Friday, December 20, 2019

December 2019 Update

If you feel like we do, this year just flew by. With our newly minted strategic plan in hand, we
launched into the year with cake-fuelled fervour. This week we had our annual performance reviews and ended up feeling really pleased with how much we accomplished in 2019, how many museums we served, and what 2020 has in store.

Museum Evaluation Program
This year we evaluated 29 museums across the province. It was a lot of work for all involved, and everyone stepped up to the plate and demonstrated their commitment to their museums and communities. To wrap up the 2019 evaluations, we submitted the overarching (we call it annual) report to government, and will share it on our website once we receive approval to do so.
Looking ahead to 2020, now that the orientation sessions are done we have shifted into Q&A mode as everyone starts to organize their evaluation preparations.

Today is the deadline for museums who were evaluated this year to apply for the new element of the MEP - Accreditation! We are very pleased with the number of applications received, and will be reviewing these with the Accreditation Panel in January. Announcements will be made at the end of January or beginning of February.

We are also looking for volunteers to fill two roles with the MEP - to serve on the Working Group and as Site Evaluators. If you are interested in either of these opportunities, check out the links and information on our website. You can also be in touch any time with questions.

CollectiveAccess Update
For the first time since its inception, ANSM invited museums to apply to join the Advisory Service. We've never actively advertised for this before, so we had no idea what the response would be like. We were pleasantly surprised when 4 museums applied (and were approved by the peer Info Mgt & Access Committee), bringing us back up to capacity at 55 museums. Sandi is now working with these new members on various collections issues, helping to prepare them to step into CollectiveAccess.

At the beginning of the year we had 297,945 records and 177,838 associated images in CollectiveAccess, and we are ending the year with 307,593 records and 217,417 associated images. That's an amazing 9,648 new records and 39,579 new images. Wow. We knew it was a busy year but this is really impressive. 
Here's the ever-popular regional breakdown:
Southwest - 136,843 artifacts, 83,780 images
Central - 103,019 artifacts, 62,908
Northeast - 36,583 artifacts, 54,499 images
Cape Breton - 31,148 artifacts, 17,230 images

Artefacts Canada
For those that may not remember or know, I was originally hired to manage a special project funded by CHIN, to get community museum collections online. The original project goal was to get 400 records online. We were told this was very ambitious. Fast forward a few years (shhhh, don't really count!) and we have our own collections website, but still want to share with the rest of the country on Artefacts Canada. Our friends in New Brunswick made this possible by developing an export to AC feature for CollectiveAccess. So after a very long pause, this year we could finally refresh Nova Scotian content on AC. This was a very satisfying, very big task. We ran exports for about 40 museums, refreshing and adding thousands upon thousands of records and images to AC. CHIN was so excited to see this content that one staff person actually told me it was giving her a renewed sense of purpose. We're going to keep running twice-annual refreshes until the new AC launches.

Speaking of the new AC, I'm on CHIN's Advisory Committee and we met twice this year. There are a lot of opportunities (and a lot of work) in overhauling AC and the current Artists in Canada website, but plans are afoot. And thanks to CollectiveAccess, NovaMuse, and all of the amazing collections work that museums have been doing here in Nova Scotia, we are very well positioned to launch into the new website in a very strong way.

SME Partnerships
We continued to cultivate partnerships with old and new friends this year, with the goal of helping museums learn more about items in their collections. Sandi had great fun filming SMEs on-site, and in January we'll be releasing this video footage on NovaMuse. Many thanks to David, Eric, Gary, and Joleen for working with us this year. As this work has always taken an opportunistic approach, we got ourselves a bit more organized this year, tracking things better, consolidating files, and highlighting future opportunities. Let me just say there are many. There is so much value in this work and we are all learning so much that we look forward to continuing it in 2020.

Fleming Partnership
We couldn't do all that we do without partners, and Fleming College continues to be a great partner for ANSM. We were so pleased to have Ayla with us this fall for her internship. She tackled anything and everything that we threw at her, and we (and our members) are so far ahead of where we were when she arrived in September (more on that later). We can't say thanks enough.

Last winter students reviewed and enriched 300 records from our member museum collections, and we are now preparing to launch this class assignment again in January. This time, 320 database records from 11 museums will be reviewed. Everyone learns from this partnership. Students see the reality of database records and the varied state of completion, museums get suggestions about how to improve their documentation practices, and the public gets more information about our collections, especially for items which the students choose for further research and enrichment. We are so proud of this annual project, and it came to be during a simple conversation about students needing real-world experiences while in the classroom. So I encourage you to pay attention to the conversations you're having in your communities. Is there a way your museum can meet a need?

Old Loans and New Resources
This year was a busy one for developing new resources and updating old ones. Our year-long saga with the loan reconciliation toolkit culminated with customized toolkits being sent to 32 museums. A couple museums noticed that the information from their database wasn't 100% up-to-date, which is both good news and bad news. It's bad news because the database isn't up-to-date, but it's good news because it means the museum has already reconciled some old loans. So if you are in the same boat, just look at the toolkit as a list of records that need updating in your database.

We also updated and added some new templates to our website's resources section...11 in total! We added a new section on Governance and it now has several resources relating to building your board. We also updated a lot of resources in the Collections and Management sections. If you still don't see something you need, get in touch! We take requests.

Thanks to our wonderful intern Ayla, we have a new guide on digitizing time-based media. This year we updated NovaMuse to better handle/display multimedia files, and in conjunction Ayla assessed what's out there in collections. From cassette and vhs tapes, to cylinders and records, we now have a much better understanding of the scope of multimedia content in museum collections. Who knows, maybe in the future we can do a special project to tackle some specialized digitization, but in the meantime museums have a handy guide on the subject. Wouldn't it be fun to have music on NovaMuse? I think so.

