INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION FORCULTURAL PROPERTY PROTECTION
Reposted from AAM
I had hoped that by this fall COVID-19 would be receding in our rear view mirror, and we could turn our attention to the post-pandemic future. Unfortunately, my June update, which flagged the potential for the Delta variant of the virus to fuel a resurgence of the pandemic, proved to be prescient. Delta is projected to peak in mid-October and new variants continue to pop up, some of which may prove to be as contagious and more vaccine-resistant than Delta. The information you track, and the decisions you make, will need to evolve along with the virus. In this post, I’m going to recap the current COVID situation, make two big recommendations for what your organization can do to respond, and finish with an updated list of suggestions for preparing to weather the next few months.
–Elizabeth Merritt, VP Strategic Foresight and Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums, American Alliance of Museums.
LET’S START WITH THE GOOD NEWS
US vaccination rates are rising, with 53% of the population fully vaccinated and 62% having received at least one dose. With the CDC now recommending vaccination for everyone 12 or older, parents report that nearly half of children aged 12-17 have been vaccinated. The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are all proving to be highly effective at preventing infection, and reducing hospitalization and deaths among people who are infected despite the vaccine. The FDA has formally approved the Pfizer vaccine for individuals 16 and older, and is reviewing approval for the Moderna and J&J vaccines. Also, WHO decided to stop naming variants after the places in which they originated in an attempt to reducing the geographic and cultural stigma, shaming, and violence that marred the first year of the pandemic.
THEN WHY IS THE CASE COUNT GOING UP?
COVID-19 is evolving rapidly, spawning mutations some of which are more infectious and/or more deadly than the originally dominant strain. The Delta variant, first detected in the US in late May, quickly became the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the US, accounting for over 80% of cases, primarily because it is more than twice as contagious as its predecessors. It also seems to cause more severe illness in unvaccinated individuals. Another of its characteristics is particularly worrisome, despite our rising vaccination rates: fully vaccinated people can both contract, and transmit, the Delta variant. Currently, the World Health Organization has assigned letter names (Alpha through Mu) to nine variants of interest or concern and also maintains a growing list (ten and counting) of variants tagged for further monitoring.
HOW MUSEUMS CAN RESPOND
The course of the pandemic is changing quickly, and your organization should continue to monitor global, national, state, and local COVID trends and adjust your plans accordingly. We don’t know, and won’t know for some time, when the end will be in sight. (Especially as the “end” is nebulous. Rather than disappearing, COVID is likely to fade into the background, joining the flu as a constant but manageable challenge.)
I provide suggestions, below, for steps your museum might take in the face of ongoing pandemic challenges. I’ll start with two big things, and end with a number of practical considerations.
Two Big Things:
UPATE YOUR COVID SCENARIOS
Now, more than ever, we need to remember that the future is not fixed and singular. So many variables remain in play: COVID case counts, globally and locally; our ability to overcome vaccine hesitancy; what additional financial assistance may be provided by the government at the federal, state or local level; the focus of philanthropic relief efforts; and trends in travel and tourism, to name a few. These pandemic-driven trends, together with additional challenges of fire, flood, and storm, have increased the number of distinct, plausible futures we may face in two months, six months, or a year.
No one plan could be successful in all of these possible conditions. From the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve encouraged museums to develop a set of scenarios, encompassing several ways that this crisis could play out for your organization and your community, and to use these scenarios to develop and test create flexible, contingent plans that can you can modify, adapt, or discard as events unfold.
You can revisit my posts from March and April of 2020 for examples of scenarios and advice on how to develop and update your own. (TrendsWatch: the Scenario Edition provides additional guidance on creating and using scenarios in general.) I will also continue to look for and share scenarios developed in other sectors that can inform museum planning by modelling possible outcomes for key variables whether those are epidemiological, economic, or related to travel and tourism.
PITCH IN TO HELP END THE PANDEMIC
Museums consistently rank as being one of the most trusted sources of information—you can use your museum’s trust and influence to promote safety and health. This can be accomplished through modelling good behavior and by providing timely, accurate behavior through exhibits, programming, and messaging.
TWO RESOURCES/OPPORTUNITIES TO HELP THIS WORK:
Communities for Immunity is an initiative supporting the work of museums and libraries in engaging their communities in COVID-19 vaccine confidence. It provides Vaccine Confidence Resources and offers funding opportunities for museums and libraries to help build vaccine confidence and combat the pandemic. The next application deadline is October 29, and will make about 154 awards, ranging from $1,500 to $100,000, to support the creation and dissemination of information resources, and activities such as facilitating community discussions or opening and maintaining a vaccination site.
Vaccines & US, a collaboration led by the Smithsonian Institution, has created a resource hub for vaccination information for use by individuals, groups, and all museum and cultural organizations. The project’s site hosts a wide variety of videos, fact sheets, tools and resources that can be used to foster vaccine confidence. It also provides opportunities for your organization to become involved by contributing and sharing content or hosting an event.
In addition, here are some steps your museum might take to update its operations and procedures in light of the ongoing pandemic, based on my own tracking of research, news and events.
CONTINGENCY PLANS FOR RECLOSING/REOPENING.
At the height of the pandemic, essentially all US museums were closed to the public—as of June, over two thirds had reopened, and a majority of those still closed had identified an opening date. However, the Delta variant, together with slow progress in vaccination, has disrupted that recovery and some museums have reclosed in the face of rising COVID cases in their areas. Sometimes this is required by government mandates. For example, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum closed again on August 6 on instruction of the National Archives and Records Administration, which oversees presidential libraries. Other reclosing may results from a judgement call on the museum’s part: The Greater Southwest Historical Museum in Ardmore closed again in late August, to protect its volunteer staff in the face of the Delta variant, and local strains on hospital capacity.
You may want to create plans for reclosing, and re-reopening, should circumstances warrant, building on what your organization learned from the initial COVID closure. The AAM blog features extensive documentation of how various museums navigated the attendant financial and logistic challenges over the past year and a half, and our website also provides resources on preparing to reopen.
CONTINGENCY PLANS FOR CRITICAL EVENTS AND PROGRAMS
During the pandemic, 67 percent of museums shifted major galas and fundraising events online, and while these typically fell short of the original revenue goals for their in-person counterparts, they also were less expensive to run and often yielded a higher net return. We may be entering another cycle of such events: the Lincoln Heritage Museum at Lincoln College had to transition from an in-person fundraising gala planned for later this month to a virtual event in response to new CDC guidelines about masking and concerns about the Delta Variant. Your museum may want to prepare contingency plans for running an effective digital fundraising event as well.
