Resources for cross-cultural collaborative working: our new Cultural Partnerships Toolkit

This month has seen the completion of the Cultural Partnerships programme of work in the South East Museum Development Programme. Of part of the legacy, I’ve published a toolkit to support the museums sector in future collaborative endeavours. You can find it (and many more useful resources) under the ‘Partnerships’ tag in the Library on our website 

The toolkit is primarily designed for use by a museum employee, volunteer or trustee, in pursuit of collaborative work relevant to the museum’s strategic priorities. The toolkit can also be used by Museum Development teams, consultants or anyone else who is working in a facilitating role to enable partnership working in the museums sector or between museums and other organisations. This blog post is adapted from the introduction to the toolkit and will, I hope, encourage more people to discover, explore and utilise it.

The document collates useful tools that have been tried and tested through the work of the Cultural Partnerships Officer role within the South East Museum Development Programme between 2012 and 2018. Supported by Arts Council England through Museum Development funding in its 2012-15 and 2015-18 programmes, this role has championed cross-cultural collaborative working and supported the significant change this requires in support of ambitions articulated, for example, in the Arts Council’s 2013 strategy document ‘Great Art and Culture for Everyone’:

“The arts and cultural sector has too few examples of collaboration across backgrounds, organisations, disciplines and perspectives. With our new strategic development responsibilities for museums and libraries, we will encourage and support work across our entire cultural footprint that reflect these types of collaboration, drawing on the best practice in each area and beyond. We know that when these connections are made, they can spark a dynamic that changes our perceptions of what great art and culture is, who it is for, and what it can do.”

Arts Council England: Great Art and Culture for Everyone, 2013

In this programme of work, collaboration has not been an end in itself, but a means to achieving better outcomes in the real world: specifically to generate projects, relationships and ways of working that benefit museums across the South East in practical ways. Through activities supported by the CuItural Partnerships Officer role (initially performed by my esteemed colleague Katerina Kremmida and then by me from 2015) museums have found new ways of fundraising, reinterpreted their collections in creative ways, built connections with new audiences and raised their profiles nationally and internationally, all through working in partnership. The role operated from the Hampshire Solent subregion with wider impact regionally and farther afield through a ‘Collaborate’ and ‘Share’ model, aiming to broadly work ‘Collaborate’ in Hampshire Solent (indicative 75%); ‘Share’ in the wider South East & South West regions (indicative 25%).

Collaboration between organisations is often needed to address a complex challenge. This may be because the capabilities to resolve the issue aren’t found in a single organisation, or because the issue impacts on many organisations whose combined capacity can have a more powerful impact upon it.

Whilst the case for collaboration is widely accepted in the museums sector, many organisations face challenges in making the most of the opportunities it offers. Collaborative working can be difficult, with many barriers to be overcome to make it effective. These include disparate partner goals or priorities, different organisational cultures, communication problems, and real or perceived power imbalances between partners. Where the drivers of collaboration are strong enough, the barriers can often be overcome, through thoughtful, structured processes. These processes do not frequently happen naturally, investment must be made in planning and implementing them. So the toolkit is designed to provide resources that can assist, as well as examples of formats for different kinds of partnership workshops and gatherings and tips on how to organise and facilitate them.

A common thread in many of the tools and event formats is of making thinking processes visible and accessible to a group. At the heart of most successful partnerships is a group of people (be it a board, a multi-organisational team or a steering group) who act as representatives of the different organisations involved. The conventional method of the business meeting, with players seated around a table following a formal agenda and working their way through a stack of reports or papers, is limited in its potential to generate genuine engagement in thinking and action. Likewise the traditional conference format, rigidly separating those with status on the dais from those sat in rows below. Many of the tools are designed to provide alternative ways to run meetings, to secure wider participation in developing solutions, making decisions and measuring results.


