CHG Assessors

  • Jackie Eager (Department of Communications and the Arts)
  • Tania Cleary (Tania Cleary Museum Services)
  • Denyl Cloughley (NLA)
  • Shingo Ishikawa (NFSA)
  • Tamara Lavrencic (Museums and Galleries NSW)
  • Rebecca Penna (NAA)
  • Mark Piva (NLA)
  • Tania Riviere (NMA)
  • Rosemary Turner (NLA) (Chair)

CHG Staff

  • Fran D’Castro (CHG Coordinator), Margaret Thompson (CHG Assistant)

Assessment Process

In 2017, the Community Heritage Grants program received 164 applications. Fifty-six applications were selected for funding.

All eligible applications were initially assessed by two external consultant assessors. Tania Cleary assessed the national significance of the collection. Short-listed applications were then sent to Tamara Lavrencic who assessed each project’s feasibility, value-for-money and the degree to which the project might benefit the collection.

Training projects were assessed primarily on the merits of the proposal including: the expected benefits; the quality and appropriateness of the training; the credentials of the trainers and the perceived value-for-money of the proposal. The national significance of the collection material that will benefit from the training is still important to the assessment.

A second short-list of applications underwent further consideration and a final funding recommendation was made by a panel of expert assessors comprising historians, preservation specialists, representatives from cultural collecting organisations and the CHG partners. The assessment panel considers the reports of the first two assessors as well as each application individually.

This report provides general feedback from the CHG assessors.

Tania Cleary (Significance Assessor)

This year I assessed 158 applications for the Community Heritage Grants program. The same assessment procedure was adopted in 2017 as previous years: an initial reading of the application to understand the organisation and the project, a second reading to understand the collection and the claim for national significance, a third reading to assign the national significance rank to the collection.

Before the national significance rank was determined I systematically worked through the support documentation and attachments and, if a Significance Assessment report and/or a Preservation Needs Assessment was part of the application, I cross-checked the collection described in the application with the collection described in the report(s), noting any anomalies or discrepancies.

For National Significance I referenced the ‘significance statement’ from the Significance Assessment report and, if no statement for the whole collection was provided, I noted which of the four primary and five comparative criteria listed in Significance 2.0 was used to support the assessor’s evaluation. I also considered whether the applicant had, to the best of their ability, addressed some or all of the CHG prompt questions listed in the application form and if the claim for national significance claim was poor or not attempted. In all cases I assigned the national significance rank to the ‘entire’ collection as per the description provided in the application unless a component of the collection, or a single object or group of objects were nominated. Those cases were included under the heading Subject of Application. I included the relevant assessor comment(s) and information to support the national significance rank in the SmartyGrants Assessment window.

At the end of the assessment process I reviewed all 158 applications to ensure that I had maintained a consistency of approach throughout the process. During this review stage I also highlighted concerns with organisation budgets, project budget line items, public access and staffing as well as a range of collection management issues and cases where the same organisation (or parent body) was requesting CHG funds for multiple projects. Finally I submitted the applications in one batch at the end of the review process.

The final ‘national’ significance rank pays attention to factors such as a previous assessment rank, the conclusions of a recently completed significance assessment and my assessment against the CHG threshold criteria:

A - the collection is of ‘national’ significance because the applicant could demonstrate the collection had historic, social, spiritual, scientific or research significance. The applicant could also demonstrate that the collection contained rare or unique material with a clear and strong provenance, was in good condition or had interpretive potential;

B - the collection was less nationally significant, however it could demonstrate historic, social, spiritual, scientific or research significance in addition to sound provenance and interpretive potential;

C - the collection may be of ‘national significance’, but the application did not express this well,   or the collection demonstrates historic and social significance, good provenance and interpretive potential however the application lacked adequate supporting information; and

D  - the collection has clear local or regional significance. The collections demonstrated historical or social significance to a smaller  community, they demonstrated  poorer or limited  provenance and interpretive potential. THESE APPLICATIONS ARE EXCLUDED FROM FURTHER CONSIDERATION.

2017 Evaluation

The types of application assessed in 2017 duplicate the trend that has become apparent in recent years with: Applications from new organisations; Applications from organisations that have been successful in a previous grant round, for example, organisations requesting a Preservation Needs Assessment following a Significance Assessment or conservation treatment/conservation materials following a Preservation Needs Assessment; Applications from organisations requesting conservation treatment without the requisite Significance Assessment or Preservation Needs Assessment; Applications from organisations requesting ‘updated’ Significance Assessments and/or Preservation Needs Assessments for recently acquired material.

