Staying Focused on Audience and Outcomes, with Dr. Kirsten Ellenbogen

Episode 112

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Dr. Kirsten Ellenbogen brings more than 25 years of experience to her role as the third president of Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Kirsten’s energetic leadership during the last two decades has advanced informal STEM education. Her leadership activities at Great Lakes Science Center have included the launch of a new strategic initiative, Cleveland Creates, developed in collaboration with regional workforce development leaders to change the community’s manufacturing narrative through STEM education for middle school youth and families. Kirsten has worked at five museums during the past two decades and consulted for more than 30. She is a founding leader of the Northeast Ohio STEM Ecosystem Collaborative and has been appointed to serve on the mayor’s steering committee on sustainability as well as the planning and Urban Design Committee of the Group Plan Commission. She holds a Ph.D. in science education from Vanderbilt University and a BA from the University of Chicago. On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Dr. Kirsten Ellenbogen about science, city-wide collaboration, and national partnerships in museum tourism. Kirsten also breaks down the vast difference it makes when other institutions speak with each other and work together, instead of being adversarial.  

What You Will Learn:

  • How to work with competitors to establish points of differentiation
  • The power of saying yes
  • How to manage a challenge to attendance in what should be your busiest season
  • Working with other community players to achieve and exceed expectations around a huge community event
  • How to maintain your roots as a beloved institution while also connecting with first-time visitors
  • Working with other nearby cultural institutions to create a wider “campus”
  • Cathedral thinking – Looking at tourism development from a generational perspective
  • How strategic plans bring focus to both what you are working on and what you are not working on

From a “No” Organization to a “Yes” Organization

Organizations get reputations. When you have a reputation for saying no, opportunities start to dry up, and you get stuck in a rut of doing the same things year after year. Saying yes can also have its challenges, like when your city is hosting a national political convention. Kirsten talks about how to bring stakeholders together to think through the best ways to face the challenges and opportunities when you invite the nation into your town.

Cathedral Thinking

We also revisit a concept from another episode – Cathedral Thinking – as we explore what it means to be a cultural institution with a long view, and a view to contribute and participate fully in the community where you are situated. Planning isn’t just about the next year or two, but about laying a foundation for generations to build on. That may sound grandiose, but when you are a cultural institution in a community rich with art, sports, music, and science attractions, taking the long view together is just good stewardship. What foundations are you laying down for future generations? Resources:

Nicole Mahoney: 00:17 Hello listeners. This is Nicole Mahoney, host of destination. On the left, I am passionate about travel and tourism and love learning from the experiences of professionals in the industry. That is why I’m so excited to introduce today’s guest, Dr. Kiersten Ellenbogen, a widely published science center veteran Kiersten, brings more than 25 years of experience to her role as the third president of Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Kiersten’s energetic leadership during the last two decades has advanced informal stem education through for grant funded national centers. Her leadership activities at Great Lakes Science Center have included the launch of a new strategic initiative. Cleveland creates developed in collaboration with regional workforce development leaders to change the community’s manufacturing narrative through stem education, opportunities for diverse middle school youth and families. Kiersten has worked at five museums during the past two decades and consulted for more than 30. She began for her work in museums at the Detroit Science Center in 1987 and has worked as a demonstrator hall interpreter exhibit developer, evaluator and researcher most recently. She is a founding leader of the northeast Ohio stem ecosystem collaborative and has been appointed to serve on the mayor’s steering committee on Sustainability as well as the planning and Urban Design Committee of the Group Plan Commission. Recent awards include the 2017 cranes women of note and the 2015 stemcon community inspiration she serves on the board of trustees for the rock and Roll Hall of fame and museum, the Cleveland Water Alliance, the Friends of m, two M, c two stem high school and the Association of Science Technology Centers. She holds a phd in science education from Vanderbilt University and a Ba from University of Chicago. Thank you for joining me today. Kiersten.

Dr. Ellenborgen: 02:16 I’m delighted to be with the program.