I’ve arranged the toolkit in two sections:

  •   Tools – these are frameworks or templates, with suggestions for use. You could think of these as culinary ingredients. For each tried and tested tool, this toolkit offers the following: purpose; when to use: overview; what you need; facilitation brief; facilitation style tips: a relevant background link if you’d like to find out more.
  •   Event format ideas – these are suggestions of how a museum might bring some of the tools together into an event or workshop to achieve particular aims. You could think of these as being like recipes. Like all recipes, you can choose to tweak, adapt or reinvent them to suit your needs. We have provided three event format ideas, suitable for different stages of collaborative working. For each of these, we have provided a range of suggestions and tips, and example documents that our imaginary Bugsley Museum might produce. We provide two versions of the event outline; one for the ‘home team’ and one for the ‘attendees’ – we strongly recommend taking the time to produce both, as most events are a team effort. A home team briefing document can make the difference between bringing your partnership together in a productive way and looking really clunky to your key stakeholders. The version you give to attendees needs to be much more concise, to avoid overwhelming or confusing people.

There is an extensive literature on successful partnership working and I was very conscious in developing the toolkit not to duplicate all of that. Rather, to share some practical, useable tools that have been tried and tested through the work that the Cultural Partnerships Officers have undertaken since 2012 and to show how they might work in a museum context. From the many, many approaches we have experimented with, we have selected a small number that have been found particularly useful. At the end of the document I’ve listed links to a number of other toolkits and resources that I hope you may find of value in your partnership work and there are others to be found in our Library. You can use the tags at the side to find resources relevant to all kinds of work to develop your museum.

The toolkit is a mixture of tools that have been developed through the programme and others that have been collated or adapted from other sources. Where I was able to identify the originator, I have provided this information, however often the original source is lost in the mists of time. So the toolkit offers appreciation to all of the originators of the materials in the toolkit, including those who we have not been able to trace and so are not acknowledged by name. A particular acknowledgement is given to Dr Suzanne Turner, author of the invaluable book ‘Tools for Success: A Manager’s Guide’ the format of which provided inspiration for the layout of thetoolkit. You can find out more about Dr Turner’s book and why I love it, in my ‘On My Bookshelf’ contribution to the March 2018 Museums Journal.

I do hope that you enjoy using the toolkit as much as I have enjoyed the opportunity to develop and test these approaches in my Cultural Partnerships work over the past three years.


#ThinkOutsideTheLightbox: what happened after the Museums Hack Day at Southampton Solent University

Ensuring that networking events lead to concrete outcomes is one of the big challenges about partnership brokering. So is measuring the impact of these events. In my current programme of work, putting mechanisms in place that encourage initial contacts to lead to action is key. Also, not always easy to measure impact, not least because the most enthusiastic participants in such events are often involved in a range of change processes and taking up a variety of support offers. It’s often the combination of these different influences and opportunities that come together, and hard to evidence the causal links to a particular one.

Back in the summer, I promised to post an update about the follow-up to the Museums Hack Day. If you were there or have followed the story so far, you’ll recall that The Lightbox in Woking won the package of support, with an exciting presentation about their #ThinkOutsideTheLightbox project.

This event represented a significant investment and the follow up package included both a £2000 funding pot and significant in-kind support from Solent University. It was important to support the achievement of real, practical outcomes.

We did this through a range of mechanisms:

  1. During the competition on the day, as well as coming up with an idea and an exciting presentation, the teams had to put some serious thought into the practical aspects of their proposal. The mechanism to support this was for them to complete and submit to the judging panel a proforma, designed to strengthen the practical aspects of the proposal, for example considering objectives, project timeline, working budget breakdown.
  2. Information was provided at the session about the commitment expected of the winning team, to make sure everyone was clear about what they were up for. This was provided in the form of a ‘Follow Up’ handout document as well as verbal briefing.
  3. The judges assessed the ideas, presentations and proformas against clear criteria.
  4. My collaborator Dr Alex Reynolds took responsibility for negotiating an agreement between the museum (on behalf of the winning team) and Solent University for the business planning support offer, which included two workshops (Business Planning and Successful Pitching) offered by the University.
  5. Together, Alex and I had plenty of contact with The Lightbox over the months that followed.

