Bruce W. Dearstyne 2015-04-01 11:07:16
These are exciting times for archival programs. We face both daunting challenges and unprecedented opportunities. The ubiquity of digital information, mobile devices, and social media impact both the nature of archival records and our work as archivists. Dovetailing with the mission and goals of parent institutions and meeting the expectations of users require continual adjustment. Securing recognition and resources calls for constant work. The pattern of volatility, uncertainty, and complexity suggests the need for bold, decisive leadership, trying new things, and taking new directions. In addressing these challenges and leading change, archivists have much in common with colleagues in museums, historical societies, and other history and cultural programs. Dynamic programs use the following strategies. Leaders Challenge the Status Quo The most dynamic program leaders hold onto core purposes and values but tend to be dissatisfied with the status quo. Satisfaction and pride in delivering quality services and programs cannot lapse into complacency. The leaders understand the need to evolve in reaction to, or better yet in anticipation of, changes in stakeholder expectations, information technology shifts, and changing resource levels. They constantly seek new insights, recognize patterns even as they are jelling, and push past ambiguity. They are skilled proponents and architects of organizational learning. These leaders use strategic planning to ask hard questions, rebound resiliently after setbacks, revitalize programs that have been languishing, embrace new communities, and seize opportunities. Engagement Is a Core Strategy Model programs work hard at engaging in multiple ways. They seek out opportunities for creative, strategic partnerships—within their own institutions, with peer programs, and with other institutions. They engage in “design thinking” that includes a constant dialogue with users, including analyzing user data, interviews, focus groups, and observation and analysis of how people are actually finding out about, accessing, and using their holdings. Careful planning and internal discussions identify underserved groups and set priorities and tactics for reaching out to and engaging them. These programs deploy robust initiatives to create “participatory” opportunities where stakeholders, customers, advocates, and others suggest new exhibits, public programs, or modes of service. They are active on social media, using it as part of engagement to build interest and use, elicit ideas, and share information. But here in particular, they set careful priorities and guidelines to ensure that social media are a good investment of always-precious staff time and have a measurable benefit to the program. Creativity and Innovation Are Part of the Culture Program directors create a culture that encourages creativity—new ideas and new ways of doing things. They encourage staff to actively seek new insights from model programs in the field and professional associations, but also allied fields and the nation’s most dynamic companies, such as Apple, Amazon, Google, Starbucks, IDEO, and IBM. As noted earlier, they observe end users and customers and may seek ideas from them and even involve them in the design of new programs or services. The programs have procedures for putting the best creative ideas to work as innovation, including a process for encouraging, discussing, refining, vetting, and identifying the most promising ideas. They sometimes bypass lengthy project planning and instead use the latest iterations of “lean startup” methods that are pragmatic, improvisational, iterative, and fast. They begin by identifying a key problem or opportunity, a promising idea to address it, and a viable model for trying it out on a small or modest scale. Quick rounds of experimentation reveal what works and what does not. The programs quickly adopt (and may scale up) what works, and learn quickly from initiatives that are less than successful. Advocacy Permeates the Work Dynamic programs have advocacy in their DNA. It is part of everything they do, part of everyone’s job. Excellent service is acknowledged as the basis for appealing for support. These programs keep talking about efficient, economical operation and return on investment. They report on impact; not just numbers of users but also user testimonials and examples of the impact of research projects. The director is a constant ambassador for the program. But leaving nothing to chance, these programs enlist a core of elite, capable supporters (including trustees and members of advisory groups) with influence, resources, or both. These individuals understand the program’s deepest values, mission, and potential; have confidence in the program’s leadership; and are motivated in part through recognition for their association with a successful good cause. The programs also cultivate a wider circle of supporters and advocates from among the broad range of people interested in the program through its engagement efforts, who can be counted on to rally for the program when needed.
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