October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper: Facilitating Innovation: Opportunity in Times of Change

Brian Dawson, Canada Science and Technology Museum Corporation, Canada



Cultural heritage institutions have been grappling with the accelerating pace of technology-driven changes in society since the 1990s.  These institutions understand well the imperative to adapt and innovate.  But what is innovation? Organizations often have a narrow view of innovation, focusing on new technology or product development.  Innovation touches on most aspects of an organization, including its offerings, audiences, processes, and its platforms and venues.  This paper explores the nature of innovation, reviewing broader business models of the nature of innovation and how organizations innovate, and how these models may be applied to a cultural institution.  The paper also explores concrete examples of fostering innovation within the Canada Science and Technology Museum Corporation, including the role of integrated strategic planning, process improvement, product development, and grass-roots participation.  It also looks at specific mechanisms, such as an “Idea Bank” (in support of idea generation), and the internal use of Web 2.0 technologies such as wikis.

Keywords: innovation, process, strategy, organizational change, technology change, intranets

The Change Imperative

Cultural heritage institutions are operating within an environment of profound and rapid change.  But change is not new; for more than a century, museums have been undergoing a re-invention – a transition in governance, institutional priorities, management strategies and communication style that has made them more inclusive, externally focused, visitor oriented, entrepreneurial, and engaged in open communication with their audiences (Anderson, 2004).

What appears new is the pace of change.  The new opportunities presented by the disruptive innovations of the Web – and now Web 2.0 – have accelerated an ongoing process of change.

Such changes are not unique to cultural heritage institutions, but are in fact a reflection of changes in society as a whole.  Thomas L. Friedman posits that major technological revolutions have historically had profound effects on the world, but there is something “qualitatively different from the great changes of previous eras: the speed and breadth with which [change] is taking hold” (Friedman, 2006).  In a world of rapidly evolving digital technologies, consumer-powered communications, and mass collaboration, companies are grappling with new customer expectations and demands, and face pressure from stakeholders for greater openness and transparency (Tapstott & Ticoll, 2004). 

Faced with such pressures, innovation is viewed by many organizations as critical to their future success, figuring prominently in corporate strategies.  Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a long-time observer and writer on organizational change and innovation, has noted that innovation is “rediscovered as a growth enabler every half-dozen years.”  Back in fashion, “this wave’s central focus is on new products designed to offer users new features and functionality to meet emerging needs.  Customers and consumer markets have returned to center stage.” (Kanter, 2006)

There is a vast body of knowledge on the topics of innovation and organizational change. This paper examines several models that may be of value for cultural heritage institutions.  It also explores practical examples of facilitating change within an organization.  The recent experiences of the Canada Science and Technology Museum Corporation (CSTMC) in undertaking significant organizational change are used as a case study, highlighting challenges and lessons learned along the way.

Framework for Change

“Strong leadership is critical for leading a museum through any degree of institutional change, and visionary leadership is essential for leading a museum through fundamental change.”  Gail Anderson’s (2004) council for museums can equally apply to transformational efforts in any organization.

A popular business framework on leading an organizational transformation is John P. Kotter’s Eight Steps to Transforming Your Organization, published as an article (Kotter, 1995) and expanded in book form (Kotter, 1996).  Kotter suggests that any successful transformation effort will ultimately go through each of eight phases.  These phases may overlap, and the sequence may somewhat vary, but Kotter suggests that each stage is essential, and that any change initiative that skips a step is unlikely to succeed.  Any major change initiative also takes a significant length of time, often years.  Declaring victory too soon can be catastrophic (Kotter, 1995).

Table 1 summarizes Kotter’s eight stages, with examples from the CSTMC.

