Arkansas Discovery Network
Arkansas Discovery Network
- Texarkana Museums System, Texarkana, TX
- Arkansas State University Museum, Jonesboro, AR
- Mid-America Science Museum, Hot Springs, AR
- Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, Pine Bluff, AR
- University of Arkansas Center for Math and Science Education, Fayetteville , AR
- Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources, Smackover , AR
Please note that all data below was derived from the collaboration's nomination for the Collaboration Prize. None of the submitted data were independently verified for accuracy.
The Arkansas Discovery Network was formed at the invitation of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. After a few years of study and meetings with several museums, educational professionals and consultants, the Reynolds Foundation discovered that museums are educational resources, centers of community engagement and a bridge between formal education and the public. Museums do this on a shoestring budget, often struggling to stay in the black. As a result of the study, the Foundation, with the advice of consultants, presented a plan to the Museum of Discovery: act as the headquarters and grant administrator of a network of museums that are located across Arkansas. We were to identify partners that would help us achieve state-wide coverage and devise a way to work together to accomplish three goals: 1) serve more children in Arkansas, especially in rural areas with high-quality hands-on educational experiences 2) offer capacity building opportunities to the partners in the network so they may better serve their communities and 3) train teachers in Arkansas to use hands-on education in the classroom. The “how” of the network was up to the Museum of Discovery. After several years of planning and with financial support of a planning grant from the Reynolds Foundation, 7 partners were identified. The grant allowed us to fully explore the terms of the collaboration, while showcasing top quality exhibits and engaging new programs. Because of their investment, we immediately began to see the benefit of partnering in the Network.
Museum of Discovery board and management decided that the Network should operate as a program of the Museum. This saved the Network the time and expense of applying for nonprofit status and building a separate board of directors. We researched other museum collaborations and found that most have shared the responsibility for managing the network across the membership, involving several staff members. In spite of this plan, the reality was that it usually fell to one staff member at one museum to manage the operations of the collaborative. The Museum board quickly recognized that effective operation of the Network required a dedicated staff member. Designating one person as solely responsible for the success of the network centralizes operations and allows comprehensive oversight of the project. The Network Director looks for new partnering opportunities with other museums around the country, new programs and exhibits to circulate, and new funding opportunities. The partners meet in Little Rock 6 times a year where the operations of the Network are discussed. Decisions are made by consensus and are usually unanimous. Only once has a need for a formal vote arisen over a contentious issue.
The most critical challenge we have encountered was developing trust among the partners. Since the funder asked the Museum of Discovery to spearhead the project, the partners were concerned they would not have meaningful input in the Network and would be forced to accept any Network project. Of greater concern was the thought they would lose their independence and eventually be absorbed into the operations of the Museum of Discovery. Before we began any projects, we held several meetings with the partners, carefully listening to and addressing each concern. Once we began to choose exhibits and plan for future operations, the partners saw that they did have a voice in the network and they could still operate in their communities as they have always done, but with better services, thanks to the Network.
Fundraising is another challenge. The Reynolds Foundation support is declining so we must find other resources. Since the partners must do their own fundraising, they were concerned the Network fundraising would compete with their efforts. Therefore, we decided to target national foundations and corporations that are interested in statewide impact. We are also combining our collective influence to introduce a bill to state government for support. At times the partners must participate in Network fundraising by arranging meetings with local legislators or writing letters of support to foundations.
Coordinating and integrating programs with 7 museums requires that we are sensitive and flexible to the needs of each partner, while staying true to the goals of the collaborative. We currently require each partner to participate in 100% of Network functions, but we compromise and coordinate as best we can to enhance, not disrupt, the partners’ operations.
Finally, it is important that the Network gain visibility, especially for fundraising, so we require that the partners promote the network in a prescribed manner. We provide a brand manual, press kits and templates for marketing materials to make it easy for the partners to comply.
We have improved the capacity of the partners by providing professional development workshops to staff in exhibit design, fabrication and repair, program development and evaluation, teacher training, merchandising, fundraising, marketing and social media. The partners have raised additional funds from their communities through sponsorships for Network exhibits and grants for new programs. We are increasing visibility of the partners with statewide marketing and public relations plans. Bulk media and merchandise buys create a substantial savings to strained budgets. A less tangible, but very important, outcome is the value of simply gathering around the table to share challenges and discuss solutions.
Engaging programs and high-quality exhibits offer new learning opportunities to students and families in under-served rural and remote areas of the state. As a result, the partners of the Network have served over 500,000 students and families since 2006, a 29% increase in attendance across the state. We have been invited to participate in other state and national partnerships, which have brought new exhibits and services to Arkansas. The Network is also invited to participate in national grants with other organizations.
We have learned that by working together, we can maximize our impact on the community and use our dollars and time more efficiently. We can also leverage the collaboration to bring in new projects and funding, while meeting our three goals.
