Re: Docent Transitions

 
From: "Andrea Jones [email protected] [talk at museum-ed.org]" <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: Docent Transitions
Date: June 11th 2019
Ahh docents and change. A question as old as time (or at least as old as the volunteer docent system, which is actually about 110 years old).
Change is hard, especially for volunteers - who really can be considered closer to an "audience" than "employees" in my estimation.

The paradigm of this kind of free labor in era of  the visitor-centered museum is fraught. But if you don't have the option of paying educators. Here are a couple of ideas that might help.

1. Think in terms of changing the programs/tours first, then the docents. If you create structured, well-thought out, dialogue based programs with visitors at the center, this will require different skills of the docents. You can ask for a group of volunteers who want to learn these new skills to conduct the new program. They become the star docents. This program will be the flagship for the kind of new visitor experience you want to create. Then continue to create new tours and programs like this. Rolling them out one at a time. The more traditional docents will see the writing on the wall and will begin to fall away. Create program after program that require these skills. You won't have to deal with firing docents. They will most likely quit because this is not the type of tour they want to give. (aka lecturing, showing their knowledge). But you have to create structure in this tour and not let the docents have as much choice in that respect).

2. Set expectations that change is coming. While gradual change is good, you don't want to be too obtuse. Or too gradual. Docents should be able to articulate to the public the value of this kind of tour and not be too lulled into thinking that things are business as usual. Any change is going to upset people. You WILL lose people. If you're making everyone happy, that's not real change. I always tell clients - if you start to tug at that piece of yarn on your sweater, be ready to be naked. It could happen all at once. You could have a revolt, even if you try hard not to. So try to avoid major changes during your busy season. You can mitigate bad feelings by listening to their fears - like a therapist. Even asking them what makes them feel good about being a docent and think of ways you can activate those feelings in other ways. (Ex: if non-active docents are coming to trainings for the social connection, find other ways for that to happen). Lots of well-meaning change agents create hard feeling by just not communicating and showing fear of the docent rebellion.

3. Let the pay-off be the visitor reaction. Once docents see how much more engaged visitors are with a visitor-centered tour, the docents will be hooked. I've seen this happen time and time again. Docents want a pay-off. We all do. But instead of that pay-off being "I feel smart. I feel like an expert," the pay-off will change into "The visitor was able to make xyz connection. Wow." or "The visitor brought their own life experience to the discussion and changed the way I thought about xyz." They will love it because it's so amazing to see those light bulbs and those kinds of interactions with strangers. But again, this doesn't happen only because you taught the docents how to ask questions. It comes because of the whole structure of the tour or program is built for visitor participation. I advocate lots of thought to the design on the back end. Docents can be involved in that design process, but not rule it.

4. Hire new docents for their facilitation skills, not their content knowledge.
Realize that all of your docents have been hired with the expectation that content knowledge is the most important thing. They bought into a system that is now changing. So it's natural for them to feel betrayed. But don't continue that broken system any longer than you have to. Start hiring new blood. People that already know the new expectation. In a year or two, you'll have a new crew made of long-timers and newbies - that all buy into a visitor centered museum.

Best of luck!


photo
Andrea K. Jones
Founder, Peak Experience Lab
DC/Maryland
www.peakexperiencelab.com

On Tue, Jun 11, 2019 at 1:34 PM Pamela Reister [email protected] [talk at museum-ed.org] <[email protected]> wrote:
As Sean said, so much could be said. 
Also, make changes gradually to avoid mutiny.

Candie, you specifically asked about seasonal docents. Our bread and butter docent program is for K-12 schools  so there is a natural slow down in the summer and we don't have meetings then. Recently we have added programs for university bridge programs, however, and we have a dedicated group of docents who want to tour these high school students who need some extra prep for university. Most of our docents would fall into your category of seasonal, they travel in summer, but some do extra, yet different, work in the summer. 

As to docent tenure, we offer emeriti status after 5 years. Reaching that point gives docents who have worked only on school tours an opportunity to move to other programs (we have public tours on Sundays for adults, a memory loss program, helping with family days). Many docents are active touring docents for decades but there is some fluidity between the programs they participate in. 

We do have a mechanism in place to move docents off the active touring list. It we have reports that a docent is not tracking, is having mobility issues, has hearing or vision problems, or is inappropriate, we take it to the docent council/board and, if necessary, ask them to retire from active touring.

For non-touring docents, we offer continuing education--usually taught by curators so docents are outranked 😉, and social events. It is great to see veteran docents at social events but they are, just that, social so there is no business to disrupt.