Transformation Step Activities Involved Case Study: CSTMC
1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency
  • Examining market and competitive realities
  • Identifying and discussing crises, potential crises, or major opportunities
  • Resource and funding pressures
  • Auditor General’s Special Examination: Strategic planning and performance reporting; lack of staff  awareness of strategic direction
  • Imperative to work more extensively with partners and sponsors
  • New approach to strategic planning
2. Forming a Powerful Guiding Coalition
  • Assembling a group with enough power to lead the change effort
  • Encouraging the group to work together as a team
  • Management engaged
  • Strategic process improvement committees
  • “Pillar Champions” – as guiding management coalition
  • Resource Allocation Committee
3. Creating a Vision
  • Creating a vision to help direct the change effort
  • Developing strategies for achieving that vision
  • New vision statement
  • Strategic Framework / six pillars
  • Pillar objectives and strategies
4. Communicating the Vision
  • Using every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies
  • Teaching new behaviors by the example of the guiding coalition
  • Established a strategic communications committee
  • Professional development events
  • Renewed intranet Web site
  • On-going communications initiatives
5. Empowering Others to Act on the Vision
  • Getting rid of obstacles to change
  • Changing systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision
  • Encouraging risk taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions
  • Professional development workshops
  • Broad base of employees involved in key improvement teams
  • Product Development Process – with avenues for participation by all employees
  • Aligned work planning and resource allocation systems with the strategic framework
  • Zero-base budgeting and Resource Allocation Committee – everything up for discussion, collaborative management decisions, transparency in decision making
6. Planning for and Creating Short-Term Wins
  • Planning for visible performance improvements
  • Creating those improvements
  • Recognizing and rewarding employees involved in the improvements
  • Product Development Process – selection of three pilot projects

7. Consolidating Improvements and Producing Still More Change
  • Using increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision
  • Hiring, promoting and developing employees who can implement the vision
  • Reinvigorating the process with new projects, themes and change agents
  • Current CSTMC focus on consolidation of change
8. Institutionalizing New Approaches
  • Articulating the connections between the new behaviours and corporate success
  • Developing the means to ensure leadership development and succession
  • Ongoing

Table 1: Eight Steps to Transforming Your Organization (Kotter 1995), with CSTMC examples

Case Study: Leading Change At The CSTMC

Kotter’s phases of transformation can be illustrated with the experiences of the CSTMC.  In the early 2000s, the urgency for change at the CSTMC was rooted in several serious challenges.  As with many cultural institutions, the organization faced serious financial pressures, with an operating base eroded by the costs of maintaining facilities.  Its flagship museum was approaching its 40th year still in temporary housing (Babaian, 2006).  The organization was also grappling with an increasing level of collaboration with external partners and sponsors, particularly for major new projects. 

The organization also faced significant internal issues.  Management of the Corporation was siloed within its three strategic business units (each a national museum with distinctive markets) and its various supporting functions.  Units focused on branch objectives and responsibilities, with no sense of a common organizational vision.  These issues surfaced in the report of a special examination of the Auditor General of Canada, which found shortcomings in the approach to overall strategic planning, including staff awareness of the overall strategic direction (Office of the Auditor General, 1999).

To address these issues, the CSTMC management revamped its approach to strategic planning. Improvements to strategic planning were made in the early 2000s (Office of the Auditor General, 2004).  But it was the organization’s 2004 strategic planning retreat at which a sense of urgency was established.  Using an external facilitator, the corporation’s management team was challenged to confront the issues facing the organization.  This exercise produced a new, common vision statement for the organization as a whole.  From this vision, a strategic framework was elaborated, consisting of six strategic pillars, each articulating two or three concrete, measurable, multi-year objectives (Figure 1).  These objectives cut across the existing silos, challenging the units to operate with greater cohesion. 

Figure 1
Fig 1: CSTMC Strategic Framework

To guide the change, the management team also identified three strategic change initiatives, prioritized from dozens of candidates: Product Development, Resource Allocation, and Strategic Communication.  Three cross-functional committees were struck, one to advance each initiative.  To further strategic cohesion, several senior managers were assigned organization-wide “champion” responsibilities – in addition to their regular branch or functional responsibilities – to guide efforts in each strategic pillar.

Communication was recognized as a vital activity in effecting change.  The strategic communications committee played a pivotal role in planning and coordinating a wide range of communication efforts, including communiqués, all staff events, professional development days and a re-launch of the Corporate intranet.  Two-way communication was also seen as essential, via consultations, fora, and an anonymous feedback mechanism.   And informal communications were essential to integrate the new strategy into everyday activity.  Strategic communication remains a critical, ongoing activity

Employee empowerment was also multi-faceted.  A wide range of employees were involved in the improvement initiatives, as committee members or part of the broader community of consultation.  Widely used mechanisms such as work plan tools were quickly aligned with the new strategy.   Process improvement initiatives involved small group and town hall consultations to both help shape and share an understanding of the new process.  Improvements to the product development process specifically focused on employee participation, empowerment, and transparency in the process.

