Significance assessments

Since it started in 1994 the CHG program has funded 322 Significance Assessments of heritage collections.  In each case funding was given to employ an external consultant to undertake the significance assessment.

A Significance Assessment helps explain the meaning and value of a collection and provides further information for its management and interpretation.

Two very useful publications which will help you understand how the Significance Assessment process works are:

           

Steps to Managing a Significance Assessment

1. Finding a Significance Assessor

Check the following:

  • 2004, 2005,2006, 2007 2008, 2009 , 2010 and 2011 CHG Final Project Reports
    Here you will find the names of all consultants who have undertaken Significance Assessment work (and Preservation Needs Assessments) for past CHG recipients. Contact the individual Project Coordinators for advice on how they managed these consultancies.
  • Australian Council of Professional Historians
    Go to the appropriate state and look for the link to the consultant's register
  • Cultural Gifts Program
    The Cultural Gifts Program maintains a list of approved Valuers.
  • Museums Australia branches consultants registers
    • Victoria: The Museums Australia (Victoria) Consultants Register is a free listing of consultants with diverse areas of expertise, including Significance Assessments. Call Caroline Deighton on (03) 8341 7344 to access the register.
    • New South Wales: The MGNSW Consultants Register facilitates relationships between clients and consultants in the museum and gallery sector. It provides free public access to an extensive listing of consultants with diverse expertise and is a platform for consultants to promote their services and reach new clientele. This may be accessed online or call 02 9339 9908 for further information.
    • Queensland: You can search the Museum & Gallery Services Queensland Consultants and Suppliers Register by name, key professional skills or key supplies or products. Contact Ann Baillie, Manager Training & Professional Development, MGSQ on 07 3215 0845 or ann.baillie@magsq.com.au for advice.
    • Western Australia: The Museum Assistance Program at the Western Australian Museum for Significance Assessors working in WA - contact Clare-Frances Craig, Extension Officer, (08) 9212 3775.
  • The History Trust of South Australia
    The Community History Unit can help you find significance assessors in South Australia: 08 8203 9874

2. How to Prepare for a Significance Assessment

Before the assessor arrives to begin the Significance Assessment the following steps should be taken:

  • Clearly define the purpose for undertaking the Significance Assessment.  Put together a written project brief which should include the name of your organisation, the project title, date, author of brief, contact details for the organisation.  It should also include some background information about your organisation and the aims of the project.
  • Read pages 59 - 63 of Significance – A Guide to Assessing the Significance of Cultural Heritage Objects and Collections on the assessment of a whole collection so that you are familiar with the methodology and are able to respond to requests from the assessor
  • Understand what the CHG program expects to see in the report - see the Significance Assessment Report section below
  • Clearly define the extent of the Significance Assessment to be undertaken. Will the assessment embrace the collection as a whole, a component of the collection or select objects? Consider the budget for the project. If the collection as a whole is to be assessed how will it be physically undertaken? If the collection is numerically large clearly define what an acceptable assessment percentage will be 15%, 25%, 30%? 
  • Physically isolate the material or clearly identify it before the assessor arrives. Arrange a suitable working space. Valuable time is lost when objects and documentation cannot be found or working space is inadequate.
  • Gather together all documentation for the collection. Include the CHG application, the CHG offer letter, catalogues, details of provenance of material, and transcripts of interviews about the stories associated with the collection.  Give these documents to your assessor before they visit.
  • Contact people who can provide information to the assessor where necessary and make sure they are available for consultation.
  • Make sure that the assessor has full access to the collection for the time that he or she is conducting the assessment.

3. Cost Estimate

An average Significance Assessment will involve a site visit (2 days) and a written report (4-5 days).

During the site visit the assessor will assess the physical condition of the collection (acceptable percentage), the veracity of its accompanying documentation and the relationship between the museum building(s) and the collection. Normally the assessor will not have time to consult the community and record comments and ideas about the collection during this period. This should be undertaken by museum/ library/archive/gallery personnel beforehand and be available to the assessor.

The Significance Assessment will cost between approximately $3500-$4000 (ex gst) depending on the amount of material you are having assessed. Travel and accommodation costs will add to the professional fees if the assessor does not live locally. Ask for a written quote that details the components such as on-site visit, travel costs and report preparation.

If the assessor requires some funding up-front, only make a partial payment (50%). Retain the final payment (50%) until you’ve had a chance to read the draft report and ensure that it meets your requirements.

4. Significance Assessment Report

The Significance Assessment report should provide sufficient information to enable collection management priorities to be established and include Significance Statements that clearly identify the history, themes, importance, meaning and value of the collection.  If you intend to apply for future Community Heritage Grants, you will be required to submit the Significance Assessment report with your application.

CHG recommends that the report should contain the following content:

  • Title page
    Include:
    Name of organisation and collection
    Author's name
    Company name (if applicable)
    Date of publication
  • Contents page
    List major sections of the report with page numbers

    PART I

  • Executive Summary (1-2 pages)
    A brief summary of Statement of Significance.
    Short, medium and long term collection management and interpretation/exhibition impacts.
  • Description of process undertaken to assess and produce the report (the methodology)
    • Consultation with owners of the collection
    • Collection research in consultation with owners
    • Use of object files
    • Contact other similar collections to identify comparative collections
    • Number of visits to the collection to work on the assessment and understand the collection
  • Summary description of the organisation and its collection
    (Approximately 300 words)
  • History and significance of the organisation and its collection
    (1-20 pages)
    • History of the collection (include captioned illustrations of key items)
    • Relationship between the building and its contents ie. the moveable heritage (if relevent)
    • Community comments
    • Condition of the collection
    • Comparative collections
    • Statement of Significance for the entire collection - include reference to the most significant items (1-2 pages)
  • Key recommendations
    Some examples (ensure recommendations are listed in priority order):
    • Key items in the collection are rotated through displays
    • To assist with further conservation of the collection, funding should be sought from granting bodies
    • Develop training programs for volunteers. Topics might include significance training, care and handling of cultural materials
    • Develop a database for the moveable parts of the collection - include digital photographs and a good description of each item
    • Establish object files for items in the collection
    • Commission a conservation management plan for the building housing the collection
    • Physically number items to improve tracking of collection.

    PART II

  • Detailed assessment of the most significant items in the collection
    • Brief description
    • History and provenance
    • Community recollections
    • Context of use
    • Type of material, manufacture and condition
    • Comparative examples
    • Statement of Significance for the most significant items in the collection
    • References

This report outline is based on a Significance Assessment for a collection of approximately 600 documents and artefacts, prepared by Kylie Winkworth, Museum Consultant, in August 2006. Amended by Roslyn Russell September 2008.

For further information on Significance Assessments contact the CHG office.