Friday, April 8, 2011

Community Museum Assistance Program

Having a collections manager mind, I like stats and having things organized...knowing what's what.   I confess that I am a stats junkie when it comes to my blog.  If I see that a new country has popped up in the list I announce it triumphantly to my co-workers, and I enjoy competing with myself to see if I can increase the previous month's traffic.  I plan on devoting a blog post to museum visitor statistics, so in preparation for that and in light of the international visitors that find my blog, here's a snapshot of how the community museum world operates in Nova Scotia.

Last week I attended a talk by Paul Collins, the Coordinator of the Community Museum Assistance Program (CMAP).  Paul and I tend to work together a fair bit, and we've had our share of road trips.  Paul is basically the provincial government's version of a museum advisor, so it's not unusual for me to get calls from people that start out, "I was talking with Paul Collins and he said I should phone you..." 
CMAP was established in the 1960s and is still a uniquely Nova Scotian program.  Providing operating support to museums that "effectively provide access to their collections, information and facilities for the benefit of the community", Paul works closely with pan-provincial heritage groups like ANSM in order to provide museums with an integrated approach.

The 1990s saw an evolution of the program, so it now includes a two-part evaluation system: the self-assessment and triennial peer evaluation.  The self-assessment is a 200+ questionnaire that is designed to help museums figure out their strengths and weaknesses so that they can prioritize their work.  It is also a great tool for groups that are thinking about starting a museum.  As Paul says, many of these organizations will call and ask for the assessment and then never move ahead because they realize that museum work is far more complicated than they thought.  It's a great reality check for any museum though, regardless of how long they have been in operation.
Once a museum completes the self-assessment and formally applies to become part of CMAP, they are evaluated by a 3-person team of their peers.  This team spends half a day at the museum looking at the following areas: Collections and Access to Information, Community, Facility, Governance, Interpretation, Management, and Marketing.  If the museum makes the grade, a recommendation is made to the provincial government that they be added to the program.

2003 map of community museums in NS,
slightly out-of-date now
67 community museums are currently part of this funding program, and as Paul explained to his audience last Tuesday, they get a lot out of it.  In addition to the funding dollars, they have a clear understanding of excellence.  They also have to report their visitor statistics to government, so we know a lot about who is visiting community museums.  The triennial evaluation provides an excellent motivation to "clean up" every few years, and the museums are always keen to improve their last score.  They are also competing with other museums - the high and low scores are circulated without the name of the receiving museums, so everyone knows what the score is to beat.  Since this process first started in 1995, the average score has gone from 51.9% to 73.9%, with the annual high score being around 97%.

For organizations like ANSM, the evaluations are a great way to learn about training needs.  While we never know who got what score (unless they feel like bragging), we are notified about trends across the province, which means we can adjust our training accordingly.

So until next time, good luck on the self-assessment and feel free to comment on training needs that you've noticed.

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