Innovation at CSTMC – the Product Development Process

Product development was identified as a primary activity for strategic success.  The process improvement team set out to define and champion a new, overarching product development process.  The main stages of the process are illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2
Fig 2: CSTMC Product Development Process

Investment of resources becomes significantly greater at the later activities in the process; hence, the process has a fundamental connection to resource allocation.  Also of note is the initial stage of idea generation, which is less formal than the other phases.  Both these topics are explored in more detail below. 

Three pilot projects were identified, to help refine the process, and create visible short term wins that could serve as a model for future initiatives.  The CSTMC is currently focused on consolidating improvements.

Innovating for Change

Beyond offerings: the dimensions of innovation

Innovation figures prominently in the strategies of many organizations.  This is true of the CSTMC, as embodied in the “innovative programs” pillar of its strategic framework.

But innovation involves more than the development of new products.  There are many models that describe the myriad ways an organization can innovate.  A particularly useful framework is the Innovation Radar (Figure 3) (Sawhney, Wolcott & Arroniz, 2006).  Anchored in four key dimensions – the offerings a company creates, the customers it serves, the processes it employs, and the points of presence it uses to take its offerings to markets – the radar expands these four axes with eight other related factors.

Figure 3
Fig 3: The Innovation Radar (Sawhney, Wolcott & Arroniz, 2006)

The Apple iPod is frequently heralded as an innovation success story.  Viewed in the innovation radar, it breaks ground in many dimensions:

  • Offering (iPod as a new product)
  • Platform (iTunes)
  • Supply chain (music content owners)
  • Presence (portability of user’s entire music collection)
  • Network (connecting with both Mac and Windows computers)
  • Value Capture (music sales via iTunes)
  • Customer experience (the complete iPod experience)
  • Brand (extending the Apple brand)

The innovation radar can be a strategic brainstorming tool, helping to identify opportunities in consideration of all aspects of the business, and to prioritize areas for focus.  The tool can also help identify potentially dysfunctional approaches to innovation. For example, an organization may be narrowly focusing on only a single dimension (innovation “myopia”), or may lack focus with efforts ineffectively scattered across most or all dimensions.

Table 2 describes the dimensions in more detail, and also gives some examples of innovations or areas for innovation within museums in general and CSTMC specifically.

Dimension Description CSTMC and/or Cultural Heritage Examples
Offerings Develop innovative new products or services.
  • CSTMC: Products with multiple delivery channels / types of offerings
  • Brushstrokes and Wingtips: Interpreting aviation history through art (http://www.aviation.technomuses.ca/ - forthcoming Web offering)
Platform Use common components or building blocks to create derivative offerings.
  • Integrated museum Web site Content Management Systems and Digital Asset Management systems
  • CSTM’s Picturing the Past – modular framework for showcasing and interpreting archival collections (http://www.images.technomuses.ca/)
Solutions Create integrated and customized offerings that solve end-to-end customer problem 
Customers Discover unmet customer needs or identify underserved customer segments.
Customer Experience Redesign customer interactions across all touch points and all moments of contact.
  • Virtuous circle between on-line and physical museum spaces (Barry, 2006).
Value Capture Redefine how company gets paid or create innovative new revenue streams.
  • Licensing of images on-line (value capture from image galleries)
  • Placement of donation option with artifact to save/preserve
  • Strategic placement of e-commerce with related content
  • Folksonomies and capturing collection information from visitors (Chan 2007).
Processes Redesign core operating processes to improve efficiency and effectiveness.         
  • CSTMC product development processes – delivery channels / multiple types of offerings
  • Rapid response / mini-exhibits as experiments & prototypes
  • Blogging and its implications for museum publishing processes (Spadaccini & Chan, 2007)
Organization Change form, function or activity scope of the firm for customer focus.
  • CSTMC new vision and common objectives, priorities, cross-functional roles and teams
  • Innovation teams focused on exploiting new disruptive technologies for emerging markets (Christensen, 1997)
Supply Chain Think differently about sourcing and fulfillment.
  • Changes to exhibit production
  • Bringing in outside ideas
  • CSTMC tri-museum partnership for exhibit production, with the Montréal Science Centre and the Musée de la civilisation, Québec City (producing Odyssey of Light, Autopsy of a Murder, and Beyond the Trees)
Presence Create new distribution channels or innovative points of presence, including the places where offerings can be bought or used by customers.
  • Use of and presence in emerging on-line spaces
  • Museum presence in Flickr (Caruth & Bernstien, 2007)
  • Museum presence in Second Life (Urban, 2007; Rothfarb & Doherty, 2007)
  • Podcasts as new channel for content delivery (Samis & Pau, 2006)
  • Community presence – e.g. hosting / participating in Cafe Scientifique (http://www.cafescientifique.org/)
Networking Create network-centric intelligent and integrated offerings.
  • Engagement with blogosphere and on-line communities (Mosquin 2006)
  • Using Flickr to engage communities (Caruth & Bernstien, 2007)
  • RSS feeds to maintain connections with visitors (podcasts, blogs)
Brand Leverage a brand into new domains.
  • Museum-branded educational offerings for teachers
  • Museum-branded publications, recordings, etc. (e.g. Smithsonian)