Virtual programming has proved to be a highly effective way to serve museums’ existing audiences as well as reaching people who are not regular visitors to your museum or museums in general. As Brendan Ciecko documented on the Alliance blog, many museums have built effective income streams around digital content and virtual programming as well. Consider how you might continue, revive, or expand virtual programming as a buffer against potential reclosures, or a slow recovery of traditional attendance. (Recent polling from Axios shows that 60% of the public feel that returning to their normal, pre-COVID behaviors right now would pose a large or moderate risk (up from 53% two weeks ago.)
UPDATE HEALTH AND SAFETY PRECAUTIONS
Early in the pandemic, before we knew how COVID-19 spread, recommendations focused on cleanliness—disinfecting surfaces, minimizing touch of public surfaces, and hand washing. Many museums (quite properly acting on what we did and did not know at that time) made changes to exhibits to minimize touching—shutting down or removing interactives, providing styluses for touch screen activation. Now there is a solid consensus that the primary vector for COVID-19 is air-borne particles, not fomites (contaminated surfaces or objects). Current CDC recommendations emphasize routine cleaning with soap and detergent, and call for disinfecting products only in situations where there have been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID. The emphasis for prevention has shifted to masking and ventilation (see below). While cleanliness is still important, you may want to review your cleaning procedures—what you use, how often it is applied—to make sure you are efficiently allocating your time and money towards COVID prevention.
When the pandemic started, mask scarcity led many people to craft their own from whatever materials were at hand. Now we have an abundance of options (though some medical grade masks are periodically in short supply). The CDC provides guidance on how to choose a mask and wear it properly. One of the biggest issues has been, and continues to be, when to require people to wear masks, and how to enforce that expectation. AAM’s recently updated Considerations for Face Mask Policies reviews setting policies for staff and visitors, issues of training, accessibility, equity and racial implications, communications, and addresses some of the ongoing tensions over masks, enforcement of policies, and employee training.
It is now established that the COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through the air as droplets or aerosols. But our understanding of what to do about that continues to evolve. For example, it turns out those plastic barriers many companies put up to separate staff from customers, or co-workers from each other, not only don’t help, they may also make things worse. What does seem to work is maximizing air flow and improving air quality. There are a number of no and low cost steps museums can take to improve building ventilation, and museums might want to consider investing in upgrades such as portable, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration or ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) systems as well. Download this AAM resource, Considerations for Building Ventilation, which summarizes these options.
Health officials agree that the single most important thing we can do to end the pandemic is increase the rate of vaccination. Unvaccinated people have 5 times more COVID infections than the fully vaccinated, and 29x more hospitalizations (here’s the source for those two statistics), and unvaccinated people are more than 15 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than vaccinated individuals.
In light of these facts, organizations are having to make difficult decisions about whether to require vaccinations for their own staff or their visitors/attendees. (And whether, absent proof of vaccination, to require testing.) The CDC provides guidance on navigating this issue, but notes that whether an employer can require or mandate vaccination may be controlled by state or other applicable laws. This article from SHERM summarizes the messy legal arguments playing out across the country around what employers can require, and when employees can opt out.
One consideration is how these policies can affect individual decisions to become vaccinated. Recent Axios polling data on vaccine hesitancy indicates that 43% of unvaccinated Americans said their boss requiring vaccines would make them likely to do so (up from 33% a month ago).
In light of these complexities, museums across the country are making decisions based on their own circumstances. For example, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is requiring proof of vaccination for attendees at its events, but the mandate does not apply to the associated museum because that is run by the federal government, and the foundation that funds the library events can’t impose the requirement. Earlier this month, the mayor of New York City announced that all visitors and staff members at museums and other cultural institutions would have to be vaccinated. Though imposed by the city, this mandate aligned with the consensus of the arts organizations affected by the decision. Other museums may decide to impose a vaccination or testing requirement without an external mandate. Earlier this month the Museum of Science, Boston issued a press release saying it would require all employees and volunteers to be vaccinated by mid-September. Not long after, the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey announced that when it reopens on September 12, it will require guests over the age of 12 to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for entry. I am sure you have seen more examples in the news.
Early in the pandemic, contact tracing was a highly valued way to help “flatten the curve. The International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art went so far as to recommend that museums adopt visitor registration and contact tracing, and many museums did implement such measures. However, given how highly contagious Delta is, epidemiologists are pointing out that contact tracing may no longer be effective—by the time exposed individuals are located, they will have already passed it along through several chains of transmission. (Australia recently abandoned contact tracing for this reason.)
Another practice widely instituted at the beginning of the pandemic was temperature check for staff and visitors. (This article summarizes current statewide recommendations regarding temperature screening.) Over time, however, doubt has grown over the efficacy of this precaution for a number of reasons including the accuracy of the contact or remote thermometers and the variability of COVID symptoms. (Also the increasing number of vaccinated, asymptomatic individuals who may be contagious). While it may seem harmless to provide an additional level of screening, however imperfect, some health officials have pointed out that it may create a false sense of security. It also uses up staff time and financial resources that might be devoted to more effective precautionary measures. If your museum has instituted temperature checks, you may want to review the current literature, and evaluate whether it still plays a useful role in your COVID precautions.
You may have noticed a theme in the updates above: some things that organizations spent a great deal of time and money on at the beginning of the pandemic (disinfecting surfaces, contact tracing, temperature checks) may not be an effective use of resources when it comes to risk management. But the facts about efficacy, and risk, aren’t the only important factors to weigh in deciding what to do or stop doing. While zealous cleaning has been derided by some as “hygiene theater.” But it is important to foster a sense of safety for both visitors and staff. (58 percent of respondents to AAM’s “Impact of COVID-19 on People in the Museum Field” survey indicated that “creating a safe physical work environment” was an important step their employer took to make them feel safe and supported.) In making decisions on how to allocate scarce resources—money for equipment and supplies, staff time to implement procedures—you need to balance the cost with the benefits of various preventative measures, even if those benefits are mostly psychological.
HOW IS YOUR MUSEUM PREPARING FOR THIS FALL?
One of our strengths as a field is that museum people are generous in sharing their experiences with each other. Please share information on how your organization is approaching these decisions—planning to reclose, continuing virtual programming, setting policies on vaccinations, upgrading ventilation. You can use the comments section below, tag @futureofmuseums on Twitter, or write to me directly at emerritt (at) aam-us.org. By pooling our wisdom, we can be stronger together. Take care.
See Original Post
Reposted from The New York Times
When Lonnie G. Bunch III, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, announced last year that the organization had received a $25 million gift from Bank of America, he envisioned an initiative that would create safe spaces in communities across the nation where Americans could gather to discuss the country’s racial past.
The result, “Our Shared Future: Reckoning With Our Racial Past,” a two-year series of online and in-person events, will kick off Thursday in Los Angeles with a virtual summit meeting that will focus on income and health care inequality and include subjects ranging from early race science to vaccine distribution. The initial event will be livestreamed at oursharedfuture.si.edu, starting at 7 p.m. Eastern.
