The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) recently announced they will work together to raise awareness of national museum standards and align their assessment programs in order to streamline application and self-study processes. The agreement outlines ways in which applicants of AAM’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP) will benefit after completing AASLH’s StEPs program, in other words, AASLH and AAM have linked StEPs with MAP. If you understand that sentence, you’ve been working in this field a long time.
What’s this mean for historic sites? Both StEPs and MAP are great programs for improving your organization’s work, but they’re very different from each other. StEPs allows you to pursue a self-evaluation of distinct segments of museum work (e.g., collections management) at your own pace. MAP includes a broader self-study process with an outside independent evaluation by a colleague in the field. If you are using StEPs, your work will also significantly reduce the self-study preparations required for MAP. As part of the agreement, organizations that have achieved all of the “Basic” performance indicators and at least 50% of the “Good” in each of StEPs’ six program sections will be eligible for a streamlined MAP process, paring it down by as much as fifty percent. The two organizations are currently working out the details for the joint effort.
AAM is undergoing a very positive change in its operations, and this collaboration with AASLH is another good sign. Early next year, AASLH and AAM will also begin exploring how the Accreditation process might also be streamlined for StEPs participants. Accreditation, one of the hallmark programs of AAM, seemed to be stuck for decades at just attracting 10 percent of the field–and very few from historic sites or small museums. Most of AASLH’s members come from those fields, so AAM is smartly moving in the right direction by strengthening its partnership with AASLH. Indeed, the agreement also states that AAM will explore ways in which AASLH can have a voice in future decisions on how Accreditation commissioners are selected and that AASLH will be offered opportunities to inform and customize the Accreditation self-study to make it more relevant to history organizations. The trick will be ensuring that museum standards don’t have unintentional consequences that hobble historic sites in their efforts to be engaging and financially sustainable.