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THE "HOW" OF LONG-DISTANCE COLLABORATION
Conducted August – September 2012 by the Latino New South Learning Network:
- Levine Museum of the New South
- Atlanta History Center
- Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Latino/Hispanic population is rising dramatically across the U.S. South, from barely 1% in 1990 to 10-15% in many cities today. The change is highly visible in this region which historically received few immigrants in America’s last big immigration wave a century ago. The excitements and stresses foreshadow wider changes as the nation becomes increasingly multicultural: by the 2040s no single racial/ethnic group will be in the majority in the U.S.
Levine Museum, thanks to a prestigious Innovation Lab grant from the American Alliance of Museums, has joined with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Atlanta History Center in a multi-year Latino New South Project. It aims to document this history-in-the-making and to develop strong partnerships with Latino communities. Already the museums have conducted extensive Listening Sessions with Latino and non-Latino representatives in each town. What stories/information/messages need to be shared?
Can museums become “civic tools,” helping their cities build the cultural bridges that are needed in this era of change?
In August and September, 2012, the three museums conducted two-day listening sessions in our three cities. For each, the home museum brought Latino/Hispanic leaders and community members to the museum, and also arranged bus visits to Latino/Hispanic institutions out in the city. After each listening session the Innovation Team conducted an evaluation using the Army’s After Action Review system to achieve a dual purpose: 1) to assess the process of the learning network –the “how”, and 2) to take stock of the insights and information we learned from the community –the “what”. The following information contains key lessons we learned about how to create and sustain a learning network.
Key Factors for Success:
- Project Coordinator
Someone within the network must advocate for the project. This person also must be given the capacity to make decisions and exhibit leadership.Ideally the project coordinator will be responsible in following up with conference calls, taking notes, sending reminders of important dates, distributing information, conducting debrief sessions, etc.The project coordinator must be able to devote ample time to the project.This means that staffing may need to be adjusted institutionally to allow for the workload of the project.We recommend allocating 8 hours per week to work on the project.
- Process Facilitation
The entire learning experience was greatly enhanced by skilled facilitation.The success and effectiveness of the network was magnified as a result of the skilled facilitation by a person outside the network.It allowed us to work through issues efficiently and productively.Our recommendation, if possible, is to enlist a skilled facilitator who is a person outside the network.
- Relationship building within the network
A face-to-face planning meeting at the beginning of the process/network (before any of the listening sessions or community events) is essential.It allows for the building of trust among institutions and the developing of a framework for candid, safe communication among team members.
- Real Time Evaluation
Evaluation is key and necessary in creating innovative methods to tackle social issues. The Innovation Team developed and followed a protocol for capturing process learning. We conducted an evaluation using the Army’s After Action Review (AAR) after every listening session. We made sure to evaluate the process of the network as well as the content. Based on feedback after each listening session also made process improvements were then implemented for later sessions to make them more effective.
Example of Process Capturing Protocol:
Step #1: Conduct a short (one hour) After Action Review (AAR) immediately following the event to capture responses and to summarize and circulate them (task for the project coordinator).
After Action Review Questions:
1. What was planned? (intended results)
2. What actually occurred? (facts not judgments)
3. What did we learn?
4. What can be improved and how?
Step #2: Now with the benefit of reflection, each person from the three organizations who attended the listening session responds to the following question. This response should be circulated within ten days of the listening session, three days after receiving the AAR summary.
“Taken as a whole, including the AAR, what is your overall response to the recent listening session, and what is the most critical process improvement (if any) that you would suggest be considered by the network to assure continued success with the listening sessions?”
Step #3: After all three listening sessions, in either a face-to-face session, or via phone, the Innovation Team met to consider the entirety of the ‘process’ by responding to the following questions.
As a network committed to learning from our experiences, what have been the three-five most critical things we have learned in working together across our three cities?
What ideas does each organization have about how they might embed this learning into their organizational practice?
What (specifically) should we share with the field? How should we do that? Who should be responsible for assuring this happens?