“We can’t solve the problems of race in America ourselves,” Bunch said in a phone conversation on Monday. “But we can give the public the tools to stimulate those conversations to help people understand race beyond Black and white.”
The organization is planning conferences, town halls and immersive pop-up experiences in communities across the country to allow people to share their experiences and increase their understanding of the legacy of race and racism. Bunch said the goal is to encourage conversations among people who might not otherwise cross paths.
“We hope the Smithsonian can be a trusted place where people with a diversity of political opinions can engage with each other,” he said.
Museums nationwide are reckoning with race in their collections, including how to diversify their historically white holdings and how to display artifacts of traumatic periods in the country’s history, such as Ku Klux Klan robes, with proper context. But the Smithsonian wanted to take the conversation beyond museum walls, Bunch said.
“In many ways, it’s an initiative about race,” he said. “But it’s also an initiative about the different ways the Smithsonian can do our work moving forward.”
Though arrangements are in flux because of the pandemic, the Smithsonian does plan to dispatch a video team to events including the annual Farm Aid Festival, to be held this year in Hartford, Conn., on Sept. 25, in the hope of gathering oral histories from people about their experiences of race in America.
“We want to make sure, as we talk about the grand issues of race and wellness, we reduce it to a human scale,” Bunch said.
Though the program is a two-year pilot, Bunch said he sees that time frame as a starting point, not a deadline.
“We want the relationships we build to go on longer,” he said. “If what we’re doing has an impact, we’ll keep doing it.”
Reposted from Artnet News
After more than two years of cleaning and stabilization work, France’s Notre Dame Cathedral is now ready to be rebuilt.
The news was confirmed this weekend by Rebâtir Notre-Dame de Paris, the task force charged with restoring the 850-year-old Gothic structure, in a statement on Facebook. The group says it’s on track to finish the project by the spring of 2024, just in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
That was the goal laid out by French President Emmanuel Macron in the days following a devastating fire in 2019—a five-year plan that, to many who had just witnessed the disaster take place in real time, seemed ambitious, if not altogether impossible.
“We’re officially saying that the cathedral is now saved, that it’s solid on its pillars, that its walls are solid, everything is holding together,” the head of Rebâtir Notre-Dame, Jean-Louis Georgelin, told the French news outlet BFM TV. “We are determined to win this battle of 2024, to reopen our cathedral in 2024. It will be France’s honor to do so, and we will do so because we are all united on this goal.”
The now-completed first phase involved reinforcing the cathedral’s flying buttresses, protecting its gargoyles, and removing some 40,000 pieces of damaged scaffolding that had been in place for spire restoration at the time of the fire.
Georgelin explained that the interior walls and floors of the cathedral will undergo a “thorough cleaning process” in late September. Meanwhile, construction on the building, which will be outsourced by the state to private companies, is expected to begin in the next few months.
The money for these commissions will come from the roughly $950 million (€845 million) that has been pledged from private and corporate donors.
In 2020, after a year of speculation over what the redesigned cathedral would look like, Macron announced that the cathedral’s famous spire would be restored to its original state. The president had previously said that the state would hold an international architectural competition to redesign the structure, but changed his mind following a recommendation from France’s National Heritage and Architecture Commission.
Rebâtir Notre-Dame’s aim is to have the cathedral ready to host a full service on April 16, 2024.
Reposted from CN Traveler
Being named a UNESCO World Heritage site is the ultimate feather in the cap for travel destinations. But along with the prestige, increased popularity, and tourism dollars, the designation brings greater responsibility—both in heritage preservation and sustainable development. While this summer saw 34 new spots including Nice, France, and the Southern Islands of Japan added to the coveted list, other sites aren’t faring so well.
The United Nations committee regularly places sites marred by mismanagement, climate change, and other impacts on its “World Heritage in Danger” list before delisting them completely. This year, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef narrowly avoided a downgrade and now has until February 2022 to produce a progress report on its health. Meanwhile, Liverpool, England, was officially stripped of its UNESCO designation after several warnings about detrimental new construction along its historic waterfront.
The good news? The looming threat of losing this privileged recognition is a major wake-up call for existing UNESCO World Heritage sites, including those not in immediate danger. As a result, more locations are rolling out updates that will change how travelers interact with cultural and natural heritage, and will, hopefully, increase the resiliency of these sites in the face of growing environmental impacts and overtourism.
“Countries are increasingly signing onto sustainable development models where cultural heritage conservation plays a role,” says Susan Macdonald, head of Getty Conservation Institute’s Field Projects, which recently hosted an in-depth discussion with cultural heritage leaders about the pandemic’s impact on conservation efforts. “In other places, the lure of development makes it hard to achieve well-balanced approaches—this takes commitment, leadership, and long-term vision.”
Anyone who’s been to the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu knows just how busy its crown jewel, the Inca Citadel, can get. After receiving an average of 4,000 visitors per day in 2018 and 2019—nearly double the number deemed appropriate by conservationists—Peru’s Ministry of Culture announced last year it would be limiting capacity to 2,244 visitors per day to remain in good standing with UNESCO.
But with a controversial new airport near Cusco scheduled to be completed by 2025 and local entities that rely on tourism pushing to see that number grow, it’s clear there needs to be a better model for sustainable growth. As a result, the park’s conservation team is working to build new routes and visitor centers to better disperse travelers that currently bottleneck the site. After all, the entire park encompasses over 37,000 hectares of land and more than 60 archaeological sites—many of which don’t get nearly the same amount of attention as the famous citadel.
“Heritage and tourism should not be in a permanent fight,” says José M. Bastante, director of the archaeological park. “In the future, with new routes and real-time monitoring of possible impacts, we will be able to increase the capacity of Machu Picchu up to almost 6,000. This will be progressive, based on evidence that the measurements we are taking are successful in avoiding negative impacts on our heritage.”
Reduced tourism during the pandemic allowed the team to improve trails and cover areas with blocks that help prevent erosion. Now, the focus is on opening alternative routes to ease pressure on existing trails and diversify the communities benefiting from tourism. Currently under construction is the Amazon Access Route, which connects the Intihuatana community with the areas of San Miguel, Inkarakay, Mandor, and Puente Ruinas toward Aguas Calientes. The soon-to-be-unveiled second corridor will link the community of Choquellusca (which sits at the border of Piscacucho in the district of Ollantaytambo) with the archaeological site of San Antonio de Torontoy, allowing visitors to pass through lesser-visited cultural sites on their way to the Inca city.
Tourists behaving disrespectfully (lying down in the grass, running, shouting, eating, and whistling are all against the rules) is still a major concern. Bastante says they’re hoping to address this by implementing visitor fines, reducing the maximum group size from 16 to 12, and constructing a new visitor center at the base of the citadel within the next two years. The hope is that the programming here will provide tourists with more information about the property’s Outstanding Universal Value and sacred significance, and help curtail damaging behavior.
