge reactions (visitors, volunteers, etc), then take another small step. If everything is working well, then take a bit larger step next time. When possible, enlist volunteers to help take those next steps so they can see for themselves that while change can be scary, it can also be an exciting, positive experience.
Bringing a small museum into the 21st Century can feel like an impossible task, but it can be done with a strong leader, committed volunteers, and supportive board members. Are you ready to get started? Historical Perspectives is here to help!