Thanks for posting. Interesting to see how others handle these issues.
Pam


On Tue, Jun 11, 2019 at 12:26 PM Sean Mobley [email protected] [talk at museum-ed.org] <[email protected]> wrote:

So much I could say, and I’m sure you’ll get a lot of pointers from folks, but for now I’ll keep it simple and perhaps follow up with more later.

 

The key: Don’t try to change too much too fast. If you slowly turn the boat over a year or two, the passengers won’t notice. If you make a sharp turn right away, as I think many people in our shoes attempt, you get Docents forcing brand-new, dynamic, qualified presidents to resign.

 

Sean Mobley | Volunteer Coordinator
The Museum of Flight
9404 East Marginal Way S
Seattle, WA 98108
Work: +1 (206) 768-7151
www.museumofflight.org

From: [email protected] [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, June 11, 2019 8:19 AM
To: talk at museum-ed.org <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: [talk] Docent Transitions

 

Oh, the ever-present docent predicament. They’re so wonderful, and so necessary, but some can be very resistant to change. I remember dealing with some docents who were so angry over really necessary changes that they forced a brand-new, dynamic, and qualified president to resign.

 

One tactic I’ve successfully used is to co-opt them as experts. Flattery gets you everywhere, especially with volunteers who often feel unappreciated and so assert power wherever they can. One way to do this is to hold a meeting-including a virtual meeting option—in which I’ve something like:

 

“Docents like you are often the most valuable team members at our site/museum/archive because you often deal with the public much more often than administration. As we all know, institutions like ours are under threat from new technology, so we would like to think about moving toward ways to create more interactive uses of museum space. You’re the experts here; we need your knowledge. I’ve got a questionnaire here in which I’d like you to share some of your perceptions about how our visitors already interact with our site, with each other, and with staff. With all your years of experience and knowledge, I’m sure you’ve got some significant insight on this. We can then use this as a building block from which to brainstorm some dynamic and innovative programs.”

Then you can break them up into project teams, etc. I would add something along the lines of: “Finally, as people’s schedules change, as seasonal needs change, we’d like to come up with some more ways to keep people involved even when there may not be opportunities to be onsite. If we can’t have you here as much as we’d like, we still value and need your expertise.” 

 

This can be an easy way to transition docents off-site, not to mention allow older, less-or non-mobile docents and community residents to participate in museum activities. One example: Sponsor a moderated-chatroom scavenger hunt that uses the National Archives or other archives around the world to find items connected to your own site. 

 

The online world offers enormous opportunities to keep docents feeling included and valuable, even while you may have to make hard decisions about some docents. 

 

Thanks,

Jill

 

 

Sent from my iPhone


On Jun 11, 2019, at 10:43 AM, Candie Waterloo [email protected] [talk at museum-ed.org] <[email protected]> wrote:

Hello all -

 

I am in the process - as I'm sure many of you are - of reforming my docent program. I inherited the program from a predecessor who had been at the institution for 41 years, which means that I also inherited a lot of history and some docents who have been around just as long. As I'm at an academic museum, many in my group have been trained as "art historians", and I am shifting us towards a more visitor-centric pedagogy.

 

I am wondering if any of you can shed light/insights to the following concerns and/or best practices (if you implemented such changes at your respective institutions)

 

  1. Seasonal docents - do you have docents who only tour/attend meetings seasonally? If so, how do you justify this compared to docents who tour/participate all year long?
  2. Docent tenures - do you have limits on how long one can be a docent at your Museum? If so, what is the criteria for making this decision?
  3. Phasing out docents - I have many docents who no longer tour, but still attend meetings. This is leftover from my predecessor who was trying to find a way to keep them engaged with the Museum. My concern is that these docents are actually interfering with my docent training as there are too many of them and it disrupts the numbers - and my ability to good group work. Have you had to phase out docents? If so, what was your criteria? How was this managed?

 

I appreciate any advice and thank you in advance!

 

 

Best,

Candie Waterloo, Curator of Education

Chazen Museum of Art

800 University Avenue

Madison, WI 53706

E: [email protected] / P: (608) 263-4421

 


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--


Pamela Reister
Curator for Museum Teaching & Learning
University of Michigan Museum of Art
+1 734 615-6247 phone
+1 734 764 2540 fax

525 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1354
www.umma.umich.edu
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photo
Andrea K. Jones
Founder, Peak Experience Lab
DC/Maryland
www.peakexperiencelab.com



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