Charting out our future: NCPH Long Range Plan

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NCPH Long Range Plan on the Web. Courtesy National Council on Public History

Over the course of the last year, NCPH has been undertaking a bit of soul searching. As a growing organization seeking to remain relevant to its membership while continuing to promote the field of public history, NCPH needs to be guided with a clear understanding of the needs of members and chart out a way forward. To that end, the Long Range Planning Committee was convened to review past efforts and to develop a new five-year plan for the organization.

To ensure the development of a plan responsive to the needs and interests of the organization and the membership, the Long Range Planning Committee engaged with the membership to capture its perspectives and to draft a new plan for consideration by the board. This process involved a consultation approach aiming to capture the opinions and comments from the widest possible segment of NCPH, from the board of directors, committee chairs, NCPH staff, and regular members to prospective members. To that effect, questionnaires were developed for the board, committee chairs, and a focus group, while a membership survey was sent to the entire NCPH membership. Response rates for the board and committee chairs were high, with an over 75% participation rate. The participation rate for the membership survey topped out at 30%, which, while lower than hoped, still provided a significant “snapshot” of the views and perspectives of our public history community. Engagement through a focus group provided interesting commentary, but had a low participation rate of less than 20%.

The Long Range Plan (LRP) consultation process allowed the committee to not only review the effectiveness of the 2012-2017 LRP, but also determine the key priorities of the membership for the coming years:

  • Maintaining the high quality of NCPH programs and activities as the organization grows;
  • Increasing independence of NCPH, both financially and institutionally;
  • Addressing the academic/non-academic divide;
  • Creating a more diverse public history community; and,
  • Increasing the advocacy role of NCPH in the current political climate.

From these priorities and another round of consultation with the board of directors, staff, and committee chairs, the planning committee developed a final version of the LRP that brings a new approach. While it continues with the goal of directly supporting the NCPH mission statement, the document now also provides clear timelines and indicates roles and responsibilities for its implementation.

The LRP is centered on six pillars, which are interrelated goals and cascading activities designed to build on continuous achievements. Below are the pillars and their respective goals:

  • Pillar 1: Developing and sustaining a public history community

Nurture a collaborative environment between all members of the broadly defined public history community, (including those who do public history work but do not use the term public history)

Create more balanced NCPH activities that better reflect the interests and needs of the organization’s many constituent communities

Develop new spaces for NCPH members to convene in-person outside of the annual meeting

Encourage knowledge-sharing approaches among practitioners in various fields and those in public history training programs

  • Pillar 2: Developing the most diverse community of practice, diversity of people, and diversity of activities possible

Increase diversity and inclusion of NCPH membership and the profession

Increase diversity of NCPH committee members

Increase the level of diversity and inclusion in NCPH activities and publications by preparing the current constituency for a more diverse organization and welcoming change

Deepen relationships and encourage greater participation from local communities hosting annual meetings and mini-cons

  • Pillar 3: Expanding the professional skills and tools of all practitioners of public history

Engage and sustain members and prospective members at different stages of their training and careers

Continue to build an environment where professional skills are developed and enhanced

Increase support for job seekers and new professionals

  • Pillar 4: Fostering critical reflection on historical practice

Encourage collective national and international conversations about the shape and direction of public history

Encourage regional and local conversations on public history among public historians

Lead in the professional and academic conversations about digital scholarship and digital public history

  • Pillar 5: Publicly advocating for history and historians, and public history as a field

Be at the forefront of advocacy for history, historians, and practitioners

Be more responsive to the needs and interests of stakeholders (members, partners, supporters)

Support the historical and humanities communities in their advocacy efforts

Work to raise the profile of public history among potential students, historians, cultural institutions, and other practitioners

  • Pillar 6: Ensuring the ongoing stability of NCPH

Increase internal capacity of NCPH to pursue its goals

Increase financial transparency of NCPH

Increase fundraising capacity of NCPH to pursue its goals

Continue to develop and refine efforts to retain and recruit members and annual meeting attendees

In the 2012-2017 LRP, there was a noted absence of specific details on the implementation of the plan, nor were there specific assignments to the board, committees, or NCPH office. The absence of timelines for achieving LRP goals allowed the stated goals to slip from the board’s attention. As a result, it has been difficult to clearly discern how effective NCPH was in implementing the 2012-2017 plan. Discussions amongst the board and committee chairs noted the need to assign specific activities to committees and groups and to develop a reporting structure back to the board to gauge progress.

As a result of these concerns, the approach taken by the current LRP Committee was to ensure that the new plan be based on achievable goals supported by cascading activities being undertaken by specific stakeholders. Activities are tied to timelines centered on the two yearly in-person meetings of the board. To ensure that committees are aware of this added responsibility, committee chair charge letters include specific mention of the LRP activities. The planning committee will work directly with those assigned activities to ensure adherence to the timelines as well as to address any concerns or questions. Based on these interactions, the committee will report to the board on a yearly basis. In the past, the planning committee had only been constituted to develop a given plan and then was dormant, the committee will now remain active throughout the LRP cycle to ensure proper implementation through engagement with committees as well as yearly reporting on its progress.

The ever changing nature of an organization’s priorities, interests, and needs necessitates that any form of long term planning must be adaptable and flexible. The constant interaction of the planning committee with those with assigned tasks under the current plan will allow it to see where the LRP is ineffective, lacking, or requires modification due to unexpected priorities. Through the yearly reporting structure, the committee will undertake a review of the LRP and propose modification when necessary for the board’s consideration. Proposed recommendations will provide an analysis of why modifications are necessary as well as include new activities and responsibilities to be assigned. The committee will also demonstrate how it consulted with stakeholders (i.e. committees, chairs, members) in developing the recommended changes.

I encourage you to be in touch if you have comments on the Long Range Plan. It can be viewed in its entirely online at the NCPH website.

~Jean-Pierre Morin is the departmental historian at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and the chair of the NCPH Long Range Planning committee.

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