How Can My Museum Champion Climate Justice? Step 1 – Develop an Advocacy Policy

Robert Janes told us in an earlier post about three simple steps that museums might take to begin to embrace issues like climate change:

  1. Tell stories and educate – Museums tell the stories of the natural and cultural world – tell your visitors how climate change and disruption came to be.

  2. Second, with unbridled consumption as the cause of climate change, it is imperative that we reduce our individual consumption. …

  3. A third initiative is to develop an Advocacy Policy for your museum …

All spoke to me. But I was particularly intrigued with the notion of an Advocacy Policy. What is that? Has any museum developed one? Can a museum advocate for climate justice?

Nina Simon & MAH Advocacy Policy

Nina Simon has actually written two blog posts on this topic. In the first, entitled Does Your Institution Have an Advocacy Policy, she talks about the reasons behind her institution’s desire to develop this policy.

Ultimately, I decided we couldn’t sign [a petition] – not because it was the necessarily the wrong thing to do, but because we didn’t have any kind of policy beyond directorial discretion to decide when it might be appropriate to take a political stand as an institution

But especially useful is Nina Simon’s second post on the topic, Advocacy Policy, Part Two – And Why Now is an Especially Good Time to Create One. In this one, she talks about how the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History created their policy and the surprises they encountered. And she, ever generous, shares their Advocacy Policy

Here it is

And here’s another from The Association of Maine Archives and Museums

In Canada, the Alberta Board Development Program offers a useful Advocacy Bulletin that covers the wherefores and whys of advocacy in some detail.

National museums associations like the American Alliance of Museums and the Canadian Museums Association also offer advocacy resources. These, although useful, tend to be oriented more toward persuading government funders of the usefulness of museums to society than to championing fundamental change.

The development of an Advocacy Policy like that of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History will, as Bob Janes writes, help nurture and strengthen a broader vision. Because, when the world pushes up against your doors and asks for your help – whether you are in Weyburn, Saskatchewan or Toronto, Ontario – when you are confronted with moral and civic challenges, like climate change, what will you do? What will your colleagues do? What will your museum do?

What’s Next for the Coalition? Capitalizing on Momentum to Create Action

Guest Post by Meaghan Patterson, Executive Director/CEO, Alberta Museums Association*

Questions about climate justice abound both for the Coalition and all museum professionals, and will fuel the work of our sector as we grapple with this issue.

How do we use our platforms to meaningfully engage the general public in the topic of climate change? How can we, as representatives of trusted institutions, become exemplary not only through the stories that we tell, but through our operational policies and philosophies? Through what means can we create a network of shared resources and experiences so that others can visualize ways they can affect incremental change?

On April 7, 2017, at the Canadian Museums Association’s Annual Conference, the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice invited delegates and museum professionals to gather, discuss, share, and generate ideas for ways in which museums, as trusted institutions, can address issues of climate change. Over forty people, representing diversities of geography, institutional size, scope, and governance, interest level, and career stage participated in an animated and productive conversation around this topic. Notes from the session were recorded and distributed to the Coalition members and other interested individuals through social media and a publicly available summary provides context to anyone researching the group. The ideas captured in these notes will help direct and inform the work of the Coalition and provide a fascinating cross-section of work happening in institutions around our country.

The conversation began with an introduction to the goals and mandate of the Coalition as well as a grounding overview by Dr. Robert Janes on the impact of climate change on our ecosystem. From there, delegates actively engaged in a participatory conversation around successes to date, how museums and cultural organizations could enhance efforts around climate change awareness, mitigation, and resilience, and finally a general discussion that addressed some of the institutional and perceptional barriers we encounter as well as tangible suggestions for the Coalition to pursue moving forward.

The breadth of initiatives already underway in Canadian institutions was inspiring and as the discussion progressed, ideas were continuously generated, expanded upon, and deepened.

It truly demonstrated the potential of a committed like-minded group of individuals working toward a common goal.

The overall tone of the conversation was one of optimism, passion, and dedication. Individuals around the room shared successes in exhibitions (both the construction and the content), increasing operational efficiencies, and educational programming. Those present understood the privilege of working in such creative and free environments as museums and, as Colleen Dilenschneider writes, the importance of capitalizing on the public’s trust in museums as institutions of objectivity and knowledge—not of neutrality—as a way to embark on new ways of thinking and being.

Building on Joy Davis’ “Agentic Professionals”, we cannot lose sight of our individual agency and its ability to create organizational change. As a group, our voices hold more weight and our impact is easier to see, hear, and feel.

