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More on Museums and More on other Issues

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Museums, Gardens and their Future with Government

A short essay on departures of senior executives from New South Wales museums and botanic gardens in 2013 and what they say about government policies is added to the essays about effective museums. Earlier it had been  posted on my blog, commenced in October 2013. The essay questions whether governments and boards appointed by governments to manage and oversight museums and similar enterprises actually show themselves capable of effectively fulfilling their obligations. In the study of effective museums the first distinction, the most important one, of effective organisations was that they are independent of, or at least maintain a distinct arms length from, government.

Governments are often obsessed with centralised control, which usually ends up achieving very little, and boards appointed by them seldom comprise persons with genuine understanding of the organisation and its principal aims. Newly appointed members are seldom properly briefed at the time of their appointment; the chair is often not appointed because they possess the most important characteristic of an effective chair, the ability to bring people together to envision a shared purpose and ensure meaningful participation of the members of the board, but because they are a friend of the Minister or have achieved prominence in business or some other field. The fact is that often people  rise to positions of prominence for reasons related mainly to who they know and where they went to school. For all these reasons boards of cultural organisations very often fail to achieve effective governance and in particular may not even make appropriate appointments to the most important position, that of executive director.

If the truth of the assertions of the above paragraph seems doubtful, consider the fact that the vast majority of the people in the UK in the professions of the law and finance are from a few “public” schools. A review of the composition of boards of Australian cultural institutions would show that even if the members are scientists or artists they seldom have any experience of leadership or governance. However, their expertise would be valuable were the majority of the decisions made by the board related to considered judgements about the principal purposes and business of the organisation. Instead they often concern financial matters and issues of an administrative nature.

New Essays on Other Issues

In October 2013, a new blog site was commenced. It will contain articles on subjects other than museums, leadership, organisational  development and similar subjects with which this site has been concerned for the last 11 years and education, essays on which have been posted in the last two years.

The first essays deal with climate change; other articles which appear on this main website have been cross posted on the blog site.

A full list of articles on the blog is posted on its own page.

Articles on other sites

Articles published on other online sites are listed on the Publications page of this website. They cover education, economics and climate change.

John Howard, Climate Change Denier and much more!

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

It would be easy to dismiss former Prime Minister John Howard’s address, to acolytes in London, presented at the invitation of climate sceptic and former UK Chancellor Lord Lawson. Over at New Matilda Ben Pobje has done that. So have others including Guy Rundle and Max Gillies in their 2002 production Your Dreaming: Poets, Pontificators and Expatriates and Jonathan Biggins and others at the Sydney Theatre Company satirise numerous politicians and others every year in their Revue.

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Related articles: Australia’s Carbon Emissions Target: Intellectual Laziness At Work

Owl’s Hoots No. 13: Co-Producing The Museum And What Actually Do We Think We’re Doing?

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Several of Howard’s statements are gratuitous, several are misrepresentations.

Howard’s principal statements must be identified for what they are. To suggest that the climate scientists’ statements are “sanctimonious” and that the term “denier” has some overtone of intimidation, as Howard does,  is to misrepresent the meanings of words and the nature of the discourse.

Howard misrepresents the present state of scientific understanding by branding it as a mantra, as a set of views to be not denied. And he asserted, “In the past five years, the dynamic of the global warming debate has shifted away from exaggerated acceptance of the worst possible implications of what a majority of climate scientists tell us, towards a more balanced, and questioning approach.” Rubbish! Dangerous stupid rubbish!

This article is posted at my blog site.

Australia’s Carbon Emissions Target: Intellectual Laziness At Work

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Most of us have difficulty admitting we have been wrong. More importantly, views which cannot be supported by reasonably intelligent analysis of the facts at hand can be considered intellectual laziness, the failure to keep abreast of the latest knowledge. Behavioural economic and other studies reveal people are more wedded to their preconceived views based on their own experience and the views of those they respect than they are to what is revealed by the latest information and experience. Only what agrees with the past is retained.

That is something that typifies Tony Abbott’s ministers. The debate around climate change and Australia’s strategies have been bogged down by absolute refusal to depart from earlier policy decisions despite overwhelming evidence on two fronts, one of which is well traversed, the other less so but just as important.

The less well-known evidence has been covered several times in recent months by the splendid website Climate Spectator. The most informative article, by Tristan Edis on 16 August last year, pointed out that Australia’s abatement task may in fact be much lower than anticipated. Attention is drawn to this in the just released report from the about to be axed Climate Authority. The reduction needed is actually about a third of what it was previously estimated. So, what is Minister Hunt’s problem in committing to increasing the emissions reduction target to 15%? Or better still 25%!

Increasing frequency and severity of storms and drought all over the world flowin g from rising temperatures make taking action more important than ever. Messrs Abbott and Hunt and others denied a link between climate change and the recent fires in New South Wales. The just released Intergovernmental Panel’s Fifth Report states clearly in one of its graphs, as pointed out by Tristan Edis, that for each of the three scenarios extreme fire weather is a significant feature!

