If You Give a Museum an iPad: Capacity Building on 98 Timelines

In Fall 2020 MANY received IMLS CARES funding for the "Building Capacity, Creating Sustainability, Growing Accessibility" Project. 98 museums across New York were selected to participate in this two-year project. Receiving hardware, software, and training, 200+ museum professionals work to share their collections and reach audiences who cannot physically visit their museums. One year on, this presentation highlights the success, challenges and lessons learned of capacity building at scale. Track:Business & Sustainability & Capacity Building


Unknown Speaker 14:53
So, hello everyone. Can everyone hear me all right. If you can hear me. Can you give me a thumbs up. We're all good in the chat. Wonderful. Thank you. So thank you so much for joining me today. My name is Eli McClain, I'm the building capacity Fellow at the Museum Association of New York. My pronouns are he, him, I'm a white man wearing with long brown hair tied up in a bun. I'm wearing a light blue shirt, and behind me is a beige wall with a portrait of George Eastman and some very vibrant colored, post it notes. I am joining today from Rochester, New York at the George Eastman museum. And it is with gratitude and humility that I acknowledge that I'm speaking on the ancestral homelands of the Seneca Nation, member of the hood nashoni Confederacy and alliance of six sovereign nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. During our time together, there are a few different ways that you can participate in the conversation. You can raise your hand in the Zoom call and I'll call on you to unmute yourself and please feel free to raise your hand, at any point during my presentation feel free to stop me. I also invite you to type a question or comment in the chat throughout towards the second half of the session. I want to foster and facilitate a bit of a discussion. And so either way of participating is good with me. I will also asked you to participate in his quick Zoom poll, three questions towards the end of the session. Last but not least before I dive in. I also want to give thanks to our sponsors who generously support the MC N conference. So my objectives for our time together today are to share a bit about the building capacity project and speak about some of the successes, challenges and lessons learned in year one. In doing so, my goal is to provide insights into capacity building on a large scale, and to shed light on some of the ways, New York State museums have been reaching their audiences virtually over the past year. I then want to use the remainder of our time to open up the conversation with your questions for me, and some discussion questions are about your own capacity building. My first thing that I want to talk about is what is building capacity building capacity creating sustainability growing accessibility is a two year IMLS Cares Act funded project running from Fall of 2020 through the end of September 2022. And the project works towards two main goals. The first to increase technological savviness and digital capacities of museum professionals through hardware, software and training, and to to develop virtual and digital programs, to engage communities and reach new audiences. On this slide I list some of the specific support provided to project partners in four categories, hardware, software, training and support and community. And over the course of two years, each partner museum will develop and deliver to digital programs or projects to their audiences. So we just wrapped up your one, just a couple of weeks ago. It concluded at the end of September 2021. And we had a bit of a condensed first year so it was 10 months, over this 10 month period, the number of contact hours with project participants totaled 2161, and this number was reached through a combination of one to one meetings. Synchronous Digital workshops and webinars, as well as in person workshops, who is building capacity. We began the project with 98 project partner organizations and 200 museum professionals to individuals from each partner. Over the course of the first year, We've lost a number of project participants and partners. And if welcomed new ones into the cohort, currently at the start of year two, we are working with 97 museums and with 184 project participants, and we expect this number to continue to fluctuate over the next year.

Unknown Speaker 20:27
In the chat. I am providing links to both the Project Map, which is live. And the most current project partner list for you to peruse either during this presentation, or later today. Our project partner organizations, stretch across the state of New York. Within all 10 Red Sea regions. The cohort is diverse and the types of museums content focus staff size, age of organization, geographic location, among other factors. And our project participants also ranged in age, backgrounds, length of time in the field and position in their organization, we're working with volunteers and board members, executive directors, curators, educators, and people from all over, museums, honestly I don't think I could do the cohort justice, just by pulling out a couple of examples. So I invite you all to take a look at the project partner list, and map when you get a chance, before I move forward. I also want to acknowledge in the room with me, or nine of our project participants. I'm currently leading a six hour workshop in Rochester, New York, and so they've welcomed me into the space and allowed me to present here, with them. So now that we've covered a little bit about what is building capacity and who is building capacity, I want to talk a little bit about the successes, challenges and lessons learned from year one. So, over the past 10 months we've seen incredible successes, within the project partner and participant levels. These successes include building new digital skills, improving organizational practices, increasing interdepartmental collaboration and communication, reaching new audiences, telling new stories, and exploring new digital formats, among others. The first success I want to talk about though is about skill building. So on a project level 145 out of 149 project participants that submitted a Skill Building Survey. As of October 1 self reported building new skills as a result of the project. Since about, little over 97% of respondents. Now, from my perspective as a project fellow working with all these individuals over the past year, I would argue that at least three of the four respondents that self reported not building new skills have in fact done so, but just have not recognized this growth and I could point out these individual skills so I think we've seen incredible success in building new skills.

