Canadian Conservation Institute Strategic Plan 2015 - 2020

1.0 Introduction

The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) is a special operating agency of the Department of Canadian Heritage. CCI plays a critical role in the conservation of Canada's museum and archival collections by providing expert services to institutionsFootnote 1, training and guidance to individuals, and by improving conservation practice and understanding through research.

1.1 Objectives of the Strategic Plan

In , the results of CCI's first evaluation were presented. One of the key recommendations of the Evaluation of the Canadian Conservation Institute was that CCI should develop and implement a strategic plan "to guide its service delivery"Footnote 2. This Strategic Plan is the result of the consultations with clients and analysis which followed. (Please see Appendix B for a transcription of the Evaluation recommendation and Appendix C for a description of the consultation process).

The objectives of the Plan are:

  • To define the areas in which CCI's activities make the greatest impact and which will, therefore, be the focus of activities for the planning cycle.
  • To lay out strategic directions to guide activities in CCI's three core areas (research and development, delivery of expert services, and sharing knowledge).
  • To provide guidance on the business model of CCI in order to support these activities, including human and financial resources, co-operation within the Department of Canadian Heritage, and revenue.

In brief, the Strategic Plan articulates how CCI will focus its knowledge and expertise to ensure the greatest impact on preservation and access to significant heritage objects and collections in Canada.

2.0 The Canadian Conservation Institute

2.1 Mission and Mandate

The Canadian Conservation Institute was created in to promote the proper care and preservation of Canada's cultural heritage and to advance the practice, science, and technology of conservation. Since it has been a Special Operating Agency of the Department of Canadian Heritage, a status which allows it to recover a portion of its expenditures from clients.

CCI advances and promotes the conservation of Canada's heritage collections through its expertise in conservation science, treatment and preventive conservation. CCI works with heritage institutions and professionals to ensure these heritage collections are preserved and accessible to Canadians now and in the future.

CCI has three core areas of activity, which function as the program mandate:

  • 1) CCI undertakes research and development in conservation, including scientific research, advanced techniques for treatment, and practical and innovative solutions for caring for collections.
  • 2) CCI provides expert services, including scientific services, conservation treatments and preservation advisory services, to heritage institutions and professionals.
  • 3) CCI shares conservation knowledge, through training, professional development, online learning materials and publications, to assist those responsible for heritage objects and collections to make informed decisions about the care of their collections.

2.2 Vision

CCI will be the leader in conservation for Canadian heritage institutions and professionals in Canada. It will achieve this vision by continuing to balance research, service and dissemination activities. It can best support the conservation of Canada's collections by enabling heritage professionals with better tools and training. CCI will advance the practice of conservation by conducting and sharing the results of research that supports better collections care and promotes preventive conservation practices.

CCI values its dedicated, creative, expert staff in order to inspire innovation through collaboration and interdisciplinary co-operation. CCI is at its best when experts engage in multi-disciplinary collaborations to create and share innovative conservation tools and services that are widely applicable and based on the real needs of the heritage community.

Organizational Chart displaying CCI's core values. Description follows.
Figure 1. Organizational Chart demonstrating CCI at its best by promoting conservation tools and services that are widely applicable and needs-focused, people with expertise working in collaboration, and multi-disciplinary approaches resulting in Innovation.

2.3 Values

Public service and museum work both are founded on an implicit trust placed on individuals and organizations. In considering potential strategic directions, this ethical context has provided an important backdrop.

For public servants, Treasury Board has prepared the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector. For conservators, the Code of Ethics and Guidance for Practice of the Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property and of the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators also provides guidance. Conservation decisions have a lasting impact on the aesthetic and cultural value of objects. The way in which we make those decisions reflects how we think about the objects' makers, their owners and the Canadians who value them.

CCI has operated for many years adhering to the following values. These values continue to underpin our activities.

Excellence and Expertise:
Dedication to high standards and the highest attainable quality, founded upon creativity, skill, ability, knowledge, experience and training.
Honesty and Integrity:
Commitment to truthfulness, honour, sincerity, trust and fairness in all relationships and activities.
Respect:
Thoughtful and trusting attitude towards individuals, organizations and cultural property, which recognizes the worth of individuals and their work, and encourages direct and open communication.
Responsibility and Accountability:
Obligation to act in an ethical manner and to justify our activities to our clients and the Canadian public.

