Your strengths are the unique elements of your work that draw your audiences and keep them curious and paying attention over time. Strengths can be tangible or intangible assets, and can range from object-based collections to collaborator personalities, specialist skills, creative processes, and the ways you plan and develop projects. Simply observing the people, things, space, and happenings connected to your work can give you a wealth of strengths to share.
Identifying strengths helps you expand your pool of sharable content and makes what you share more varied and easier to generate. You can also avoid burnout by recognizing the elements of your work that serve you inwardly as well as those that serve your audiences outwardly.
|15 minutes to skim
3 hour exercise (min)
1 hour reflection
30 minutes to explore links
15 minutes to read again
5 hours minimum, across several days
A Programmer on Remixing Interview
Making your collection accessible online does not diminish it—it enhances its position.
We asked John Emerson, whose Twitter bots are based on museum collections, to share his insights into how organizations can invite audiences to be creative with their assets.
Make a Wonderbook Exercise
For one day, week, month, or for an ongoing period of time, keep a literal or digital notebook—we’ll call it a “Wonderbook”—to record observations or field notes of what you might share online. Pay attention to your community members, collections, opinions, knowledge, processes, experiences, staff, stories, products, data, events, and anything else that pops up. There’s no need to censor. Approach the exercise knowing that you might only post 10-20% of the ideas you record.
Step 1: Carry your Wonderbook with your everywhere
Whatever form your Wonderbook takes, make sure it is portable, take it with you everywhere, and stay in observation mode.
Step 2: Fill it
Record ideas that emerge in real time or as you’re recalling the events of the day or imagining what the next day or week might hold. Your field notes could include sketches, diagrams, quotes, bullets, timestamps, or other ideas.
Step 3: Review
Pick a time to go through your notes daily (or each week, if you’ve committed to a longer trial). Circle the things that seem most interesting. On a new page, synthesize what you’ve observed and note who you might follow up with (a fan or follower, a co-worker, etc.) to further vet or develop the idea or to gather materials such as related photos.
Anytime you feel stuck, you can create a Wonderbook. Push yourself to draw your surroundings or an object that catches your attention. Even if you feel that you can’t draw well, the act of pen to paper will help you with observation and recollection.
Mind Mapping Assets Reflection
Reflect on ways your community might remix the assets you already have by creating a mind map.
Step 1: Read about mind mapping
Start by reading this very brief overview of mind mapping created by the University of Florida.
Step 2: Create a mind map
As in the illustration above, using bars as spokes, spend five minutes building a mind map for one of the following two prompts:
- Identify an asset. This could be anything from something you’re well known for to something no one knows about. Think about who, how, and why someone might want to share this asset.
- Identify a team, department, or staff member. What assets might this team, department, or staff person have to share?
During this step, think of your audiences and consider how they could be potential creators and users. Be open to ideas, objects, people, knowledge, data, etc., and feel free to incorporate color or drawings to enhance your mind map.
Step 3: File away and re-draw
Tuck your map away in a digital or actual folder and schedule a time to redraw it from memory two days from now. See what you remember and what new things you imagine.
Seb Chan on Strengths Go Further
As Chief Experience Officer at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne, Seb Chan provided the following links. He previously led the digital transformation of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York and drove the pioneering work in open access, mass collaboration, and digital experience at the Powerhouse Museum during the 2000s.
Tim Sherratt has been developing online resources related to libraries, archives, museums, and history since 1993. His research is focused on the possibilities and politics of digital cultural collections and his work is prolific. (Follow him on Twitter @wragge).
Wonderful long read on how the design of interfaces impacts use. Don’t be afraid of the technical nuance; think about how the tools and services you use every day might have lessons for how your own assets can be used.
# 3 — Circus Oz Living Archive
The Circus Oz Living Archive has lessons for people in both the heritage/museum and the performing arts sectors. The archive has two roles: an externally-focused browsable archive of performances and an internally facing training tool. Consider how your assets might be able to create value both externally and internally.
# 4 — What’s on the menu?
By taking an unexpectedly rich archive of menus from New York restaurants and digitizing them, the NYPL has unlocked interest in how menus have changed through time as well as what they tell us about food culture, the cost of produce, food fads, and graphic design.
Digital humanities scholar Florian Kraeutli wrote a very accessible but detailed PhD thesis on the ways in which metadata from cultural institutions can be used, combined, remixed, and explored—and the limits to this. His entire PhD, richly illustrated with examples using museum data from around the world, is available freely online and is a great resource for those starting out, or trying to convince their institutions that new discoveries are there to be made.
Strengths and Community Think Deeper
How can your strengths be resources for your audiences?
Strengths come in many forms, from objects to histories, processes, staff, or ideas. Beyond showing these strengths, how might you share them in a way that fosters creativity? How could projects, insights, or questions from your audience help you to expand your network or see your strengths in a new light?
Seeing the strengths in your staff
Other sections of this course focus on self-care, however, it is important for managers and directors overseeing expansions of digital engagement to consider staff as one of their organization’s greatest strengths. In this vein, it is crucial to ensure that the workload of digital engagement is sustainable and respects the privacy and personal time of staff. What planning conversations and ongoing lines of communication are needed to make sure that staff are not overloaded? As new projects arise, what else might you need to de-prioritize?