Unknown Speaker 23:18

Unknown Speaker 23:20
we've also seen many of our project partners, not only connect with their pre existing audiences, but reach new ones through new formats and new stories. One project participant wrote, it has been incredibly rewarding to find that not only did our traditional audiences stay with us during this transition, but that we were able to reach many other people who did not live locally, and would otherwise not have been able to engage with our content, and many other responses from project participants reflected this sentiment that they've been able to connect with people that are interested in their content, but might not live locally, third big success has been increased internal communication and collaboration for project participants. In many cases, especially in larger size museums project participants have been working with a colleague in a different department, and, in effect, breaking down silos of communication and practice. One participant noted, quote, I got to collaborate with members of my organization, who I do not normally work so closely with, I learned from how they structured their planning and manage their time, and I feel inspired going into the second year, people that have worked together for years now, finally getting the chance to work together and learn from each other, even within their same organization. Now I can spend hours detailing the successes of each and every project participant, and each partner organization, but for the interest of time, I want to turn our focus to some of the challenges faced on this project. Now, I'm going to focus on three main challenges, including participant turnover time constraints and shifting priorities, and the wide range of starting abilities, and site infrastructure. This is not an exhaustive list of challenges, but these challenges continue to pop up throughout the year and were quite prevalent. So participant turnover has continued to affect the project on a number of different fronts. At the project level turnover has made it difficult to build and maintain a cohort environment for learning. And it is also meant that staff hours are put towards onboarding throughout the year. For our project partners turnover has resulted in some cases in stalled projects, loss of institutional knowledge and skills, and the necessary reprioritization of projects that were led by their project participant 38 participants have left the project in year one, for a number of different reasons which are listed on the screen, including transitioning jobs in their organization, leaving the museum field, going back to continue their studies, or just hiring a new staff that is more interest intricately invested in kind of this work. We are currently 15 participants below capacity with five identified participants that are waiting to be on boarded and 10 that the slots are open and no replacement has been identified yet. And in total, three organizations have withdrawn from the project due to time and staffing constraints. The second big challenge has been shifting priorities and that effect on time shifting priorities have challenged both our project participants and the project as a whole in year one, changing state guidelines on reopening or that period that I like to call reopening re closing reopening reef closing reopening or closing and the continually changing environment of the pandemic across the state, continue to affect the day to day workloads project planning and just staff capacity on a weekly basis. In many cases, this pulled individuals from fully engaging in the project. And in many cases the first activity to drop off was engagement in the cohort as a whole, so they were still focused on their individual projects and project planning, but engagement with the 200, other project participants. In many cases, was not kind of a priority. And then we have the wide range of starting abilities and site constraints. And as I was putting together this presentation, I realized that I probably should have titled this session, building capacity on 200 timelines, rather than 98.

Unknown Speaker 28:23
Because when we first met the cohort in December, 2020, about three days after I joined the Museum Association of New York. We realize that the range of starting abilities for individuals was significantly broader than expected. This affected both our ability to successfully structure training opportunities for all ability levels, and left many project participants, feeling overwhelmed with opportunities. It also strained project staff time and challenged the creation of a cohort learning atmosphere. Now in addition to this wide range of starting abilities sites across the state started the project in very different environments, and these constraints created internal and external challenges. So something like lack of internet access, no Wi Fi inability to connect a new device to their system, a lack of hardware or very outdated hardware, all affected their ability to fully participate on the ground.

