Balboa Park Cultural Partnership

Participating Organizations

  • Centro Cultural de la Raza, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego Automotive Museum, San Diego, CA
  • WorldBeat Center, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego Art Institute: Museum of the Living Artist, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego History Center, San Diego, CA
  • Japanese Friendship Garden, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego Hall of Champions, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego, CA
  • Balboa Park Central, San Diego, CA
  • Mingei International Museum, San Diego, CA
  • Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CA
  • Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego Junior Theatre, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego Model Railroad Museum, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego Museum of Man, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego Youth Symphony & Conservatory, San Diego, CA
  • Spanish Village Art Center, San Diego, CA
  • The Old Globe, San Diego, CA
  • Timken Museum of Art, San Diego, CA
  • Veterans Museum & Memorial Center, San Diego, CA
  • Zoological Society of San Diego, San Diego, CA

Please note that all data below was derived from the collaboration's nomination for the Collaboration Prize. None of the submitted data were independently verified for accuracy.


An alliance or similar collaborative structure through which members retain structural autonomy and have defined roles and responsibilities to achieve specific social goals or purposes
Arts and Culture
  • Develop a stronger / more effective "voice"
  • Expand reach and/or range of services / programs
  • Improve the quality of services / programs
  • High / increasing costs
  • Advancement of a shared goal
Executive Director(s) / CEO(s) / President(s)
  • Funded initial exploration
  • Funded implementation
To develop a business plan or strategic plan for the collaboration

The Balboa Park Cultural Partnership (BPCP) was formed in 2003 as the collective voice for 24 San Diego cultural institutions located in one of the nation’s largest urban parks. Currently we have 26 members, including a variety of museums, gardens, performing and visual arts organizations, cultural centers, and the San Diego Zoo. Together our 7,000 volunteers, 500 trustees, and 3,500 staff serve more than 6.5 million people annually.
The impetus for forming our partnership was a crisis—in 1999-2000 the City of San Diego was considering alternate uses for Balboa Park. Several executive directors began talking to each other about the need to work together to educate the City. Due to the success of this initial joint effort, the executive directors decided to continue working together. Strategic planning was conducted from 2001-2003 and resulted in formal incorporation as a 501(c)3.
Several intentional choices contributed to our success. One was the conscious decision that only executive directors (not staff or substitutes) could attend meetings. This ensured that decision-makers were always in the room, preventing delays in taking action. Another pivotal item was our mission statement. It makes explicit that members must balance the needs of institutions with the group as a whole; that the public is an important purpose of our Partnership; that we have an obligation to future generations, not just today; and that we seek to optimize ourselves individually and collectively through a systems perspective.


One Executive Director / CEO / President

The governance and management structure was determined as part of the 2001-03 strategic planning process. Our board members are the executive directors of the 24 charter members. An important part of the management structure is the equalization of power. Members pay scaled dues based on their budget size so that participation is affordable for all sizes of organizations. However, each member gets one vote, regardless of its size or amount of dues paid. Decision-making is centralized. Our 2009-12 strategic plan set our organizational priorities as learning, sustainability, advocacy, and visitor experience.


  • Clarifying partner roles
  • Raising funds or integrating fund development to support the collaboration
  • Creating a shared culture
  • Internal and external communication

Original challenges included sustaining the attention of executive directors and building trust. While the executive directors eagerly participated during the initial crisis in 1999-2000, since then we sometimes struggle with achieving quorums. This is largely due to the dual role they play—not only serving on our board, but also leading their own institutions. This has worsened with the economic difficulties their organizations have faced recently. We work to overcome this challenge by nurturing personal relationships. When directors feel connected to each other they have a sense of accountability to their peers. We also manage their attention through communications that give bottom-line information, with detailed information attached for those who want specifics. Trust has built up over the years through give and take. As members have seen each other make concessions, willingness to communicate openly and take on riskier projects has increased. We are now exploring the possibility of a joint membership program that would give the public free admission and discounted performances to our member institutions. This entails the possibility of financial risk to their institutions. We are addressing this with research and data to thoughtfully assess that risk. Other challenges we face include fundraising (the Partnership does not want to compete for local sources that support our members); blurring of roles and responsibilities (e.g., policy making vs. management); and insularity (our board structure does not allow for external stakeholder leadership).