Before the devastating fire of 2019, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was one of the most-visited monuments in Europe, welcoming 12 million people a year. Now, with plans to reopen by 2024, conservationists are planning to create a more in-depth visitor experience.
“The average length of the visit was only twenty minutes, which is a very limited amount of time to understand the cathedral, its history, and its architecture,” Jonathan Truillet, Notre Dame’s deputy director of conservation and restoration, told Getty. “As we prepare for the reopening, we want to improve the visitor experience while enabling better conservation and understanding of the monument.”
Part of the challenge is balancing tourism with preservation. For instance, the old flooring in the cathedral was damaged by the high number of visitors, says Truillet. They’re now conceptualizing better ways to control foot traffic and encourage visitors to stay longer.
The new visitor experience will include separate entrances for visitors and worshippers, updates to the site’s museum, and an improved presentation of The Mays, a series of large paintings from the 17th century that is displayed in May in honor of the Virgin Mary, says Michel Picaud, President of Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris, an organization that has been spearheading the fundraising efforts for the cathedral since 2016.
“We’re also ensuring security measures are well taken care of because the lack of maintenance and technical security devices was one of the weaknesses of the cathedral,” Picaud says. “For example, we had no sprinklers on the roof of the cathedral. This is something we will put in place so that we contain any danger to the monument.”
Also changing is the restoration budget, which has grown from $200 million pre-fire to almost $1 billion thanks to over 340,000 new private donors—none of whom have canceled their gifts since the pandemic began. Unlike some countries that cut conservation budgets in 2020, Truillet says the French government has dedicated more funding to the restoration of historic buildings in a bid to support French companies specializing in old-world craftsmanship, proving that the interest in heritage protection is stronger than ever.
Meanwhile, in Greece, a different kind of fire is burning. As climate change-induced flames rage closer to the ancient sites of Olympia and the Acropolis of Athens, intergovernmental organizations are pushing to use new technology to save UNESCO World Heritage sites from natural disasters.
The UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the Hellenic Group on Earth Observation (GEO) teamed up to launch the Urban Heritage Climate Observatory (UHCO) this spring. The new global platform will use real-time satellite data, advanced sensors, and artificial intelligence to quickly identify the presence of wildfires, floods, and landslides near heritage sites and create post-disaster assessments to better shield vulnerable places, including at-risk locations in Greece, Turkey, Spain, Italy, and 20 other countries across Europe, Africa, the Americas, and Asia-Oceania.
“This is now the era when most countries are trying to build national adaptation plans due to climate change but in most of these plans, the cultural heritage piece is missing,” says Evangelos Gerasopoulos, director of the Greek GEO office. “Symbolically, we are trying to use Ancient Greece, the cradle of western civilization, to mobilize efforts. If we forget the past, we’re doing nothing for our future.”
Reposted from Jing Culture & Commerce
Since 2017, London’s Postal Museum has been home to more than 60,000 objects chronicling the country’s centuries-old communications heritage, but also, a gift shop that comes fittingly well-stocked with postcards, stationery, books on postal history, and Royal Mail Post & Go stamps. No humble museum store, though, it received a tech boost in 2019 in the form of artificial intelligence-enabled (AI) devices that monitor and predict visitor flow to help optimize staff allocation. The upshot? A 97 percent spike in shop revenue per visitor, according to Culture Hint, the company behind the optimization software.
Certainly, AI has already made itself known in the museum realm: it’s assisting in conservation projects, tracking visitor behaviors throughout galleries, and enhancing the exhibition experience. But for Cesare Fialà, who co-founded Culture Hint in 2019, “what is really key,” he tells Jing Culture & Commerce, “is how do you improve operations in a way that has a positive return-on-investment for the museum?” It’s this practical approach that thoroughly informs the company’s offerings that besides capturing insights on visitor numbers, provides forecasts of crowd patterns to facilitate better staff rota planning and visitor care.
Museum retail, in particular, stands to benefit from such optimization. For the Postal Museum, which wanted to increase revenue per head at its store, Culture Hint uses computer vision to record visitor flow before a forecasting algorithm rolls out daily suggestions for staff deployment to maximize conversion. “Whether there were a ton of people or very few visitors in the shop, they always had the perfect amount of staff,” says Fialà. “The service level started to be consistent, regardless of the visitor flow.”
Fialà is due to discuss Culture Hint’s work with the Postal Museum at the upcoming MUZE.X conference, taking place between October 18 to 20 at the University of Malta. Before that, he spoke to Jing Culture & Commerce about the potential for AI-assisted forecasting tools to improve institutions’ operations and revenue.
What were some gaps you noticed in the museum sector that prompted you to launch Culture Hint?
The most widely used tool at the moment for planning in the museum sector is gut feeling. That’s the tool that we had to compete against. The sector as a whole is not proactive in terms of technology, especially for operations. It’s really a giant lack of technology adoption, so we might as well accelerate that. Culture Hint deals mainly with operations, which includes visitor services, security, and retail — all these teams are not seeking innovations as they could. People often take it for granted that innovation will come from other sectors and eventually, yes, they will jump on the train as well, like five years later. But you can’t have that hypothesis because innovation doesn’t happen by itself.
Could you outline how AI is deployed in your services?
The definition that I prefer of AI is the capability of a software to perform human-like tasks. I don’t see AI as a specific way of doing things, but rather as a way of describing things that are done by a machine. In our case, we use artificial intelligence in all the three phases of our service: it first monitors, second, forecasts visitor flow, and third, optimizes the resources of our client according to the forecasts that have been made. Effectively, all three parts of the process use AI.
How have museums responded to the idea of using AI in their operations?
So far, I’ve seen a very good response. Most of the time, the hard part is before you show them what you can do; there can be some skepticism. The issue is, how do you convince someone that can tell you that their museum has been managed by their expertise and gut feeling for the past 200 years? How do you convince them that all of a sudden, there’s a software program that knows better than they do how their visitors are going to behave? This is the challenge, but once you’ve shown them, it’s very easy for them to see that it works.
What has your work with Culture Hint taught you about how museums approach visitor tracking?
The one thing we see is that people are kind of afraid of changing their staff numbers from day to day, so most of the time, you either have too many staff members deployed on a certain position on a certain day or too few. It makes it very difficult for the staff to care about the visitors. But when there’s the right amount of staff members per visitors, you really start to click with them.
Besides forecast based planning, there’s a ton of other technologies that museums could adopt tomorrow on the operations side that can really double their existing revenues. So before embarking on some obscure project, I think that operational technology could be a very good starting point, especially coming out of the pandemic. And this is one of the reasons why we are seeing a lot of demand after the pandemic for Culture Hint’s offerings.