The number of applications assessed in 2017 (158) is lower than 2016 (166) and represents a minimal (.5%) decrease over last year. The geographic spread reflects established distribution patterns with more than one third (40.5%) of the applications coming from New South Wales followed by Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory, Tasmania and the ACT. There was a marked decrease in applications from Victoria, but on the other hand there were more from New South Wales and the Northern Territory while the number of applications from the other states were steady.

This year there was decrease in the number of requests for training projects across all States and Territories, although 44 (or 28%) of the applications were from organisations requesting a Community Heritage Grant for the first time.

Sixty one percent of the new applications (or 27 in total) met the thresholds for A - C national significance ranks with those organisations having the virtue of longevity and stability able to demonstrate the strongest claims for national significance while it was weaker in collections included in the C group. That said, all the applicants in this latter category recognised the great collection management and conservation benefits that would flow from having an external consultant examine their collection and building.

The reasons why one third of the applications (15 or 34%) met the national significance threshold of D included: collections described in very general terms, collections only partially catalogued, inclusion of unstructured or miscellaneous content and material in poor condition. Although some collections had more reliable provenance their focus was intensely local or regional (in both the geographic sense and social sense), public access was restricted and opportunities for interpretation were limited. In a few instances there was a total disconnect between the aims of the proposed project and the CHG guidelines, such as cataloguing artefacts, preparing a monograph or scanning documents to create a database. This indicated to me that the applicant did not appreciate the aims of the CHG program. Only two of the forty- four organisations in the new organisations category applied for specific training projects. 

This year’s trends include:

  • A significant number of applications from local council libraries and museums in NSW reported that the council amalgamations that took place in December 2016 had shifted their collection boundaries with some organisations being incorporated into different   local council areas. Consequently there was a substantial increase in the number of applications from local council libraries and museums seeking SA’s for recently acquired local study collections and/or museum  collections.
  • Some organisations revealed a degree of ‘cultural amnesia’ in that the applicant professed no knowledge of recently funded CHG SAs, PNAs and conservation materials. A generous assessment might attribute this to staff changes and loss of organisational memory. A less generous assessment might ask what value the organisation placed on the external reports generated in previous years.
  • Some organisations tended to rely on previous SAs in an attempt to ‘cloud’ or ‘obscure’ the national significance of newly acquired material and in cases where the applicant was requesting funds for a second SA or PNA, or specific conservation treatment(s), or storage solutions assessment difficulties arose when the new material was not clearly identified.
  • There is evidence that many organisations are implementing the recommendations included in their SA and PNA and in my opinion most are adopting a proactive and prudent approach to collections management, interpretation, storage and preventative conservation training.

I assessed 13 training projects, paying attention to the merits of the proposal, the quality and appropriateness of the training, the credentials of the trainer and the perceived value for money. I was asked to make the following recommendations:

A – Fund, B – Fund if funds permit, C – Do not fund

I systematically assessed the training projects, read the training quotations and associated documentation and make a recommendation as per the pre-determined A-C scale. I supported cases where a compelling ‘need’ case was mounted for specific training and the training represented effective service delivery and value for money. Training also scored a high recommendation if it provided a solid support for staff and volunteers engaged in a range of tasks identified in either a Significance Assessment or a Preservation Needs Assessment.

The applications I assessed this year testify to the importance of the Community Heritage Grant program and the part it plays in preserving and making accessible extremely diverse nationally significant material.

Tamara Lavrencic (Budget & Feasibility Assessor)

There is still a predominance of applications for significance assessment and preservation needs assessment. Together they make up 64% (cf. 50% in 2016) of the applications that make it through to budget & feasibility assessment. The number of applications for Preservation Needs Assessment as a follow up to Significance Assessment continues to well represented.

The trend noticed in 2015 of the emergence of applications requesting funds to reassess significance or preservation needs continues.

The number of applications for implementing recommendations from a Preservation Needs Assessment dropped a little, from 27 last year to 22 in 2017.  Most of the applications that made it through to round 2 of the assessment were ranked “A” for feasibility.

The number of applications for training projects dropped a little but the quality of the applications continues to improve to the point where there are none that could not be supported.

As always it’s been a pleasure and an honour to be involved with this highly valued program and the many people who contribute to and benefit from it.

