MA Volunteers28066 resize

Guest blog by Fran Riando – Unlocking the Geffrye

Geffrye vols

The Geffrye explores the home and the way people live. Our collections show how homes have been used and furnished over the past 400 years, reflecting changes in society and behaviour as well as style, fashion and taste.

The Geffrye is a much-loved gem in the lively and creative Hoxton area of London – historically a centre for furniture-making and market gardening. Set in 18th-century almshouses and surrounded by gardens, it is often described as an oasis in the heart of the city.

People volunteer across the museum leading tours of the restored almshouse, helping maintain the gardens, supporting family learning activities, community sessions and events, collection and documentation activities, helping our development team with research, supporting the communication team supporting the volunteer programme itself.

Volunteering has been steadily growing over the past 5 years, with the number of contributed volunteer hours rising from 2110 in 2013/14 to 3069 in 2016/17. Our volunteers suggested that we should embrace digital technology to help with communication and certain volunteer management functions like rotas.

When researching I came across Volunteer Makers. Instantly struck by the idea of having lots of different ways for people to get involved, including micro volunteering and how technology could support this and help to build the community, I got in touch. Volunteer Makers would really help us to think differently about volunteering, especially moving into a period when the Museum will be closed as part of a transformational redevelopment project, Unlocking the Geffrye.

We have now planned for Volunteer Makers, started to implement the plan and are in a period of consultation with the current team which will be followed by a public launch.

This project has helped us learn a lot so far, here are some of the top things that have helped us get to this point:

1. We have developed our Volunteer Maker’s strategy as part of our wider strategy for volunteering at the museum. During meetings we developed a set of values for the programme, which helped to focus discussions and decision making throughout.
2. We have tried to work collaboratively across the organisation; in practical terms this has meant having a clear idea of time scale and key outcomes at different stages has been really vital. This has helped to make sure that people have the information they need to contribute to decisions, reflect and feedback at each stage, whilst planning time to act on feedback where possible. We used a simple table to help keep track of this which allowed us to adjust the plan as needed. (You can get a copy of the template we created for planning from Volunteer Makers).
3. Getting the whole organisation involved at all levels has been really important. Planning multiple opportunities for people to get involved and think about what aspects of Volunteer Makers might appeal to the motivations of different teams. Do not get disheartened if people don’t immediately get involved, if you have opportunities throughout the project people can get involved more easily when things become less abstract. I have planned to share Volunteer Makers with the whole team including those who haven’t been involved in a staff meeting. I plan to get everyone attending to contribute ideas for challenges in their area of work.
4. It has been beneficial having the communication team and current volunteer team involved. Spending the time to get the communication team is worth it, ensure they know what opportunities they have to feed in, and when decisions will be final, this means they know what meeting they have to be at! This team caught on to the micro volunteering aspects of Volunteer Makers quickly, so having meetings where you mix teams to think about ideas has worked well. Volunteers are the people that you want to be able to use and embrace the site, so working with them is important. One of our volunteers, Maja, attended a meeting about branding, during which she came up with the name and tag line for the site after members of staff had talked about it for quite a while. Volunteers are able to bring fresh perspective which has been really beneficial.

Fran Riando, Audience Development Coordinator: Volunteers & Communities

MA Volunteers28121 resize

Guest blog by Hannah Mather – Volunteer Makers: A Digital Revolution

My Name is Hannah Mather and I’m an emerging museum professional. I recently graduated with my MA in Museum Studies and have been working part time at Jarrow Hall as their Supervisor of Culture and Heritage. I’m also Chair of the North East Emerging Museum Professionals Group, a voluntary group which I founded back in April to encourage peer support for early career professionals like myself.

Managing volunteers can be difficult. People volunteer for different reasons, understanding what motivates your volunteer and working with them can be key to ensuring value exchange. It’s important to manage the expectations of both the organisation and the volunteer from the very start. As an early career professional, I love volunteering. I see many opportunities for self-development by working with more experienced professionals to develop and gain skills. It’s disheartening when you’re left feeling like a ‘spare part’ in a generic role.