  • Financial savings - Joint purchasing
  • Fund development - Access to new / more sources of funding
  • Human resources - Shared and / or improved training and professional development
  • Stronger / more effective "voice"
  • Greater range / variety of services/programs offered

We measure results both quantitatively and qualitatively. Two quantitative outcomes include energy and financial savings (e.g., 4.1 million kWhs saved annually, translating to $620,000 in cost savings each year for our members through our sustainability program), and 2,000 staff and volunteers trained through our Balboa Park Learning Institute (a professional development program created with funding from IMLS to improve the professional practice of the Park’s employees, volunteers, and board members). Qualitative outcomes include coordinating planning for major Park-wide initiatives such as the Centennial celebration in 2015; exploring new operational models for the Park such as shared services and a revised governance structure for Balboa Park (currently operated by the City of San Diego, with cultural institutions as leaseholders); and implementing a Park-wide audience evaluation program. Feedback received from IMLS indicates the Partnership is forging new ground for cultural districts. Impacts to the community include more efficient operation of 26 nonprofits; a stronger focus on customers and how they can become co-creators in our programming; and more educated policymakers who better understand the transformative role arts and culture can play in addressing social issues such as education and job training. We have learned that reflection and dissemination are two essential ingredients. We need to loop back on our actions to make sense of them and improve our future practice. We need to share our actions and learning with other organizations to improve the arts, culture, and nonprofit sectors and also to learn from them. In the past year we have made six regional/national presentations which have helped us with both reflection and dissemination.


Just as organizations have a life cycle, collaborations also evolve (LaPiana, 2001). We hypothesize we are at the “institutionalization” stage and face a bifurcation point. Alternatives include focusing on the maintenance of our current model. The Organizational Development literature indicates this would likely result in stasis and decline. Or we can choose to self-renew intentionally. This will involve developing and articulating our Theory of Change (Gowdy et al., 2009), a work now in progress. Our current thinking includes:
- Building adaptive capacity, both in our Partnership and our member institutions (Gowdy et al., 2009; Sussman, 2003).
- External focus and boundary spanning (Alexander, 2000). Through our development committee we are seeking to combat insularity by bringing in external perspectives to our organization.
- Developing Human sigma (creativity, authenticity)
- Cognitive shifts (diversity, systems thinking)
- Making power relations explicit and fostering distributed leadership
- Learning through applied, shared, and reflective methods
- Networking: building communities of practice (e.g. affinity groups such as curators, HR managers); strengthening relationships; and cross-pollinating expertise and perspectives (e.g., departments, institutions, and sectors).
- Recognizing that the process is perhaps the most important outcome of all. Connections, relationships, and space for dialogue are the real products that will renew and sustain the collaborative.