Nicole Mahoney: 02:19 Yeah. So I’m really looking forward to learning from you, but before we get started, would you mind sharing your story, um, in your own words? I know the bio tells a little bit about who you are, but it, it, it never gives the full picture. And if you could share a little bit about your journey and where you got to and how you got to where you are today. Um, I think that really adds so much more context to our conversation.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 02:43 Science museums for 30 years. I started as a teenager. I loved science and I was working in a lab as a high schooler at the same time that I was also working part time at the science center, the center. We’re directly across the street and I did what everybody said you’re supposed to do and really honed in on my science career and I loved it and I got to do wonderful, wonderful things. Um, but I really nested working in museums and I started taking summers off because by then I was in an academic lab and you can do things like that. And the more I started taking summers off and working in a science museum, the more I started to say, you know, I don’t know why I don’t do this all the time. And so I have been working in science museums ever since. I’ve worked my way through in education department’s exhibit departments, a evaluation and research and I did my doctorate on research on how families learn in museums and then I reached a point where my ceo said, yeah, but what do you really want to do? And decided actually there were many good reasons to really in myself towards the CEO position. So that’s where I am now at Great Lakes Science Center.

Nicole Mahoney: 04:06 I love how all of my guests, when I talked to my guests, how their past kind of brings them right around to where they are today. And it’s interesting to hear you talk about your passion for science and having started in the, in the science field, but now that now that you were able to take that experience and bring it to the arts and culture world. Right? And now that you’re running a science museum, I think that’s just really, really cool.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 04:34 It’s a great job. I pinch myself.

Nicole Mahoney: 04:38 That’s awesome. So kiersten on this show, we like to focus on both creativity and collaboration. And I’m going to dive right in on the topic of creativity and understanding, you know, how competitive the tourism and hospitality industry really is and it’s not just people deciding maybe where to vacation or even if they’re in their own community where they’re going to go experience if they’re going to come to your museum or they’re going to go to the aquarium, are they going to the rock and Roll Hall of fame? There’s so many choices, but also, you know, we’re competing for people’s time, right? The time resources are always stretched so thin. And so I’m wondering what kinds of things you have done to really stand out from the crowd and really kind of, you know, inspire that visitation to your museum.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 05:27 We spent a lot of time asking ourselves what’s our unique position in the community? And that involved everything from the interviews I did in my first 90 days with community leaders, getting together with our friends at the rock hall, at the Aquarium, at the zoo, Botanic Garden Arboretum, Natural History Museum. We have very strong nature centers here in Cleveland. Goes on and on. We’re an extraordinary community for cultural resources, well, we get together and we really compare notes, so with the science related museums, we came together, for example, and mapped out what everybody was doing around water, what content are you doing, all kinds of experiences and what are the audiences you’re serving, and it really gave us a chance to start to differentiate ourselves and say, you know what? That’s a natural area for the aquarium to occupy. Those are natural areas for the natural history museum to occupy, but we have a differentiator and that we’re really the aem of stem, the technology, the engineering, the math, so why duplicate what’s being done with our partners down the road? Let’s make sure we’re really coming in hard on what we can do that’s unique and we’ve done that in a number of different areas. We did that with the maker movement locally and we get a giant map on the wall. Again for that to find out where the gaps were. You know, where if you’re a family and the community, if you’re a tourist coming in, how would we differentiate ourselves here at Great Lakes Science Center and those kinds of mapping exercise has been very powerful.

Nicole Mahoney: 07:07 When you do those mapping exercises, is it an internal team or is it, is it a team of those other organizations, you know, do you all come together and do it together? Can you talk just a little bit more about how you tactically do that?

Dr. Ellenbogen: 07:22 We come together and overly optimistic that this will work in every community. I have worked in quite a few different cities and probably only two of them. What I’ve been able to do these kinds of exercises. So I know it’s not possible everywhere. Even if you can get everybody in the room, the ability to good people to set their organizational differences aside and their egos aside as they walk in the room, that’s asking a lot. And if you’re not in a community where that’s already normed in a lot of the activities going on, if it’s not something that’s emphasized from the funders, um, it’s a lot harder to do. But here in Cleveland, okay, you experienced it often and so it wasn’t that hard to do it in this community and I’ve tried to do it elsewhere and let me tell you, it was very hard. So we actually get everybody in a room together and, and it’s great and it’s not perfect, but it happens more often than you’d expect where we’re really setting aside the competition factor and coming together and we’ve leveraged larger grants because of that. We leverage greater tourism because of that. Um, there’s a long list of benefits. We sound.

Nicole Mahoney: 08:46 I love that. I’m a huge believer in what I like to call coopertition, right? This whole idea of perceived competitors coming together and you can really achieve so more as a group than you can on your own. Um, do you think there’s something in particular that makes this work in your community, in terms of, you know, the ability to come together, you know, you mentioned that you, other communities maybe it might not work. Is there, is there something really that, you know, what does the special sauce that really makes that happen in Cleveland?