These values echo closely the Values and Ethics Code of the Department of Canadian Heritage: Excellence, Integrity, Respect for People, Respect for Democracy, and Sound Resource Management (stewardship).

3.0 Environmental Scan

The Evaluation conclusions positioned CCI with respect to its strengths for the museums community. It concluded that CCI continues to fill a need, providing advice to Canadian heritage institutions on proper conservation practices, playing a leadership role in the national network of preservation and conservation specialists and in the world's conservation community. CCI plays an important role in developing conservation guidance and disseminating it to the Canadian heritage community.

The Evaluation also concluded that federal intervention in this area is justified because museums would not otherwise have access to these services, as a national institution to connect with the international community, and in the support CCI provides to other federal programs. It found that clients are highly satisfied with all aspects of CCI's service on specific projects and that CCI's research and development efforts received the highest accolades from key informants both in Canada and around the world. CCI's business delivery model makes sense. By having both conservators and scientists under one roof, research results are able to be applied to treatments, and treatment issues can feed back into the research program.

Notwithstanding these many strengths, CCI faces some challenges. Government reductions over the past several years mean that CCI is working with fewer resources and a more decentralized administration. CCI's direct budget and positions (FTEs) were reduced by approximately 25%. Almost a third of those positions was transferred to centralized administrative services within the Department of Canadian Heritage (including finance, HR and IT) and continues to support CCI. CCI's capacity to participate in international events was reduced from 29 trips in - to nine in - , or almost 70% less.

The many tools and services which were supported in the past now pull CCI in too many directions. Reductions have meant fewer opportunities for direct interaction with and in the heritage community. It has also compromised the level of activity which CCI formerly contributed to the international conservation community and from which CCI benefited in terms of learning and partnerships. The reassignment of support services to the department has left CCI less able to directly address its unique needs, for example, for scientific computing.

CCI's staff members are its greatest asset. Highly expert and experienced, they are committed, passionate professionals who are deeply dedicated to the conservation of Canada's heritage. Many are also in a position to retire over the life of this plan, which will leave gaps in knowledge. Up to 43%Footnote 3 of conservators and conservation scientists may leave. Recent experience also demonstrates that recruiting professionals of equal caliber will be challenging and time-consuming. The combination of technical expertise and the ability to provide services in both official languages is very rare.

3.1 Client Needs and Expectations

In the consultations undertaken with clients (see Appendix C), they were asked to identify their areas of greatest need. Five major challenges were identified:

  1. Storage space and quality: Many cultural institutions lack space for growing collections and continue to use outdated shelving and cabinets, or ad hoc solutions to storage challenges. With less-expensive off-site storage, there are issues with security and safe transport. It is costly to maintain high standards for temperature and relative humidity and there is pressure to be more energy efficient and to save money.
  2. Safe access to collections: A small percentage of collections are on display due to the lack of gallery space, lack of funds to create new exhibits, difficulties in borrowing exhibits due to strict environmental requirements and problems finding reliable fine art carriers. There is pressure to hold social events in galleries and to make collections available in non-traditional spaces.
  3. Digital collections: There is pressure to make collections available through the digitization of physical collections materials but a lack of time and money to do this, as well as the subsequent need to preserve both the original and digital copy, make this difficult. Migrating information from analogue to digital form to ensure on-going preservation and readability is a concern. Managing and preserving digital collections requires equipment and expertise, for which standards and leadership are needed.
  4. Modern materials: While clients underlined the continuing need to care for traditional materials, including Aboriginal objects, industrial collections, and traditional archival materials (paper, photographs), there is an increasing need to understand and preserve contemporary art, plastics, and modern textiles, some of which contain toxic materials.
  5. Conservation expertise: Financial pressures mean that museums are replacing retiring conservators with generalists, rather than specialists, but it is difficult to find generalists who can work with a full range of materials. There is an increased dependence on private sector conservation services, but their availability is inconsistent across the country and federal entities which once provided support in the regions (LAC, Parks Canada) are no longer serving the community in this way. Institutions lack skills in many areas and there is an increasing need for advice from specialists to fill the gap.

