AMS Planning & Research Corp.
Number 9

Nine Essential Innovations

In previous posts on “Rethinking Success,” we have described a broad framework for re-considering the value, support, and capacity that make vital arts organizations and initiatives successful. We’ve suggested that excellence and efficiency are still part of the equation but no longer sufficient in a world that demands effectiveness and entanglement. And we’ve proposed that arts organizations will succeed not just by incremental improvement toward a previous concept of success, but by redefining what success means, and forging paths toward that new definition.

Number 9

photo: Leo Reynolds (flickr)

But our experience, research, and insight across hundreds of clients teach us that broad frameworks don’t make real change. They offer a map and sometimes a direction, but not a path. At the center of discussion is really fundamental change in the way our organizations are organized and how they do business. To help draw that path in sharper detail, we have identified nine ‘essential innovations’ or different ways to think about and become more effective and engaged arts and cultural institutions. This post will introduce those innovations. Future posts will explore each one in more depth and provide exemplars and insights from leaders who have successfully implemented them.

Drawing upon the three elements of Moore and Leonard’s strategic triangle of value, support, and capacity, we have defined three essential innovations in each element that can be combined and connected to yield powerful results.

Strategic Triangle, Revisited

The Strategic Triangle, Revisited

Rethinking Value
We start with innovations around what we consider most important – the outcomes that contribute positive impacts to our communities. Much has been written about, and much is being invested in, the benefits of arts and cultural activity well beyond the traditional performance or exhibition. Impacts from placemaking to wellness, social justice to civic engagement, are just a few of the powerful benefits our sector creates and has started to document and demonstrate. In Rethinking Success, the three essential innovations we propose in this category are:

  • Public Value
    Moving our focus from internal measures of output and efficiency toward external concepts of effectiveness and entanglement, in service of building public value.
  • Shifting Expectations
    Listening to and learning from our changing communities and constituencies to know where we connect and how we enhance their lives.
  • Broader Impacts
    Exploring, defining, and describing the wide and various impacts ignited by our work, but also those experienced beyond our events or programs.

Rethinking Support
There is no question that the institutionalized, “not-for-profit” arts and culture sector has been a locus of creative energy for the last half-century. But the beginning of the 21st century has shown those traditional structures to be less relevant and less ready for the world around them. Needing to be resourced, nimble and ready for change suggests three essential innovations relating to how we govern our organizations, how we consider their contributed income, and how we define our financial relationships.

  • Outcome-Based Investment
    Contributed income is traditionally considered as a “gap filler,” or the money that fills the difference between what we spend on the art and what we can’t earn back from the audience through the generosity of “patrons.” Increasingly, supporters and funders are thinking as investors and organizations are thinking of all forms of revenue as “the capital” they need to operate effectively rather than distinct revenue streams.
  • Governance as Leadership
    Rethinking success will also require us to shift our expectations of lay leadership – the “trustees” who represent the public owners of our organizations. Informed by the work of Richard P. Chait and others, we need to update our expectations of our boards; move them beyond “oversight” to more generative roles and multi-dimensional engagement.
  • New Math
    We must re-align the thinking that encourages us to consider earned and contributed revenue as “above the line” and “below the line.” A shift from expense-driven budgeting to revenue-based planning would redirect the conversation from “deficits” and “subsidy” to the realities of delivering high-standard content and experiences.

Rethinking Capacity
Perhaps the easiest sector to rethink is our own capacity to deliver our work and the concepts, skills and structures we deploy to operate with both efficiency and effectiveness. Three essential innovations in this category are:

  • Capitalization
    It is time to rethink how we use our capital resources to enable internal returns. And it is time to invest more thoughtfully in the allocations of capital that move us forward. Vital organizations must build their own capacity by focusing on net revenue and creating other internal capital returns, and by re-investing that revenue in their growing success. We need to encourage funding partners to understand the challenge in the same way.
  • Shifting Focus
    Much of that capital in the arts is represented by cultural facilities. It is also time to move beyond the notion of a facility as a signal of permanence and respect toward an alternate definition of “the quality of being easily performed.”
  • Matrix Operations
    Much of the business world has come to recognize that entities organized around lines of business rather than traditional functional criteria are more effective, more nimble and more productive. There is an opportunity to coordinate effort around the ways communities connect to our work — content, experience, learning, resources, and so on — rather than around established silos of programming, marketing, development, and operations.

In future posts, we will explore each of these innovations in greater detail, and offer examples and insights from cultural professionals who have applied them. We are not so bold to suggest that these nine are the only innovations that can or should be considered or that they automatically advance an organization on their path to success. But our experience suggests they offer a good place to start the conversation.

Join the discussion; let us know what you think by posting a comment.

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