And last but not least, this year's big gift to our members was to put our reference library online. We've been wanting to do this for a long time, and this year it finally happened. Again we can't say thanks enough to Ayla for her help. We also need to say thanks to the team at Whirl-i-gig for integrating the library so well with our website. If you're looking for some museum-related reading, check out what we have in the library. If we've read it too, you'll even be able to read our book review.

Looking Ahead to 2020
In all honesty, this year felt rather frantic. We had so much on the go, were juggling so many big projects and initiatives, that we're feeling a little tired. So not only are we going to take a break for the holidays, but we are hoping that we can take things a bit slower in 2020. We'd like to deal with administrative tasks that always seem to take a backseat when there are grant deadlines and other high priorities. We also have some research and planning work to do in relation to our strategic plan - looking at membership and committee structures, building relationships with other colleges and universities, identifying opportunities for more online learning, and branding Accreditation.

So from all of us to all of you, Happy Holidays! And we look forward to working with you in 2020!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Book Review - Principles-Focused Evaluation: The GUIDE

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When ANSM took on the Museum Evaluation Program (MEP), it represented a steep learning curve for everyone involved. Yes we were very comfortable with museum standards, but professional evaluation standards was something we needed to research. We did a lot of reading before we launched the MEP, and we continue to read and research and talk with our colleagues who also manage museum evaluation/accreditation programs.

This brings me one of the newer additions to our reference library; Principles-Focused Evaluation: The GUIDE. Written by Michael Quinn Patton (who is recognized as a leader, innovative, and all-around go-to person when it comes to evaluation) in 2018 and published by The Guilford Press, it encourages evaluators to expand current approaches to evaluation efforts. He reminds that evaluation's professional beginnings were very project-based, and that the field must continue to evolve to meet the needs of complex and varied systems. Looking at principles enables assessment of social innovations and impacts that may feel awkward using other methods.

GUIDE is indeed an acronym, used to discuss effectiveness principles. Patton states that principles must be Guiding, Useful, Inspiring, Development, and Evaluable. He goes into detail about what each one of these words really means, so another way to look at the list is by saying that effectiveness principles need to provide advice, support decision-making, be purposeful, be adaptable and mindful of context, and enable you to judge progress.

Patton takes a variety of statements and documents, and demonstrates how to turn them into effectiveness principles that can be used for evaluation purposes. In each of these cases, I thought of museum mission statements, which provide guidance on how we operate on a daily basis. Unfortunately, those museums with 'definition statements' (we exist to collect, preserve, interpret...) do not translate well. This was one more reminder that each museum needs to determine its reason for existing, identify its community, and talk about its organizational and community values (which will dictate its principles). Patton reminds that values define who you are, but "effectiveness principles are supposed to get you somewhere."

Case studies are threaded through the book and vary greatly. For me, I really appreciated the ones relating to Homeless Youth Programs. It might not seem like it, but there are a lot of correlations between the goals and principles of these programs and the goals and principles of museums. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out. Working with youth means taking a journey-oriented approach, which means each youth has had different experiences that inform who they are today. The same can be said of museums, being at different points in the organizational life cycle. The people involved, programs delivered, funding/sponsorships received, and other 'life experiences' inform who that museum is today. So in delivering an evaluation program for museums, we need to be mindful of this and focus on strengths and opportunities for positive development, just like youth programs do. And the work needs to be collaborative.

There were also a number of very poignant comments that relate to any organization. In speaking about trends in leaders and continuous learning, the author notes the following similarities, as cited in another resource:
"leaders learn to be open to the contributions of others, learn critical reflection, learn to support the growth of others, learn collective leadership, learn to sustain hope in the face of struggle, and learn to create community."
I read this as a call to action. I need to reflect on how I live and work, and be conscious when I fall short. Patton is obviously a firm believer in continuous learning, and expresses in multiple ways that to be an effective leader, learning must be a core element of someone's work, and the information learned needs to improve effectiveness and be shared with others. Continuing with this thread, one of my absolute favourite quotes; "evaluation is a learning experience, rather than a grading experience. It is a process to promote learning and collaboration, and the overall result should be a more effective, robust, and wiser organization."

The acknowledgement of human nature, both good and bad elements, was refreshing to read. As we have experienced over the past few years, it is important to be aware that sometimes people don't want to hear the truths revealed through the evaluation process and this can be difficult to deal with. But on the plus side, evaluation can give voice to those that feel like they are not being heard. This is just one of the arguments Patton uses against the phrase "best practices". He warns that using such language suggests that there is a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem/issue, which of course negates the contextual and creative realities of an organization and the people involved therein. By focusing on adhering to principles rather than standards of practice, organizations can feel empowered and embrace greater flexibility in how they accomplish their goals.

As the Museum Evaluation Program evolves, I can see us integrating effectiveness principles into the program. It won't happen overnight, and we will still need to audit professional standards of practice, but Patton makes a solid case for using principles-focused evaluation when it is applicable and appropriate.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Sayonara from Ayla

It’s hard to believe that fifteen weeks have come and gone already, but here we are, and my time with ANSM is coming to an end. I am so grateful for the time I’ve spent here, and I’ve felt totally welcomed from the beginning. I’ve enjoyed meeting many of you through the conference, workshops, and meetings. I had the opportunity to work on many different projects behind the scenes and am excited that I was able to contribute to the resources that so many museums around Nova Scotia use.

My big project this fall was the development of a guide for digitizing time-based media, which is now available on the ANSM website. This project would not have been possible without the participation and support of ANSM’s members, so a big thank you is warranted.

I am looking forward to what the next year holds for me (graduation, job interviews, getting married, and who knows what else!), and I am thankful to have my experience here as ANSM’s intern to propel me forward.

Have a wonderful holiday and a happy new year!