Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 2017 Update

CNSA Education Committee
In addition to ANSM committees, I sit on the Council of Nova Scotia Archives' Education Committee in an ex-officio capacity. It's so important to maintain communication and compare notes with professional colleagues. In this situation, it allows us to talk about shared needs of our members (many of whom are also shared). Given the insights we garnered from the Museum Evaluation Program of training needs, one way we are collaborating is in the application for a Canadian Conservation Institute regional workshop. Regional workshops are pretty competitive, as only two per region are on offer, and there are 4 provinces in the Atlantic region. So in discussing the options and results of the evaluation, CNSA & ANSM agreed that ANSM would apply for the Disaster Planning workshop and members of both organizations would get the member registration rate. So keep your fingers crossed that our application is successful because this training is definitely needed by a lot of museums. And hopefully this can be inspiration for you. How are you partnering with your professional peers?

Central Region Heritage Group
The other big meeting I attended this month was the CRHG meeting, hosted by Scott Manor House in Bedford. I wish I'd taken a picture of the group because there were a lot of people around the table. It was impressive. Some new faces and old faces and good discussions about what's going on and how we can work more together. If you aren't sure these meetings are valuable or worth your time, here's an interesting statistic from last summer's museum evaluations. The average score of museums that attended their regional meetings at least once a year was 74.1%. On the flip side, those that did not attend regional meetings only had an average score of 52.1%. We see this as proof that we are stronger together, casually learning is key, and being engaged with your professional community is critical.

Museum Evaluation Program
Evaluations are still front and centre in our world. This summer we will be evaluating the 28 Nova Scotia Museum sites, and we're following the same basic timeline as last year. So right now there is a lot of resource sharing and question & answer happening as these museums prepare to submit their information for Documentation Review in May. That may sound far away, but in reality it's coming up fast, and we know from last year that those museums that prepared over the winter months fared better than those that waited until Spring to start working on stuff. Next year we will be opening up the evaluation to museums that have never been evaluated before and are not part of CMAP or NSM. If you're interested in this, check out our website for more information on the program. You can download all the documents and be in touch with questions about getting involved. Speaking of getting involved, we are currently looking for evaluators to help with this summer's work. If you have been working with museums for 10 years or more, have never worked for the Nova Scotia Museum, enjoy helping museums, and have a few spare weeks in July, this might be just the opportunity for you. The above website link will give you information and the application form. Applications are due February 24th. The steering committee will meet in early March to select the evaluators and establish the teams.
If anyone has not yet read the 2016 Museum Evaluation Report it is also available on our website.

CollectiveAccess and NovaMuse InfoAs I mentioned last month, a lot of museums are quiet right now so there's not a lot of database work going on. But here at ANSM we've actually been knee-deep in database work. We have just finished migrating a museum's database from an icky old system to CollectiveAccess. It was quite the undertaking, and still is as we do some batch editing to update info to the current nomenclature standards and prepare a "moving forward" report for the organization. This migration work has totally skewed our database stats for this month. In addition to the 600 records and 900 images that got manually added in January, we brought in almost 52,000 records and 7800+ images from the migration. It will be a while yet before any of those records get onto NovaMuse, but the first major hurdle has been jumped.

That's quite the addition to our collective numbers, so here are the new regional standings:
Southwest - 124,602 artifacts, 56,375 images
Central - 98,883 artifacts, 39,202 images
Northeast - 32,884 artifacts, 25,867
Cape Breton - 29,394 artifacts, 13,773 images

Made in Nova Scotia
I also mentioned in a recent post that we were trying to tackle more Made in NS work - slowly picking through the stockpile of resources we have to add to that database. In addition to all the extra notes we've been able to add to the 7600 existing entries, we've added over 200 new artisan & business profiles. It's really nice to see this resource bulk up. It has such huge potential as a research tool and we're finding it really satisfying to fill in gaps and expand its offerings. Sandi has finished adding in Colchester Furniture Makers. Huge thanks to Nan at the Colchester Historeum for giving us this book. It's a nice addition to our reference library and the Made in NS database. The silversmiths book is still slowly being worked through.
Don't forget to tag your Made in NS artifacts to their maker in the database! On the enriched page, use the Made in Nova Scotia field to search and make the link. If an artisan/business isn't in the list, be in touch and we can get them added right away.