Unknown Speaker 29:36
So we have some great successes, some serious challenges, but throughout all of this, we've learned a lot over the first year of this project. And I wanted to highlight three of these lessons today. I'm happy to share more, both in our discussion, and also later. If you'd like to reach out. So the first lesson learned was relative value of project areas and I know that there's a number, a lot of numbers on the screen and I'll explain them in a minute. One of the questions we asked all of our project participants at the end of year one, was to rank project areas from most valuable, number one, to least valuable. Number five, based on their experience, so they weren't rating. Each individual project area on its own but rather a relative value based on all 540 percent of respondents ranked access to hardware and software as the most valuable aspect of the grant project. Simply getting hardware and software in their hands, was the most important. 26% ranked number four, number one, was one to one meetings with me the project fellow, and that individual guidance. And so seeing these two major project areas as being the most valuable to museum professionals in 2021. Having access, and then having that individual guidance, and I think that's an incredible lesson to be learned. We've also seen the least valued of mongst, the cohort, 51% of respondents ranked being part of a cohort as the least valuable amongst the five and a little bit more analysis needs to be done, but I'm, you know, looking towards that being correlated to some of the challenges that I previously mentioned about lack of time. And these differing starting abilities. And then there's a lot of one of the big lessons learned, which I've been doing a lot of work on is acknowledging growth and confronting assumptions about the state of the field. This again ties into this challenge of this range of starting abilities. I first want to say I don't think we acknowledge our own growth, nor the growth of others enough and capacity building growth can often appear as very slow and incremental. One of the big things I've learned is that from other perspectives. These changes are often perceived as fast, and having a huge impact like life altering. So acknowledging the distances people have traveled from their own perspective and from their own starting point is very important in bringing individuals along, and in measuring individual success. I've heard this a number of times from many different project participants. We would not have pushed ourselves, so far, or so fast. If it wasn't for this project. And I think it's important to acknowledge those experiences of others. And the third big lesson learn in year one, is the deeper needs of the fields that affect digital learning and program development, and these skills might not be digital. So project management, and time management, communication skills and organization skills and storytelling for successful implementation technological capacity and digital learning needs to be built on this strong foundation of skills. And in order to confront that and address some of these needs. We are working some of these trainings, into our workshops including the workshop we are facilitating today.

Unknown Speaker 34:03

Unknown Speaker 34:06
those are some of the successes, the challenges and the lessons learned from your one. It's hard to illustrate kind of the depth and the breadth of this project. In an 18 minute period. But what I wanted to do now is take questions from you will give about 1015 minutes for questions, things that sparked your interest that you want to know more about. And then I want to open up the conversation to some broader discussion about capacity building and what that looks like for you and your organization's. So does anyone have any questions for me about the building capacity project or your one, please feel free to raise your hand and I'll unfun calling you to unmute. Or you can type your questions in the chat

Unknown Speaker 35:16
any questions.

Unknown Speaker 35:27
No question. Okay, so if there's no questions for me.

Unknown Speaker 35:35
I'm going to

Unknown Speaker 35:38
ask you some questions, and we'll get the conversation started. Oh, yeah, Sarah.

Unknown Speaker 35:44
Hello, I just had a question. Could you speak a little bit more on your role or involvement in the program, you mentioned that you were a fellow and so what is, what does that mean exactly as far as, so I just tried to learn a little bit more about,

Unknown Speaker 35:59
You know what, what's this all about for you. That's a, that's a great question. So, Sarah asked about what my role is on this project as Project fellow so I was brought on to the Museum Association of New York in December 2022. For this project, um, I am the I do pretty much all of the day to day management of the project. So, designing and facilitating trainings. Meeting with project participants so I'm every other month, more or less. I run one to one meetings and so I have about 98 meetings in the month to check on progress, provide feedback, provide one on one to once a technology support. I also design and facilitate in person workshops, design and evaluate or design and assess your one reports and your two reports to make sure that people are progressing on their timeline, and then kind of other duties as assigned kind of general term of museum therapists right so being a problem solver, trying to find solutions to both technical issues, as well as broader broader issues relating to the project, so I do a little bit of everything. I do have additional support in Manny on the project so we have our project director. Megan who provides some more kind of higher level support, and then grant administration and some additional additional duties are done by other other staff at Manny. Great question, thank you.