Dr. Ellenbogen: 09:18 I’d say it’s three things. I’d say it’s a mix of a really wonderful group of museum directors right now and we are very happy to be in conversation with each other. We share a lot of data that’s a very special. Um, the second thing I would say is this is a very philanthropic community. We’re nonprofits. Even our friends up the road at the aquarium, they’re a for profit museum, but they have a nonprofit arm. Um, and so we rely a lot on the generosity of our community and leadership and philanthropy in this community, expect collaboration and they are very explicit about that. And you can go in asking for something that butts up directly against something that one of the other museums are doing and you will get a no and you’ll get chastised for it. And that’s a good thing here. Um, so, so that is a huge driver.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 10:18 And then the third thing I would say, uh, is, is really, I mean, some of it is midwestern sensibility. Uh, I’ve, I’ve lived on the coast, I’ve lived overseas and I’ve lived in the Midwest, uh, and there, there is something particular about being in a midwestern community in a rust belt city, um, where everybody is pushing hard to improve things and you know, we, we’re all in these organizations because we want our community to be better and because we want people to love Cleveland, we want to get people coming to Cleveland, getting excited about Cleveland and that shared attitude goes a long way.

Nicole Mahoney: 11:02 Those three things are really awesome and what a great kind of recipe for success for this type of collaboration. I just love that. And I think starting with the leadership is so important because it does start at the top and we’ve had, I’ve had similar conversations with other museum, um, leaders and they’ve even talked about collaborative efforts that have happened for say their marketing teams where there was a marketing collaboration, but that it was important that those ceos bought into the collaboration before even that next level of leadership within their organization could be successful. And so I think that’s so important. Um, and then the whole idea that your philanthropic community, you know, the leadership expects collaboration, um, and, and basically you get rewarded or not rewarded right based on it. So, um, I think that that’s a terrific and um, this whole idea of having that common goal of wanting people to love Cleveland and to love your community that I love the midwestern sensibility.

Nicole Mahoney: 12:08 That’s a great way to sell at one. So those are three really great points. I’m so kiersten. I’m wondering when you do the mapping, because you talked about a couple different things that you’ve mapped. You talked about the, the, uh, the water exhibits and what you’re doing around water and then you talked a little bit about the makers movement. How, how do these kinds of things come about? Are, you know, is, is there a strategic plan that you’re working towards that brings these to light or is it, can you just elaborate a little bit on how you decide what areas might be a good fit for these collaborative efforts?

Dr. Ellenbogen: 12:49 Yeah, that’s a great question for us. Uh, when I got here and did community interviews in my first 90 days, one of the things I heard is that our organization had a reputation for saying no, and so I came back to the staff and as we talked through with senior leadership how we were moving forward. One of the things that came up quickly, we’re gonna just try saying yes a lot, um, and see how that feels, see what it does to us as an organization. We’ll check in on it frequently, but I, I want you to walk into meetings, presuming you’re going to say yes. And from that effort then as we moved into creating our new strategic plan, um, we felt so strongly about it that we actually put in as one of our driving element and stuff like that. Really being a convener in the community and being a collaborator. So it, it made it up to the top level language for the organization. So the strategic plan supporting that kind of approach in a community is, was important because of course I do get questions every once in a while. Right. I, we have boards who come from competitive corporate environments and sometimes they ask, well, wait a minute, why aren’t, why aren’t we? I’m coming at that from a more competitive angle

Dr. Ellenbogen: 14:10 and, and being able to point to the strategic plan and say, Hey, this is a priority for us. We talked through this, we spent a lot of time planning this and we’re executing the plan. So it’s always important to be able to refer to that. The other piece, so I would say is, you know, these things are as always a product of their time and the maker movement. We had a digital fabrication lab. We were the first museum in the country to have a digital fabrication lab and I have to give credit, uh, to Cleveland Metro schools. We were, yeah, creating a new school that was going to be inside the science center and it is a Cleveland public. And as part of that, worked with a fablab nationally and got one of these labs where you have a CNC router, a laser cutter, three d printer, all that sort of equipment. And that was more than 11 years ago now. It was, well, actually it was about 11 years ago now, um,

