Monday, 21 December 2020

Addressing Large-Scale Challenges: Part 1

Defining a Path Forward: Narrowing Down a Complex Problem

The world we live and work in is rapidly changing, and while this is nothing new, the current crisis highlights the need for cultural institutions to be flexible, resilient, and creative in our approaches to these changes. But what happens when the changes are coming at us so quickly and the scope of them seems so overwhelming that they become paralyzing? How can we take the first step towards problem solving, sustainability, and continued relevance?

Before we dive in, we should mention that the way we'll explore tackling a problem is informed by the Design Thinking process (also known as human-centered design). We had the opportunity to put this process into practice many times while working in the education department at TELUS Spark, Calgary’s Science Centre. The Define stage (defining the problem) is often seen as the second step in the Design Thinking cycle, even though the cycle isn’t necessarily meant to be completed ‘step by step’ or ‘in order’. For more information on Design Thinking and the ‘first’ stage, the Empathy stage, please check here and here. The previous stage, the Empathy stage, primarily looks at the problem through the eyes of your users; in the museum world, this means your guests and visitors. Keeping your organization’s mission or vision statement in mind as you work through these big problems is also a good way to ensure that you are keeping your users at the centre of your solutions.

Figure 1.1
Figure 1.2




Now! On to the business at hand. Defining is really just a way of refining our focus.  Overwhelming questions like, “How do our organizations survive the COVID-19 crisis?” are paralyzing. They are too big, too amorphous, and do not give us a clear path forward. Additionally, when we dig a little deeper, we realize that while every organization might have that same challenge, the realities on the ground are very different for each of us.

The first thing we’ll get you to do is to create a list of your institution’s needs. Needs are specific and factual. Rather than needing to survive the COVID-19 crisis, instead:

  • You need to make up your budget shortfall. 
  • You need to reach a certain number of visitors to meet your grant requirements.
  • You need to comply with your local COVID-19 protocols.
  • You need to keep your subject matter experts on staff.

Next, make a list of all of the relevant insights, constraints, and organizational wisdom that you can think of:

  • Your organization must see at least ___% of the visitors you saw last year in order to continue to be economically valuable.
  • Your exhibits are hands-on, and cleaning them regularly is difficult and time consuming.
  • Your budget for staff is $______.
  • The community uses your festival as an important touchpoint.
  • Your school programs make up a significant portion of your overall revenue.

Next, you will create ‘How might we’ statements that will allow you to start the creative problem-solving process. The ‘How Might We’ statement is a guiding question that you will use throughout the next steps of the process. This statement will take into account one or more of your organization’s needs while addressing your insights. Crafting this type of statement using the criteria below will give us a more manageable starting point with which to explore our options.

Why ‘How Might We’? The wording allows us to imagine the possibilities by not being constrained by them. It also implies that everyone in our organization is in this together, which helps to engage staff and encourages them to participate as relevant contributors to the process. The more minds we have engaged with a problem, the more creative our solutions will be!


Figure 1.3

Keeping these criteria in mind, it’s now time for us to start crafting our own ‘How Might We’ statements. We like the ‘Goldilocks’ approach for this step. Firstly, write out that initial big, amorphous, statement that is way too broad. Now, write a few statements that are too specific, ones that maybe even have the solution or course of action you’re thinking of taking baked right in.


Figure 1.4

Finally, we use the ‘too broad’ and ‘too specific’ statements to craft a statement that is just right! A good rule of thumb is, if your ‘How Might We’ statement can be addressed by all of your ‘too specific’ statements, then you are on the right track! This may take a bit of practice; the best thing is to remember the ‘How Might We’ statement criteria. Once you have a draft, have a colleague look it over – another set of eyes is always helpful.

So now you’ve defined the problem! Congratulations! However, this doesn't mean you're done. In fact, now is that time when you get to start the process of finding innovative, creative solutions!

Take a look at Part 2 to get started on the next step, ideation!

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