Engage in ‘Degrowth’ for Intentional Museum Work

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

February 09, 2022

As museum professionals we are familiar with the concept of deaccessioning. When a collection item is determined not appropriate for the collection, it’s deaccessioned.

The benefit of deaccessioning items that aren’t a good fit is that it leaves more resources (time, attention, money) for the collection items that remain.

Degrowth is a very similar concept to deaccessioning—we’re just twisting it to apply to our work versus the collections. By engaging in degrowth we’re better able to focus on the important aspects of our work and we can be more intentional with how we allot our time, attention, and department budgets.

Defining Degrowth

Degrowth is a concept we’re borrowing from economics. The concept itself is filled with the altruistic intention to make economic decisions that are good for the whole (humans and environment) rather than solely good for the shareholders. However, it should be noted a “good for the whole” approach can also be good for the shareholders. Here’s the official definition:

Degrowth is an economic paradigm that critiques the global capitalist system which pursues growth at all costs, causing human exploitation and environmental destruction. Degrowth means transforming societies to ensure environmental justice and a good life for all within planetary boundaries. – Adapted from a definition provided by Degrowth.Info.

For our purposes today, we’re going to take the macro concept of degrowth and apply it on a micro-level to focus on what is good for us, good for the collections, and good for the museum as our primary ecosystem.

The Benefits of Degrowth in a Museum Setting

Applying the degrowth principle to our work will:

  • Protect against wasting scarce resources (our time and attention)
  • Support faster prioritization of high-impact activities
  • Make it easier to focus on high-value work
  • Keep us focused, on task, and on mission
  • Ensure that the best of our time and attention is focused in the areas that matter most

So, the question is … how can we deaccession activities in our work-life to achieve effective degrowth?

High Impact Activities

To help us identify which museum tasks and activities are candidates for degrowth, it’s typically easier to identify those of high value or high impact. A high impact activity is one that precipitates an increase in:

  • Financial contributions
  • Brand awareness
  • Stakeholder loyalty
  • Community interest

If you’re not sure how your work supports the above categories then it’s time to gather some data.

Gather the following data points:

  • How does your job (directly or indirectly) support revenue generating events?
  • How does your job (directly or indirectly) support the museum mission and strategic plan?
  • How does your job (directly or indirectly) support museum attendance, viewership, and engagement (physical and virtually)?
  • How does your job (directly or indirectly) support the museum earning press and other positive awareness?
  • Which activities are identified in your job description as your responsibility?
  • Any additional intangible or “other” areas of significance that your work helps to support?

Now It’s Time to Apply Degrowth

Once you’ve identified the areas of your work that are of high-value and high-impact for the museum and collections, it’s time to start trimming the excess. For those colleagues who may not have full control over their work, it may be easier to deprioritize activities that would otherwise be cut. You don’t have to stop performing a certain task forever—you have the option to pause, delegate, or delay.

Cut, Pause, Pass, or Delay the Following:

  • All non-essential AKA non-high impact activities
  • New or “surprise” projects
  • Anything that’s not in your job description

Getting Through Degrowth Discomfort

It can be uncomfortable to engage in degrowth as a strategy to be more intentional with our work. We can also run into external resistance from our colleagues and managers when we change how we work. Here’s some advice to help you through the discomfort stage:

  • Get comfortable with the discomfort
  • “No” is a sentence
  • Point to your “mission”
  • “If this, then that” trade
  • Negotiate for more time, money, or resources

Conclusion

Going through this degrowth exercise is an opportunity for us to check in with what’s truly important work. In addition to the museum and collections benefiting from your intentional work, the clarity you gain will make it easier for you to protect your time and energy. It really is a win-win-win. As with any good habit, it takes practice. I recommend performing a degrowth evaluation annually to develop your practice.

Related Webinars Produced by Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, register here for Rachael’s upcoming webinar, “5 Steps to Intentional Museum Work” on February 23, 2022. Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management, and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. In addition to several titles published by Lucidea Press, she is a regular contributor to the Think Clearly blog and an always popular presenter. And learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for powerful and innovative museum collections management.

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