How is Culture Hint planning to evolve its products?
My objective in the future is to come out with a software solution that is completely automated so that we can offer it to micro museums and everyone can have it at a very popular price. There’s also a degree of customization that we want to do.
Another thing is we’re planning to expand heavily in the upcoming months into the UK, EU, and possibly the US in the next year. There’s half a million cultural venues worldwide; our mission is for everyone to use forecast based planning because this will come — it’s just a matter of how and when. Technologies in the museum’s content will come and go, but technologies on the operations and the management side of the museum itself are here to stay.
Mark Wray was working at the concession stand of a movie theater when the pandemic lockdowns hit last year. The movie theater shut down, and he lost his job.
But instead of looking for another low-wage job, Mr. Wray sought a different path. He found a program teaching basic technology and business skills, completed it and landed a job at a fast-growing online mortgage lender. He started in March, working in customer service and tech support. He makes about $55,000 a year, compared with $17,000 at the movie theater.
“The pandemic, weirdly, was an opportunity,” said Mr. Wray, 25, who is a high school graduate and lives in Charlotte, N.C. “And this job is a huge steppingstone for me.”
People returning to the work force after the pandemic are expecting more from their employers, pushing companies to raise pay, give bonuses and improve health care and tuition plans. Paychecks are getting bigger. Wages rose strongly in July, up 4 percent from a year earlier, according to the Labor Department. For workers in leisure and hospitality businesses, pay increased nearly 10 percent.
Yet many workers are also seeking something else: a career path, not a dead-end job.
In recent months, companies have struggled to fill jobs for tasks like waiting on tables, stocking shelves or flipping burgers. Nearly 40 percent of former workers in the nation’s hospitality industry say they do not plan to go back to jobs in hotels, restaurants or bars, according to a survey by Joblist, an employment search engine.
For many workers, the issue is less about bargaining for more money in a tight labor market than about finding a job with a brighter future.
“People in lower-wage work are saying, ‘I’m going to pivot to something better,’” said Stuart Andreason, director of the Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
Their demands are already reshaping corporate policies. Major employers of lower-wage hourly workers including Walmart, Chipotle and Amazon have announced improvements to their tuition and training programs. Even Amazon, which has huge turnover among workers in its warehouses, has started to talk more about helping improve its employees’ long-term prospects.
Some companies are featuring their newfound or heightened commitment to worker development to lure job applicants. Employer job postings for positions that do not require four-year degrees included the term “career advancement” 35 percent more often from March through July than in the same span two years ago, according to Emsi Burning Glass, a labor-market analytics firm. “Training” was mentioned 32 percent more often.
The new emphasis, if lasting and widespread, would be a significant change in corporate behavior. Companies have often regarded workers — except those at the top — as a cost to be cut instead of an asset that would become increasingly valuable with investment. Training programs were trimmed and career ladders lowered.
One measure of the higher aspirations of workers is the surge in interest and applications reported by major nonprofit organizations, like Year Up, Per Scholas and NPower, with decades of experience training and finding good jobs, mainly for underrepresented groups. They are all expanding.
Mr. Wray is a graduate of Merit America, a newer nonprofit that started in 2018. This year, Merit America is on track to reach more than 1,400 students, up from about 500 last year.
How large the opportunity will be for the striving workers, experts say, may depend on overhauling the hiring and promotion practices of corporate America. For example, companies have long used the requirement of a four-year college degree as a blunt screening tool for many good-paying jobs. Yet about two-thirds of American workers do not have four-year degrees — and nearly 80 percent of Latino and almost 70 percent of Black workers do not.
The college-degree filter, workplace experts say, is not a good predictor of success for many jobs.
That view has gained far more attention and support in the wake of the calls for social and racial justice after the murder of George Floyd last year. Hundreds of companies have pledged to diversify their work forces. Whether those pronouncements and commitments will be followed by action remains to be seen.
But people who have worked in the field of work force development for decades say they see evidence of genuine change. In the past, companies often blamed the education system for failing to produce enough qualified people of color to hire, said Elyse Rosenblum, founder and managing director of Grads of Life, which advises businesses on inclusive hiring practices.
“But now, companies are increasingly looking internally and taking ownership of this challenge,” Ms. Rosenblum said. “That’s a completely different posture.”
The support of business leaders who control budgets and hiring decisions, experts say, is vital.
At Bank of America, one executive in that role is David Reilly, who manages technology for its banking and markets operations worldwide. Mr. Reilly grew up in London’s East End, did not go to college and got his start in technology working the night shift in a London computer center, loading data-storage disks and cleaning the printer.
He showed an aptitude for the work, and one promotion followed another, leading to senior posts at Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley. He joined Bank of America a decade ago.
His career, Mr. Reilly said, was “blessed by people willing to give me a chance.”
At Bank of America, Mr. Reilly has helped champion the effort to develop upwardly mobile career paths. Bank workers volunteer thousands of hours a year to give talks and mentor recruits without college degrees. The effort also involves regular talks with managers about next steps in a career.
Since 2018, through recruiting partnerships with nonprofits like NPower and Year Up, as well as community colleges, the bank has hired more than 10,000 workers from low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.
Carolina Ferreira had low-paying jobs as a restaurant hostess and as a preschool teacher’s assistant before she took a four-month program at NPower in basic technology skills. It was enough to land a tech-support internship at Bank of America in 2017.
The internship was followed by a contract job and then a full-time position. She is now a technical support analyst on the commodities trading desk, and makes more than $80,000 a year. “I’m still pretty junior, but this has been a big leap for me,” said Ms. Ferreira, 26, who lives in Queens.
Bank of America has close ties with training programs that focus on developing the potential of people like Ashantee Franklin.
Ms. Franklin, 24, lost her job at a dog day care and walking service after Covid-19 hit last year. She decided to make the setback an opportunity, applied to the NPower program and completed the four-month course.
The dog care service had reopened and Ms. Franklin was back walking dogs when an NPower job-placement coordinator called about an opening in an entry-level program at Bank of America. She applied, did well in interviews and was accepted. “I decided my time as a dog handler would come to an end,” she said.
Ms. Franklin, who lives in Brooklyn, started her contract job at Bank of America in June as a technology business analyst. Her starting salary is about double what she made in past years, which was less than $20,000.
Fostering upward mobility in corporate America is the goal of OneTen, a coalition of companies committed to hiring or promoting one million Black Americans to family-sustaining jobs over the next decade.
The coalition began in December with three dozen companies and has grown to 54. They are major employers, including Accenture, AT&T, American Express, Bank of America, Cisco, Cleveland Clinic, Delta Air Lines, IBM, Merck, Target, Verizon and Walmart.
