by • 7 Mar, 2014 • Strategy, Thoughts about museumsComments (9)24466

From traditional to social institutions: what does the transformation mean?

Earlier this week I finished a short series of workshops with students of the Reinwardt Academy in Amsterdam. As part of a society and transformations course we explored the impact of digital media on museums and the transformation of traditional institutions in what I like to call ‘social institutions’.

In our book Digital engagement in culture, heritage and the arts we define a social institution as and organisation that systematically engages its stakeholders to maximise the value it can co-create. I.e. it works in partnerships to create greater value than it can create in isolation. A good summary of the differences between a traditional and a social institution is given by the IMLS in their publication Museums, Libraries and 21st Century Skills.


It is one thing to identify the changes; actually creating or stimulating them in organisations is quite another. Together with the students of the Reinwardt Academy we looked at what it means for organisations to transform from traditional to social institutions:

  1.  Employees have to start thinking differently: networks, partnerships, co-creating.
  2. The organisational structure and hierarchy will change (although students from different nationalities had a different idea about the direction of this change: less vertical silos versus more highly specialised staff). Internal cooperation will increase.
  3. In some cases the vision or mission statement of the organisation will have to change to reflect the social ideas of the organisation.
  4. Some new employees may have to be hired, using new hiring criteria.
  5. Organisations structurally have to get to know their audiences (and stakeholders) better. (In a related note, if digital is a dimension of everything, then are audiences the basis of everything?)
  6. Audiences and stakeholders may change, with far-stretching consequences for the organisation (“What if they don’t want to participate?”).
  7. Cooperation between institutions and especially institutions and others will increase.
  8. The requirements of our physical locations (buildings) and spaces (expositions) may change, as well as their opening hours, accessibility and use.
  9. The ownership and feeling of ownership of the institution changes. Co-creating value means giving away as much as it means receiving.
  10. The position and role in society of an institution changes: No longer is an institution a passive observer, reflecting on society for the chosen few, but an active player in it.

While discussion the meaning of the transition with the students I was reminded of the incredible scope of the change. It ranges from the profound (vision, role in society) to the mundane (make up of the management team, opening hours). I guess that’s what makes organisational change so incredibly interesting (and challenging).

What does the change from traditional to social institutions mean for you or your organisation? Can you add to the work of the students? Thanks in advance!

Header photo by Sparky on Flickr.

Related Posts