What were your takeaways from MCN2012?

My brain is full. The last week has been crazy, between MCN2012, a flying visit to NYC to catch up with Seb Chan and see Sleep No More, and my first day as a museumgeek-in-reSIdence with the lovely Sarah Banks and a whole swathe of interesting people and projects at the National Museum of Natural History. Combine this all with jetlag, and the experience has been intense and strangely immersive. I keep hoping that I will have a moment to pause and reflect, but instead find myself sucked into the next activity having barely failed to process the previous one.

But since so many of these opportunities have opened up because of this blog, I also feel strange about any possibility about neglecting it whilst I am in the midst of these travels. So this is a post to kick off the discussion, and to try to reflect on the first of these connected adventures, which was MCN2012.

This felt like a very different MCN for me this year, in large part due to my level of involvement with the program. Between giving an Ignite talk, speaking on one panel and chairing two others, I very much felt like I was constantly on the run to somewhere. This was great in a lot of ways, and led to lots of interesting conversations with people I’d never met (including a number of museumgeek readers!). But the disadvantage is that I’m sure there was a lot going on at the conference that I simply didn’t get to be a part of, because my mind was elsewhere. I know I missed some great sessions and conversations, and that there were themes that surfaced for others at the conference that were different to those I picked up on.

So I want to know what you got out of it, if you attended. What were your conference highlights? Which sessions should I look up first when the videos from the event go live? What themes did you notice, which really resonated with your work or conference? What are the issues that you’d like to see discussed more often, or the discussions that you’d like to continue to have into the future?

You can play along if you were stuck in the office, or following along from home too. Did you see any strange Tweets that you’d love to know more about, or hear any ideas that you’d want expanded upon?

My hope is that by tapping into the great brain’s trust of people who were either at the conference, or watching from afar, I can find out what I missed, but also that we can start to connect some of the ideas that were surfacing in parallel sessions or discussions elsewhere. In the meantime, I’ll try to find some time and headspace to start making sense of my own impressions this week (and potentially to mash them up with what I’ve been thinking about in the days since).

But until that time, I’d really love to know what stuck with you at MCN2012.

6 thoughts on “What were your takeaways from MCN2012?

  1. It seems like the focus was less on convincing our institutions what to do and figuring out how best to actually do it. People weren’t trying to convince me that my institution should crowd-source. They were trying to teach me how best to manage a crowd-sourced initiative. They weren’t trying to convince me that an open online collections database was a good idea. They were trying to show me how to get one online.

    I think what this encouraged is a deeper analysis of our systems and our culture. People were really focusing on our internal systems and our internal culture more so than on the front-facing services and exhibitions. I think there’s a realization that change starts from within and then becomes visible on the surface after it has taken root in the culture of the institution, and many of the sessions focused on how to make those systemic and cultural transformations happen.

    Or at least, that’s what I saw. I’ll have to wait until the videos are online before I can watch the sessions I wasn’t in and see if that same theme showed up throughout. I’m still processing my session notes too. It was a lot to absorb in one long weekend.

    I think in many ways, though, it all boiled down to a series of comments made by in the Kickstarting Innovation session. At one point, when talking about big initiatives, Tim Svenonius said (and I’m paraphrasing here, so watch the video yourself when it’s up) that “heroism” can be a dangerous thing because we can become too dependent on a project’s major advocate or primary workhorse. When that project champion is no longer on that project or no longer with the institution (or just burned out by the sheer effort), those big initiatives can stall for lack of the momentum that person provided.

    At a later point in the same discussion Don Undeen quipped (again, I’m paraphrasing) that by “heroism” we should strive less for Superman and more for the A-Team, implying that we still need to have those project heroes, we still need that advocacy and effort to make big things happen. But instead of relying on one person to really champion our efforts we should strive to get a core team of advocates who can push the project forward and support each other.

    I can see us achieving that by changing the culture of our institutions to encourage people to congregate across departments in affinity groups that could form around the major projects or big ideas that can move our institutions forward. Let our champions find each other and find the big ideas that will motivate them to work towards our museums’ futures. I think in many ways, that what’s conferences like MCN do. They let us congregate in those affinity groups with people from other museums. Now we just have to figure out how to bring that part of the conference home so we can do the same thing on a local scale within our institutions.

  2. Hi, Suse, since I wasn’t there, I especially enjoyed the tweets, and also Ed Rodley’s blog about the blogging panel, complete with the Twitter conversation. Sorry we won’t meet up this time in DC. Sounds like you’ve just arrived and I’m leaving town tomorrow. Hope your stay at SI is fruitful.

  3. What a great conference. One of my biggest takeaways is to advocate for and share my thinking. There’s a tacit hierarchy in many spaces I work in (museums and otherwise) that makes me feel like I need to have certain qualifications for my thinking to be considered “good,” or I have to achieve certain accomplishments before my voice has legitimacy. While I think giving myself time to fully formulate my ideas is never a bad thing, I think I often silence myself, or put limitation around what’s possible in my life and in my work when that may not be the conditions of my reality. That gives me lots to think about!

  4. One thing that really struck me this year was a palpable sense of self-awareness in our community. For the first time, we seemed aware of our community not just as a loose aggregation of (very) smart professionals, but rather as a communal agent for change. It just felt that there was a sense of the inevitability of our collective mission that I’ve not seen before. And it was good.

  5. Affinity groups, scenius, the Adjacent Possible, and communal agents for change… the language you are all using here coming out of MCN is fascinating to me. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about when and how groups create a shared vision for the future, and how they then establish a culture around that vision in order to bring it to fruition. So I wonder what it is that has shifted in our community (because I agree that there is a very strong sense of community and its place in this), in order to enable this kind of conversation and palpable sense of possibility? Is it simply timing? Is it a critical mass of people being interested in, and discussing, these issues, including people from outside those earlier existing boundaries? This is something I’d like to delve into further.

    @Nikhil, I love your answer. I have long found perceptions of those kinds of existing preconditions to a situation that sometimes seem to hold people back troubling. It’s interesting to see you finding the limitations in situations that might not absolutely be there. I’d love to know what and how you start to shift those ideas into play in the coming months.

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