OneTen sees its role as orchestrating the various players in the labor market, sharing best practices and measuring outcomes. It is promoting hiring based on skills instead of degrees. The group is also endorsing training programs, based on rates of completion and job placement. Two dozen have been approved so far.
Digital skills are increasingly an important tool across the spectrum of occupations and career paths in business — jobs in sales, marketing, customer service and operations.
Mr. Wray, who works for Better, an online mortgage lender, is an example. In the Merit America program, he earned a certificate in tech support. But his current role at Better is really customer service, helping potential borrowers navigate the online forms, communicating via live chat.
The goal of the technical training at Merit America, Mr. Wray said, was “to learn enough so you could learn on the job.”
At Better, his next career steps could be to become a loan consultant, a loan processor or, on a technical track, perhaps a network administrator.
One thing he is learning about is mortgage loans — how they work and the many options. “It’s fascinating,” Mr. Wray said. “And now I’m actually on track to afford a house at some point, which I wasn’t before.”
After Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday, August 29, the category 4 storm—with gusts up to 172 miles per hour—left a wide path of destruction, and the city of New Orleans largely without electricity. We checked in with several arts and culture organizations and found that, while many were fortunate enough not to have sustained physical damage, the lack of power poses a serious threat to artworks that are sensitive to heat and humidity.
Although conditions were not as severe as those following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, not all cultural entities escaped damage. A former tailor shop that figured in the rise of jazz great Louis Armstrong was completely destroyed, as first reported by The Art Newspaper. Images on social media showed the Karnofsky Shop—where Armstrong once worked and where he bought his first cornet—was obliterated by the storm. The home had been on the National Register of Historic Places.
Margaux Krane, a representative for the New Orleans Museum of Art, said she had spoken with museum director Susan Taylor, who called from the museum on Monday. “The NOMA building and grounds did not sustain any damage. Our collection, as well as our incredible emergency team who are on-site, are safe. The museum will remain closed until we can safely reopen with power,” said Krane.
For now, she said, the museum has emergency generators running to maintain stable temperature and humidity. Although cell-phone service remains spotty throughout the city, she added, “all museum staff are safe and accounted for.”
At the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, a weekend-long opening for the “SOLOS” artists-in-residence showcase—set to debut new works and performances by nine artists and collectives—was canceled on Friday and most staff evacuated the city, said communications director Laura Tennyson. “Our turn-of-the-century warehouse building, a former dry-goods store and headquarters of the Katz & Besthoff grocery chain, withstood the storm-force winds,” executive director George Scheer confirmed. “As a non-collecting institution, the CAC is not managing special collections and is taking necessary precautions to care for the work of Gulf South artists we have on site in our current show.”
The CAC was also forced to cancel “(Re)membering to Never Forget,” a virtual panel related to its current exhibition “Behind Every Beautiful Thing” and designed to commemorate the trauma of Hurricane Katrina, which had been slated for August 29.
The Joan Mitchell Foundation, which established an artists’ residency in the city in the wake of Katrina, reported that it had suffered no significant damage. “We will be monitoring whether prolonged power outages could impact the start of the fall residency session in mid-September,” said a spokesperson for the foundation. The New Orleans Jazz Museum did not respond to Artnet News’s inquiry.
Meanwhile, the storm’s damage has cast uncertainty over the fate of Prospect New Orleans, the citywide contemporary art triennial that is now a decade old. The fifth edition, postponed from 2020, is scheduled to take place between late October and January 2022. Speaking from Austin, Texas, where he has been living since the start of the pandemic, director Nick Stillman said being outside of the storm’s path has not necessarily made his last couple of days any easier.
Noting that the opening is still two months away, Stillman said, “It’s too early to tell right now. We need more information before we make any decisions. We’re right at that stage where we need framers, fabricators, shipping routes. And we can’t make any good decisions until we really know when the city is going to have power again.”
Luckily, most of the artwork slated for Prospect is not actually in New Orleans yet. “We’re not in the kind of situations that I think our other institutions will be, where the encroaching humidity without generators is going to cause condition problems,” Stillman said.
As for the triennial’s planned locations across the city, of which there are about 20, Stillman said that with people still unable to traverse from neighborhood to neighborhood, it is “very hard to collect a full report on how the city is doing.” With the Prospect staff fully evacuated for now, he added, “I don’t think we’ll really know about the condition of the sites until probably late this week.”
A year ago, I wrote about how Venice is using their pandemic induced pause to rethink how they can create a better future of sustainable tourism rather than rebounding to the status quo of day-tripping hordes. Many museums are using the involuntary lulls of the past year and a half to plan for a better future as well. Last week Allison Titman shared how the Alice Paul Institute is using lessons learned during COVID to create workplace practices that promote gender equity. This week Debra Kerr, president and CEO of Intuit: The Center of Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago, tells us how she is integrating pandemic practices into long-term operational change.
— Elizabeth Merritt, Vice President, Strategic Foresight and Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums, American Alliance of Museums
After telling funders, board members, survey takers, and colleagues for months that the museum community was re-examining its old ways and our museum was never turning back, I was surprised to see the responses to a question posed to small museums on the Museum Junction CEO Community. The question “will some percentage of the work of your staff continue to be remote…?” was answered by five of the first seven responders: 95-100% fully back on site.
Despite the limitations of a small team—or maybe because of the extraordinary creativity required of a small team—my museum, small by art museum standards, is moving forward in 2021 and beyond with no expectations that we must operate in ways that worked prior to 2020. In fact, the COVID era has freed us from the constraints of history and many of the expectations inherent in a board that still has a small percentage of strong founder voices.
Prior to March 2020, full-time staff were on site Monday through Friday, while unpaid volunteers managed the floor. (Weekends included one part-timer to back up the volunteers.) Intuit had no timed ticketing, so most guests were walk-ins. Volunteers would welcome each guest, orient them to the content, and the exhibitions on view, explain the $5 admission price for those older than 18, and take the money for admission and museum store purchases.
No longer. With City of Chicago rules in place, Intuit now uses timed ticketing and ensures guests adhere to current mask and post-travel quarantine mandates. Paid part-time staff (two of whom were former volunteers) were hired to manage the functions formerly handled by front-line volunteers, typically about 12-15 people who filled 2-3 daily shifts. Initially, this was a management decision. The facility coordinator/registrar and I agreed it was unfair to have volunteers policing guests to adhere to procedures that were new to us and visitors. In practice, unlike the conflicts some museums are experiencing with visitors, Intuit’s guests have willingly put on masks, either their own or ones we provide.
I understand small museums may not have the cash to hire part-time staff, and full-time staff may be handling guest admissions. We managed to make it work through two decisions.
Because full-time staff are no longer expected to provide back-up to volunteers, they can work wherever they choose or need to work—from home or at the museum. Still, it is important to me and our team to maintain our fun and friendly work culture.