Dr. Ellenbogen: 15:11 and so at the time that was very different. Well, now in our community, you can go to almost any library. There are multiple public access maker spaces and we’re coming out of an extended time in the White House where there was a big emphasis on the maker movement and, you know, national tours coming out of the office of Science, technology policy to support this, right. A lot of work around it. Um, and, and for us, for an organization who had been participating in that effort for more than a decade, we reached an inflection point of looking around us and saying, yeah, there’s nothing unique about what we’re doing right now. And so what should we be doing? And it wasn’t hard again, to pull people together and say, Hey, let’s compare notes in the last year and a half. The number of makerspaces that sprung up is remarkable. So let’s get ourselves together and talk more.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 16:09 Um, so that one was really a product of the time. And again, the mapping exercise we realized that have very wonderful children’s museum in Youngstown. Was He only organization really thinking about what’s the entry point into this? How do you introduce a family and get a family excited about the maker movement. Everybody else was working at a much more high level and we said, okay, well we did the high end stuff for a long time. We can pivot very easily. We should be doing more of this intro to the maker movement because there there shouldn’t just be one of us in the region who is attending to that. And so we really shifted the way we do that and built a new exhibit to go with it.

Nicole Mahoney: 16:52 That’s a great example. Thank you for taking us down that path. Because I like how you started by talking about, you know, yes it is our strategic strategic plan and how much we have to lean on that, you know, in order to stay focused and really know where we’re going. So that gives you that direction. But then I’m thinking about what you’re doing and I just love that. You know, you get to a point with the times, you know, you’re ahead of it, you’re an early adapter of having this very first digital fabrication lab and being part of this maker movement, but as that matures and evolves, being able to step back and really understand, okay, what’s next and staying ahead of that I think is so important and I want to make sure listeners really picked up on that. So thank you very much. So I want to switch gears just little bit and that is this next question that I like to ask has to do with the creativity that comes out of facing some sort of adversity or challenge and I think sometimes we do our best creative problem solving when faced with a challenge and I’m wondering if you have an example of a challenge that maybe you have experienced and then if you could share some of the creative solutions that came from that.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 18:17 How much time do we have? And probably one of the proud of the team here for the Republican National Convention, and I have to say this is my second RNC, so I was in St Paul, Minnesota for the rnc there at working at a museum that was actually within the security zone. And so that was it own complex challenge a this time,

Dr. Ellenbogen: 18:51 uh, the security zone was about five blocks away, um, but we’re very much part of a prominent area of downtown. We were just a two or three blocks from where all the press was housed. Um, but we weren’t stuck within the gates of the security zone. And if you haven’t been through, uh, one of these national conventions, they do remarkable things for their community. Everything from the attention paid during that time to just the infrastructure investment that has to happen in order to host an event like that. We benefit from that for years to come. And I’ve seen that happened twice. Now I’m overall, I’m very positive about hosting a national convention, but for a tourism organization like us, I, it raises a lot of questions because in some ways the city shuts down during a convention in the sense that nothing’s going on except the convention and that certainly for many years was the norm.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 20:01 What’s exciting is that these national convention planners are now really trying to look to activate the community around the convention and make sure that there are things going on in part for some of the many, many people supporting the convention who get some free time. Uh, although frankly there’s very little of it and people actually in the convention are on just an unbelievable schedule. So, you know, every once in awhile I talk with someone who hasn’t been through one and they say, oh, it’s great. Everyone comes to town for the convention. They’ve got all this free time. They come hang out at the museums. No, they’re scheduled from sun up way past sun down. So.