- Define Self-Interest and Resource
Each institution should define its self-interest in the partnership and each organization should clarify what resources they will devote to the project. Operating budget and staff capacity does not always correspond to level of involvement. Establishing a solid foundation can be a lengthy process but it is time well spent. Because we invested time in the planning phase, we had a solid understanding of what each organization could provide. We should never assume each other’s willingness to commit and what capacity/resources they have available.
- Pre-Planning before each session
Pre-planning is really important. In order for the AAR’s evaluation to have an impact on the planning for the next session, sessions must be scheduled at least a month apart. This way there is enough time to implement the successful innovative ideas and shed what didn’t work. Our innovation team held eight 30 minute conference calls discussing innovative methods prior to holding the first listening session. Constant check-in and deliberation by the team allowed us to be mindful of every detail that might affect community participation (i.e. interpretation, cultural barriers, safe place, wording of questions, etc.).
- Sound Data
Understanding the demographic change in each of our cities was key for all involved partners, funders and receiving community members to appreciate the importance and scope of our project. Therefore we used U.S. Census based data to make a compelling case for support of our work. The gathering and dissemination of this data also illustrates our investment and commitment to promote understanding. Likewise it engenders a feeling of reciprocity and trust between Latino partners and the museum and between the museum and individuals within the community – a “give and take” of knowledge and trust between the museum and both individuals and organizations within the community.
A word of caution regarding obtaining the statistical data: we were very fortunate to have a strong relationship with UNC Charlotte and an urban social geography professor who is deeply involved with the local community.These relationships allowed the creation of a very detailed data profile for each city.Without such donation of time, resources and knowledge, the Innovation Team would have had to use some of its financial resources to contract an expert.
- Strategic Community Partnerships
Forethought must be given to which community partners are the best with whom to engage and how that can occur effectively. In the case of Levine Museum we were successful in rallying partners because we contacted community members with whom we had previously established relationships. In contrast, the Atlanta History Center had little experience partnering with Latino community organizations and had to do a lot of relationship building, which requires time and effort. Strategic choice of community partners can save money. For instance, as noted above, the partnership with UNCC’s Urban Institute turned out to be very fruitful. The institute was able to provide us with valuable data about each city at relatively no cost. Otherwise we would have had to hire a geographer.
It is important to document the process for future reference and for dissemination to the field.Levine Museum hired a local freelance journalist to cover the Charlotte listening session and the scholars meeting.The journalist was entrusted to create a magazine style article, a 20 minute video, and take photographs throughout the listening session and scholars meeting.Not only do the journalist’s materials serve as a record of our work but it also allows us to easily share the information through different media venues and target different audiences.
About the collaborators:
Levine Museum of the New South
Levine Museum of the New South opened in 1991 to explore the history and culture of the New South—the era since the Civil War. With a full-time staff of 16 and annual budget of $2 million, it has garnered national recognition for its groundbreaking exhibitions and active civic engagement and dialogue programs rooted in a vision of “using history to build community.” www.museumofthenewsouth.org
Atlanta History Center
The 85-year-old Atlanta History Center is the region’s leading general history museum and, with a staff of 62 and annual budget of $6.6 million, the oldest and largest network partner. Incorporating both the Atlanta History Center campus and the Margaret Mitchell House, its mission is to preserve and interpret historical subjects pertaining to Atlanta and to present subjects of interest to Atlanta’s diverse audiences. This venerable institution is in the midst of strategically rethinking its approach to exhibitions and programming in order to more effectively engage Atlanta’s diverse population. www.atlantahistorycenter.com
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) is a museum, a place of research, and a teaching facility that opened in 1992 as the centerpiece of the city’s Civil Rights District. The BCRI mission is to promote civil and human rights worldwide through education. With a staff of 19 and an operating budget of $2.1 million, BCRI interprets historic and contemporary struggles for human rights through the unique lens of the Birmingham experience. www.bcri.org
Partners in Performance
Partners in Performance works in both visual and performing arts organizations on strategy, innovation and leadership development. John McCann, president of the firm served as the Latino New South network facilitator. http://www.partnersinperformance.us/
 Skilled facilitation was provided by EmcArts as part of the grant.