In addition to being asked about their needs, clients were asked what role they would like CCI to play in responding to these challenges. They indicated that CCI should provide:

  1. Conservation expertise and advice: CCI should remain the "go-to" organization for technical advice, including making experts available to respond to specific questions and to provide immediate assistance. CCI should provide information that goes beyond the basics and provide referrals to other service providers and resources. CCI should provide advisory services and information on facilities' requirements and do facility assessments.
  2. Training: CCI should provide training to meet diverse needs, from basic to advanced, face-to-face and remote. It should contribute to the career development of conservators in institutions and in private practice.
  3. Research and development: Clients consider that CCI's research is essential to understanding objects and collections and how best to care for them. It allows CCI to give expert advice and to contribute to the establishment of community standards (for example, for the museum environment).
  4. Community leadership: Clients consider CCI to have an important role in raising awareness of collections care and in promoting the conservation function. CCI is viewed as an authoritative voice for conservation. There is also a desire for CCI to enable a network of conservators and to be a catalyst for collaboration.
  5. Conservation treatment: CCI should continue to accept objects of high significance for specialized treatment.

4.0 Fulfilling CCI's Mandate through Strategic Choices

CCI's mandate is to advance and promote conservation in Canada. There are many players in this field, including museum professionals, such as directors and collections managers, larger museum's own conservation units, conservators in the private sector, university and college training programs, and professional associations.

CCI's unique niche is its ability to generate new knowledge and tools, based on real problems and practical experience. The strategic directions in this plan identify some areas for particular attention, but CCI's business model remains predicated on maintaining a broad range of expertise across conservation sub-disciplines and in a variety of scientific disciplines and techniques. CCI's ability to support the heritage community, with its great variety of circumstances, depends on this diversified capacity within the Institute.

But diversity is not sufficient. What makes CCI special is not only that it has conservation scientists and conservators, but that these specialists work together on complementary aspects of practical problems raised by the heritage community. And perhaps even more importantly, CCI feeds the results of its work back to the community through publications and training.

CCI is at its best when research and practice work together to provide techniques and tools that can be applied directly by heritage professionals at institutions across the country. The six strategic directions in this plan reflect what is needed in order to keep CCI in a position to continue to serve that community effectively over the next five years.

Organizational Chart promoting research and practice working together. Description follows.
Figure 2. Organizational chart promoting research and development, knowledge sharing, and expert services, working together in heritage institutions and amongst heritage professionals.

4.1 Program Focus and Innovation

4.1.1 Strategic Direction:
Build CCI expertise in the conservation of modern materials.

CCI's clients reported that one of their major challenges is in dealing with non-traditional materials. These objects include, for example, items made from plastics or other synthetic polymers, works of art incorporating video and archival materials that originated as electronic documentsFootnote 4. The behaviour of these materials is less well understood than those which have constituted our material culture for hundreds or thousands of years. Many modern items combine traditional and new materials, further complicating conservation treatment. Newer materials may also prove useful as the foundation for improved conservation treatments.

In order to address these needs, CCI will:

  • Establish an integrated research and development, treatment and dissemination program for modern materials, such as plastics and electronics.
  • Enhance understanding of digital works and collections through an integrated research and development, treatment and dissemination program, which will include continuing CCI's existing work on the conservation of digital carriers, such as compact discs and USBs.

4.1.2 Strategic Direction:
Strengthen CCI leadership on preventive conservation and the museum environment

The museum environment is a significant determinant of the on-going stability and longevity of artifacts. The environment includes factors such as temperature and relative humidity, and lighting, as well as the physical safety of objects within galleries and in storage.

Heritage institutions are under considerable pressure to reduce operating costs and convert to more efficient technologies, both for economic and environmental reasons. To enhance financial stability and relevance, institutions also face pressures to exhibit objects in non-traditional spaces and to hold non-traditional events in exhibit spaces. Acceptable limits for environmental conditions also have a major impact on where, how and how long objects can be displayed or loaned.

CCI has made significant contributions to the national and international discussions around many of these issues since its inception, fully embracing the value of preventive conservation. This strategic direction commits to working on aspects of these questions which are particularly challenging to Canadian institutions now.

In order to address these needs, CCI will:

  • Improve knowledge and practices for collections storage, including implementation of the RE-ORG course and tools for decision-making.
  • Establish an integrated research and development, services and dissemination program related to the museum environment, including enhanced guidelines of acceptable variability. This work will need to take place in light of the on-going international discussion regarding standards.
  • Establish integrated research, treatment and dissemination activities to support decision-making around non-traditional events in galleries and non-traditional exhibit spaces, including adapted tools based on risk.
  • Establish integrated research and development, service and dissemination activities to support greening of museum and archive operations, including on-going work on energy efficient lighting.
  • Enhance CCI's ability to respond to demand for facilities assessments, including to the Department of Canadian Heritage programs for Indemnification and Movable Cultural Property.

