Social institutions – social business in culture, heritage and the arts – are the talk of town. A social institution is an organisation that has put in place all the strategies, processes and technologies to systematically engage employees, audience and other stakeholders to maximise their co-created value. A nice definition (although you probably have to read it twice) and as such virtually unusable in your day-to-day.
While working with organisations to make them more social, I’ve discovered the definition can be summarised in a simple equation, one that should be solved before you do anything in order to become a more social institution:
What you – the institution – are really good at
What others can contribute to this
Something that has added value to the both of you
It’s a simple equation, one we often solve intuitively in our work. You + They = Value. Here’s how it works for one of my favourite institutions in the world at the moment:
Providing a tech platform & innovation in online education
World class courses (from teachers) & knowledge, energy and expertise (of students)
Access to world-class education for everyone (Coursera)
As with any equation, it is the order in which you address the unknowns that determines the validity of the solution.
The traditional approach is to start with what you’re good at or happen to be doing for a long time. Exhibitions, educational programmes, research… Then we assume this has an inherit value for others, a value we need to continue our work: money, time or eyeballs, which becomes what the others are asked to contribute. Pay admission to see our stuff. Click a link to enjoy our website. Equation solved.
A social institutions approaches the equation from the other end: what has value to the both of us? Creative freedom, intercultural understanding, historical awareness, a cleaner environment. Then both of the unknowns on the other side of the equals sign are addressed. How can we work together with others to achieve this, what role do we play and what can others contribute?
It’s a tougher puzzle, but the good thing is we often know already what the value is we’re after. It’s our mission or vision statement. It’s why we exist in the first place. Another example? Here’s what the equation may look like for one of my favourite museums:
A safe space for memories & warm and friendly staff & travelling exhibitions
Personal stories about relationships gone sour
Comfort and the opportunity to overcome an emotional collapse through creation
The solution to the equation forms the basis for projects, processes and – maybe – even your strategy. The equation also works for individual projects, even for individual channels such as Twitter (what value does it create, what do you do, what will your followers contribute?). It’s a fun exercise to play with your team and I find it gives fresh insights. In short: try it!
How does the equation work out for your institution? Or how could it work out?
Header photo by Ivan T on Flickr.