Helping a Historic Museum Prepare for the Future
Using design thinking to improve access, experience, and culture
Help Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry build a vision for its next decade with an actionable plan to enhance equity and access—and support its fundraising efforts.
A future vision built through actionable briefs of new initiatives and internal structures to support MSI's capital campaign, which has seen the largest single donation in the museum’s history.
The Museum of Science and Industry’s mission is to inspire children to achieve their full potential in the fields of science, technology, medicine, and engineering. Leaders at MSI realized they needed to drive day-to-day operations and maintain historic exhibits while focusing on where to go next. To prepare for its next decade, MSI worked with IDEO to create a new business focus to support the museum’s aspirations for the future. The plan would allow MSI to respond to the demands of the marketplace and raise the funds to get there.
At the beginning of the project, MSI laid out its priorities: improve equity of access, enhance the museum experience, and create a more innovative culture. To dive into each of these areas, IDEO conducted immersive research with families, teachers, donors, and staff.
IDEO brought together 60-plus donors, board members, and staff members to engage in a design thinking exercise to unpack and address the tensions that come with choosing a new strategic trajectory. Instead of having a standard ballot vote, the IDEO team encouraged participants to get up and vote with their feet, helping the group of stakeholders physically align on the museum’s new direction.
At the end of the research and prototyping phases, MSI and IDEO developed a vision called Provoking Minds, Inspiring Futures, creating six detailed design briefs to equip MSI teams to bring initiatives forward. The briefs laid out everything from recommending a new Department of Next, dedicated to ensuring that the future is at the heart of everything the MSI does, to MSI Runway, a place for experimental, small-scale, and limited-run exhibits. The ideas were brought to life with an interactive exhibit, built quickly with everyday materials like plywood and circuit boards, to demonstrate that creating an inspiring vision of the future doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor.
The team also focused on insights that highlighted accessibility issues some families brought up early in the design process—travel across the city via public transportation can be lengthy, and the cost of admission to special exhibits could be prohibitive. To address these concerns, IDEO came up with the Mission Accessible brief: Inspired by casino buses, MSI bus stop signs would be posted in various low-income neighborhoods, signaling a way to take kids and families to the museum for free.
Our collaboration was a great piece of creative work that has led to alignment, clarity and renewed purpose for the next decade.
David Mosena, CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry
During the project, the IDEO team identified some low-hanging fruit, like rethinking ticketing and improving the student field trip experience, and helped the museum create cross-functional innovation teams to apply design thinking skills towards solving those challenges. They researched, brainstormed, and pushed forward new concepts, meeting weekly to share and build on ideas. At the end of the four week period, each team prototyped their ideas—new outdoor programming, software tools for visiting tour groups—and pitched them to each other.
In 2019, two years after the conclusion of the project, the collaboration paid off. With its new strategic plan and additional resources, the museum has renewed its commitment to serving youth, and MSI’s team, including donors, are aligned on a collective vision of the future. MSI raised more funds than in any previous year, including the single largest gift in its history—$125 million, nearly half of its $380 million fundraising goal—that will help ensure the years ahead.