4.1.3 Strategic Direction:
Contribute to the Government of Canada's history priorities

The government of Canada is making significant investments in celebrating Canada's history and heritage. The 150th anniversary of Confederation in is a focal point for all Canadians, including heritage institutions, and CCI is committed to supporting related exhibition activities through conservation of some of Canada's most significant historic artifacts. Already, CCI has begun this work, investing in the conservation of several objects related to the anniversaries leading to , including objects from the First World War and the quilt made from the dresses of women at the Charlottetown Conference ball in .

One of Canada's most striking heritage assets is the Parliament Buildings themselves, which are undergoing a very major conservation project, expected to continue for more than a decade. CCI's particular expertise in heritage interiors and in handling, moving and storing artifacts can support this vast and highly significant project. The unique challenges on Parliament Hill require innovative and creative solutions, for example the design and production of new mounts for the Books of Remembrance in the Peace Tower.

Canada's North is an area with a long and rich cultural history but underdeveloped facilities and expertise to celebrate and protect some aspects of this heritage. CCI has and will continue to play a role in supporting Northern communities in the conservation of their heritage through training, better understanding of facilities' needs, and support for Northern archaeology.

In order to address these needs, CCI will:

  • Support the celebration of the Road to anniversaries by completing conservation treatment of selected artifacts and promoting knowledge about them, including through social media. Support for the Road to will also include providing expert services to museums that are planning special exhibitions.
  • Enhance the conservation of the Parliamentary precinct by supporting PWGSC in the preservation of fixtures, finishes and artworks in the precinct during the conservation of the buildings. This work is expected to challenge CCI to innovate in addressing the unique needs of Canada's symbolic and real seat of power.
  • Celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary in (which is also CCI's 45th anniversary) with an event, product or project.
  • Contribute to Canada's Northern Strategy by providing services to Northern cultural organizations. In particular, CCI will focus archaeological field support in the North.

4.1.4 Strategic Direction:
Modernize and diversify the opportunities for professional development for heritage professionals

A significant aspect of CCI's work is in making conservation information available to heritage professionals so that they can directly improve conservation practice in caring for Canadian collections. Clients underline the importance of CCI's efforts to share information about best practices in conservation and to provide advice to conservators and other museum workers. CCI's publications, particularly CCI Notes, have been a critical tool for at least a generation.

Nevertheless, the communications environment has changed enormously since . Printed publications and face-to-face training are both expensive and labour intensive, at a time when resources to support heritage institutions are scarce. CCI has published a large number of CCI Notes and Technical Bulletins, which are only periodically revised or up-dated. The Internet, social media, collaboration tools and other technological advances create opportunities for CCI to offer some of its advice and services in newer, more responsive formats. Further changes to CCI's web-site will be necessary as the Government of Canada migrates to a unified Canada.ca on-line presence.

In order to address these needs, CCI will:

  • Capitalize on new technologies in order to diversify the range of training opportunities which CCI provides to museum professionals, for example through webinars, YouTube videos and other tools that facilitate distance learning. Create a professional development plan which details this approach.
  • Support the training of professional conservators through co-operation with universities and colleges for the provision of curriculum internships and post-graduate paid internships.
  • Investigate options for mid-career enrichment for heritage professionals through association with CCI, for example, to consult on or complete specific projects.
  • Re-align CCI's publishing activities in order to accommodate the coming changes to web-diffusion through the transition to the Canada.ca web-site.
  • Review/adapt publishing activities and priorities to enhance access to up-to-date information on conservation topics and to ensure that CCI is delivering content in the most effective ways.

4.2 Organizational Effectiveness

4.2.1 Strategic Direction:
Renew and develop CCI's workforce

CCI's workforce is absolutely central to its success. It is through the creativity, collaboration and commitment of staff that CCI has been able to deliver results for Canadian heritage. In the face of the demographic shift which must affect CCI over the coming years, robust human resources planning will be critical. CCI has historically benefited from many individuals who have made their entire careers within the organization. Changes in organizational culture may be needed to attract and retain a new generation of workers.