Table 2: The 12 Dimensions of Business Innovation, with cultural heritage examples (adapted from Sawhney, Wolcott & Arroniz, 2006)

Innovation And Disruptive Technology

Innovations also vary in their impact on an organization or industry as a whole.  Many innovations are incremental, representing improvements to how value is created for established markets.  For example, electronic panels within museum exhibits represented an incremental innovation, with the potential to offer greater value (more in-depth information, multi-media presentation, multiple languages, etc.) to an established audience, the museum exhibit visitor.  The traditional audio guide may also be seen as an incremental innovation: building on the guided exhibit tour, but better serving an existing market.  Such innovations can be of great significance, and may involve new cutting-edge technology, but they primarily add value to an existing, established market and customer base.

But some innovations have a particularly disruptive potential.  Disruptive technologies, as described by Clayton Christensen (1997), change the value proposition in a given market.  When introduced, they typically under-perform in a traditional market, but have features a few fringe customers value.  But as the disruptive technology matures, it may have great consequences for established organizations.  Christensen’s framework for disruptive innovations offers an excellent framework for analyzing how museums have dealt with these disruptive changes, and how they can manage the disruptive pressures they currently face. 

The Web is an example of a disruptive technology that has impacted museums.  The value proposition presented by the Web was initially very different than that of traditional museum markets (exhibits, publications, educational programs, etc.).  In the early years of Museum Web sites, the number of visitors was small, and access to Web materials was a concern.  Museum Web sites could not hope to recreate the experience of a museum visit.  However, they did offer a new value proposition: access to museum materials for visitors who might otherwise not be able to visit the physical institution, potential access to objects not on the museum floor, and the convenience of a 24 hour museum.

As the technology has matured, the Web now reaches far more people than traditional delivery channels, and offers opportunities for audience engagement beyond what is possible on the museum floor.  The Web has also changed the expectation of both museum audiences and of stakeholders, and now figures prominently in museum strategies for outreach and audience engagement.

The evolution of Web 2.0 and the maturation of mobile technologies and ubiquitous computing each represent further disruptive innovations that present new challenges and opportunities for cultural heritage institutions.  For example, museum PDA (Proctor & Tellis, 2003), cell phone (Proctor, 2007) and podcast (Samis & Pau, 2006) tours may on the one hand be viewed as incremental advances for existing markets, but as cell phones continue to mature as smart phones, converging with PDAs and portable media devices, and as new patterns of use evolve and are better understood, there is clearly great disruptive potential for future exploitation by museums.

Exploiting Innovation

The desire to break ground with new technology must also be balanced with the need to exploit existing opportunities.  Some of the most profound, disruptive innovations have involved exploiting existing technology in new ways, along the range of possible dimensions.