The traditional volunteer application process is becoming outdated. It can be off putting when often we find that forms are not very accessible and do not allow people to cover a broad range of interests and skills. People are often asked to explain what they can bring to a role which is so generic that in fact, they don’t even know themselves what they are volunteering for.

It’s time to ditch our traditional approach to volunteering and embrace a model which can enable expectations to be managed affectively. We increasingly find that more people are wanting to volunteer, they just do not have as much time. This can be a deterrent, we’re unwilling to commit time when we are unsure on how much time we’re able to give.

Digital thinking is a good solution, one which embraces accessibility. In an age where most us have access to the internet museums have the potential to harness these tools and use them to outreach, inviting people to access their collections off site. Organisations like Tyne & Wear Museums, have been embracing this by thinking of ways in which they can blur the lines between community participation and volunteering. Using the Volunteer Makers digital software, they have made their collections more accessible and have been able to encourage people to share their favourite objects from the online collections database across their social media channels.

This digital platform has led to a rise in micro volunteering as people choose to partake in smaller tasks which take less time to complete but can be done much more frequently, creating the ‘long tail effect.’ Many smaller tasks have the potential to drive much larger projects through this. A great example of the micro volunteer challenge is “Take a photo of something you’ve enjoyed on your visit, then share it on social media.” It’s something which a lot of people already like to do, myself included. By sharing a photograph on social media, you’re sharing it with your friends and followers who can, in turn share the post with their friends and followers. The outreach on this can be huge and great for marketing.

There is also the potential, with this digital model to open a wider variation of volunteer opportunities. The tech can help to make these opportunities much more targeted, deciding what opportunities the person would be a good fit for based on the data they input when signing up, data which can be changed at any point. I first came across the model when volunteering for Tyne & Wear Museums. I had previously applied for several volunteering opportunities, and handed in countless forms, each as long and tedious as the other so when TWAM adopted the volunteer makers model it was a relief to know how straight forward the application was and I enjoyed the gamification of the site which allowed me to get started straight away and choose what appealed to me. It was a fun and creative way to volunteer. It wasn’t until sometime after this that I realised that this wasn’t just something TWAM were doing and that in fact there was a platform behind this was something which museums across the country were starting to see the benefit of.

My recent involvement with Volunteer Makers has been a very positive experience, I was invited to be part of the advisory board and my EMP group now have our very own platform which we hope to use to grow and manage our network by sharing opportunities and developing relationships with our regional museums. The Volunteer Makers platform I hope will allow NEEMPG to do what it has already aimed to do in a much more accessible way. Being involved in this project has also given me incredible opportunities, including being able to talk at the Museums Association Conference, giving the volunteer’s perspective on Volunteer Makers.

MAVolunteers28047_preview.jpeg

Guest blog by Jessica Hartshorn – Doing it Together

MAVolunteers28045_preview.jpeg

Volunteering plays a significant role in maintaining the heritage sector’s resilience and a week on, I am reflecting on the 2017 Museums Association Conference in relation to this matter.  After 15 years working in galleries and museums, 11 of which have been at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, volunteers have always played a part in supporting our services.  However, it is clear that the way in which we work with these wonderful people, who bring skills, experience and enthusiasm needs to change in response to the changing world in which we live.

I was invited as a Volunteer-Maker pioneer to speak at the Conference about how we can manage this change successfully and gain ‘buy in’.  How do we ‘ Do it Together’?  This was as a result of feedback which I gave to Claire (Claire Sully – Volunteer Makers’ Programme Director) after our initial workshop with her introducing Volunteer-Makers. I said:

Everyone was buzzing and excited after the session, and I can honestly say I have never had such heartfelt positive feedback about a change of system before!

It’s true, I was so surprised at the feedback from our staff, everyone was very excited and keen to move forward.  We had organisational buy in.  But how?  My first thought was ‘Well it just kinda happened.’  But after thinking about it, it wasn’t that simple.

Rugby Art Gallery and Museum is currently still in the early stages of working with Volunteer Makers and its programme, as one of the pioneers, and I am also part of the advisory panel. After having an initial workshop with Claire in the summer, we have now put together the content of our platform, trained staff and consulted with our current volunteers. We have had a soft launch of the site while we are testing it and will be promoting it further over the Christmas period.