Unknown Speaker 38:02
that I see another hand up earlier. Any other questions for me. I'm just going back to

Unknown Speaker 38:26
the year one overview, Sara to provide a little bit more information. Most of those 2100 contact hours were done by myself. So that includes, like all of the regional meetings. All of the in person workshops, site visits, virtual workshops, onboarding sessions onboarding sessions. And a lot of emails. So I'm going to ask you a couple of questions. So we'll have.

Unknown Speaker 39:11
I'm going to launch

Unknown Speaker 39:14
a poll and I going to ask everyone to respond to this question, the first question asks have you learned a new digital skill, over the past year, yes or no. If you could take a minute and respond to that that would be wonderful. Great, a lot of everyone's responded that they have built a new skill. Wonderful. And the second question that I want to ask you is, how do you learn best. And this, for this question you can answer in a number of different ways you can select all that apply. Watching a video reading instructions, listening to instructions, face to face learning live virtual engagement, whether that's a webinar or workshop. And then individual experimentation asks you to take a minute to respond to that question,

Unknown Speaker 40:57
seeing a number of responses on watching a video, reading instructions and individual experimentation. Great, not so much with listening to instructions, face to face learning or live in Virtual Engagement.

Unknown Speaker 41:19
And the third question that I'm going to ask you is have you taught someone else, a new digital skill. Over the past year, and this is multiple choice so you can choose yes in person. And yes, virtually if both of those apply to you, or you could select no. So I'll give you a minute to respond to that question as well.

Unknown Speaker 41:55
For people that have taught someone else a new skill virtually, one person that's taught someone a new skill in person. One person that has not taught someone else a new skill. Over the

Unknown Speaker 42:07
past year.

Unknown Speaker 42:15
Any last responses before I end this poll. Okay, that gives me a sense of kind of where we're at in this group, and hopefully provide some nice reflection for the next few minutes. I have a couple of questions to facilitate a discussion, please feel free to unmute yourself and respond or add something in the chat, but some of the questions that I wanted to pose, both for the last few minutes we have together, as well as after this session on Slack or through individual conversation, is how do you balance the acquisition of new skills, with the other areas of your work, which I know we all have a lot going on. The second question is, how do you bring others along with you at a speed that works for them. When it comes to capacity building, and what are the bounds of capacity. What do we do when we hit those limits.

Unknown Speaker 43:26
Does anyone feel comfortable

Unknown Speaker 43:28
if you feel comfortable please feel, please unmute yourself or raise your hand, providing a response to one of these questions.

Unknown Speaker 43:39
I actually have a question. That isn't related to these questions, but just give me a second to serve when really I, how are you defining what the digital program is like is there a standard thing like, it has to have X Y and Z features to it or it has to be a certain like what did like how do you know if somebody's like, what are our was there are other options to choose from or something like that.

Unknown Speaker 44:09
So we are giving project partners, more or less free rein to define where their priorities are at or what they want to explore. So I'll give a few examples we have synchronous school programs, asynchronous school programs, virtual lectures video series asynchronous learning materials. Audio projects like podcasts, audio guides for exhibitions, walking tours that are virtual. We've asked all of our project partners to identify an audience and identify a story they want to tell. And they choose almost the rest, and I'm here to support and provide technical and content support, But other than that, that is up to them.

Unknown Speaker 45:03
Good question,

Unknown Speaker 45:04
is a follow up to that so do they. Do people ever like needs sort of, sort of, kind of leadership into, well you can accomplish this this way or that way or that way, right, because they if people don't already understand how to do that or or understand like what tools are available.