All staff, volunteers, and interns are invited to a standing 15-minute Zoom meeting every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Attendance at any given meeting is optional, but folks are expected to attend at least once or twice a week. Full-time staff are just this week instituting a once-a-week 30-minute meeting on Tuesday, which will be our regular in-person day on site. Once a month, we have an all-hands IntuiTalk, in which a staff member prepares and presents a single topic, such as completing a condition report, writing a label for guests with blindness, exit survey results for the recent exhibition, and using SharePoint (a web-based collaboration and storage platform). Once a month, we have a Zoom happy hour, which allows interns in other parts of the country to participate. We adopted Slack last summer to facilitate instant messaging across people and teams.
Before the pandemic, we were desperate for desk space. Our offices are in an 800-square-foot lofted space above the exhibition galleries. There is no privacy. When I needed to do an employee performance appraisal, I took the employee out to eat or to a coffee shop. The chief curator and the development manager were literally shoulder to shoulder at one L-shaped desk. Interns and volunteers, sometimes as many as four, sat at the small table in my office area.
Now, instead of having assigned workspaces, we practice “hoteling”—anyone can use any available desk when they need it. We’re slowly buying new computers. We reimburse folks for a portion of their home Wi-Fi and personal cell phones. Our new, money-saving Wi-Fi-based phone system allows us to forward office phones to cell phones, so callers don’t even know staff answering phones may not be in the museum.
One significant downside is the loss of the volunteer corps, many of whom tend to be college students or recent graduates. Although we’ve had interns throughout the pandemic, we didn’t ask the volunteers back last summer for our first re-opening, and they’ve moved on. Only one person is ready to come back. Volunteer recruitment is starting from scratch.
The staff, all along, have been supportive and demonstrated tremendous adaptability. Two folks pointed out that teaching or taking classes is less disruptive from home. Those with a longer commute enjoy the found time. No one liked being fully remote: “I need team members to give me gusto and energy.” And one staff acknowledged the difficulty of managing interns whom she never met in person. But the pros outweigh the cons: “researching and writing,” “making phone calls,” “eating lunch with my husband” and “preparing lunch in my own kitchen,” and “time at home allowed us to adopt a new dog” and “my cat loves having me at home.” Everyone mentioned flexibility. “I can’t image 9 to 5 ever again. It feels rigid. We all understand we are getting work done when we’re at home.”
In June 2020, our marketing person, Annaleigh, announced she was leaving for another position, throwing me into a mild panic. Then, Lindsey, a woman who’d interned for me over two summers, living in Boston while getting her master’s in arts administration, reached out to ask if she would be eligible for the job. I said, “Let’s try you as interim coordinator.” Annaleigh and Lindsey overlapped for a week, creating a smooth transition. After a month, Lindsey and I decided to make it permanent. She just finished her master’s and moved to Chicago, but we would have lost this opportunity in former times.
As for the program side, Intuit is one of only a handful of museums in the world that focuses solely on outsider art. Intuit’s art-making and education programs will continue primarily online (though we hope to get our local Teacher Fellowship Program back in person one day soon), where we reach a national and international audience. We’re taking our small museum creativity and applying it to all our business opportunities and thinking of new models.
In a recent opinion piece for Hyperallergic, Amy Gilman of the Chazen Museum said, “We should not aim to revert to where we were in March 2020. This is the time we can truly change our institutional cultures. Most institutional change tends to be incremental and accumulative, but COVID has provided an unanticipated opportunity. We must ask, ‘How do we want to begin again?’” Although she is focusing primarily on diversity, this is, indeed, a time of unprecedented opportunity for “conscious decision on how we move forward.”
Reposted from NPR
On Wednesday, the state of Virginia removed the 12-ton statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee more than 130 years after it was installed in Richmond.
Despite its massive size, it was lifted from its pedestal in one piece and is headed for storage. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, was there as the statue came down and appeared pleased by its removal. A crowd also chanted and cheered as the statue of Lee — atop a horse — was lifted into the air by a crane.
In the decades following its construction in 1890, the statue became a focal point for a wealthy, all-white neighborhood; Lee was later joined by statues to other Confederate leaders. In 1996, a statue of Black tennis champion Arthur Ashe was added to the avenue despite serious opposition under the direction of then-Gov. Douglas Wilder, the first Black person to serve as governor of any state since Reconstruction.
Lee's statue was the largest Confederate monument in the city of Richmond and one of the largest in the country. Nearly every other Confederate statue in Virginia's capital was removed last summer, either by protesters or the city itself at the request of Mayor Levar Stoney.
Officials said the graffiti-covered pedestal will remain in place while discussions continue about the future of Monument Avenue.
Last fall, I was a guest presenter in an AAM Webinar on unbiased hiring where I shared some blind screening techniques that we have begun incorporating into our hiring practices at AAM. With several recruitment efforts now concluded, my colleagues and I continue to reflect on the successes, challenges, and lessons learned as we experiment with ways to broaden the diversity of our applicant pools.
The make-up of the AAM staff is currently, and has traditionally been, largely female and white. Some have suggested that our staff is simply a reflection of the museum field at large, but as my colleagues and I learn more about the impact of unintentional bias, we wondered how this may be influencing our recruiting efforts. This question led us to re-visit our recruitment process and to the creation of a goal to adapt recruitment practices that 1) encourage under-represented candidates to apply and 2) ensure that we are consistently evaluating each candidate on the appropriate criteria (relevant skills needed for the job.)
I’ll admit that the idea of overhauling our recruitment process through this new lens of mitigating bias seemed daunting at first. After all, I had carefully crafted a recruitment system designed to deliver a fair and consistent experience for candidates. With detailed templates, suggested best practices and guidelines to outline the process, it also provided efficiency in managing multiple searches simultaneously. This process had served us well (or so I thought) for many years. Initially, I found myself overwhelmed simply deciding where to begin.
If you asked our hiring managers at AAM about our hiring practices, most would tell you they were working well for us. They would probably point to our talented, dedicated and productive staff as proof. In fact, over the years, managers have expressed appreciation for AAM’s established and systematic approach to hiring and the representation of staff from a variety of sectors (non-profit, museum, and private sector) that our system has produced. Given their general satisfaction, I wondered how we would make the case for changing our process? As any manager who has been short-staffed knows, the pressure to fill a vacancy urgently is strong and I feared it would be all too easy to slip into our “default” operating mode rather than making the effort to incorporate new practices.
I’m an HR department of one and AAM has a very “manual” recruitment process. We don’t use applicant tracking software. Resumes are collected, sorted and reviewed by myself and small hiring teams. Given this lack of automation, I wondered how I could implement these changes while supporting a staff of 45 employees in all aspects of employment – benefits administration, payroll, compensation, employee relations, performance management, along with recruitment.
