New Value Propositions for De-Institutionalizing Times

Topics: Future of Learning

When presenting as part of a panel on the changing cultural and social landscape at the Center for American Jewish Museums’ (CAJM) annual retreat, I was struck by the extent to which the questions about mission, relevance, and ongoing viability that challenge educational institutions in this rapidly de-institutionalizing world also pertain to museums.

Like educational institutions, museums and other cultural organizations face exciting opportunities to enrich learning and support young people as we have more and more tools at our disposal and increasingly realize the need to enable many right approaches to learning. At the same time, institutions in both sectors can feel challenged to transition their historic missions and delivery systems to a world in which institutions matter much less than they used to and matter differently to different audiences.

As community-based learning providers play an increasingly prominent role in the expanding learning ecosystem, not just by offering programs through and with schools but also by offering them directly to more learners, there will be many right answers to the question of how historic institutions refresh and reinvent their offerings. Each learning provider, whether it considers the provision of learning experiences to be all or just part of its mission, is going to have identify and express clearly exactly what it’s offering learners. Any given organization could offer multiple value propositions spanning a range of learner profiles. Some value propositions might span traditional boundaries or engage audiences in co-creating experiences and value in ways that feel inconceivable or uncomfortable today.

On the CAJM panel, Peter Linett of Slover Linett Audience Research emphasized that we’re facing these kinds of questions and opportunities not just because any given sector is changing but because we inhabit a cultural boundary moment that calls for fundamentally different training, values, assumptions, and revenue models than our current institutions have grown up with. As KnowledgeWorks’ Forecast 3.0 highlights, this is a time of disruptive change. Existing institutions have to stop tweaking and start transforming, or they risk becoming obsolete amid the rise of social production and the proliferation of new platforms for exchanging and creating value.

Richard Evans of EmcArts, also on the panel, offered a way for institutions to rise to this massive challenge: engage in adaptive leadership that relies upon cross-functional teamwork, enables flexible and collaborative cultures, continuously incubates innovations, and keeps some organizational capital liquid enough to support change. As he put it, we need to shift our underlying organizational assumptions in order to identify viable strategies and “next practices.”

In this time of fundamental transition, organizations need to develop capacities for change more than they need to develop any particular solution. We’ll identify new value propositions. And then we’ll keep refining and evolving them as the impacts of this cultural shift continue to unfold.

For more on how museums might contribute to and create the future of education, see Elizabeth Merritt and Scott Kratz’s paper, “Museums and the Future of Education.”