Future DiscoverySmithsonian Commons
A dynamic strategic planning exercise rooted in the belief that web and new media technologies are crucial for the Smithsonian to remain true to its founding mission and to secure its future growth and relevance to a rapidly changing world.
As the world’s largest museum and research complex, the Smithsonian Institution faces both the opportunity and the responsibility to re-synchronize itself with the volumetric growth of the world’s knowledge and with the tools and technologies for sharing it efficiently and effectively.
The Smithsonian online experience should be a means of extending a visit beyond the in-person experience, as well as of reaching and engaging more deeply with audiences unable to visit. By increasing its emphasis on the diffusion of knowledge through online technologies, the Smithsonian can enable an informed and educated public and continue to fulfill James Smithson’s founding vision. But what is the roadmap for such a transformational effort?
NavigationArts and the Smithsonian embarked on a strategic planning exercise that looked broadly across the pillars of the institution and deeply into its people, artifacts, and processes including the use of digital technologies. These digital technologies are core tools for knowledge creation and for promoting deeper and more sustainable relationships with all audiences, but especially for engaging younger generations and those geographically dispersed.
The solution began by listening. NavigationArts conducted five strategy workshops in the space of two weeks that included more than 294 Smithsonian stakeholders from 55 museums, research centers, and business units. These discussions revealed an astonishing amount of passion for, and commitment to, the Smithsonian and its core mission. The workshops also elicited a torrent of bold ideas, tactical suggestions, and familiar frustrations which were captured in real time on a publicly available wiki.
From a careful synthesis of the stakeholder inputs and research into best practices at comparable organizations, emerged the concept of a Smithsonian without siloes, with content and functionality freely accessible to audiences within and outside the institution. We call this the Smithsonian Commons.
- Brand - Bring cohesion and clarity to the Smithsonian’s vast online offerings
- Audience Erosion - Use social networks and online platforms to increase relevance and extend audience reach
- Silos - Create a voluntary commons built on transparency to break down organizational silos
- Learning - Create a content commons to serve both as a collaborative workspace and a platform for exploration and learning
- Research - Provide private, semi-private and public collaboration platforms for researchers to advance and share their work
- Leadership and Legacy - Champion free and open content and assert the critical role of public institutions in stimulating innovation and knowledge creation
- Speed to Market - Prototype the commons model to test, refine, and bring it to life in a shorter period of time
In practical terms the Smithsonian Commons would start as a small collection of digital assets, contributed voluntarily by the units and combined with best-of-class search and navigation; social tools such as commenting, recommending, tagging, collecting, and sharing; and intellectual-property permissions that clearly give users the right to use, re-use, share, and innovate with content. Reshaping the Smithsonian’s digital identity around the concept of a Smithsonian Commons is a bold first step forward.
Following the approval of this strategy by The Board of Regents, NavigationArts created the initial proof-of-concept prototype for user testing and consensus building with stakeholders and potential donors.
The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum and research complex. Its mission revolves around two key themes; the increase of knowledge through research, and the diffusion of knowledge through exhibits, public programs, and access to collections. For more than 150 years, the Smithsonian Institution has collected, stored and exhibited the most compelling evidence of this nation’s progress through history.