This post is also on my blog site.

OWL’S HOOTS No. 13: CO-PRODUCING THE MUSEUM AND WHAT ACTUALLY DO WE THINK WE’RE DOING?

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Hoots No. 13 – 21 December 2009: “Co-producing” the Museum using social media; Education and “Radical Hope”: Noel Pearson’s essay on education and Indigenous Australians; an observation on the misdirection of attention on learning and teaching.

Co-producing the Museum – Social Media and Interaction with your Museum

On the Museum Marketing website  Jim Richardson has written a very interesting article about the communications revolution “coproducing the museum”. It is the text of a keynote address he gave to the Museum Association’s Social Media Day.

Amongst the things he has to say are these:

“Change in the internet has been clear for anyone to see, with the shift from static web pages to dynamic and sharable content and social networking. The internet is no longer just a place to find information; it is now a forum for collaboration, a place to create, curate and share content online. This has changed the way we work, influenced the way we think and adjusted our individual place in society forever.

The explosion in social media has created a socio-cultural shift; the way that people act is changing and audience expectations are snowballing both online and offline, and museums need to think beyond simply building a fan page on Facebook, writing a blog or starting to use Twitter to keep up with the change.”

He points out that people who use Facebook, iPhones, iTunes and Wikipedia, with its hyperlinks allowing users to “drill down” through information, find many of their interactions with museums, including their websites, to be unsatisfactory: static and difficult to engage with.

He quotes The Centre for the Future of Museums, “For Americans under 30, there’s an emerging structural shift in which consumers increasingly drive narrative. Technology is fundamentally enabling and wiring expectations differently, particularly among younger audiences, this time when it comes to the concept of narrative.

“Over time, museum audiences are likely to expect to be part of the narrative experience at museums. While the overall story might not change, how it is presented may change to allow visitors to take on a role as a protagonist themselves.”

He gives some really interesting examples of museums which have grasped change in the way they use social media to allow active interaction by virtual and physical visitors. Some of them are:

Tate Modern released songs, initially exclusively inside the museum, to which visitors could listen through listening posts and later on the Tate Tracks microsite, then invited the public to participate in searching for an additional track. The invitation potentially reached up to two million people. Young musicians were invited to compose a piece of music inspired by an artwork in the museum and the public were invited to vote for their favourite submitted composition.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art launched a project – “It’s time we MET” –  asking people visiting the permanent collection to photograph their experience and using Flickr enter it in a competition to star in a new advertising campaign. Almost a thousand pictures were posted; a panel of judges selected two winners and five runners up.

N8 Audiotours asked members of the public to create their own audiotours about items found in venues around Amsterdam.

Brooklyn Museum launched 1stfans. “1stfan membership is an interactive relationship with the museum that takes place online and in the museum. Part of this relationship is through websites like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr where private members’ areas contain content for 1stfan members. The content in these areas includes artists composing tweets, members sharing pictures, exclusive videos and access to an active online community.”

The V&A in London used a skillfully designed web page to lead people through webpages containing clues to which interested bloggers responded. “The bloggers received further cryptic messages over the next few weeks and 7thsyndikate also entered their real lives with graffiti planted near their homes and adverts placed in newspapers. This all ended with an instruction to dress in a hat and sunglasses, and with a newspaper under the left arm, these spies were to meet a man wearing a tan mac, bowler hat and dark shoes at the Albert Memorial in London. From here he marched them single file to the entrance of the V&A and the exhibition “Cold War Modern”. In total, 35 bloggers made it to the special preview of the exhibition.”

Education: Noel Pearson

Those who read this blog will know of my interest in learning. I wrote a response recently to the Quarterly Essay, “Radical Hope” by Noel Pearson, director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. The response was kindly posted on the “Save our Schools” site by Trevor Cobbold.

“Radical Hopeâ” traverses very important issues in respect of the education “gap” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, maintaining cultural identity on the margin, the nature of learning and indigenous rights including responsibilities of governments on the one hand and individuals on the other.

As Mr Pearson shows there are extremely significant findings from educational research relevant to the education of Indigenous students. Education in the western tradition of the dominant society in Australia does not by any means require suppression of Indigenous identity: in fact quite the contrary. Maintenance and strengthening of identity is fundamental to survival for almost everyone, a fact suppressed by advocates of assimilation. Diversity of identity strengthens society!”

Quarterly Essay 36, “Australian Story” by Mungo MacCallum includes a series of responses to Pearson’s essay by people such as Fred Chaney (a director of Reconciliation Australia), Peter Shergold (Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet 2003 to 2008) and Peter Sutton (University of Adelaide and South Australian Museum and author of “The Politics of Suffering…”).

