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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Securing endowment

No, not endowments. Decision-making literature* addresses the "endowment effect". In a nutshell, I mean that phenomenon whereby people value what they have more than what they might have, although they be the same. This is tied to the observation that loss of utility is felt more keenly than a gain of the same utility. If I am given a mug (to follow Beach and Connolly's example) I may well require a larger payment to give it up that I would be prepared to pay for it.

This is probably a useful tool to wield when trying to get support for some resourcing decisions in an organisation, particularly those that can be expressed as relating to assets the organisation already possesses, rather than new ones it might acquire. In a scenario where I am seeking funds to support old digital resources, careful preparation of the ground to develop an endowment effect amongst the executive before taking the proposal to the board may be fruitful (this is obvious to the point of being banal, right?) If I just tell then what we have, what it could do in the future, and how we plan to maintain it, it's like saying "here's a mug that will hold your coffee and make you happy, it will cost you a fiver, gimme!" If instead I encourage a sense of pre-existing ownership - an emotional committment - a feeling that this thing is already part of the museum and its loss reduces us, then the costs I propose that we bear are more like the purchase offer for the mug that is turned down: in other words the board may be more likely to turn down the opportunity to avoid those costs. It's like saying "you've got a mug, you love it, if you want to keep the cash then I'm afraid you'll lose the mug. Bummer, but that's life. So cough up!"

How you actually cultivate within the executive that sense of ownership is another question. You could also argue that this is little different to just identifying and drawing out the value of an asset to the decision-makers, but it's a more emotional proposition than simply making them aware of an assets existence and potential future utility, and it may be worth exploring how one can play the psychological game and encourage emotional engagement and attachment to pre-existing digital resources when fighting for the funds to suppport them. It may actually be as important as the rational explication of value, however much we might like to believe decisions would be rational.

Nina Simon amongst others has talked extensively and profoundly on Museum 2.0 about developing engagement amongst our audiences, and I'm starting to realise how this could be equally important within the organisation: if we want to persuade people of the rightness of what we're arguing for, there can be more to it than pure reason, Kant there? (apologies for the shameless mis-referencing here of something I clearly don't understand. I only understand puns.) It's internal marketing, I suppose, and nothing new.

* OK, let's be honest, all I know about is the book I'm reading right now and blogged about previously

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