The success of any collaboration depends on three things: constant and open communication, belief in the goals of the partnership, and strong relationships among the partners. Building and maintaining these three elements should be a priority task of the collaboration. Our partners come from different areas of the state, with different cultures and diverse missions. Time and patience were vital to working through our differences and finding common ground. Now that we have established a solid foundation, we can leverage the Reynolds Foundation investment and grow the Network to become a valuable asset to education in Arkansas.
The true economic and operating efficiencies achieved by the Arkansas Discovery Network can be found in the enormous increase of new educational tools and opportunities that would not be available to the state without the partnership. Though we have realized some savings in bulk purchases for gift store items and program materials, the strength of our collaboration is in our ability to secure new resources for the state. With the combined impact of 7 museums, the Network is eligible for new projects and national, regional, and state funding that would not be available to just one of the partners alone. While we always look for ways to save money, the partners operate independently from one another with different missions, different constituencies, and very different business practices. This often makes it impractical to combine some services and operations. Instead, we find we can best strengthen ourselves and serve our communities by leveraging the partnership to expand our programs.
Our museums are in regions that the world often forgets; pockets of the state that historically have had to cope with very few resources and little opportunity for innovative educational experiences. None of our partners were on the brink of closing when the Network formed, but many struggled to remain or even become relevant resources for educating our school-aged children. By joining the Network, all of the partners can now serve their communities in a more meaningful way, bringing exhibits and programs on science and technology to people who rarely get these experiences.
By working together over the last 5 years, the partners have developed and shared 12 science exhibits and 15 science programs, performed 10 evaluation initiatives, conducted an economic impact study, and attended 9 professional development seminars on best practices in museum operations. If each partner was to attempt to pay for all of these activities alone, it would cost $534,700 per museum, much more the annual operating budgets of some. However, when the Network rents an exhibit for 7 venues at once or purchases bulk quantities of program equipment, the overall cost can be reduced through price negotiations. As a result, Network funding paid for all the projects with grant dollars and with very little or no out of pocket expenses for the partners. The only financial contribution currently required for participation in the Network is a $1,500 annual membership fee.
In addition to hosting Network-wide events or exhibits, the partners have expanded on Network projects by creating new programs they have not offered before. For example, each of them has developed summer camps and family science nights using PICO Crickets provided by the Network. These are small computers developed by MIT to teach logic and computer programming to kids. The Arkansas State University Museum in Jonesboro created the first-ever “Robo Camp” using the Crickets to reach students from the impoverished Delta region of the state. Texarkana uses them to encourage Girl Scouts to consider science as a potential career option. The partner in Smackover used the same computers for a summer camp in which kids build motorized models of the human body. Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs created a new Family Science Night centered on activities involving the Crickets.
One of the three stated goals for the Network is to reach more children in the state, especially in rural areas, with high quality educational experiences. To measure our success in achieving this goal, we actively track attendance at the partner museums. Before Network operations began, the total annual attendance for all the partners combined in 2005 was 274,238. Once exhibits and programs began to circulate through the partnership in 2006, we have seen a steady increase in attendance. In 2006, the partners served 279,680 visitors, in 2007 we served 298,465, in 2008 there were 348,983 visitors, and in 2009 we served 350,507 Arkansans. Using 2005 as our benchmark, we calculate that the partners experienced an average statewide increase in attendance of 29% through 2009. Our partners in the smallest cities of Smackover, Pine Bluff, and Texarkana experienced the greatest increase over 5 years of 104%, 44% and 34% respectively. This is evidence that we are indeed reaching those rural audiences that we are targeting.
The partnership has brought financial benefits to the communities as well. Working with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, each of the museums interviewed visitors and gathered statistics for a study of the economic impact of the Network on the state. We learned that the Network, through the partners, contributes a total of $13,188,479 to the economic output of Arkansas. In addition, the partners have leveraged the Network exhibits and programs to raise $159,500 locally through sponsorships and grants.
Another goal of the Network is to train teachers to use hands-on inquiry activities in the classroom. As a part of the original grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the Network selects and sends middle school and high school teachers from across the state to the Exploratorium’s Summer Teacher Institute in San Francisco. For four weeks, teachers work alongside scientists and educators at the Exploratorium to learn how to incorporate inquiry into science and math classes. Over the last 5 summers, we have sent 32 teachers to the Institute. When they return, they are required to host a workshop with their colleagues the following school year to share what they have learned. Teachers who have experienced this workshop claim it is “life-changing” and that it has altered the way they teach. To track the effectiveness of this program, we sent a survey in the fall of 2009 to the teachers who had attended the Teacher Institute in 2006, 2007, and 2008. We found that they are all still teaching science or math in Arkansas and they are still using the techniques they learned at the workshop. We plan another survey in 2011 to track all 32 teachers. From September 2006 through May 2011 we can calculate that these 32 teachers will have impacted 12,300 children and over 800 fellow teachers with their new knowledge. The Teacher Institute alumni often work with educators at the partner museums to develop programs and advise on exhibits.
