Genocide museums – like those in Rwanda, Germany and Washington, DC – are extraordinarily important institutions, ensuring that the atrocities they chronicle are never forgotten. But the museums are not terribly effective at enlisting volunteers in preventing future atrocities.
That’s because the institutions follow a proven, predictable path: introduce visitors to horrific events through facts, artifacts and stories, which leave them smarter but shaken. We discovered a new path: by re-introducing hope and humanity within the museum experience, the institution allows visitors to recover their emotional balance and imagine themselves joining the fight.
The research was part of our UX for Good initiative, in which GreenHouse and Jason Ulaszek invite a dozen top user experience designers from around the world to join us in resolving a complex social challenge. The initiative produced the Inzovu Curve, a model that has guided modifications in Rwanda and helped designers map the emotional impact of institutions around the world.
Gillian Walnes, MBE, was a founder of the Anne Frank Trust U.K. As the Trust’s first executive director, Walnes developed and launched Anne Frank Children to Children Appeal for Bosnia, the Anne Frank Awards for Moral Courage, and the Anne Frank Declaration signed by world leaders and tens of thousands of young people.
Walnes said of us, “GreenHouse is a hothouse and flowering of ideas – created out of the desire to make the world less difficult to live in for its inhabitants, whoever and wherever. They show us how effecting real change comes from asking the right questions. I love collaborating with them.”
We have worked with Ms. Walnes on multiple efforts advising government and philanthropic leaders in the U.K. and U.S.
The social norms of a museum don’t align particularly well with the rebellious spirit of contemporary art. But we found the right social norms – in all places – at the corporate campus of a financial services company.
The West Collection – one of the nation’s most important collections of work by emerging artists – is housed at SEI, in the Philadelphia suburbs. The campus’s employees, who originally had no particular fondness for contemporary art, now cherish the art in ways few museum visitors ever have.
That is due in large part to revolutionary curatorial practices, such as letting employees choose pieces from the Collection for their workspaces and even allowing employees to “steal” pieces from their colleagues.
We worked alongside the collection’s curators for two years to isolate lessons that could be shared with the rest of the art world. Among our findings: “We need a happy medium between the ‘wild’ of the artist’s studio and the ‘zoo’ of a traditional museum. In this ‘nature preserve’ for art, viewers’ reactions would inform the experience, but the integrity of collections could still be preserved.”
The world’s genocide museums successfully ensure that we never forget history’s most horrific events. But these institutions can do so much more, we concluded in our work with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
Specifically, genocide museums can build a movement from visitors who are sufficiently touched by their experiences to incorporate lessons into their own lives. If enough visitors are transformed, the resulting movement would be an unprecedented force for good and a breakwall against future atrocities.
“The experience of the Holocaust could ultimately help people to make sense of what is going on in other conflict situations,” said former U.S. congressman Toby Moffett, who collaborated with us on the project. “To be a fountain of know-how and information and technical assistance, while at the same time not relinquishing the main idea of the Holocaust as history’s greatest case study – I think it’s very exciting.”
This work informed our later work in Rwanda, in which we explored alterations of the museum experience that could produce transformed visitors.
There are a handful of essential questions that every organization – certainly, every organization taking on social challenges – must answer regularly and honestly: Are we solving the right problem? Have we outlived our usefulness? Is it possible we’re pursuing the wrong core strategy?
But that’s much, much easier said than done. For one, the key actors in any successful organization have bought in to its strategy, necessarily giving up the objectivity required for rigorous self-examination. For two, tackling questions is dangerously disruptive, introducing discomfort and insecurity among staff, volunteers and boards of directors.
This is why GreenHouse principals launched Insight Labs as the first-ever philanthropic think tank. Between 2010 and 2014, we we enlisted more than 750 big thinkers from business, government, philanthropy, academia and the arts to tackle the foundational challenges facing 45 public, private and social-sector institutions.
The Labs became best known for our novel approach: invite a dozen or so subject matter experts to tackle a challenge in which they did not have expertise; keep the invite list secret from even the participants until the project was launched; and do most of the work in a three-hour flurry. It was most aptly described as “the love child of a think tank and flash mob for good.”
Our first effort was on behalf of what is now Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, whose nearly billion-dollar capital campaign had stalled in the wake of the 2008 recession. Together, we deconstructed the ground-breaking engagement strategy of Barack Obama’s first run for president, and mapped it to the potential, expanded role of children’s hospitals in society.
Over the next 60 months, we convened brain-trusts at the request of groups as diverse as NASA, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.S. State Department, the TED Conferences, Boeing and Starbucks. Our approach was explored in books and magazines, including Forbes and Fast Company.