So, where are we with cultivating inclusion in our museums? The quest to bridge theory to practice for moving forward

I realize that this Incluseum blogpost comes at an unprecedented AND uncomfortable moment., The current circumstances with the coronavirus pandemic are particularly challenging for the museum field worldwide. Our museums are ‘paused’ and we find ourselves working from home or temporarily furloughed at best. Or else perhaps, museum leaders have to envision restructuring or, at worst, closing permanently and we are laid off. And of course, we are seeing issues of inequity play out in this unfolding landscape.

We face enormous uncertainties as we consider the future – how exactly will museums operate and what form will this take in the coming months and years? With the emergence of these questions, we should remember the powerful roles that museums can (continue to) play in society and envision how we want to better enact these roles. Moreover, we have an unprecedented opportunity to center the values of inclusion, diversity, and equity in this envisioning process. That is why I would like to encourage The Incluseum readers and friends to both ‘step back’ and ‘step forward’: to reflect first on our practices and experiences up to now; then, to lean into our future ways for cultivating inclusion in our museums. To do so, I invite you to participate in a survey to which I first give you more context.

In 2017, Chris Taylor, former founding Director of Inclusion and Community Engagement at the Minnesota Historical Society and current Chief Inclusion Officer for the State of Minnesota, published a couple pieces focused on organizational change for greater inclusion in museums (see Taylor, 2017; and Taylor and Kegan, 2017 ch.3). In these pieces, he presented a model developed by Kaplan and Donovan (2013) called Four Levels of System Change that he adapts to the museum field. In line with Kaplan and Donovan, Taylor argues that museums should be thought of as dynamic whole systems made of four interacting levels at which strategies for inclusive change should be targeted. These four levels include:

  • Individual: Concerns personal work each staff member is called to make to grow self-awareness and tackle unconscious biases.
  • Group: Concerned with patterns of experience and treatment of various identity groups within an organization..
  • Organizational: Concerned with the identity of the organization, as well as the mission, vision and values; organizational policies, procedures, and practices that either construct barriers to inclusion, or ideally, remove them.
  • Societal: All that is visible to the external constituents; the organization’s sense of being an integral part of its surrounding community.

Importantly, for inclusive change to be sustainable within a museum, strategies for change should be planned and enacted simultaneously at each of the four levels:

Change in one area of the system or one subsystem [i.e., level] is not effective. For large-scale, organizational change to happen, change must occur across the entire system, and it must directly involve the entire organization in the inclusion initiative in some significant way. Involving the entire organization clearly sends the message that inclusion is an expectation of everyone within the museum; it is not the responsibility of one person or one department, but must become part of the formula for how the museum conducts day-to-day business (Taylor and Kegan, 2017, p. 176).

In the context of my dissertation work, I explore how the cultivation of inclusion is experienced and perceived by museum practitioners in the U.S. I have used museum-based literature and records of field-wide dialogues and initiatives (e.g., #MuseumsRespondtoFerguson; #MuseumWorkersSpeak; AAM’s Facing Change Report; the MASS Action Toolkit) to iterate on and enrich the Four Levels of System Change model. The resulting iteration is called Four Interacting Levels of System Change for Cultivating Inclusion, and I argue that it represents the aspired-to state of practice for inclusion in museums (Paquet, forthcoming).

To bridge the model and my research question, I have created a survey that we published a couple weeks ago on The Incluseum. The goal is to better understand how this aspired-to state of practice is perceived and experienced “on the ground.”

All questions in the survey are related to one of the four levels (i.e., individual, group, organization, and societal) and will help give a holistic picture of how the landscape of inclusion in U.S. museums was shaped before covid-19 hit. My hope is that this holistic picture will give us a sense of the areas of strength and weaknesses that those of us in the field will want to pay attention to as we reopen – and rethink – our museums.

I am therefore enlisting your help in this quest! Once again, I would like to invite you to participate in this survey:

https://ischooluw.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_a8yu5o78hktcfGJ

Please feel free to reach out to me personally if you have any thoughts, questions, or concerns (rosepk@uw.edu). Thank you in advance for your participation and thank you to all those of you who have already participated.

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