"adopted" museums - 2017
Fleming Project
Our annual class assignment launched on January 17th and the students are busy working through
their selected records. We've got 27 students partnered up with 9 museums and working on 10 records each. The proofreading & basic editing portion (aka phase 1) of the assignment will end on February 24th, and then they get to pick out two of their artifacts for further research. We've got a Facebook group set up so I can field questions and provide guidance if needed. As in previous years, it will be really interesting to see what kinds of improvements and extra info they dig up during the assignment. It's quite the mixed bag of artifacts included this year; from the agricultural artifacts of Cole Harbour Farm Museum to the fishing artifacts of LaHave Islands Marine Museum, and a wide variety of household and community-related items from across the province. Hats, wedding dresses, photographs, postcards, dishes, furniture...you name it, we've included it.
For anyone thinking ahead to when their next turn will be (assuming the assignment continues), a good way to prepare is to keep working on digitizing your artifacts. We only include items that have good quality photos attached since the students have to rely on the database record rather than physical, in-person examination of the artifact. One more reason to keep that imaging work chugging along.

Last but definitely not least is our Canada 150 Touchstones project. I'm not going to say too much about this because Sandi wrote a lovely blog post about the initial voting phase. What I do want to say is thank you to the museums that got involved and promoted their artifacts on social media. It worked. And from what we're hearing, everyone saw a little boost in their online audience as a result. There's that strength in numbers principle popping up again. This was completely new territory for ANSM, and for a number of museums as well, but we definitely learned a lot and can say that so far it's been a success. Over 25,000 votes were cast for favourite artifacts, and we've just found out that our application for funding for the next phase has been approved. So stay tuned for more info, and let's hope the teachers union and province settle their dispute soon so we can get things rolling with the students.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

#150Touchstones: Reflecting on the Initial Voting Phase

The initial voting phase for #150Touchstones has come to a close. For those of you new to the blog, Touchstones is ANSM's Canada150 Project. Touchstones: Exploring Nova Scotia’s history in 150 years of confederation. ANSM launched Touchstones on November 24th last year and decided it would be best to keep voting open until January 15th to give the public a good chunk of time to explore NovaMuse. There was a large increase in votes after the holidays, which we expected. We encouraged everyone to pick out artifacts that are important to them, that reflected who they are as Nova Scotians, and the role Nova Scotia played in confederation and the evolution of Canada.

We wanted to give the public creative freedom to choose artifacts that they felt best suited the project's goal. With help from our partnering museums' engaging social media content, we received over 25, 000 votes in a little over a month and a half. Many of the votes reflected handpicked treasures chosen from museum staff and volunteers that they shared with their followers throughout the initial voting phase. If you wish to see the social media posts made by our partnering sites, search #150Touchstones on Facebook and Twitter. These results go to show how invested our audience is in sharing the rich history of Nova Scotia and the province's story.

The votes cover a wide array of interesting objects from across Nova Scotia. These objects pay tribute to our diversity and multifaceted cultural identity. The objects reflect various industries from across the province, such as: fishing,woodworking, mining, food processing, and more! There are various everyday objects in the mix as well: teapots, baskets, coins, school books, rugs, dishes, eyeglasses, snowshoes, sewing machines, ice skates, dresses, are just to name a few. A wide array of military items and sport memorabilia are also highlighted. Items that help tell the story of the Fathers of Confederation and other influential leaders and public figures in Nova Scotia also made the list.

To the right is a snapshot of the Top Ten artifacts chosen by the public. Click here to learn more!

One of our main goals with Touchstones is to foster a greater awareness of community museums across Nova Scotia. Many of these museums contain valuable artifacts telling of life in Nova Scotia throughout the years. We encourage you to explore these museums! If you are unable to pop in, the staff at the sites are continually working towards posting new information about their collections on the NovaMuse website. It is a great place to get acquainted with their wonderful work that they are doing in Nova Scotia's museum community.

We look forward to starting the next phase of Touchstones-more information coming soon!

Follow us on Facebook (NovaMuse) and on Twitter (novamuse_ca).


