But take heart! Most people who care about what they do would like to do it better. Most people would like to see more people spending more time enjoying your museum and all it has to offer. And although we can frequently make improvement through internal conversations about what worked and what didn’t, ultimately everything we do – from caring for collections to raising money and from researching a newsletter article to hosting a visiting speaker – we do for the public, for our audience. What they think must matter if we are going to do a good job of serving them. Finding out what they think shouldn’t be an afterthought.
If you take the time to explain your plans for evaluation to paid and unpaid staff and the board in this way, you are more likely to get their cooperation in collecting information and their willingness to implement change based on what you learn from that information.
You might introduce your evaluation plans to those who will be affected in a small group and make the following items part of your meeting:
· Ask people to share past evaluation experiences – either positive or negative.
· Acknowledge that evaluation can feel a little scary or like a waste of time.
· Explain how you intend to report on and use the information (to make global
changes, not to pick on anyone in particular).
· Remind them that this is a learning process for you, too, and that the first
attempts won’t be perfect and that you’ll need their feedback.
· Most important, let them know it is not a performance appraisal.
Conny Graft is a consultant in interpretive planning and evaluation for museums, parks, and other nonprofit organizations. Conny retired from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 2010 where she worked for 27 years as Director of Interpretive Planning, Director of Interpretive Education and Manager of Research and Evaluation. Before coming to Colonial Williamsburg, Conny worked for the Division of Historic Preservation in Fairfax, Virginia and was in charge of planning programs for four historic sites.
Stacy Klingler currently serves local history organizations as the Assistant Director of Local History Services at the Indiana Historical Society. She began her career in museums as the assistant director of two small museums, before becoming director of the Putnam County Museum in Greencastle, Ind. She chairs the AASLH's Small Museums Committee (2008-2012) and attended the Seminar for Historical Administration in 2006. While she lives in the history field, her passion is encouraging a love of learning in any environment.