To address these challenges (feeling overwhelmed; not knowing where to start; getting buy-in; limited resources), we realized we needed to think big and then think small. In other words, we needed to clearly articulate our recruitment philosophy and goals while simultaneously identifying small changes we could make with our current resources.
1. Connect recruitment goals to organizational objectives and then communicate those goals clearly and often.
Make sure everyone on staff understands your goal and re-iterate and refer to it often. For us, to support AAM’s Strategic Plan focus area of diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion, our recruitment goal is to attract the most qualified candidates and broaden the diversity of our applicant pools. We review this goal with hiring teams at the beginning of each search. As people began to understand the objective, we encountered less resistance to trying new methods. In fact, as word started to spread about our new goal and the changes we were making to our recruitment practices, team members were soon making their own suggestions for how we could tweak our methods to achieve our goal.
2. Job descriptions should focus on skills.
We started to look at job descriptions for each vacancy as if the position were brand new. Taking a fresh look made us realize that our job requirements relied heavily on credentials and experience as opposed to demonstrated skills. For example, we often relied on the requirements of a graduate degree or previous museum employment as a method for screening candidates. In so doing, we may have discouraged applicants with relevant transferable skills from applying.
Recognizing that candidates may have valuable skills from other industries has prompted us to evaluate our job descriptions and postings for potential gender-coded language and eliminate the use of industry jargon and acronyms. In our last fellowship search, we utilized free software (Textio) on a trial basis to spot words that may be considered feminine or masculine. For example, we learned that “collaborates” may be more attractive to women than “drives results,” which may draw in more male candidates. With this new awareness, I now ask hiring managers to help me evaluate our job descriptions for potential bias.
3. Be transparent in job postings.
Adding salary ranges, closing dates and providing a list of items to include in cover letters has helped us manage candidate’s expectations and improved the quality of applications we have received. Candidates have commented that our instructions make it clear what skills are being evaluated.
4. Incorporate blind screening practices to mitigate unintentional bias.
We added an element of identity-blind screening in our application process by asking candidates to omit names, addresses, names of schools and graduation dates when submitting cover letters and resumes. Even though approximately a third of the candidates have fully complied with this request thus far, we’ve found that it helps our reviewers remain more neutral in their evaluations and as an unexpected plus, has generated interest and positive feedback from candidates and museum colleagues.
5. Consider how candidates are sourced.
I’ve counted on employee networks as a reliable source for finding strong candidates even though this practice may be perpetuating our homogenous applicant pool. Although we have expanded our recruitment advertising to include diversity-specific job boards and have begun asking any potential staffing firms with whom we work about their practices to engage diverse applicant pools, we recognize that more engagement with diverse communities is needed to tap into these talent pools.
6. Recognize that resume bias comes in all forms.
Like many HR professionals faced with large numbers of applicants, I’m usually looking for ways to screen people out rather than in. I was trained to seek out the gaps in employment history, typos and questionable grammar usage on resumes and treat them as red flags even though these criteria alone are rarely the most relevant to the job.
Working with dozens of hiring managers over my HR career, I have always found it fascinating to learn about individual preferences when reviewing resumes. “Too many words” was the criteria that put a resume in the “no” stack for one hiring manager.
With each new search, members of hiring teams are asked to share their own “pet peeves” about reviewing resumes. It can be cathartic to openly discuss our own biases and how they influence our perceptions of candidates. What characteristics cause you to eliminate a candidate at the resume review stage? What resume characteristics influence your impression of a candidate?
7. Engage your hiring team in creating resume review protocols.
We all have biases. Hiring processes will inevitably involve preferences. Owning up to our own biases helps us minimize them and makes us more intentional about what skills we are seeking in a candidate. Through candid discussions of our personal preferences and relevant job skills, our hiring teams come to an agreement on which biases (evaluation factors) we will use to evaluate candidates.
Along with the agreed upon evaluation factors, we create a list of protocols to help us manage our individual biases. We identify factors that may influence our perceptions of the candidate but are not relevant to the job and agree not to use any single factor as the primary reason for eliminating a candidate at this stage (use of grammar, writing style, personal interests or affiliations.) Additionally, some hiring teams have agreed not to seek out any additional information about the candidate at the resume review stage (no internet or membership data searches.)
8. Allow hiring team members to share input equally.
Having two hiring team members independently review all resumes has helped us keep our biases in check. I ask each to independently identify their top candidates and then we meet as a group to create a list of our top 5 candidates.
Hiring team members have reported that they have a stronger “voice” in the process. The independent resume review minimizes the “group think” that sometimes occurs when resumes are reviewed in a group setting.
9. Create opportunities for candidates to demonstrate skills.
We often have pre-conceived ideas on what a successful candidate’s career path might look like, what experience they should have, where they may have worked. As noted earlier, in past searches, I probably over-emphasized the value of credentials (a title, a degree or certification, etc.) versus a demonstration of the actual skill needed, such as a work sample.
Instead of relying on credentials and experience listed on resumes, we are finding that creating opportunities for candidates to demonstrate their skills gives hiring managers a better sense of a candidate’s ability to perform the job duties. We are now asking candidates to respond to specific questions in cover letters and have incorporated challenge-like activities such as role-playing and short presentations in interviews.
Hiring teams are now able to witness first-hand how a finance candidate explains the components of a financial statement or how a development candidate communicates the value of museums as part of a proposal.
10. A collaborative approach has multiple benefits.
Taking a collaborative approach has helped people understand the goal and contribute to it. Inviting hiring team members to share their own recruitment experiences opens up the conversation about biases. Having teams come to an agreement on which skills to evaluate provides clarity on the team’s purpose. Brainstorming on techniques for mitigating biases allows team members the opportunity to support one another in achieving a common goal.
Of course, a collaborative approach and any change takes time. With each new vacancy, we try to determine what constitutes a reasonable timeline. It may be different for each situation.
By facilitating these discussions and collaborating with hiring managers on determining appropriate changes to our recruiting methods, we created an environment of learning and experimentation. Trading the HR subject matter expert role for that of a facilitator was insightful for me. As a subject matter expert, I was expected to prescribe or recommend a solution. It feels refreshing to play the part of facilitator in which my objective is to engage my colleagues on our goal, facilitate the process non-judgmentally and document group decisions, successes and challenges.
Sharing the experience (both successes and failures) with others has generated observations and ideas which are helping us see our current practices through this new lens.
Although these are relatively small changes, they have contributed greatly to changing our mindset in how we view our purpose and goals in attracting candidates. This experience has helped us question our assumptions; challenged our ways of thinking; encouraged us to examine our own biases; solicited candid discussions between colleagues; improved objectivity in our assessments; and is opening us up to new possibilities and new ways of working. All qualities that will serve us well in other aspects of our business operations. - by Katherine McNamee
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