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Book Review - Charities and Not-for-Profit Administration and Governance Handbook

One of the trends we noticed in last summer's museum evaluations was that most museums appeared to have great governance practices in place, but then struggled in the management section. I suspect that if we dug a little deeper we'd find a variety of issues at play. Maybe some aren't actually following their policies and procedures, others might still be operating as a casual hobby group, and some might might not have orientation procedures in place and so their board doesn't actually understand its responsibilities as it should. Whatever the reasons for the issues, I think we need to spend some more time in this area.
That brought me back to our reference library for Donald J. Bourgeois's Charities and Not-for-Profit Administration and Governance Handbook. Yes, it is about as exciting as it sounds, but I was still tabbing pages and quotes as I read it. Important, foundational stuff. Following is my highlights reel, but if you want to delve deeper you can borrow the book and get lots of great info from its 5 chapters:
1) Directors and Their Role in Managing the Organization
2) Tools of Governance and Accountability
3) Managing Risk
4) Managing the Organization's Assets
5) Managing the Organizational Structure

Bourgeois begins by outlining many shifts and dynamics that affected governance practices as we moved into the 21st century. As we enter 2017, most of the points are firmly understood as the current reality, such as globalization, sponsorship, and an increase in competitiveness in the charitable sector. But two points jumped out at me as important reminders for museums:
- "greater demands for accountability by governments, funders and the general public. Accountability is defined not only in terms of proper use of funds but in the effectiveness and efficiency of the organization and in meeting the needs of the community"
- "more knowledgeable volunteers who have specific 'wants' from their volunteer experiences".
We hear so often from museums that are struggling with visitation and volunteers and just can't seem to engage their community. To be frank, a lot of these cases involve people wondering the same tactics they've employed since the museum opened in 1967 are no longer working. To quote my Mom (yup, playing the Mom card here), the seven dying words of an organization are "we've never done it that way before".

Something else we noticed in evaluation was how many museums are still using 1980s-era mission statements; cookie cutter statements about existing to collect, preserve, interpret...ugh. I'll be addressing that in a later blog post. In Chapter 1 Bourgeois reminds us of the role of the board, specifically that "the board needs to oversee and monitor the mission on a regular basis. It can do so by establishing measurable goals...[with] 'desired outcomes' or 'impacts' [rather than] 'inputs or activities'." Also in his list is the oversight of human resources...something that saw many museums struggle with in their evaluation. "Human resources includes staff and volunteers." Yes! And it is the job of the board to ensure that those people have the skills, training, and backgrounds for the positions they hold. Yes!! "Proper recruitment processes, job descriptions and performance appraisals are the responsibility of the [board of] directors - either directly or through management staff reporting to the directors." Be still my heart...it's so nice to hear someone else say this!! He further reminds of the importance of planning for succession and diversity; that it is critical for organizations to "reflect the diversity of the community in which they operate".
But perhaps my favourite paragraph in this chapter is about the fiscal responsibility of the board. "Boards too often fail to devote the resources that are necessary to ensure that prudent financial practices occur. However, without the resources being available and properly managed, the organization cannot fulfil its objectives and the underlying purpose of the organization is not possible. Organizations that become insolvent or that have substantial losses due to defalcation or misuse of funds that could have been avoided are not trusted. The voluntary sector operates on the basis of "trust" - both trust in its legal sense and in its human sense". Wow. You should probably go back and read that again. Let it really sink in. It is a huge responsibility and should be enough to make any board member nervous.

Chapter 2 (Tools of Governance and Accountability) takes a little return visit to the world of mission statements, which I quite enjoyed. Bourgeois stated that "mission statements are short in verbiage, but long in meaning". Isn't that fantastic? He went on to say that each word should have thought, emotion, and resonance behind it, because these are the key words that define the organization, and that tell the public what it hopes to be. Wow. Does that definition apply to your mission statement?

There was quite the conversation about assessment and evaluation in this chapter. Bourgeois admits that historically, not-for-profit organizations haven't been the best in this area. Some have never assessed their operation, and I think that is still the case today for some museums. But it is a crucial element of both accountability and planning. Data needs to be collected, issues need to be addressed, and stakeholders need to be kept informed so that public trust is built.

