Friday, 23 January 2015

Changing How We Work: The AMA Community Engagement Initiative and Cross Sector Engagement

By Jennifer Forsyth, Advancement Lead, Alberta Museums Association

For nearly three years, the Alberta Museums Association (AMA) has been undertaking an initiative focussed around community engagement. The Community Engagement Initiative (CEI) grew out of many conversations between the AMA and its stakeholders, the engaging work AMA members are doing within their communities, and an understanding about the importance of creating meaningful connections. Firmly rooted in the AMA’s Strategic Framework, this initiative was comprised of three goals: to foster a true understanding of community engagement; to build capacity for leadership opportunities; and to provide tools, resources, and connections to assist members in undertaking related projects.

As we set out to undertake the Community Engagement Initiative, the AMA connected with Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement’s  President, Paul Born. Paul’s work does not focus specifically on museums; his work is with organizations and communities. He guides groups in creating meaningful connections, so they may better address community issues. Through Paul’s mentorship, we began to develop a theory of change. We asked ourselves:

Who are we now?
What is our current state?
What kind of change do we want to happen?
How do we want that change to occur?

Members of the AMA Secretariat continued to learn through Tamarack, attending learning events, webinars, and engaging with diverse communities of practice. At these events we were repeatedly asked: Why museums? How can museums help address social issues? These questions led us to ponder not just how museums can help, but what our role is as a Provincial Museums Association. While the AMA is provincial in scope, we do not work directly with Alberta’s communities, but rather as a support organization, in the service of our members. At the core of this work is the strong belief that if museums are connected with their communities, and engaged in socially responsible work, they will maintain relevancy and be increasingly resilient in unstable times.

As a leader in the museum community, the AMA needs to actively model community engagement principles. This initiative has allowed us to realize that in order to enact the change we as a sector want to see, our members need to learn with us, rather than from us. This is new and exciting territory, and it is neither easy nor simple. The upcoming Future Coalition Summit is our launching pad for this innovative and exhilarating movement. It will bring diverse voices to a conversation that builds on the work we have already accomplished, and guide us toward unfamiliar territory and the possibilities of deep engagement with new stakeholders.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Alberta Museums Association INFOrm. 

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