Monday, June 25, 2007

Sustainability at the Sciencenter

At the Sciencenter in Ithaca, NY, we have been on a crash course on sustainability for the past year. After the museum’s board decided to allocate 1% of our 2007 budget toward sustainability-related issues, during an all-staff meeting, we invited our staff and several volunteers to write down 2-3 things that we might do with our new funding.

We received dozens of ideas ranging from investing in alternative energy to buying green products to encouraging energy conservation to developing new exhibits and programs on sustainability. This short exercise yielded so many good ideas that we repeated it with both our board of trustees and our advisory board. We combined all the ideas on a spreadsheet with the number of times mentioned, proposed priorities as H-M-L, re-sorted, and brought the summary back to our staff for more discussion. This led to a set of prioritized marching orders, which we are now working on.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sabbatical Prep

I came to the museum world from a university setting, where sabbaticals every 7 years are the norm. I am fortunate that the Sciencenter’s board has been totally supportive of my taking time away from the museum after 17 years as executive director. They’ve encouraged me to go and are providing full salary for the duration.

The first task was to appoint an acting director for when I’ll be gone, and fortunately we have an associate director, Lara Kimber, who was right for the challenge. She recommended finding an organizational coach to help us identify the key issues she might face, and we were again fortunate to find a highly experienced consultant here in Ithaca who had served previously as CEO of major several major companies. We began to meet several months before my leave was to start, and his outside perspective helped us improve communication with board, staff, and other stakeholders. I can strongly recommend this approach to any organization contemplating a transition in leadership, whether it’s for a sabbatical or some other reason.

We searched the Internet and other sources for information on how to prep for a sabbatical leave. There was little help out there. Most of it related to universities, and none of it dealt with keeping an institution running smoothly when its CEO is gone for an extended period.
So we have decided to document what’s involved and how we did it, in hopes some other museum director will find something of use.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Goals for the expedition

Why am I taking 3 months to leave what I enjoy most (working at our local science museum here in Ithaca, NY) to do this trip?

Ever since spending a year in Germany as a post-doc in civil engineering in 1987-8, I've had the sense that Europe is ahead of the U.S. in terms of valuing environmental concerns. Back then, I saw standardized community recycling stations in many communities. I saw that taking care of air quality, water quality, and preserving forests were a regular way of life. I saw many signs that corporate respect for the environment was considerably higher than in the U.S.

20 years later, the need has now become acute to preserve our environment and to reverse trends such as global warming, overuse of groundwater, and acidification of the ocean, to name only few.

So my goal is simple: to find out what what is to be learned about the ways in which various European museums have influenced the attitude of their audiences about the environment.

Do they stick to safe subjects, such as well-established topics in science, and avoid the issues?

Do they provide information on their local environment, such as animals to be identified or plant communities to be recognized?

Do they address topics like climate change and go the next step toward advocating action? If so, how? And how have they assessed the effectiveness of their efforts?