With the momentum and passion I witnessed in April, the Coalition can inspire fundamental and lasting shifts in the ways museums engage with their audiences, their collections, their spaces, and their stakeholders around climate change. I am motivated by the conversations, inspired by the work of others, and excited to help facilitate these capacity building initiatives across Alberta.

* Meaghan Patterson has been the Executive Director / CEO of the Alberta Museums Association since 2014. Through her work at the AMA, she is passionate about the significant role museums can play in the betterment of society and the importance of building capacity for long term sustainability in all its forms. She is a mom of two fiercely independent girls and attempts to instill the importance of strong, connected communities and sense of place into all aspects of her life.

Agentic Professionals: How individual museum workers can champion climate justice

Guest Post by Joy Davis, PhD CAHP.*  Joy is a member of the Advisory Group of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice.

When Coalition organizers first met, we had a brief discussion as to whether this initiative would be better named Coalition for Museum, Gallery and Cultural Heritage Professionals and Climate Justice or Coalition for Museum Workers Concerned about Climate Justice. After all people join as individuals, not as museums.

Joy Davis
Joy in the Muskwa Kechika Conservation Area in northern BC, August 2016

But the enduring challenge of agreeing on a common name for all the individuals affiliated with museums, along with the overriding agreement that the Coalition aspires to be supportive of museums and related institutions in using their capacity to build understanding of climate change and its impacts, led back to a name that highlights the institution (inclusively defined) rather than the individual.

This discussion highlights an interesting dynamic at play across the museum world. We talk about museums as if they are somehow separate from the many people who bring them to life:

“museums should be more socially responsible; museums should be more engaged with community; museums should shape positive change.”

But museums can only respond to change when the individuals involved champion new ideas, approaches and practices. This requires exercising personal and professional agency, regardless of where the individuals are positioned within the museum world.

So what is agency?

Renowned psychologist Albert Bandura helps us understand the powerful role of individuals within and around institutions in saying that “to be an agent is to intentionally make things happen by one’s actions” (p. 2). He might have been thinking of members of this Coalition when he went on to say that if individuals are to successfully negotiate this increasingly complex world, they have to

“make good judgments about their capabilities, anticipate the probable effects of different events and courses of action, size up…opportunities and constraints, and regulate their behavior accordingly.”

Albert Bandura, Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective (p. 3).

Bandura suggests that agency has the following core features. It is easy to see how each of these qualities can be important in enabling individuals to shift and shape museums’ support for climate justice:

  • Intentionality:  a proactive commitment and plan of action to make something happen.
  • Forethought:  setting achievable goals and expectations, anticipating implications, and formulating a course of action that helps to motivate and guide actions.
  • Self-reactiveness:  self-regulatory processes that enable the individual to monitor his/her behaviour in the context of environmental (read ‘museum’) conditions and to align performance with morals, goals and standards.
  • Self-reflectiveness:  the metacognitive capacity to reflect upon oneself and the adequacy of one’s knowledge and abilities.

A big part of self-reflectiveness is perceived self-efficacy or the sense of whether or not you have the capacity to influence change.

Self-efficacy is pivotal since it determines whether “people think pessimistically or optimistically and in ways that are self-enhancing or self-hindering” (p. 10). Perceived self-efficacy tends to determine the causes that people choose to champion, the amount of energy they devote to the initiative, how long they persevere in the face of obstacles, and their level of motivation and initiative.

An Agentic Professional

The very act of joining the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice suggests that you are an ‘agentic’ professional. This positions you to play an important and intentional role in shaping museums’ capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change. While this may be challenging, there is encouragement in Bandura’s observation that

“the capacity to exercise control over the nature and quality of one’s life is the essence of humanness.”

Albert Bandura, Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective (p. 1).


Albert Bandura (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 1-26

* Joy Davis worked with the University of Victoria for over thirty years, directing such innovative programs as Cultural Resource Management, Aboriginal Language Revitalization and Intercultural Education. And in her final years at UVic, she took on interim dean or director positions with a range of units including Continuing Studies, University Art Collections, and Community Relations. In her new role as a freelance cultural heritage specialist and in her work with the Coalition, she has an abiding interest in how learning is adapted to meet the situated needs of museums, and in museums’ capacity to respond to changing expectations

The Elephant in the Room – Museums Can’t Risk Doing Anything That Might Alienate Their Audience

In this guest post, Robert R. Janes, Co-Chair of the Coalition, writes more about climate change and museums and the founding of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice …

We have now passed the milestone level of 400 parts per million of climate-warming carbon in the atmosphere… for the first time in human existence – without even an outcry by the citizenry.[1] The 400ppm threshold is a dire wake-up call, and our profound, global challenge is to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, in order to forestall the worst impacts of climate disruption. Judging by the results so far, we are failing miserably.