Christian Stadler (2007) has observed that European companies that have had enduring success “consistently chose to pursue exploitation efforts over exploration initiatives.”  This at first seems counter-intuitive.  However, it is important to note that these successful firms did not neglect innovation and exploration; rather, they grew by “efficiently exploiting the fullest potential of existing innovations” (Stadler, 2007).

The exploitation of existing innovation can be consistent with tackling disruptive technologies.  These innovations often rely on existing technology or are otherwise technologically straightforward, and are usually “cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use” (Christensen 2007).  An organization may also exploit innovations developed elsewhere.  Apple’s exploitation of the market for portable digital music players is a case in point – they were not first in the field, but added new value to an existing market with multi-dimensional innovations that were truly disruptive.  And they are now attempting the same with smart phones.

Knowledge is another key resource open for exploitation.  For example, at CSTMC, the proposal template for new product offerings asks proposal teams to outline collection or research support for the proposed product. Do we have an existing base of research on the subject?  By posing such questions in the proposal, the process encourages the exploitation of current strengths and the existing base of museum research. 

Innovation Participation

As previously noted, broad-based employee participation was an important objective of process improvement initiatives at CSTMC.  Providing tools to facilitate collaboration was seen as essential.

Internet-based collaborative platforms have unquestionably had a profound impact on the creation and sharing of knowledge.  These platforms are also making their mark within organizations.  Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams (2006) describe the emerging “wiki workplace,” where “weapons of mass collaboration enable employees to engage and cocreate with more people, in more regions of the world, with a richer, more versatile capability set, and with less hassle and more enjoyment than any earlier generation of workplace technology.”  With capabilities beyond person-to-person channels (such as e-mail, instant messaging) or one-way platforms (such as intranets, corporate Web sites, information portals), these “new technologies are significant because they can potentially knit together an enterprise and facilitate knowledge work in ways that were simply not possible previously” (McAfee, 2006).

Not surprisingly, these technologies are having an impact on the way cultural heritage institutions carry out their mandates.  They are fostering communication and collaboration between museums: for example, MuseumBLOGS.org (http://www.museumblogs.org/) offers several categories of blogs directed at museum professionals (Exhibit Developer, Museum Related, and Professional Development).  These tools are being used within heritage institutions as well.

Collaborative Tools At The CSTMC

Two recent CSTMC initiatives are interesting case studies on the use of collaborative technologies to support product development.  The first is an Idea Bank, a formal mechanism to support the “official” product development process.  The second was an internal Wiki, a grass-roots departmental initiative to facilitate collaboration on and reuse of content for Canada Aviation Museum products.

The Idea Bank

The Idea Bank was established to support the Product Development Process, as a repository to capture ideas during the idea generation phase of the process.  The bank is open to all staff, and presents a way for any employee to participate in the process.  Employees are also encouraged to capture ideas brought from outside the museum, such as external proposals. The bank also allows employees to add comments on each other’s ideas. 

The Idea Bank was set up as a web-enabled Lotus Notes database on the museum’s intranet.  The Lotus Notes platform offered several advantages: it was already familiar to CSTMC staff, it allowed for rapid prototyping with existing in-house expertise, and it was easily integrated into the corporate intranet.  Access is available both via the intranet Web site and directly through the Lotus Notes client.  Figure 4 shows a sample screen from the idea bank.

Figure 4
Fig 4: The Idea Bank

The bank was actively promoted throughout the corporation.  There was great initial response: in the first 6 months, 67 ideas and responses were captured in the idea bank, with an average of more than 11 contributions per month.  However, activity declined in the months that followed.  In the 16 months that have followed, the average contributions have been about two per month.

Users of the bank came from all levels within the organization, and included employees in both museological and non-museological roles.  Sixteen people posted ideas, and 7 people added additional comments to ideas.  Overall, 19 unique people made a contribution to the bank, representing an overall participation rate of about 7.5%.  Several employees have been prolific contributors, with one employee in particular contributing 33 distinct ideas.

The implementation of the idea bank is rigid and structured, compared to open social-computing platforms.  Some employees were more comfortable with a guided, form-based approach for capturing ideas.  But others expressed frustration with a stifling, rigid tool.  From anecdotal observation, these reactions appear to correlate to an employee’s level of familiarity and comfort with Web 2.0 platforms such as wikis.