Efficiencies Achieved

The Balboa Park Cultural Partnership has a ten year history of creating efficiencies, cost savings, increased revenues, and expanded program delivery. Since 2001 we have grown from a two-person organization with a $100,000 budget to our current size of 8 employees and a budget of more than $1 million. Our members’ active involvement and support have made this growth possible. Also contributing to this growth was our conscious decision to focus on strengthening connections with our external environment. Here we provide examples of success we have achieved through two programs that are gaining attention as national models.
The Balboa Park Sustainability Program: BPSP's mission is to preserve and enhance Balboa Park’s natural resources for current and future generations. BPSP promotes sustainability on three levels: social, economic, and environmental, recognizing these are inextricably linked and so must be addressed simultaneously. Over the past two years we have secured $2.5 million in new financial resources for this program through non-traditional resources (SDG&E, our local energy provider, and federal stimulus funding applied for in partnership with the City of San Diego). These grant applications were quite complex, and most likely no single institution could have devoted sufficient resources to navigate the lengthy application process. Through collaboration, our members were able to channel resources to apply collectively. These efforts are producing $700,000 in annual energy savings for our members, money they can now re-invest in their programs and mission instead of their light bills. In addition to cost savings, the program is also creating significant energy savings, reducing Balboa Park’s carbon footprint by 4.4 million KWh in energy savings and 3,251 metric tons of CO2 annually. These results are measured annually through the EPA Energy Star program, and are compared to benchmark energy audits conducted by the City of San Diego in 2004-06. We have also helped two institutions achieve LEED certification for existing buildings, and have created partnerships with regional sustainability organizations to bring intern resources to the Park to help guide several other institutions to LEED certification. The vision of BPSP is to mobilize Balboa Park and neighboring communities, preserve natural resources, reduce climate change, and become a national model for sustainable business practices. We seek to model sustainability in our thinking, language, action, and relationships; to increase awareness by making information available to our stakeholders; and to create shared leadership among facility directors and staff to become champions for sustainable practices in our member institutions. Strategies include stakeholder engagement (bringing together facility directors for monthly “lunch and learns”, simultaneously strengthening social capital, building awareness/knowledge, and forming mentor relationships as new staff come on board), education, capacity building, bringing in specialized financing tools, and implementing lighting and HVAC retrofits.
The Balboa Park Learning Institute (BPLI): BPLI is a professional development program designed to improve the professional practice of staff and volunteers. It was funded through a competitive grant process through the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services in 2008, generating $500,000 in new financial resources for Balboa Park. Other goals of the program are to create a pipeline of future leaders, and to create knowledge through applied research that can advance the arts/culture/nonprofit sectors. In 2009-10 BPLI programs served 1,684 people through 41 programs, exceeding its target goal of serving 1,000 staff through 24 workshops. Programs and curricula included collections care, project management, grant writing, governance, evaluation, universal access, disaster preparedness, volunteer training, and team building. To gauge the success of the program we contracted with a professional evaluator, Dr. Marianna Adams of Audience Focus, to conduct a participatory evaluation program that would simultaneously evaluate the BPLI while building capacity (both our collaboration’s and our respective member institutions’) to conduct future evaluations. Recurring themes from qualitative data include that BPLI: a) helps with motivation and inspiration; b) builds social capital, making collaboration and partnership easier; c) generates ideas through sharing, reflection, and learning about different potential approaches to challenges; d) builds group capacity in a unified manner by taking on a shared work-place challenge and addressing them together. One of the highlights of this shared learning has been the “Audience Evaluation” project, a ten-month program that brought together 12 institutions to create a single survey instrument, collection benchmark data, compare it amongst the participating Balboa Park institutions, and consider ways the data can be used to improve operations, programs, and mission fulfillment. Outcomes of the project include: a) building evaluation capacity at 12 Balboa Park institutions; b) creating shared understanding among a variety of employee types (marketing, Chief Financial Officers, education, visitor services, collections managers) and volunteers; c) creating a way for audiences to reflect onsite about their experiences at the institutions; and d) shifting the culture of participating institutions to a more visitor-centered, externally focused perspective.
We use the following methodologies to create our evaluation process and track changes:
A. Begin with the end in mind: i) Develop shared clarity about purpose and program goals; ii)Build metrics and professional evaluation methods into initial program design; iii) Use (and build on) existing evaluation frameworks (e.g., EPA Energy Star); iv) Engage stakeholders in program design and evaluation process through participatory evaluation (Mertens, 2007); B. Communicate progress regularly and transparently to program participants, funders, and external audiences; C) Design for scalability (so that programs can be sized up or down depending on needs and resources); D) Design for replicability and sharing so that processes and practices can be transferred to other organizations and communities); E) We think of evaluation as part of a continuous, multi-layered process of evolution to improve the Partnership, our member organizations, and the larger community.
Time frames: typically annual, sometimes expanding to multi-year for grants.

Efficiency vs. Effectiveness: We clearly believe in metrics, and have established them for all our programs as described above. At the same time we recognize that some things are less easily measured. We strive for both efficiency and effectiveness, as evidenced by the corresponding examples below.
• Efficiency: a)Task-orientation; b) e-mail; c) cost savings; d) problem solving; e) single-point interventions; f) information exchange; g)intelligence; h) a mental model that we should know and have the answers.
• Effectiveness: a) Purpose-orientation; b) in-person visits; c) generating new resources; d) co-creation, system transformation, and cognitive shifts; e) layered interventions that build synergy among programs and partners; f) knowledge creation, wisdom, and meaning; g)a mental model of exploration and discovery--it is ok not to have all the answers right now--we will figure it out together.


