Uniting State and National Associations around a Common Purpose
The museum field, consisting of over 18,000 museums across the United States, plays important cultural, educational, social and economic roles in cities and communities across the country. Individual museums are supported by an array of national, regional, and state organizations, all interested in ensuring that museums have the capacity to fulfill their mission. While national and regional organizations have become more closely aligned in recent years, there has continued to be great variation in the work and capacity of the state museum associations.
Working with the national association of museums and the federal agency that supports museum services, we designed a process to bring together representatives of all existing state museum associations in a dialogue with these two national organizations.
The purpose of the facilitated meeting was to allow the national organizations to better understand the current work and priority needs of the state associations, while allowing the state associations to meet and share experiences and lessons with their peers.
We worked over a number of months with a small planning group, representatives from the state associations, to better understand the context and needs of the field. Interactions with this group helped develop the agenda for the meeting, inform the collection of background data, and ensure that all the participants were appropriately prepared for the start of the meeting.
Meeting in a museum setting in Arkansas over three days, we helped 100 participants develop an appreciation of the rich diversity of approach, capacity and experience that makes up the world of the state museum associations. Using the pioneering Powernoodle meeting technology, participants engaged in dialogue to generate and agree on the characteristics of successful state museum associations. They also identified barriers and challenges they were facing, and shared the tactics that were helping them successfully navigate through these. Participants were able to identify common issues of concern and set priorities for how they could help themselves and for the support they sought from the national organizations.
By the end of the meeting, participants were able to identify practical steps they were planning to take to strengthen the effectiveness of their own state museum associations, and had partnered with another state to support them and hold them accountable for these commitments.
The meeting was instrumental in bringing together all the existing state museum associations, a gathering which had not taken place in almost 20 years. New relationships developed, and there was increased understanding and appreciation of the distinctive roles of the national and state associations.
The state associations had renewed energy around the priorities of their field. Many of them communicated to their member Museums throughout and after the meeting about the new discoveries that were taking place.
The national association and the federal agency both felt that they had a deeper understanding of the work and needs of the state associations. They were able to use these insights to develop more appropriate programs, services and budgets to better support the important work being done by the state associations to support the 18,000 museums across the United States.
A copy of the final report from the convening is available to be downloaded AAM (2014) Museums United_final report