The Aviation Wiki

In an independent initiative, the Canada Aviation Museum’s Library and Information Resources (LIS) team (managing the aviation Library, Archives, and Web site) set up an internal wiki (Figure 5) for use as a collaborative tool within the Canada Aviation Museum branch.  The wiki was established to be a common place where staff from a range of functions could co-author and edit content for Canada Aviation Museum projects. 

Facilitating participation was a key goal – for example, to get people to contribute to the Web site.  The team hoped to achieve greater reuse of content for multiple purposes (such as adapting newsletter content for the Web site).  The team also wanted to provide an open repository to serve as a catalogue for key documents and product text, and to help their colleagues find this content. 

A default hierarchy was created, mirroring the branch structure.  It was seeded primarily with Web site content from a range of topic areas.

Figure 5
Fig 5: The Aviation Wiki

The Aviation Wiki saw an initial period of significant activity, with 219 edits in the first six month.  However, activity dropped off after several months, with only 15 edits in the 7 months that followed.

The wiki had four main contributors, representing a participation rate of 10% within the Canada Aviation Museum branch.  Of particular note was the level of collaboration between the Information Resources and Communications and Marketing departments, with significant co-authoring of material.

Of the core contributors, most were savvy Web users.  There was one key contributor who did not have such a background; this user expressed a preference to work with traditional authoring tools such as Microsoft Office.

Participation In Perspective

Are both these initiatives a failure?  While neither has achieved the sustained critical mass that was envisioned, there are both successes and lessons in each initiative.

First, it is important to recognize that “most people who use the Internet today aren’t bloggers, wikipedians or taggers.  They don’t help produce the platform – they just use it.” (McAfee 2006).  Jakob Neilsen (2006) has found some level of participation inequality is unavoidable: “in most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.”

While universal participation is an impossible goal, steps can be taken to foster greater levels of participation.  Andrew McAfee has proposed six key components to improve the utility of “Enterprise 2.0” technologies (McAfee 2006).  Dubbed “SLATES”, these include:

  • Search: finding information is essential, with simple keyword searches being particularly important;
  • Links: a vital indicator of relevance on the Web, employees must be able to build links for internal resources to obtain similar benefits within the enterprise;
  • Authoring: recognizing that there are many possible contributions, from basic knowledge to comments, edits, links, etc.  The option to work from existing content can be a particularly important strategy for encouraging participation (Nielsen, 2006);
  • Tags: reflecting “information structures and relationships that people actually use;”
  • Extensions: which can make participation a side effect of use;
  • Signals: such as RSS, to allow users to know when know content of interest appears.

The wiki clearly holds greater potential as an open collaborative platform.  Even then, managers must also be willing to accept the emergent behaviours that evolve with such a tool.  McAfee (2006) suggests that collaborative environments require a receptive culture, a common platform, an informal rollout, and managerial support.  “Leaders have to play a delicate role, and one that changes over time, if they want Enterprise 2.0 technologies to succeed” (McAfee, 2006).  Management must recognize and support emergent behaviour, and accept that such behaviour will most likely not unfold according to plan. (McAfee, 2006; Tapscott & Williams, 2006).

Lessons learned: the Aviation Wiki

The Aviation Wiki took on certain roles for which it may not have been well suited – most notably, use as a digital content repository.  A more purpose-built system for digital asset management and Web site content management may be a more effective way of addressing this need. The abrupt drop in usage reflects a conscious decision to suspend use of the wiki for this purpose, due to content management and process issues.

The wiki should also be integrated within the scope of the corporation’s intranet search mechanism, to improve its usability and general visibility.  Its use could also be expanded beyond the Canada Aviation Museum branch, to allow for a broader range of staff interactions, and greater potential for achieving a critical mass.

Planning for collaboration with external parties is also an issue.  The use of the wiki for some Canada Aviation Museum projects was to some degree hampered by the inability to work directly with remote, external parties.  Rationalizing the need for an internal, open space for collaboration, and a secure portal for work with outside partners requires some further consideration and planning.

Still, the wiki has been a useful tool for the Canada Aviation Museum Web team, capturing extensive documentation on a range of projects.  And for some less Web-savvy employees, it has been their first hands-on exposure to Web 2.0 technologies.