B Janes at Climate Change session

Why is the museum community reluctant to address this issue?  I suggest that it lies in the claim of “neutrality,” There is a widely-held belief that museums must protect their neutrality, lest they fall prey to bias and special interest groups.[2] The unspoken argument is that museums cannot risk doing anything that might alienate their audiences or sponsors, real or potential.

This claim of neutrality has conspired to create a magical belief that is now the stock-in-trade of most museum workers.[3] This belief is that museums may abstain from addressing societal issues and aspirations, because they have complex histories and unique missions which absolve them from greater accountability.

Three Reasons to Challenge Neutrality

Why should museum workers part company with the time-honoured protection of neutrality?

The first reason is that each of us is a sentient being on planet earth, and each of us has a personal responsibility to confront the reality of climate change and protect the planet upon which we depend.

Second, we know as museum workers that education is a core mission of museums, but what sort of education is appropriate and necessary now? What we actually need are museums that identify and challenge the myths and misperceptions that threaten us – such as the false belief that continuous economic growth and consumption can continue.

The third reason for rejecting neutrality is that each of us is part of a family – a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, parent or grandparent. With this in mind,

“…for how long would we like our family to continue? If the next generation matters to us, and the children born to it do as well, then what about their children’s children?” [4]

 Unique Characteristics of Museums

In addition to their larger view of time, museums are uniquely qualified to embrace climate change and other critical issues, because of several unique characteristics:

  • They are grounded in their communities and are expressions of locality;
  • They are a bridge between science and culture;
  • They bear witness by assembling evidence and knowledge, and making things known;
  • They are seed banks of sustainable living practices that have guided our species for millennia;
  • They are some of the most free and creative work environments in the world.

In short, there are no other organizations with this singular combination of historical consciousness, sense of place, public accessibility, and unprecedented public trust.

How, then, can these precious qualities translate into concrete action? Here are three simple initiatives:

  1. Tell stories and educate – Museums tell the stories of the natural and cultural world – tell your visitors how climate change and disruption came to be.
  1. Second, with unbridled consumption as the cause of climate change, it is imperative that we reduce our individual consumption. Museums can readily assist with this task through information, dialogue and advocacy.
  1. A third initiative is to develop an Advocacy Policy for your museum, to help nurture and strengthen a broader vision. This policy would delineate what issues are important and how your museum will respond when confronted with moral and civic challenges, such as climate change.[5]

This leads me to one unavoidable conclusion. Individual museum efforts to address climate change are laudable and essential, but they are not enough. Nothing less than a global museum movement is now required, and the resources of the world’s 55,000 museums must not only be mobilized – they must also be anchored in a new story.

A New Story

We all agree that museums exist to tell stories—about people, communities, and nations — but who is telling the story of the twenty-first century? Corporations and governments are, but it is the story of ceaseless economic growth. The rhetoric is agonizingly familiar and destructive – consumption means happiness; economic inequality is unavoidable, and rampant environmental damage is regrettable.[6] Although we know that this story is false, it is the predominate story in our public lives and it defines our common future. This story, however, is destroying the planet upon which we depend.

Humanity needs a new story; museums need a new story.[7] We must move beyond the doomed economy of industrial growth to the recognition that the connection between individuals, communities, and nature is the key to our well-being.[8] It is incumbent on all museums to help envision and create this new narrative with their communities – using their unique skills and perspectives.

These issues and the thinking behind them lead to the formation of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice.


[1] Romm, J. “Into the Valley of Death Rode the 600, Into the Valley of 400 PPM Rode the 7 Billion.” Available online: – May 5, 2013

[2] Janes, R.R. (2009) Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse? London and New York: Routledge, p.59.

[3] McKenzie, B. Next after MuseumNext, The Learning Planet Blog. Available online:

[4] Macy, J. and Johnstone, C. (2012) Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, Novato, CA: New World Library, p. 142.

[5] Museum 2.0 “Does Your Museum Have An Advocacy Policy?” Available online; http :// – January 16, 2016

[6] Korten, D. (2014) “Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth.” Presentation at the Praxis Peace Institute Conference, San Francisco, California, October 7, p. 2. Available online:

[7] Korten, D. (2014) “Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth.” Presentation at the Praxis Peace Institute Conference, San Francisco, California, October 7, p.4.Available online:

[8] Macy, J. and Johnstone, C. (2012) Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, Novato, CA: New World Library, p. 142.