Language of Conservation Replication: Process Evaluation Summative Report

Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Resource Type:
Evaluation Reports | Summative
Environment Type: 
Public Programs, Library Programs, Aquarium and Zoo Programs, Professional Development, Conferences, and Networks, Resource Centers and Networks, Exhibitions, Aquarium and Zoo Exhibits, Library Exhibits
General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Evaluators
Art, music, and theater | Ecology, forestry, and agriculture | Education and learning science | Life science
Institute for Learning Innovation, Poets House

The Language of Conservation was a collaborative project between libraries, zoos, and poets nationwide to replicate a project originally undertaken by the Central Park Zoo. The project model built zoo, library, and poet-in-residence partnerships in five host cities: Brookfield, Illinois; Jacksonville, Florida; Little Rock, Arkansas; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and New Orleans, Louisiana. One aspect of the evaluation was to assess the collaborative process within each of the five partner sites, across the project as a whole, and with project leadership to determine the strengths and challenges of each collaboration and make recommendations for future sites seeking to replicate the model of collaboration. The evaluation used several methods, including journal reflections and one-on-one telephone interviews. Overall, the Language of Conservation was seen to be a success by all of its partners and collaborators, with a sense that individuals, institutions, and communities all benefited from the implementation of the project's vision for using poetry as a language for communicating conservation themes in zoos and libraries. On the whole, most sites were satisfied with their experience and reported a number of ways in which they were able to develop reasonably strong collaborations between zoo and library, as well as with poets-in-residence. The depth and balance of collaborations varied by city. Looking across the five cities highlight several key factors to partnership development: Much success seemed to rest with the initial development of shared vision of the project's goals, purpose, and opportunities, established through an initial Symposium for all sites and partners. Often one partner organization seemed to take leadership in the project and the collaboration, supporting the other institution in a number of ways, often during external limitations to the capacity of the other partner. This allowed the project to move forward productively, but the imbalance needed to be addressed for longer-term partnerships to be maintained. An important strength was the development of strong and positive working relationships between zoo, library, and poet-in-residence. Nearly all of the partner cities stressed the importance of building systems of working together and mutual understanding to create a positive, collaborative working relationship. The need for clear, consistent, and frequent communication between all partners was essential. Zoos and libraries that seek to develop these types of collaborations also face the challenge of differences in institutional culture, structure, and audience bases. Whether dealing with difference in philosophy and finances around admission fees or the difference in institutional timelines for program planning and decision-making, mutually agreeable solutions had to be reached. Success of process also depended on the zoo's ability to generate buy-in from staff. This seemed to work most effectively when staff created inclusive and collaborative systems that involved staff into the project and decision-making. Participatory strategies achieved more buy-in than was reached by presenting about a process that was completed by the poet in isolation. A factor of success seemed to be the strong fit between the poet and their partner city, combined with the poets' intentional efforts to learn about, understand, and be responsive to the culture, needs, and audiences of that community. Some partners felt the project's design created an imbalance between zoo and library, with the majority of the focus being on the zoo, poet, and exhibit creation, and libraries feeling more like a supporter and enhancement to the project, but not at its core.

Award Number: 

Associated Projects

Team Members

Jessica SicklerEvaluator
Erin JohnsonErin JohnsonEvaluator

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