Nicole Mahoney: 20:45 Okay.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 20:45 For a place where you’re relying. Right. And it’s this summer, I mean, again, for a tourism organization where the vast majority of our attendance comes within about six weeks and then we have multiple months where there’s very little attendance. Having a week operated like that could really be devastating and we had plenty of notice and we’ve spent a lot of time talking with the board about how to approach it. Um, but you know, there were some big numbers thrown around, um, because losing attendance and in one of the busiest weeks of the year for us for an entire week plus a couple of days looked like it was going to be a devastating experience. So we started asking ourselves well in advance what we were going to do. And there’s a lot of competition for the little bits of extra time that the conventioneers have. Right. So can you get on, you know, the breakfast buffet tour where people in the conventional come through, they get served breakfast, they get like a 15 tour down there on the bus and moving on.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 21:57 Um, those sorts of things. And there is very, very tough competition for those sorts of activities. Uh, there are of course parties and so you’re in competition with every event space in town to get one of those parties and then there’s sponsorships, right? Because you have national organizations coming in who wants to be very prominent during the convention. And we happened to be hosting that convention in a year in which the usual onslaught of national sponsorships was coming in at a lower level once the final candidate was determined. And so a lot of the rush of sponsorships that we’re expected, we’re not showing up. So we were, we were at that point still months out from the convention, but really asking ourselves what we were going to do for this. And the team here came up with some great ideas around saying, you know what, if it’s going to be hard for people to come downtown, if we’re not going to be able to really get in tourism that week because it’s going to be convention traffic and nothing else.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 23:12 Maybe we should be going out to the community. And so we went to the city of Cleveland and the REC centers at the city and said, how about we kind of run a museum camp, kind of small museum out at some of your rec centers for the week because at the very least I have a lot of part time employees over the summer and I can’t guarantee them work that week and I don’t want to lose that because it’s going to be a single week of very low attendance during what’s usually our busiest time of the year, you know, they can’t afford to go without hours and I can’t afford it for them to go take another job and lose them for the rest of the summer. So it had, there were many reasons we did this. Um, okay. But we essentially ended up shifting our focus and going off site to be great like science center elsewhere for the week, as you can imagine.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 24:08 It’s something the city loved. It’s something that our donors, uh, and it reminded us as always, we are here to serve the community and we’re here to make sure that everybody gets excited about stem. And there’s no reason that always has to be in our building. So that was a big piece of it and the other piece ended up, um, with a very, very creative partnership with Microsoft, um, who is able to bring in a lot of youth from around the community who participate in summer work programs and their usual summer work programming was disrupted because you really couldn’t get around the city as usual. And so they were looking for frankly a place to be.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 24:49 And at the same time Microsoft wanted to make sure they had a presence in the community during the national convention. And so we ended up having the most magnificent day. They, they brought in renowned speakers nationally and locally we have used from all over the community and they turned it into a free day for the community, for people who were willing to stick their necks out and really come downtown and be a part of things surrounding the convention, even if they weren’t in the convention. So it really was a remarkable week for us when what we had projected was frankly a real disaster.

Nicole Mahoney: 25:29 That’s a great story. And I don’t know, you know, how many of our listeners would have a similar experience being in a community that just hosted a national convention like that and you’ve now had experience of being in two communities, which might make you an expert now. But, um, uh, but you know, what I think is really cool is when you started to talk about this as your challenge, you framed it as saying this is our, this was a challenge for us and explain that but also started by saying it was really great for the community. So even though it set us up and gave us some hurdles that we had to figure out the attention that the community guy and some of the infrastructure investment, you know, that your community is reaping the benefits of that for, you know, years after. So I think that’s really an important note, uh, in framing that. And then the solution that you came up with, you know, to go out into the community and to bring the museum to those rec centers and really set up that win win for the city. And for your donors, as you mentioned. I think it’s just really incredible and it kind of builds off this right, of how our museums really serving that role of a community builder. Correct. Or community anchor even. So, uh, I, I think that that’s just a great, great example and that’s awesome. That’s why I love this question.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 27:02 Great question. And it really, even if you don’t have a national convention at that scale, these moments when you’re, you’re tested. And really the city of Cleveland was tested, right? It reminded me why I’m so happy to be here, external people coming into the community all at once and let’s just say sometimes some other people coming in with the convention, we’re expecting a lot or demanding a lot and that wasn’t always appropriate. And you’d get these comments about, well, no, no, so, and so over at City Hall said it was all fine or so and so on. The planning committee said it was fine. And the great thing about this community is, um, it’s, it’s a very tight community. It’s, it’s a large enough city that I didn’t come here expecting it to be like this, but um, there’s, when people say, here’s my cell phone, use it when you need it. They really meant it and it meant that during something like the rnc where we were all put under a lot of stress and a lot of people were coming in from the outside and saying, hey, it should be like this, or hey, I was promised that we could easily text, uh, that person.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 28:20 So did you actually say this and is this actually what you were offering? Um, I’m happy to deliver if that’s what you promised. And sure enough then a call coming through on the other line, like, oh, well no, that’s not exactly what I was promised. It was a really, it was a feel good moment for Cleveland to say we’re going to do well, we’re going to exceed expectations and we are going to support each other. And that’s how we got through it.

