Mission-Transformational rather than Transactional

We learned in our discussion last week that a museum’s mission captures its quintessential function. Emanating from the mission we also have values and vision. Overall we came to a consensus that the mission needs constant updating in our ever-changing society. It is supposedly designed to sustain a museum institution through the hardest of times. Therefore hypothetically what happens when a large community museum experiences a chronic financial setback? It now cannot provide the great degree of services to continue its institutional progress that it had been achieving for years. Of course its interested stakeholders will revert to the mission to confront such a huge hurdle, but how useful is it now with diminished resources? The administration seems forced now to cut vital programs and staff that serve the museum’s far-reaching mission, values, and vision. They will make serious reassessments with these new limitations, but are they obligated to downsize the expansive ambitions inherent in the mission? What has to be sacrificed? First, I believe the solution would be a strategic plan formed by the stakeholders and staff that determines a course of action to restore the museum to its former capacity in an arranged period of time. Though the mission should not remain the same because the museum has lost its agency to operate on its former level. The mission should be proactively modified to regain what the institution lost, it should have new substance added to it that inspires more funding and grants, and how these allocations will be put to proper use in renewing the museum’s capabilities. How would you suggest handling and resolving this situation?

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Sources: The Importance of Mission in Guiding Museum Practice, Edited by Joan H. Baldwin and Anne W. Ackerson, (Troy, New York: Museum Association of New York, 2003)

American Association of Museums, National Standards & Best Practices for U.S. Museums, (Washington, D.C.:American Association of Museums, 2008)

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5 Responses to Mission-Transformational rather than Transactional

  1. mbalexander says:

    I see any mission as fluid and open to interpretation. If a financial situation arises that limits the means of a museum to live up to its “full potential,” as stated by its mission principles, modification of the mission might not be necessary. I think the institution should still strive for the founding principles of its mission it just might have to scale back what it means of have achieved its goal. For example if a goal of the mission is to “serve the community” it can still do that but on a smaller scale. Would that mean amending the mission? Not necessarily.

    Also, if such a catastrophic event has occurred then it might be pertinent to see if it was a mission that played a part in this ruin. If the mission was not clearly expressing the needs of the museum and community, and that contributed to the financial failings of the institution, then the mission needs to be updated and amended.

    • What happens if the “founding principles” are not longer relevant to the museum’s stakeholders? Over time and based on a carefully constructed strategic planning the Strong Museum in Rochester transformed itself from a major history museum to a children’s museum. The change in mission was based on the community’s expressed needs. Did they do the right thing?

  2. bschline says:

    I think Mary has the right idea. I don’t think a museum should necessarily throw out its entire mission when financial trouble arises. After all, isn’t the mission a museum’s statement of its reason for existing in the first place? The museum should attempt creative solutions that still allow it to carry out its mission, even if it is on a smaller scale. For instance, a small museum that’s mission is focusing on serving the community might not be able to do extensive outreach programming, but it could provide a safe space for community children to come do homework after school.

    And museums should look to their missions as a potential cause of financial problems. Again, the mission states its reason for existing. Therefore, if its community does not think that is reason for it to to be there, then perhaps it should man up and change its mission to meet the needs of its community, or cease to exist.

  3. drewu says:

    You both raise excellent points in terms of a museum having to scale back in light of such a crisis, but still remain driven to serve its community. The museum’s management should not despair too much over their misfortune, but make the necessary cuts in order to sustain themselves and remain relevant and involved in the community. However, how could they initiate a full recovery over a long-term period to reach their former level? They want to hire back those they had to lay off and resurrect the range of programs they once operated. This undertaking would take some serious revamping and reconsideration of the mission and its implementation for holistic, effective rehabilitation. Certainly as you folks astutely posited the mission should be reexamined as a potential contributor to the financial turmoil. The board and administrators should also determine shrewd management of the reduced finances. Nevertheless museums are usually precarious depending upon the economic conditions of the community, region, and nation they belong. Such circumstances are beyond their control for the most part. In other words the challenge is how do they as an institution serving the public good restructure their mission that aligns with a multi-pronged economic revitalization plan (if there is one and if not propose or participate in the formulation of one) of their community, region, or nation is the question? If they are not located in a place that is experiencing such hardship they should take intensive measure to solicit to new means and individuals for support that will afford them the resources to regain what they lost and invigorate continuous growth. Would you agree?

    • I think you are correct. The museum must determine the cause of its financial troubles. Not all financial troubles are the result of a failure to serve the community or a faulty mission. Thoughtful strategic planning, community assessment, and an understanding of community needs are among the keys to success and may also be among the reasons for failure.

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