Is Outsourcing Really Necessary? Strategic and Limited Use of “Out-of-the-Area” Consultants

Local people and materials are obvious choices for local design and building ambitions, but a local mindset helps these elements reach their maximum potential. An outside consultant can be useful or at times necessary; not all your needs can be met with local expertise, and we all have limitations. Carefully weigh your ideals against what’s possible and practical.  Be strategic about your limited use of outside consultants. You’ll find that the relationships and resources you’re seeking are most often close to home.

Some decisions to outsource come from a rapport or familiarity with talents nationwide. No one should be punished for being well-connected, but finding local innovators, designers, builders, and thinkers can create new business relationships with a more immediate exchange of ideas and greater accountability for all parties; human beings are more responsive when a problem hits close to home, and people have more at stake with what’s happening in their backyard than across time zones. If you choose to hire someone outside your area, ask yourself whether the job could be done better and more efficiently by someone with a closer, more vivid perspective and lay of the land.

For example, you may need to hire a facilitator from within the museum field but outside your region to help frame your master planning process if you don’t have a well-seasoned staff who can tackle that challenge. Or you may need a fabricator who really understands how to build things that can withstand the abuse that children’s museum exhibits must endure if you don’t have an experienced exhibit staff.  If consultants are needed, it should be under the condition that they help you find your own local direction and build local capacity, either on staff or within your community as part of the process. The goal should be to make your museum self-sufficient, and ultimately not reliant on outside consultants. Working solely with outsiders simply cannot lead to the creation of an exhibit or project that truly reflects your community.

Locally built exhibit

Approximately 84 percent of MCM’s exhibits budget was spent locally. This included hiring local artists, using local sustainable and reclaimed materials, and hiring local fabricators, cabinetmakers, and exhibit designers.  Of course, the remaining 16 percent was spent on outsourced materials and expertise, most of which was simply not available locally at affordable costs. Sometimes a little outsourcing is ultimately practical, if not unavoidable. Or in our case, we hired an out-of-state consultant to create our water feature because local expertise was not available. It felt like too big of a gamble to test out an unknown local “expert” on something so critical.