Most of the questions posed for this section have been answered in the original application, but what has not been conveyed is where the Network is headed and the impact we are beginning to have on education in the state. The implementation grant from the Reynolds Foundation has been the springboard for the partners to dream big and think of new ways to partner with other organizations and better serve their communities. It has allowed us to establish a base of services and exhibits, test our collaborative muscle, and imagine where we can take this partnership.
As mentioned in the original application, one our first challenges was establishing trust among the partners. Now, after 5 years of working together and sharing projects, the museums have realized the value of partnering together to achieve common goals. The Reynolds Foundation support is declining with the stipulation that the Network will one day become independent of their funding. In light of this, the partners agreed to lend their financial support to the Network by increasing the annual membership fee from $1,500 to $10,000 in 2011. For some partners, this is a significant part of their operating budget and many had to raise the money from the community. But the fact that they all have willingly agreed to increase the fee is a testament to their commitment to the partnership. Without the Network, they simply would not have had the exhibits, program equipment, and professional development opportunities that have been available the last few years. But more importantly, the children, families, and teachers all over the state would not have had these new experiences.
New partnerships have developed for the partners as the Network has matured. Each of the partners is now working closely with the local and regional school districts to educate students and train teachers. For example, every time a new exhibit comes to Smackover, the education director from the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources visits every school principal in 5 nearby counties to introduce the exhibit and invite the students to the museum. This tactic worked so well, they saw an increase in school visitation during a Network exhibit from their usual 3,000 students to 15,000 students over a three-month period.
The opportunity for national partnerships has blossomed as well. We often work with the Exploratorium and other museums on professional development workshops for our staff. For instance, the partners attended a workshop on how to involve teenage volunteers in museum operations. As a result, the Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs developed a new program they call Learning in Museum Education (LIME) where they train high school and college students to work in museum programming.
We have a well-established system of cooperation and provide rural outreach for many science programs, which makes us attractive to museums and other organizations that want widespread and meaningful impact. The Network has been included in four pending grant proposals to the National Science Foundation authored by organizations around the country. Through another agreement we have received a free copy of an exhibit on nanotechnology created by Museum of Science in Boston, Science Museum of Minnesota, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and Sciencenter in Ithaca, NY. These new opportunities are the result of the partnerships we have built over the years.
We are now planning projects that go beyond simply circulating exhibits, ones that can create long-term impact on education in the state. A pilot program called Science Matters will send an educator from the Little Rock Museum of Discovery to schools within a 50-mile radius to teach hands on physical science to fourth grade students for 8 weeks. Each quarter the educator will go to a new set of 5 schools, serving a total of 20 schools the pilot year. Statistics measuring impact will be gathered over the year and used to improve the program. Over the next 2 years, the program will be expanded to encompass all 7 partners of the Network and will reach nearly 9,000 students annually. The long-term goal is to increase scores in the 5th grade science Benchmark Tests. The partners will benefit by gaining an educator for the region and having the schools visit the museum as a part of the program. Because of the statewide nature of this program, it is attractive to new funders that have not invested in Arkansas before.
The Arkansas Discovery Network should win the Collaboration Prize for three reasons.
1. The Arkansas Discovery Network was unique in the museum field when it was officially formed in 2006. Many museum partnerships exist across the country, but they mostly involve large institutions in large cities in several states with greater resources. Often these partnerships are built around a desire to build an exhibit to share. Once the exhibit has finished touring through the partner sites, the collaborative ends. In contrast, our network is comprised of small institutions from one state that have done a good to adequate job serving their communities with very few resources. However, they wanted to do better and reach more students with better exhibits and programs. By joining together, the partner museums can grow and improve with the support of one another.
2. The Arkansas Discovery Network is not finished. In fact, the partners are working on ways to continually increase our impact on state science education and become more responsive to the needs of our constituents. We have learned many lessons in the first 5 years of the Network by circulating exhibits and sharing programs. The partners have had to grow and adapt to increasing visitors, greater visibility, and a sometimes frantic pace of new projects to host. Now we want to take our new abilities and use them to work with government agencies and businesses in educating our children. We are ready to do this through partnerships we have already build with organizations like the Arkansas Department of Education, the Arkansas STEM Coalition, Arkansas Science and Technology Authority, and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
3. The Arkansas Discovery Network is now a model for other small science centers and museums that are considering similar partnerships. Organizations from Oregon, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia have contacted Network staff to learn how they might create a similar plan. The Reynolds Foundation has been so pleased with what we have accomplished they funded the Oklahoma Museum Network in 2008, which was modeled after the Arkansas Discovery Network. Our success has empowered smaller museums to think outside their four walls and look to other organizations for inspiration and assistance.
The Arkansas Discovery Network has brought meaningful change to the partners and communities of the state. We anticipate our impact will only grow over the years as the Network evolves and adapts to needs of our constituents and as the partners increasingly become a valuable asset to their regions. Thank you for this opportunity to apply for the Collaboration Prize.