Current challenges include:
* Finding ways to continue operating our grant-funded programs after the award period ends. We are addressing this challenge by working to diversify our revenue streams. Currnelty we are largely dependent on grants. Exacerbating this challenge is that we are committed to not competing with our members for funding from local foundations. One strategy we are exploring is to broaden our prospect pool by approaching national foundations and the federal government. A second strategy is to develop earned income sources. Funding from The James Irvine Foundation is enabling us to conduct a feasibility study to develop a Park-wide Membership program. The intial phases of this study indicates this program could create between $7.5 and $22 milliion annually by the fifth year of operation. We will soon begin the third phase of the study which will include market testing and development of a business plan. Revenue sharing will be a key element of that plan, and will be structured so as to reward cross-marketing and program planning among members. Data generated from the “smart card” tracking system we envision will help us learn more about our visitors, create more relevant programming for them, and market those programs to them based on their interests.
• Securing start-up capital for new projects. For example, we would like to build on the success of our Collective Business program (e.g., group purchasing and credit card payment processing) to create a shared services program for back-office functions like Human Resources, accounting, and facility maintenance. However, it has been difficult to find funders willing to risk investment in what they perceive as a novel (and potentially risky, in their minds) project. We work to overcome this challenge by beginning our program design processes s with literature reviews. This ensures we have a solid understanding of academic research on the subject, and that we are building on evidence-based or best practices. We further build a market research component into our program planning so we have a good understanding of the external environment in which the program will be operating. Finally, we typically prototype our projects so that we can learn from our mistakes early in the implementation process and make improvements to address what we learned from the first stage.
• Avoiding favoritism: We are not perfect, and we see some of our blind spots. We can be seen as reaching out more to certain organizations. We are making a concerted effort to examine our interactions and how we can distribute our attention more evenly.

As we have matured, unexpected benefits of collaborartion have surfaced, including:
• Expansion of identity. Members are starting to think of themselves as part of a “cultural ecosystem”, recognizing that the health of their own institution is best served when all institutions are doing well. This shift in identity has manifested as flexibility, willingness to make, and concessions, and courage to risk innovative and novel approaches.
• Giving birth to a sister agency, the Balboa Park Online Collaborative. This organization began last year as a way to address the technology needs of our members. Its accomplishments include expanding public access to collections through digitization, strengthening the technology infrastructure at member institutions, and providing staffing support for IT operations throughout Balboa Park.

Our past accomplishments and our future aspirations merit our consideration for the Collaboration Prize. Plans for the coming year include:
• Creating ways for the community to co-create our institutions. In keeping with the tenets of autopoiesis and cybernetics we seek to create structures that enable us to simultaneously affect, and be affected by, our environment. We have two primary vehicles in the planning stages for this goal:
o Building institutional and collaborative capacity for audience experience. Experience is the intersection of an organism with its environment (Maturana and Varela). Experience also connects temporal dimensions--the past (people make sense of current experience by comparing it to their past experiences), the present (assessing their “now” experience to their current context and environment), and the future (mentally projecting the relevance of the experience to their values and future goals (Shedroff). We will use the audience experience evaluation project results now being analyzed to bring a cross section of people (staff from various departments within various organizations, and volunteers) to design programs to improve both responsiveness to our audiences and ways to have them help us co-create our programming.
o We are now planning the Centennial Celebration of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. We sponsored a charrette process that brought in a professional design firm to develop a theme, mission statement, objectives, and preliminary metrics. This process identified creative captial and co-creation as two key themes. Building on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we will infuse opportunties for meaning-seeking and sensemaking throughout the audience experiences we develop for the Centennial. o
• Metacognition: We strive to encourage people to think about their thinking. This includes the mental models under which we operate, the assumptions we don’t typically realize we are making, and creating diversity of perspectives to overcome our cognitive blind spots.
• Our Theory of Change includes:
o Building creative capital: As an arts and culture community, creativity is one of our strengths. We seek to leverage that strength by fostering the creativity of our workforce, our audiences, our volunteers, and our future leaders.
o Building social capital (building relationships by creating social dimensions for our programs). We recognize that our relationships that are fundamental to our viability and adaptive capacity.\
o Optimizing human sigma (e.g., employee engagement and experience; leadership development. Thank you for your consideration of our application.

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