A mission statement is essentially a statement about why an organization exists.
Look at non-profit mission statements, and the word “dissemination” is often found. It’s an aspiration to get information out, propagate information beyond a limited scope, broadcast information widely, and serve the field and influence society by doing so.
But is “dissemination” today mission-worthy? Or is it a leftover from an era of scarcity, when publishing faced geographical, mechanical, and physical barriers that required sizable centralized resources to overcome?
In those days, the power to disseminate information was to be envied. It was hard to create, hard to sustain, and a true differentiator. Boasting of “dissemination” as a mission aspiration and duty was a somber obligation to something non-trivial. It set you apart.
Granted, there are still barriers to overcome in getting information into the right hands at the right time, but is dissemination still representative of the barriers we face? Most scientists and physicians can have the same access to scientific information nearly anywhere in the world, with no delay and the same barriers they’d face at work or home. The information is all sitting right there, instantly accessible. Its dissemination is a given.
Users are often very effective at disseminating information. They forward emails, link via Twitter or Facebook, and share offline. Google itself is a major disseminator of our information. Dissemination is no longer a distinctive trait for an organization, but a fact of life for not only any organization but also for any of its constituents. It has become a completely diluted term with little power to define an organization uniquely.
In fact, the challenges we’re now facing in communication and curation of information are not about dissemination itself, but about selection, targeting, filtering, and notification. Imagine a mission-drive publisher with a mission not based on dissemination but, instead, on filtering (this is a playful modification of an actual mission statement):
The Institute’s mission is to improve and internationally promote the health and productivity of sock wearers through its mandate to generate scientific research in socks, sock sorting, sock varieties, sock habitats and sock products; educational programs in sock management practices and sock-related enterprises; and
disseminatingfiltering, critically assessing, and selecting information to improve scientific and educational endeavors related to socks.
To me, that seems a more compelling mission than “disseminating,” which was in the original. After all, in the age of abundance, it’s not getting to information that’s a problem, it’s knowing which information is worth spending time with that is the problem.