Nicole Mahoney: 28:48 That’s awesome. That’s at midwestern sensibility that you talked about before coming out for sure. Um, so now, uh, kiersten looking into the future, are there some projects coming down the pipeline that you’re really excited about?

Dr. Ellenbogen: 29:08 Yeah, so we, the entire second floor of Great Lakes Science Center is what we call science phenomenon and it’s really the core of what a science center is, basic exploration of wondrous scientific phenomenon, physics experiments, experiments with sound experiments with light things that really gets to the heart of that current modern day science center in the US and ours. Okay. Our second floor has gone through a lot of renovations over the last 20 some years as we’ve been open, but it’s time for a complete overhaul and we found a funder who was willing to fund the entire project in one fell swoop and even put out a match challenge. And honestly on our strategic plan, we had a couple of capital projects on the list. We thought this one would be the hardest to fund and in fact it’s the first one to be funded completely. And so for us it’s a powerful moment to step back faster than we expected.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 30:15 We would have to step back and say, okay, what’s the core of who we are, what’s the core of the guest experience, and Great Lakes Science Center, and as we change things, um, which include exhibits that are favorites that people are, we’ve even heard from guests who say, I came here as a child, now I’m bringing my own children and I love this. I love being able to take them and help them explore something that I wondered and delighted in as a child. So how do you transform something like that, that still needs to keep its roots and still make that connection in a with, with some of our guests who are coming in multiple times but still the light and amaze our guests who are coming in for the first time and coming in from outside of the community. So it’s a terrific challenge. We’ve just talked about it at our board meeting.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 31:12 Uh, there’s, there’s really just a lot of excitement around it. So, you know, there, there are those kinds of projects that we’re really excited about. And I would say the other projects coming up are really ones that are with our partners around the community. So we are, uh, we have a congressional designation to be the NASA Glenn Visitor Center and what that means, there’s 11 of us in the United States that have this congressional designation to be a NASA visitor center and each one of us is connected to a different research center, research arm of NASA and it’s our great privilege to be the visitor center for Nasa Glenn Research Center, which is just up the road and, you know, those last 10 years. And so we’re planning for our next one. And it’s, um, a really fun opportunity where you have policy makers in the room because in the end, this is a political designation, you have scientists in the room because we only exist as an asset visitor center to really showcase and get the public excited about the research that our NASA scientists and engineers are doing.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 32:24 And then we have members of the community members from the board staff, right? A whole range of stakeholders. And for us at the slightly unusual stakeholder mix. Um, but we’ve got a really nice lead time on it and a great opportunity to step back and say, okay, what are we, what do we do that really pulls people in from the community, but also is really an attractor for people nationally and internationally because we know that our NASA visitor center is a big piece of what draws in that tourism audience. Uh, so we’re very, very excited about that. Then there’s one other project that I can talk about and broad brushstrokes

Nicole Mahoney: 33:10 little early,

Dr. Ellenbogen: 33:11 um, but, but the rock and roll hall of fame and museum, Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland Browns were the three stakeholders on Cleveland’s north coast, right and raw right here on Lake Erie together. And we make up what’s called North Coast harbor. And the city, uh, awarded, uh, development contract to a local developer who’s been adding in an integrating in additional developments over the last couple of years. Some restaurant, you housing and retail and all of us together as stakeholders have been working on some really exciting plans, which I’m not able to go into detail yet about. But one of the things we do know is that the rock hall is really moving, right, okay. To have a bit of a bigger footprint, which will be very exciting for them and it gives us a chance to really sit down with our next door neighbor and say, great, how do we make this more of a museum campus?

Dr. Ellenbogen: 34:15 Yeah. And that’s a, that’s a very different kind of question. We certainly looked at other cities that have been able to create more of a museum campus. We have a museum campus right up the road at university circle where Cleveland Art Museum, cleavland natural history. They History Center the Botanic Garden, and look at our modern art museum. They make up a museum campus there, but we have a chance to create our new campus and we’re just beginning planning on that and that’s really raised a lot of great questions because we have different audiences, but there’s potential for overlap that we’re not taking advantage of. And uh, and there are a lot of different ways to get that synergy so that, that will be a great future here.

