Karin here! This is our first book review on our website blog! Exciting to get back into this practice after retiring the old ANSM blog.colourful book cover with title: the community leadership handbook

The full title of James F. Krile’s book is The Community Leadership Handbook: Framing Ideas, Building Relationships, and Mobilizing Resources. This handbook has been in the ANSM library for a while. It was written in 2006 but when we revisited it as part of our resource review work with TRACK, it was clear that this is a book worth keeping, and worth sharing.

This book is not meant to be read cover to cover, but that’s what you do with book reviews, so admittedly this was not the most fun read or the best read because of that. The author is very upfront about the book being a resource that can be tapped into depending on the situation. It even has a “how to use this book” section in the introduction. It says to treat the book like a toolkit, to browse through the contents, think of it like an encyclopedia, use the tools at a glance and the worksheets, and to turn to it for specific ideas and information. It even suggests that you can quickly skim the contents to find what you need. It explicitly says “you do not have to read it cover to cover”. Well, I read it cover to cover, and I can wholeheartedly endorse the author’s suggestion to not do the same. The order will not feel logical, but somewhat backwards. It won’t be a fun reading experience.

Having said that, this book really is a great toolkit, full of sample worksheets, case studies, step-by-step guides, and flexible options for the tools it contains. It also includes rationales and explanations that will help you get others on board with the activities. If you hear someone say “we’ve never done it that way before”, this book will give you answers about why you should try something new.

So if you don’t read it cover to cover, how do you use the book? It’s divided into four parts – Tools for Framing Ideas, Tools for Building and Using Social Capital, and Tools for Mobilizing Resources. Part one gives you an overview of these three core competencies and then talks about how to combine them. This intro made me feel like I could absolutely tackle these issues and that this book was going to be very helpful as I embarked on my community engagement efforts.

As I mentioned above, the order of the book felt a bit backwards to me. Part four (mobilizing resources) talked about building teams, engaging volunteers, and other foundational activities that felt like a necessary first step. It includes a variety of worksheets and resources to help you analyze your existing organization. I especially like the talent audit (who’s on our team and what are they great at?) and the communication climate assessment (are we cultivating a safe space where ideas are openly shared, input valued, and collaboration encouraged?). And there are the standard, expected templates like volunteer job descriptions and board assessments.

Part two (framing ideas) felt like a logical second step after part four. It invites readers to identify assets in their community (often called community mapping), analyze community problems, review existing data from other sources, carry out a visioning exercise and then turn that vision into an action plan. We’ve talked about community mapping a lot over the past few years, and our daily work at ANSM often involves taking a province-wide issue and framing up a project to tackle it, so those tools weren’t overly interesting to me. What I appreciated most in this chapter was the worksheet that helps you identify who is involved in a community problem. It forces you to ask the questions of who is affected and how, who loses, who sees it as a problem, and who is already doing something (or trying to do something) about it. I’ve had so many conversations with museums that are dancing around these questions, but this is the first time I’ve seen a worksheet that lays things out so bluntly. I think there is so much power and potential in this approach.

Part three explores how you can build social and use social capital, and is a very understanding and empathetic approach to building relationships and partnerships. It encourages you to look at commonalities while also appreciating differences, and to remember that it is very rare for two people or two groups to see eye to eye on everything. And that’s okay! This chapter is full of great tools that will help you to build relationships (story starters is a fun ice-breaker activity), navigate conflict (a case study exploration of conflict styles is really helpful in anticipating responses when things don’t go smoothly), and see just how connected the people within the museum are to the broader community (the social capital map). All very helpful exercises.

This is just a quick sampling of the kinds of resources you’ll find in this toolkit. I was impressed with the many ways that the author explored the subjects, the flexibility within the tools, and the application for museums. This book may have been written as a general guide for any organizations that are interested in community leadership, but it is a great resource for museums.

If you want to borrow this book from us, click here.