Passion, dreams and openness as the road to a bolder culture

by Jacob Thorek, Curator, Danish Museum of Science & Technology

As part of the GIFT Action Research, we wanted to test how we could work differently with passion, dreams and openness in our organisation. Even though we were not able to complete the experiment as planned, we found that there are huge potentials in working with shared issues across different departments.

What did you want to find out?

The experiment focused on how we might create a bold and open culture in the museum, including an acknowledgement that failure is a part of innovation. We wanted to explore this because the museum is going through a transformative process of rethinking the museum and its role in society. Part of this process is a relocation of the museum into a new sight in Copenhagen.

What did you do?

We choose three core areas to focus our work on: passion, dreams and openness. We selected different methods for each area. For passion, we invited all employees to share their favourite object with the rest of the organisation. The intention was to break the power structures between the different departments and to acknowledge the knowledge and passion that everyone in the museum possesses. For dreams, we wanted to make a workshop, where everyone in the organisation could share their dreams about the creation of the new museum. For openness, we wanted to work with the structures of our meetings.

Was it successful?

Parts of the experiment were successful, others were not. We had planned to work on this over a period of three months, but at the beginning of the period, the museum was struck by organisational changes, which meant changes on management level and that a key person left the organisation. It became clear that it’s very difficult to challenge the culture in an organisation, when it’s shaken by big changes. Even though the initiatives were structured from a bottom-up approach, it’s impossible to change the culture during such a critical phase.

What did you learn?

Even though we were not able to complete the experiment as planned, we found that there are huge potentials in working with shared issues across different departments. Every single employee has great knowledge about the museum, which can be used to create more nuanced communication between the museum and the users and non-users. Everyone in the organisation is connected to the museum and has dreams and ideas about how to change it to become more inclusive. And to reflect the dynamics of citizens, which we seek to engage in the important topics of technology, innovation and science.

What surprised you?

It’s difficult to work with organisational transformation in a museum. We knew that, and our experiment confirmed it – even if we look beyond the obvious challenges. But organisational transformation is needed if museums want to reflect the society they are part of.