But how did we get to this point?  Why did we need to change and how did we encourage others in our team to come on our Volunteer Makers journey with us?

Like many cultural venues, we had been through many changes over recent years and to strengthen our position, in 2015, we were successful in receiving an Arts Council grant to work on our resilience.  The grant enabled us to take part in a programme of training focusing on working together as a team.  During this process, it was apparent we needed to see and accept changes in order to move forward.  This was our first stage for helping with ‘Buy in’.  We were ready for change.

But what was our volunteer status?   Before 2015, we had 2 volunteers, no strategy or policy or way of recruiting volunteers.  In 2015, as part of the Rugby World Cup, being the home of the game, we ran an official purpose-built Fanzone venue and ran a schools’ programme and events.  As a result the Visitor Centre manager started to put together a policy and recruited and trained around 50 volunteers.  After this we managed to keep many of these volunteers to support the gallery and museum and trained them to work particularly with the education programme.  This transformed what we did and we saw a huge value in these fantastic people, who brought new ideas and skills to the team.  However, two years down the line, our programme has expanded and we require more volunteers.  But we had not updated the policy and we hadn’t looked at how we were going to continue to recruit.  Our volunteers were mostly white and over 50 and we wanted to attract a broader demographic from our community.

Volunteer Makers seems to be an answer to our needs.  A new way of attracting younger audiences and offering micro-volunteering (small pockets of time which can be on or off site) was an exciting way forward.  It would also give us an opportunity to review our policies and engage more staff in supporting volunteering as they could set smaller more manageable challenges.

So, returning to making a change in your organisation.   My initial thought was, well why wouldn’t you have buy in? This sounds fantastic and offers an answer to the problems we had.  But as you know in this sector there are always barriers.  What are the challenges?  This led to a tool which I had recently come across in a training session.  I think it explains what is needed to encourage change, therefore helping people to buy in:

OPM (Object Process Methodology) – Change model shows what is needed for successful change and the effect when one is missing.

Pressure for change – if there is no pressure it goes to the bottom of the tray.  Capacity for change – lacking in resources and staff time leads to anxiety and frustration.  Clear shared vision – with this enthusiasm starts to fizzle out.  Actionable first step – without a clear plan it can lead to haphazard efforts and false starts.  At Rugby, we have used this model as a method to move the Volunteer Makers programme forward.

Pressure for change – Why was it important?  We needed to recruit new volunteers, particularly younger people.  We needed to diversify our demographic of volunteers and we wanted to support engagement and develop ideas.  To do this we needed a new way of working and we needed it ASAP.

Clear shared vision – I think Volunteer Makers presentation really sold itself to the team, it demonstrated a clear vision.  The team could see the opportunities and during the workshop, Claire helped us to think about our aims for volunteers and where we wanted to be in the future.  It helped us to have a shared vision.

But also key for buy in was to invite all members of the team as everyone plays a part.  To encourage those who are resistant by speaking their language and appealing to how they will personally benefit.

The other important preparation was to pre-empt questions from the team and resolve these with Claire before the meeting where possible.  This meant questions and challenges brought up in the meeting could be resolved there and then, meaning staff left the meeting with a clear vision without too many holes.

Capacity for change – Time and staff, is for many organisations the biggest barrier.  As my manager could see so much potential in this project we agreed that I would dedicate time to this project.  We needed to make time for this project but also the whole team believed in Volunteer Makers enough to put a small portion of time aside.  We are also looking at having a volunteer to support and help us move the programme forward.

Actionable first Step – Claire helped us to set an action plan during the workshop with a vision and aims.  This so, far has enabled the project to move forward.  Regular group meetings looking at our progress and working with the team and our current volunteers to overcome any challenges.  Our officers are setting challenges, front of house staff are selling Volunteer makers, volunteers are currently testing it.  Everyone plays a part.

I very much valued my opportunity to share our experiences and also to listen to other pioneers at the conference.  It was really interesting to hear different and similar perspectives regarding volunteers and support each other.  After all, we are a caring, sharing sector, ‘Doing It Together’.