Lessons Learned: the Idea Bank

The idea bank has demonstrated employee enthusiasm for participation, and the richness of ideas from employees of all roles throughout the organization.  The idea bank has also become a useful reference.  Project teams regularly mine the bank for ideas when starting on new initiatives.   

Some staff expressed concern – or even frustration – with what happens to their ideas.  This potential disappointment was anticipated.  Management and project teams were encouraged to actively mine the idea bank, and provide feedback on ideas that touch on their areas.  Efforts were also made to set the expectation that further employee action was required to develop ideas into a proposal, and encourage such initiative.  Yet many employees were keen to see additional, tangible feedback on their ideas.  

It is important to note that ideas have also been generated, shared, and cross-pollinated via other mechanisms, such as project teams and open staff brainstorming sessions.  Still, the dip in usage of the idea bank is reflective of a shift of focus within the organization, away from idea generation to focus on later stages in the lifecycle of an idea.  Lack of attention to downstream issues could create an idea log jam, and undermine long term participation in the process.

Innovation and Resource Allocation

Where to Focus: the Innovation Value Chain

With the “innovation value chain” (Table 4), Hansen and Birkinshaw (2007) provide a compelling model for how ideas are transformed into value for stakeholders.  Starting with idea generation, their model can readily be applied to the selection of ideas for development and diffusion as knowledge-based products.

Innovation Value Chain Description

1. Idea Generation

In-house idea generation Creation within a unit
Cross-pollination Collaboration across units
External sourcing Collaboration with parties outside the firm

2. Conversion

Selection Screening and initial funding
Development Movement from idea to first result
3. Diffusion Spread of the idea Dissemination across the organization

Table 4: The Innovation Value Chain (Hancen & Birkinshaw, 2007).

The innovation value chain suggests that organizations need to understand their capabilities at all stages along the chain.  Otherwise, efforts may be focused in one area of the chain, without awareness of issues or bottlenecks elsewhere within the chain, overtaxing weaker areas and compromising innovation efforts overall.

The CSTMC, for example, had great success with in-house idea generation, and has made strides in cross-pollination across units within the organization. The organization also engaged in productive collaboration with external partners (albeit with some technical limitations, as experienced with the Aviation Wiki initiative).  But a key challenge for the organization is the conversion of ideas: the screening and initial funding of ideas, and their further development.  The model helps to illustrate that idea conversion is an important strategic focus for the organization.

Capability For Idea Conversion

The successful conversion of ideas relies on the capabilities of an organization.  An organization may have well honed processes to capitalize on ideas that fit within existing product lines, developed with established processes.  But does an organization have the capabilities to break radically innovative ground for unproven markets?

Christensen describes three factors that define the capabilities of an organization, dictating what it can and cannot do.  First are its resources, such as people, technology, brands, or other assets.  Second are its processes – formal and informal, planned or evolved.  Third are its values, the “criteria by which decisions about priorities are made.”  Christensen demonstrates that while an organization may have capable, innovative people, the processes at work may be designed well for traditional product development, and not disruptive innovations.  Further, values of the organization may rationally direct resources toward projects that address the needs of traditional markets.  The value system of an organization may make it impossible to justify the allocation of even modest resources toward initiatives that do not address the needs of clearly understood audiences (Christensen 1997).

Resource Allocation At The CSTMC

The CSTMC’s process for decision making and resource allocation was reworked, as a key element of the overall change initiatives. A new Resource Allocation Committee (RAC), composed of branch heads for the institutions’ three museums, as well as finance and other senior managers, was created to review all budgets overall, and make major resource allocation decisions.  This committee took on an important role in the Product Development Process: they became the gatekeepers for the approval of product proposals for investment into further research and detailed planning, and approval of detailed plans prior to the major investments involved in product implementation.

The changes in resource allocation have had significant positive affect within the management ranks.  Senior managers are now working in close collaboration on decisions regarding each others’ resource allocations, optimizing decisions for the greater benefit of the entire organization. The resource allocation process no longer entails one-to-one negotiations between the Finance division and a given director.  Now, all budgets are transparent, with everything open for discussion and challenge.