General notes:

  • Organisations that were able to prepare a more considered response to Section 6 National Significance usually succeeded in satisfying the criterion ‘may be nationally significant’.
  • Applications that clearly and concisely describe the significance of the collection, public access arrangements and exactly why the funding is required and what it will achieve, supported by a well-considered budget are more likely to succeed.
  • Do not leave writing or submitting applications to the last minute. Allow enough time to proof read the application and double check spelling and budget calculations.
  • Applications that are proceeding through a planned, staged process are strongly supported, e.g. commencing with a Significance Assessment, then Preservation Needs Assessment (PNA), and then implementation of recommendations prioritised in the PNA.
  • Always include quotes to support your budget, unless you are applying for the standard fee for a Significance or Preservation Needs Assessment. A considerable number of applications omitted to include quotes or provide sufficient detail of the funding requirements of the proposed project.
  • Don’t request miscellaneous budget items to take a grant request up to the maximum $15,000. Ask for what is needed, making sure it is well researched and supported by quotes.
  • As outlined in the CHG guidelines, public access is taken into consideration. Collections that are accessible to the general public are more likely to be considered for funding than collections that have limited accessibility.
  • The use of a museum professional such as a Museum Development Officer or a Museums Australia Officer to assist with the completion of the application often results in a more considered application.
  • Training projects that involve and benefit several groups or organisations are strongly supported.
  • Organisations applying for funding for digitisation projects should investigate the options for using a commercial digitisation service prior to applying for funding. This can help organisations evaluate their options for best completing the project.
  • Digitisation projects where the outcome is partly or fully for preservation should include information on how the digital data will be managed into the future so that it remains accessible.
  • Digitisation projects should also address how the originals will be preserved.
  • Projects to duplicate (either in analogue or digital format) audiovisual recordings, including private recordings of public performances, need to include evidence that the proposers of the project have rights clearance to do so.
  • Organisations considering applying for funding for collection management software should investigate freeware software (software that is available free on the Internet) and seek advice as to suitability for their needs.
  • Ensure that your response to the section of the CHG Application form about the size of the collection is completed adequately. Without this information, it is difficult to assess the significance of the collection, the feasibility of achieving the project outcome and the value for money of the project.
  • Applicants must answer the section of the CHG Application form relating to the funding of their organisation. The assessment panel give consideration to whether or not the project could go ahead without the support of a grant.
  • General character references and political letters of support add very little value to an application. Letters of support by curators, researchers, historians, conservators, librarians and other heritage professionals carry more weight, especially if they articulate a real understanding and familiarity with the collection that is the subject of the application.
  • Consult Significance: a guide to assessing the significance of collections 2.0. Applicants could improve their applications, and their significance statements in section 10, by focusing on the significance criteria and including at least some reference to the terms: historic, social, research, scientific, spiritual, rare, representative, and interpretive and condition.
  • Statements of significance in section 10 should relate to the specific component of the collection to which the application applies. For example, don’t describe the significance of the building/books/archives when seeking funding for a textiles collection.
  • Photographic collections: include as much information as possible about photographic collections. For example, are the photographs originals or copies? Does the organisation own the copyright? Can people, places and events be identified and described? Who was the photographer? What is the condition of the photographs? Applicants often fail to link the subject matter of the photographs to their significance.
  • Indigenous collections: identify the region the cultural material comes from, the production date, how it was acquired and why it is significant to the community and the nation.
  • Military collections: provide as much detail as possible on the provenance and use of military collections. For example, does the material have significance to a particular unit, battalion or conflict? What is the purpose of the collection – research or display? Has the collection been used in the past and who has access to it?
  • Paper based collections: where possible, provide details on the nature of any paper based collections. For example is the book/map/plan/record/document held in other collections? Is the material an original or a recently obtained copy? Are books held in other library collections? How has the material been used by the organisation? Who has access to the collection?
  • Local history collections: many local history collections sound similar on paper. Distinguish the collection by establishing the connections between their collection, the history of the area and the significance criteria.
  • Multicultural community groups: ascertain if a similar cultural group already exists in your city, state or interstate. it is difficult to assess significance without knowing what other similar collections might exist and how they might be regarded as different.
  • If the organisation or archives belongs to a particular network, for example a church archivists group or a school archivists group, use these networks to consider and assess the significance of the collections together. On paper, many of these collections appear to hold very similar material – coordinating significance research would identify collections that would benefit most from grant funding.

All applicants are encouraged to contact the CHG office to obtain specific feedback on their applications:

CHG Coordinator
Community Heritage Grants
National Library of Australia 
Canberra ACT 2600
02 6262 1147

chg@nla.gov.au

CHG is funded by the Australian Government through the National Library of Australia; the Department of Communications and the Arts; the National Archives of Australia; the National Film and Sound Archive and the National Museum of Australia.