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Reopening Heritage Organizations: Document, Document, Document

June 18, 2020

Last month, Oregon Heritage released a Reopening Conversation Tool to help heritage organizations create an informed process to begin their internal reopening conversations. Since then, we’ve participated in several networking conversations and a state-wide webinar on Oregon’s museum reopening guidelines that reinforced to us why documenting your processes during reopening is critical. Here’s what we learned:

  • Documentation unites staff and volunteers to the same expectations. It is best practice for a board to set and adopt policies. Reopening will require one voice and once interpretation of the guidelines that apply to your heritage organization. When that policy has been determined and approved, staff and volunteers can be trained in those procedures and act as one.  
  • Documentation helps you manage risk. On the June 8th museum reopening guidelines webinar, Seth Row, partner at Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP shared the following advice with the Oregon museum community: “The best thing you can do is to follow the guidelines. Usually when we see claims for injuries, whether it’s employees or visitors, it’s not that the organization wasn’t trying to follow the guidelines. The problem was that they didn’t document what they did, what their policies were, what their implementation was. They had every intention of doing things correctly, but they didn’t actually document it. Then something bad happened, and that’s how you could potentially be held liable. You need to document what you’re doing and the good decisions that you’re making on how to implement them. Take pictures of your signage. Take pictures of your guidelines in action. Write things down after you make decisions. Then enforce your guidelines, enforce the social distancing, limiting to groups of 10, etc… Also, document any instances where enforcement didn’t happen or failed. Train your employees to do that, and track those best practices.”
  • Documentation will help you communicate externally. Once your internal team of board, staff, and volunteers are on the same page, trained, and ready to work with the public, setting expectations for visitors will create a better experience for everyone. 
    • Share a list of safety requirements visitors can expect upon arrival
    • Explain why you’re asking the public to take these actions during their visit
    • Communicate these expectations widely on your website, social media, newsletters, and on site
    • Focus your messaging on how the public can be involved in your organization, not just what they can’t do
  • Documentation will help you prepare for visitors who don’t want to comply. The question of how to respond to angry visitors, or visitors who don’t want to comply with things like wearing masks has come up frequently in our networking conversations. Ginger Savage, executive director at Crossroads Carnegie Art Center in Baker City and board member of the Cultural Advocacy Coalition shared the following advice: “We’re just handling it delicately. The nice thing is, we’ve talked to our insurance agent, and we know what our insurance agent has told us. When you say to people, ‘these are the restrictions being placed upon us by our insurance company,’ they have a tendency to stop and rethink a little bit, because most people recognize insurance as being a necessary part of business. And I will admit, it is tiring. It takes practice, and you just keep at it. We take turns. We also have a de-escalation process in place. As the manager, if words don’t work, then staff can always come and get me. We also have face coverings available for the public to take home.”

Reopening is tough and is happening in real time. By following this framework, a committee can work through an informed process to review guidelines, document a plan, and gain board approval, which will serve your organization in the long run.

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