Repetition & Establishing Good Habits

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.

Probably The Only Time Comic Sans Is Appropriate In A Planning Document

Back in February CityLab covered an effort by residents of the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, MN to get people invested in contributing to the Small Area Plan for their neighborhood.  This was in part driven by the experience the Frogtown Neighborhood Association voted to refurbish an historic theater in town but the mayor choose to direct the money to a police shooting range because the theater wasn’t in the neighborhood’s small area plan.

Because Small Area Plans, like strategic plans tend to be dry documents that get put on a shelf never to be consulted, the Frogtown Neighborhood Association were determined to make their plan a living document with which people interacted. They did this by placing the plan and the feedback they received from hundreds of residents into the framework of a comic book.

What I admire about the document is that they create 8 characters who are experts on major areas of concern like land use, housing, transportation, education, arts, health and wellness, economic vitality and resource allocation.  They make each of these people representative of different demographic segments like long time residents, house owners, apartment renters, kids, married couples, single college grads, etc.

By doing so they put a face and connect expertise to different people in the neighborhood so it is more difficult to dismiss people as gentrifiers or cranky malcontents standing in the way of progress.

They reiterate their goal quite a few times across the book to employ design thinking to “Sculpt our community into a mixed income, arts, entrepreneurship and education centered urban village.”

Because it is a planning document it is still pretty text heavy, but this is an example of what is contained within the book.  As I sort of implied before, you could probably do worse than applying this approach to your strategic plan.


Kickin’–Erm, Springboarding Infographics Up A Notch

Hat tip to Andrew Taylor for calling attention to ever awesome Springboard for the Arts’ “Year In Review” report which consists of a short letter from Executive Director Laura Zabel but more prominently features the following infographic which you can print and color.

I feel like this is a great example of the underlying message and goal of the Creating Connection I keep advocating for.

It basically tells people, “Springboard for the Arts is an organization that promotes arts, culture and creative expression, all things in which you can participate…so pick up crayons, markers or colored pencils and get started.”

If you are like me and are inspired by this sort of thing, share it! (Or maybe color it first and then share it)


Oh The Places You’ll See When You Can Ride The Rail For Free

Last week CityLab wrote about the European Union’s plan to offer 18 year old residents a free 30 day Interrail pass this summer.  What this means is that potentially 20,000-30,000 teenagers will have the opportunity to travel across 30 countries this summer.

Why fund a bunch of free trips? The intent is to broaden young participants’ horizons and hopefully instill some sense of Europe’s connections. “Education is not only about what we learn in the classroom, but what we discover about the cultures and traditions of our fellow Europeans,” Tibor Navracsics, E.U. Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, said in a press release.

This reminded me of a program I wrote about a couple years back where the Italian government provided a culture voucher worth €500 to 18 year olds.

As I quoted from an article on The Stage (UK):

It can be used to buy books, pay for entry fees to parks, museums and archaeological sites, and instead of cash for theatre, cinema and concert tickets. The euros in the app are spent by the young people and the arts organisations then reclaim this money off the state.

I will have to see if I can find an article about how well Italy felt the program went. It bears reading The Stage article because it explores the idea of funding culture on the demand side versus the supply side.