CCI remains a significant employer of conservators and conservation scientists in Canada and touches the professional lives of many more. This responsibility to foster a vigorous conservation community also needs to be reflected in CCI's internal staffing decisions.

In order to address these needs, CCI will:

  • Create a succession strategy in order to methodically address anticipated retirements from the CCI workforce. The plan will support enhancing expertise in the conservation of contemporary art and modern materials research, and other shifts in expertise to support changes in program focus as outlined above. It will create opportunities for talent management and transitional knowledge transfer.
  • Invest in the development of staff, particularly in light of the demographic shift, by creating opportunities for professional development of CCI staff, such as assignments, collaborative work arrangements and conference participation.
  • Support second language improvement for existing staff to enhance CCI's ability to deliver services, including training, in both official languages, given the difficulty of recruiting bilingual experts.

4.2.2 Strategic Direction:
Enhance operational efficiencies

CCI is, in general, a well-managed organization with strong administrative practices and robust business tools. As a Special Operating Agency, CCI is expected to generate a portion of its budget through revenue. It achieves this by charging clients for products and services, often at less than cost (partial cost-recovery). Increasing activity - that is, doing more - therefore ultimately results in higher net expenses rather than resulting in increased disposable resources. The exception to this is where full cost-recovery is possible, such as from work performed for other government departments. Other models of public-private partnership or spin-off commercial development are worthy of more investigation.

CCI supports a wide range of services, with a complex fee structure. To achieve efficiencies, focus is required. The needs of the heritage community are immense - there is a huge amount of good work to be done - but choices need to be made about where and how much effort is expended in addressing each of the needs.

In order to address these challenges, CCI will:

  • Clarify the focus on the most important services to the heritage community and reflect this in advertised services.
  • Better manage work through more rigorous use of annual calls for treatments, workshops and facilities assessments.
  • Re-examine the fee schedule to ensure that the revenue generation strategy is focused on activities that can be substantively cost-recovered.
  • Expand what CCI can accomplish by collaborating with outside organisations with access to different forms of funding or other complementary resources (for example, access to equipment or technical expertise).
  • Investigate ways to broaden CCI's revenue streams by considering options for licensing or other public-private partnership opportunities as they arise.
  • Maximize the impact of CCI's participation in international and domestic conferences and as officers in professional organizations. Establish a value-based strategy for supporting these activities.

5.0 Principles for Implementation

In implementing the strategic directions, CCI will apply the following principles to all activities:

6.0 Conclusion

This Strategic Plan sets a road map for CCI to dedicate the resources in its trust to the service of the heritage community over the next five years. It emphasizes the alignment of CCI's work with client needs. It also underscores the importance of leveraging all of our investments through collaboration inside and outside the Institute.

This Strategic Plan is designed to be achieved within the current resource allocation dedicated to CCI. It also requires no additional authorities. Notwithstanding, the Special Operating Agency Framework should be reviewed and up-dated in light of this Plan.

Appendix A - The Planning Team

The following individuals participated in CCI's Strategic Planning Team:

Appendix B - Recommendation from the Evaluation Footnote 5

CCI should develop and implement a strategic business plan to guide its service delivery, and to do so in consultation and communication with heritage institutions and associations in Canada. Important initiatives in the plan should include:

Appendix C - Strategic Planning Consultations

CCI began its strategic planning activities in the wake of the Evaluation. Following some initial sessions with CCI's management team, a substantial consultation was undertaken with the heritage community, as follows:

While the questions at each of these consultations differed depending on the audience, they orbited around two general themes:

The questions also asked participants to identify what role they were looking to CCI to fulfill in addressing these issues.

Consultations by category. Tabular version follows.
Text version: Consultations by category
CategoryNumber of Clients in Focus GroupsNumber of Clients Telephoned
M1 - Small Museum 4 5
M2 - Medium Museum 13 24
M3 - Large Museum 18 24
M4 - Government of Canada Museum 0 2
M5 - The Nationals 7 2
G2 - Federal Government 0 1
G3 - Provincial Government 3 5
G4 - Municipal Government 0 2
E1 - Conservation Education 0 1
E2 - Heritage Education 0 1
E3 - Other Education 0 1
A1 - Heritage Association 1 0
C3 - Religious Community 0 1
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