I was recently involved with a strategic planning session for a non-arts group where staff and representatives of community constituencies were intermingled at different tables.
When we were asked to brain storm solutions to serve a greater segment of the community, I mentioned the need to go out and learn about the unfulfilled needs of the community rather than focusing on the quality and range of services the organization wanted to offer. I suggested possibly conducting community listening sessions.
People at the table thought it was a great idea and wrote it down on the paper on the easel. When it came time to report out, that idea wasn’t mentioned but we only had a couple minutes so it was no big deal.
But as the other tables repeatedly mentioned going out to new areas to talk about all the great programs the organization had to offer without ever mentioning making an effort to learn if any of the programs were relevant to community needs, something inside me started to rebel and protest.
That is when I realized I had really started to internalize the ideas that research, different advocacy and policy groups, and individuals like Trevor O’Donnell have been communicating for awhile now. I have mentioned this before – The focus can’t entirely be on your organization and how great you and the stuff you do are. It has to be about how what you do fulfills expectations your potential patron/participants have about a product or experience.
In the case of this blog’s readers, that experience is related to arts and culture.
While I have written about this idea a fair number of times now, I will freely admit my practice in implementing this concept is far from ideal. Still, I see the fact that I bridled internally upon hearing proposals that ran counter to this concept as a positive step.
The experience has also reinforced for me that making progress is probably going to be a long term process of repetition –both to myself and aloud to others as I had in the strategic planning meeting.
Intellectually, we know repetition helps to establish good habits, but it is easy to forget this when faced with tepid progress. Lack of immediate investment by others isn’t necessarily an indication that the idea isn’t good. Merely that the presentation wasn’t effective and needs to be refined or that the people listening haven’t heard or considered the idea enough times for it to make sense as a valuable course of action.
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