But in terms of innovation, other effects have started to emerge.  The CSTMC product development process has put a spotlight on major product initiatives with multiple delivery components.  Small, experimental, or more risky initiatives may be starved of staff and funding, as a few large projects suck in all available resources.

Two recent major projects at CSTMC provide an illustration.  Both projects set out to exploit multiple delivery channels, including the Web.  Both projects were directed by teams more familiar with traditional exhibit development, with little Web experience.  In once case, the planned resource allocation for the Web component was reduced to only 60% of the original planned Web budget, with the other 40% redirected to other project needs.  (The resource demands for the Web component were ultimately much higher than forecast.)  In the second case, the Web component did not receive any budget allocation from the product team. 

Resource Allocation And Disruptive Innovations

Innovation theory can shed some light on what is happening.  Kanter (2006) cautions that one “set of classic mistakes lies in process; specifically, the impulse to strangle innovation with tight controls.” A more nuanced approach is to look at the characteristics of the organizational culture.  An organization – independent of the capable people of whom it is composed – has established and effective capabilities – resources, processes, and values – that also define the disabilities of the same organization. “In established firms, expected rewards… drive the allocation of resources toward sustaining innovations and away from disruptive ones” (Christensen, 1997).  So a museum team with well-honed processes and decision making for exhibit creation may struggle to deal with a disruptive technology such as the Web, not because of the capabilities of the team members, but because of the value systems and processes embedded within the organization.

There are strategies for dealing with this issue.  “One way to encourage innovation to flourish outside the normal planning cycles is to reserve pools of special funds for unexpected opportunities” (Kanter, 2006).  A pot of funds reserved as seed money for new, experimental initiatives can be vital; without such mechanisms, managers are often left to hide resources within or squeeze them from their modest ongoing operational funds (Thomke, 2003; Kanter, 2006). 

Christensen (1997) suggests five strategies for dealing with these organizational issues:

  1. Embed projects within organizations whose customers need them, to help ensure that innovations get the resources they need.
  2. Place projects in organizations small enough to get excited by the small opportunities and small wins.
  3. Plan to fail early and fail inexpensively, using discovery-based planning to search for the appropriate market.
  4. Make use of some resources of the core organization, but do not replicate its processes and values.  Instead, create different ways of working within the established organization, so that values can be tuned to the opportunity.
  5. Develop new markets for a new disruptive innovation, as opposed to positioning it within an established market for established customers using established criteria for success.

It may be that some of the most successful innovation teams have been set up and managed within small, independent groups, using discovery-based planning.  The more successful CSTMC Web initiatives have come from smaller teams outside of the mainstream of large exhibit production. A closer review of the results produced by different organizational approaches across other institutions may be worthwhile ground for future study.

Consolidating Change

The great changes of our time may seem to call for dramatic action.  But “effective organizational change often emerges inadvertently (organic change) or develops in a more orderly fashion (systematic change)” (Huy & Mintzberg, 2003).  Whether through systematic changes of strategic planning and process improvement, or the grass-roots changes of the wiki workplace, “revolutions must be consolidated: They have to get beyond the dramatic to the systematic and the organic” (Huy & Mintzberg, 2003). 

Change requires perspective to have meaning.  Stadler (2007) cautions that organizations that have achieved enduring success have been more conservative about change.  “We sometimes think we live in the most revolutionary of times.  But recalling changes of the past should remind us that every generation thinks it lives in the most revolutionary of times,” a perspective that may resonate within cultural heritage institutions. Great companies that have demonstrated enduring success maintain a sense of continuity.  They remember their past mistakes.  They are very selective about radical change, and “approach change in a culturally sensitive manner that requires patience to work through” (Stadler, 2007).

This is not to suggest complacency.  What is essential is thoughtful action based on insight.  Organizations must understand their resources, processes and values (Christensen 1997) to address the specific challenges they face.  “The inappropriate application of popular innovation remedies may, in fact, thwart a company’s efforts to improve” (Hansen & Birkinshaw, 2007).  It is important to understand your situation, and avoid the temptation to jump on the bandwagon of the latest innovation theory.


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Cite as:

Dawson, B., Facilitating Innovation: Opportunity in Times of Change , in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published October 24, 2007 at http://www.archimuse.com/ichim07/papers/dawson/dawson.html