Nicole Mahoney: 35:02 Absolutely. That’s very exciting to hear. And there’s so much focus on, you know, water development, I’m hearing from everywhere actually the waterfront. And so that’s really exciting that you have this waterfront project going on as well. Um, and how much fun is that really to be part of this planning that’s going to last for generations and generations to come? Right? I mean, you’re really at the starting stages of something that’s going to take probably years get completed, but also a impact so many future generations beyond, beyond you.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 35:46 Exactly. Because things have come up where no, you can dive into the details and get a little nit picky about what goes where or what, what belongs to whom and how things should be organized. And stepping back from that to say, hold on, I understand this may belong to this group right now and this may belong to this group right now. And all of those sorts of things in 50 years. Is anyone gonna remember that w w when someone looks at this in 50 years, they should look and see, you know, a perfect symbiosis across the organizations rather than something that looks like it was Kinda chockablock construct together and so it’s a great group to work with because we have the same vision about that and it’s been fun to really sit down with a broader group of partners in the community and when things come up about the nitpicky, wow. You know, but no, not really. Your space or why would you extend that far? Why would you do this? There’s a really good answer about stepping back and thinking about it from a generational perspective because we’re not really doing this for us. We’re, we’re doing it for the next generations. As you said,

Nicole Mahoney: 37:08 you and I, before we started this interview, we were talking about, you were talking about some of the episodes of this podcast that you’ve listened to and there is an episode where I interviewed Rick and who used to be a he. He used to be the DMO for visit Vancouver, but we explored this whole concept of cathedral thinking. He actually runs a website around the topic and that’s exactly what you’re talking about here, that the whole idea from of cathedral thinking is really going back and taking those cathedral builders from back in the, you know, 14 hundreds I belief in Europe when they set out to build a cathedral and those first people that were laying that foundation, they knew that they were not going to be there when that Cathedral was finished actually, that it would be the next generation or even the generation after that that would complete it. And to be able to have that vision and to think that, you know, that far in advance I think is just amazing. And this is a perfect example of it. So I love it when that comes up because that’s one of my favorite episodes actually, uh, to really think about the work that we do in tourism and this whole concept of cathedral thinking.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 38:22 What we do will affect about the community that surrounds us. The cities that we’re working in, they rely so much on working with organizations like ourselves. So I love the cathedral thinking that. That makes perfect sense.

Nicole Mahoney: 38:43 Do you want to shift gears a little bit, although we’ve already been talking all about this through this entire interview, which I find happens a lot when we talk about tourism, but the whole idea of collaboration and how important it is to the work that we do. I mentioned earlier you’ve given us so many examples already of where collaborations have worked for you and, and where they’ve been successful. Um, I’m, I’m wondering though if you can share with us, and you’ve already shared so many golden nuggets about successful collaborations, but I’m wondering if we can just talk a little bit about this whole idea of managing expectations and kind of how you lay the ground work for any one of these successful partnerships that we’ve talked about. Do you have some best practices or words of advice that you can share with our listeners?

Dr. Ellenbogen: 39:38 Sure. So we, we touched on managing expectations by leveraging your strategic plan. And that’s very important in part because strategic plans not only tell you what you’re working on, but they tell you what you’re working on. And there are so many instances where I hold up the strategic yes, but that’s not our focus