Unknown Speaker 45:26
Right, so So, part of that is my work through one to one meetings, and through workshops of providing solutions, providing options, looking at models from the field, and doing some of that work together. And also looking at others from the cohort and seeing what they're working on, to try to kind of improve some of that. But I do have to say, You know that's a good, great question. And it's something that I've struggled with a little bit. Um, I will say, I as being a Fellow, I've had jumped into the deep end with this so trying to wrap my head around, 98 organizations and the stories they tell and their collections we are working with gardens, historic sites, historic houses art museums University museums history museums transportation fire. Everything and anything. And so for me I'm leaning on the expertise and the priorities of each organization to say how do we make this work for you. Because, for instance, you know, we are working with historical societies that have no paid staff, and are only open certain days of the week, and, or we're working with an executive director and head of a department in education at a museum, that is, you know, in New York City and has the experience doing this, I'm doing virtual programming for four years now. Right and so trying to set those benchmarks across the cohort has been really challenging. Any other questions for me or any responses to the questions.

Unknown Speaker 47:20
Yeah. Hello, my name is Anna McCullough, and I'm from Moscow, Russia may thanks for your presentation. I'd like to answer the first question about balance. So, I'm currently studying a course about community management, and what I choose what to study how to think about how I can implement this knowledge at my work and I don't have any time unfortunately to study something beyond the scope of my work. So I try to divide all the course materials in a very small bits, which can be done let's say in maybe 1015 minutes a day, and try to follow the, the shadow everyday but in very small steps. This helps me to check my own progress, see some small results, and be on track in general. And when I looking for other courses, I choose those which combine online, and pre recorded stuff, because it's very hard to follow online events. In my situation I work remotely from home with a small child and challenge. Yeah, so that's how I tried to find this balance. Thank you.

Unknown Speaker 48:42
Thank you for sharing that and I think right finding those practical right figuring out what you're already doing and then building skills around. How do I do this thing, just a little bit better, or how do I, you know, just improve what I'm already doing, rather than saying I want to learn everything. And then afterwards, figure out how do I apply that right and then have to create things for that so definitely practical, practical applications are important for that.

Unknown Speaker 49:14

Unknown Speaker 49:15
Does anyone else want to jump into the conversation, either responding to one of the questions

Unknown Speaker 49:22
on the screen, or asking me a question about the building capacity project.

Unknown Speaker 49:34
I'll show that I'm working at a university, and I have a dual appointment. And so, once I have my appointment, they're using all this type of software on on this set of equipment, they're now using this other software. And so, it's like, you know, used to doing more with one thing for a while and then there's like this slow adoption of the university, we'd really like to use Microsoft Teams and I did not like it, but I have to use it in most of my appointments so it's, it is really the kind of like just learn as you go, sort of thing, right I can't be like, Oh, what is what exactly is this whole entire tool to do because I don't have time for that, like, I'm in a situation where, you know, it's a split appointment and then 50% here and there but everybody on the sides assumes that they have 100% of my time. So,

Unknown Speaker 50:29
right so great again learning what you absolutely need to know to get through the day and and to operate efficiently, and then knowing okay that's out of my bounds of what I need to know if I ever need to learn that moving forward, wonderful, but for right now. Thank you. I think is a, is a useful tool of saying there's someone else that knows more than me. And if I need to, I can lean on them.

Unknown Speaker 51:01
One thing I'll note, when we're talking about starting abilities and how much kind of individuals are coming to this project knowing project participants that have kind of graduate studies in graphic design, that are working in the Adobe softwares. And, you know, doing excellent work, and I have individuals that still struggling to log into a new email address, and to check that email address, and to utilize, you know, to share a document on Google Drive. And so, When I say we have a wide range of starting abilities. That is, that is kind of one example of what we're looking at with that.

Unknown Speaker 51:56
So I might wrap up. Just a couple of minutes early. If there's no additional questions for me. I want to say thank you to all of you for joining me today. And for those of you who participated for those of you participated in the, in the polls. I really appreciate your time, your questions and your insight. I hope that you will reach out to me, whether that's via email on Twitter on Slack or on LinkedIn. I will unfortunately be unable to attend this afternoon's recap session I have to head back to my in person duties, facilitating this other workshop, but I will be on Slack throughout the week to continue conversations with everyone, and I hope that this afternoon's recap session is a, is a productive one. Please stay connected. And thank you all again I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day.