Chapter 3 is all about managing various risks. It touts the virtue of policies and procedures in minimizing an organization's risk , and delves into a variety of areas such as board nominations, financial reporting, etc. My favourite statement though is that "the success or failure of an organization is also dependent in large measure on the board being effective." I think we all know that and nod our heads in agreement, but at the same time I can recall many conversations about boards being there "in name only" and "not helping much" with fundraising or policy work or other museum activities. Hopefully that doesn't apply to your board. Again Bourgeois doesn't mince words, and reminds readers that "the overall purpose of the board is to manage the affairs of the organization. In doing so, the board provides direction to the organization to permit it to carry out its objects and to ensure that the organization meets its legal obligations, maintains its status and is financially responsible."

Chapter 4 is all about managing assets - be they financial, human resources, intellectual property, or anything else. Again the human resources section really jumped out at me because of evaluation results. Something that really surprised me was that a number of museums don't understand the difference between volunteers and board members. I like how Bourgeois discusses this point. In referring to board members, he explains that "they are unique volunteers in that they more than any other volunteer set the tone of the organization, make the decisions that should matter and plan for the future. They are more accountable than other volunteers or even employees." Yes, they are! Someone who shows up to help with the annual tea party is vastly different from your treasurer.

Other info in the book includes discussions about insurance, operating models, the importance of working with partner organizations and neighbouring community groups, and how to carry out revenue-generating and political activities without crossing any notorious lines. And for those that know me, you know I love templates and workbooks and other tools that will help make the job easier. And Bourgeois delivers this in his appendices. If you don't have a board development committee, he gives you sample terms of reference. He also provides Finance & Audit Committee terms of reference, a Conflict of Interest Policy, Executive Director Performance Appraisal, Program and Initiatives Presentations Guidelines, a Monitoring Schedule, and a Good Practice Guide for Effective Stewardship Analysis.
Overall, this is one of those important but sort of boring books to read...well worth the effort, a relief when you're finished, and just maybe the exact thing you needed to help your museum make a few adjustments to its operation.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

December 2016 Update

December at ANSM is a busy but nice month. We have a little open house with our neighbouring Cultural Federations, try to tie up as many loose ends as possible so we can start the new year fresh, and shut the office down for a little break.
One of the other elements of our routine is performance reviews. I don't think I've ever mentioned performance reviews before, but this year's evaluation results demonstrated that a surprising number of museum boards are not conducting annual reviews of their staff. Yikes! When Sandi and I were talking about our reviews we admitted that we always feel a bit nervous beforehand, but it's such a critical protection for both the staff member and the employer. And it's a good opportunity for reflection. As everyone knows, we had a pretty hectic year this year. So to take the chance to sit down and list off the many things we've done and discuss ideas for moving forward is so beneficial. I hope that more museums will embrace and benefit from this practice.

As we reflected on our year, some things stood out more than others. The evaluation of 67 museums is first and foremost. It was a massive undertaking and major learning experience for both us and the museums. We also partnered with Fleming on our annual class assignment (improving 270 records), identified new Made in NS resources and added a lot of info to this database, hosted "Heather the intern" who did a lot of great work, including the #MuseumBasketCases project by partnering with Joleen Gordon. And of course there were Sandi's site visits and #ProjectVicky. She worked with museums to digitize hundreds of artifacts and add thousands of new images to NovaMuse.ca. We launched our #150Touchstones Canada150 project, and almost immediately saw our online audience expand as people sought to weigh in on their favourite museums and artifacts.
As usually there were also lots of meetings, with committees and individual museums and the biannual regional meetings. And let's not forget the cake eating. Part of why we think cake is warranted is that we want to celebrate the hard work of all our member museums. In addition to the evaluation prep work, we saw some great strides in database work. 11,708 new artifact records and a whopping 20,156 new images were added over the course of the year. That's worth a pat on the back. We are making Nova Scotian history more accessible to the public all the time. Huge kudos to everyone for these great efforts.

Right before we closed down the office for the holidays we quietly launched our new website. It feels pretty good to have a fresh face online...we had outgrown our old site long ago. I encourage you all to check it out. Browse through and see what new resources or program info we've got up there, and who knows, you might see yourself in one of our photos. You can also read our 2016 Museum Evaluation Report if you're wanting to learn more about the evaluation process and results.

As we look ahead to 2017, we will be moving forward with some familiar work - more evaluations, another Fleming project, picking away at Made in Nova Scotia, site visits and workshops and digitization and promoting NovaMuse. But I'm sure there will be some surprises and adventures along the way too. And cake. We can't forget the cake.

Happy Holidays!