My biggest takeaway over the last several months is experiencing the unique challenges working in government agency can present. My initial expectations were that this project would have been complete by now; however, progress on the project has moved much more slowly than I had anticipated. Working in a job where I have a great deal of control over my ability to complete tasks on my time has been a stark contrast to working on a job in which external forces drive the schedule far more than precisely planned deadlines.
My internship took a GIANT pause in December 2018 when the government shut down for 40 plus days just as I had made some networking inroads between the Smithsonian and DC Public Schools. Because we were still in the planning stages, the inability to communicate with museum staff left my work largely frozen.
I used the time to reflect on choosing an appropriate platform for the digital exhibit. I knew I had lost ground on two fronts – lost time in developing the digital collaboration with DCPS as well as lost time for DCPS students to access to the exhibit’s physical run. In order to make up for lost time, I knew that I would need to create a rich digital interface that would be relatively straightforward to construct. I determined that ArcGIS’s StoryMaps platform might be appropriate given the emphasis on location in the exhibit.
When the shut down ended, I was faced with a new difficulty – knowledge that the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum would be closing its doors in late March for six months of renovation. Because of my status as an intern, Smithsonian staff had not been able to let me know that the museum would be closing for most of the year when I was mapping out the project. This left the plans I had developed with DCPS in even greater limbo. Museum staff were scrambling themselves to button up their own projects in advance of the move, and communication continued to be a challenge.
However, the museum closure actually helped to generate a stronger buy-in for a digital exhibit that would live on after the exhibit closes. Because the physical life of the exhibit had been shortened, museum staff recognized an increasing importance to lengthen its run virtually. When project communication finally opened up, my suggestion of StoryMaps was well-received, especially since it was being independently pushed as a platform for other projects associated with the Smithsonian and ACM in particular.
Another unexpected, but important lesson I’ve learned has been the power of connection, networking and shared goals. During the conference call between Smithsonian and ArcGIS representatives, it was clear that the Smithsonian mission to deliberately partner with DCPS helped to strengthen buy-in and support from the Smithsonian professionals in the larger organization. ArcGIS representatives were equally willing to offer a significant level of support for the project because of their organization’s mission to promote the use of StoryMaps in school districts across the nation. That both of these assets can be deployed free of charge should make it appealing to DCPS as well.
After 8 months of starts and stops, I am finally working on actually making the digital exhibit I imagined at the first stages of my internship in October 2018. I’ve learned that persistence, patience and polite communication go a long way toward helping projects to actually come alive. I still have miles to go, but I can finally see a clear path forward.