Dr. Ellenbogen: 40:01 and I certainly find that that’s important to have. I would say the, the other pieces for managing expectations have really focused around evaluation. And sometimes people come in with big grand ideas about we’re all going to be marching in lockstep, we’re going to have one program across five organizations and everything will be sprinkled with fairy dust. And it’s, you look at some of it and think I’ve done big projects, but I can’t imagine how we’re going to get that off the ground in, in the short term. And so a lot of times I find that it’s, uh, so much more effective to work from the back, if that makes sense or, or from the very fundamental groundwork. And what I mean by that is getting everybody in a, in one room and talking about audience and outcomes. And there’s a lot of collaboration that comes from a green on audiences you’re serving and the outcomes you expect.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 41:14 Uh, and, and you know, from a tourism perspective, that might be everything from, from realizing that organizations you thought you were in competition with actually you’re serving significantly different audiences or audiences with some very different motivations and therefore there’s, there’s less of a complete overlap than you expected and from the evaluation standpoint on that or the outcome standpoint on that, I, I really do find that when I sit down and have a deep conversation with someone about what they believe their organization does and the role it plays in tourism or in serving the community. Uh, you know, for example, economic development, right, for our buddies next door at the rock hall, they play a massive role in economic development for the community at Great Lakes Science Center. We play a workforce development role, right? We are very much the workforce partner that works with local corporations. We work with national corporations to really think, okay, 10 and 20 years down the line, what are the skills that your future workforce need and what does that mean about the skills and the inspiration we’re providing.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 42:33 Um, for those, you know, middle schoolers today. So it gives us a good way of saying, look, we may both be in a conversation with the city, but we’re coming at it from different angles and it creates a lot of space for us. We’ve also done that with programming where multiple museums are supporting the school district and this is a common thing I think any large city you find that there’s some sort of formal collaboration between, um, the school district and museums, whether it’s in the arts, in the sciences, a combination of the two, something like that. But I see it almost everywhere I go. And we have a great program here in Cleveland. We recently rebranded it as for Psi and it started out with an environmental focus and great lakes science center wasn’t even part of it. But as it grew, what really was powerful for managing expectations was to get everybody in the room together.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 43:40 All of the organizations. And in this instance what we decided is it had to not just be education leadership from each of the museums but also the CEO. And so we locked ourselves in a room for two days and came up with a common set of outcomes which ended up being incredibly powerful for us because the way this collaboration works is that each museum has adopted one or two grades of Cleveland public schools and we provide everything from teacher training to activities in the classroom to field trips for the entire grade two family programs for the families of the students and teachers in that grade. And we can only do it because it really has support from the top at Cleveland public schools. And we can also only do it because we all got together and said, well, this can’t be an utterly disjointed program because from the participant perspective, they’re going to go from kindergarten on up having this partnership with different museums around the community. And what’s the thread that unites us? Right? What are those common outcomes that we believe we’re all marching in the same direction around. Uh, and it’s been extremely powerful, not just for setting some expectation around, hey, here’s where we need to differentiate, but also then a powerful lever for going to funders. And insane. No, we really, this is truly a collaboration here. We’re offering very different programming or were doing different grades, but look at these common outcomes across and this is really one comprehensive effort to support Cleveland schools.

Nicole Mahoney: 45:33 Yeah, that’s really awesome. I think that’s really incredible. And I love that you, again, you got together, maybe you didn’t call it mapping this time, but it was really similar, right? You got together and, and um, I love that you’re starting with the outcomes and working backwards how you were able to essentially break up the grades, you know, and for each of the museums to adopt those couple of grades and really focus in. To me that seems like each one of you then can deliver a better service to the district because you’re that focused in kind of that narrow instead of trying to be everything to everyone.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 46:14 Absolutely. That’s a huge part of it.

Nicole Mahoney: 46:18 Yeah, I think that’s awesome. Well, Keirsten, I could just keep talking to you for quite a long time because you have so much to share, but I want to be respectful of your time and have our listeners’ time. So, um, before we say goodbye, are there any final thoughts or anything else that you would like to share that I haven’t asked you about and you’d like our listeners to know?

Dr. Ellenbogen: 46:44 I would say going into a partnership with eyes wide open that it’s likely that you may have to give up something. We, uh, we have a very big temporary exhibit space that allows us to rent exhibitions much larger than any of the other science related museums in town. And that’s a real competitive edge. But when I got here, what I had found is that we had slipped deep into the pit of we’re booking this exhibition because we can. And not because it really drove our strategic plan or the focus that we have as an organization. Right? It is, it didn’t support the differentiator of what makes Great Lakes Science Center special in Cleveland. I in many ways made us look like other museums out there really in many ways obscured our brand. And a, it was hard to give some of those up. It was definitely an instance of having to come to the table and say, this is one instance where bigger is better, is not going to serve as well, and we have to give up something that looks like a benefit on the surface that’s actually hurting us longterm because if you don’t have a solid brand, right, it was painful and, and it was definitely a definitive moment of saying we are giving that up. We are walking away from that opportunity, um, but the benefits that have happened because we did that, uh, just numerous.

Nicole Mahoney: 48:39 Yeah, that’s incredible. And that does require, um, you know, eyes wide open and really great leadership and vision and I think that that’s a wonderful way to, to being able to recognize, you know, kind of that bigger picture and staying true to who you are and to who your brand is and making those hard decisions. I think that’s really, really tremendous advice and I thank you very much, Kirsten, for spending time with us today and we’ll look forward to checking in with you again.

Dr. Ellenbogen: 49:09 Thank you. My pleasure.

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