Closing

While the world is crying out for creativity and innovation the attention, at least of the media and business and politicians, is focused on league tables, judging teacher effectiveness by student test scores and performance pay. All these are significantly flawed and little evidence of positve contribution of them is available. The studies of learning and education show that early childhood is the critical time for intervention and that well qualified and highly regarded teachers are what make, in the long run, the greatest difference to educational achievement and a life lived, along with encouragement at home and a strong sense of self worth.

It’s rather like the major issue of now being the personal behaviour of golfer Tiger Woods, as economist Paul Krugman observed in respect of global climate change and the COP15 meetings in Copenhagen in his debate with Bjorn Lomborg.

A recent contribution to On Line Opinion by Peter Vintila observed that “Most of us believe that climate policy aims to protect an endangered planet from a badly-ordered human economy. Now listen to just about any politician or industry spokesperson and you soon hear something different: the point, all of a sudden, is not to protect the planet but to protect the human economy from the planet.”

OWL’S HOOTS No. 12: A TIME FOR ACTION

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Hoots No. 12 – 8 December 2009: Global Climate Change and Museum Advocacy

In some recent commentary on challenges facing museums over the next several decades, the issue of controversy and advocacy has been mentioned. For instance, over at Museum 3.0 in the Forum  a post by Lynda Kelly reports item 5 of the nine big themes  for 2010 identified by Australian Museum director Frank Howarth as “Increasing our advocacy: taking a stance on things that matter”.

It should not be thought that museums have not been dealing with controversy or been concerned with advocacy though sometimes that advocacy has been rather muted and some controversial issues have been avoided.

Lynda Kelly has posted a very useful brief commentary on this subject  and referenced an article “Museum Authority Up for Grabs: The Latest Thing, or Following a Long Trend Line?” by Daniel Spock, Director of the Minnesota History Center Museum program in the Fall 2009 issue of the journal Exhibitionist (p 6-10).

Global climate change is considered by many people to be the major issue confronting human society and the environment though in recent months people in some countries such as the US have put the issue at the bottom of their list of concerns. In this situation museums have the credibility and the responsibility to place in publicly accessible places information which is credible and authoritative.

If museums are concerned about advocacy then this issue – global climate change – is something to communicate about right now.

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The Monday 7 December issue of the Sydney Morning Herald contained an article by Deborah Smith referring to a document on climate change put together by Brett Parris who is a Research Fellow at Monash University and Chief Economist for World Vision Australia.

Entitled “University tackles sceptics’ arguments” it commenced, “As World leaders gather in Copenhagen, efforts to undermine public confidence in the science of climate change have intensified. Sceptics have recently gained traction by exaggerating uncertainties in the research”.

Parris’ full document addresses 21 common objections to the arguments put forward in support of the proposition that global climate change is occurring and that it is due to activity of humans, principally through industrialization and the emissions of CO2. From my reading of documents at realclimate.org and other articles and presentations I would conclude that Parris’ document is as good a summary of the arguments and the evidence and an excellent refutation of the claims of others as I have seen.

One of the major parts of Parris’ document concerns the economic impacts of action to mitigate the effects of climate change. He points out that such action would have an impact of about 0.1 or 0.2 percent decline in income growth compared with “business as usual” (not taking account of an negative impact of climate change which is very important); this translates to a delay of four months or so by 2050 in reaching a certain target level.

(A video of a talk at the “One Just World” Forum in Melbourne 30 July 2008 by Brett Paris can be seen on YouTube (Part 1 and Part 2).

At the end of the document, Parris quotes Nobel prize-winner in economics Paul Krugman: “Writing after the vote on the Waxman-Markey climate change bill in the US Congress, Krugman considered the implications of unmitigated climate change for the US economy and for future generations. He concluded that continued denial of the link between anthropogenic greenhouse gases and climate change, with the aim of thwarting action to reduce emissions, was a form of treason:

“So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement. But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases. And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason “treason against the planet.”

Museums, especially natural history museums have concern for the natural environment and the future of the planet and life on it as a major focus of their endeavours. Whilst objectivity is often promoted as an important feature of the communications of museums, integrity must never be compromised. That includes a responsibility to communicate the latest understandings based on the best scientific research.

The document prepared by Brett Parris is a comprehensive summary of what is known about global climate change and its consequences. The issue of how the threat is to be mitigated is a different matter. But at least as Parris shows various alternative suggestions that climate change is not occurring or that it is caused by factors other than human activity cannot be supported on the evidence. And neither can the assertion that addressing the threat will cause economic disruption of great magnitude!

Over at New Matilda an item entitled “The Global Copenhagen Editorial” published December 7 reports that “On Monday more than 50 newspapers across the world published a common editorial calling for global action on climate change” but you won’t read it in Australia

“The following editorial was published on Monday by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. Most of the newspapers featured it on their front page. But you won’t read it in Australia. According to a report in the Guardian, “The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, pulled out [of the joint initiative] at a late stage after the election of climate change sceptic Tony Abbott as leader of the opposition Liberal party recast the country’s debate on green issues.”

The editorial begins, “Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

“Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.”

So what will your museum do?