Overall, quite a lot of thinking had gone into making sure that the investment was put to good use. We’re delighted that a really interesting public output has followed, The Lightbox’s first foray into Virtual Reality with a ‘pop up’ event in the local shopping centre. You can read all about it on the museum’s blog here. The museum worked with virtual/augmented reality development studio Apache, who used a special camera rig to capture footage in the museum. This was edited into a VR experience that was launched to the public in January 2018 via a ‘pop up’ event in Woking Shopping. Hundreds of people took part, including many in the target younger demographic with a high proportion of people who had not visited the museum in person.

Well that makes it all sound like plain sailing, but if you’re reading this blog you’re probably interested in the nitty gritty of making cultural partnerships work and will not be surprised that a lot went on behind the scenes. On returning to the museum and reviewing the Museums Hack Day proposal in the context of other projects happening or planned, The Lightbox’s team adapted the original idea. The museum found it challenging to coordinate their own attendance at the workshops with the needs of the other partners and the availability of the relevant academics at the university. In the end, just one workshop took place. The change of direction also meant that not all of the partners who had been around the table at the Museums Hack Day were called upon by the museum to get involved in the final outputs.  The museum also decided to involve a different digital company. All of this required a fair bit of discussion, to make sure that the agreement confirmed with the university appropriately reflected the museum’s amended approach.

Reflecting on it overall, I’m really pleased that a quality public output has come out of the event, one that has genuinely engaged new and younger audiences with the museum. Ideally I’d have liked to see more ongoing connection between The Lightbox and the digital creative who worked with them at the Museums Hack Day. However, as the idea began to be reshaped by the realities of life at the museum, it became apparent that trying to force the approach to be word-for-word reflective of the discussions in June would be counterproductive in terms of getting a concrete output in the project timescales.

Since the event, we were pleased to discover that one of the museums that didn’t win the prize, Southampton City Art Gallery, took inspiration from the event when delivering elements of an Arts Council England funded programme of work to engage younger audiences. Alex and I were invited to meet with the Southampton team, who set our their plans for a Digital Ideas Lab event and sought our feedback. We were really thrilled to see how our learning fed into a very enjoyable event in November 2017. Thanks to their ACE funding, Southampton were able to progress not one but several projects coming out of the event and Alex and have I found ourselves collaborating once again on one of these projects, Smart Murals, which goes live this month.




A story about relationship building and a bit of international Intellectual Property law

Some of this will sound a bit vague, but this is for good reason. Please bear with me.

Earlier this year, in partnership with some other organisations, we organised an event. It was quite a complicated one, a challenge to organise but very well received.

With my colleagues in the working group we chose a name for the event. It was a bit zeitgeisty and for this reason we checked if it was trademarked in the UK. It wasn’t.

A few weeks before the event, I was approached by email by a gentleman introducing himself as the head of a US company and asking us to change the name of the event. He said it was a name that they were using and that they had trademarked it.

We were concerned to have inadvertently encroached on somebody’s rights so checked this out online. What we found was that, although they had trademarked the name in the US, they had not taken any steps to protect the name in the UK or Europe. As the information freely available from the US Patents and Trademarks Office makes clear ‘Patents and trademarks are territorial and must be filed in each country where protection is sought. A U.S. patent or trademark does not afford protection in another country.’ But never mind, as a friendly gesture, we proposed making a slight change to the name, to differentiate.

He agreed to this, with thanks. And also made a bit of a pitch to do work for us in future. His company’s services sounded quite cool, and relevant to aspects of what we do, and had things progressed differently, this is something we might have thought about.

However, what followed was an escalating series of emails, both from him and another colleague in his company.

  • They asked us to make further changes to our event title, beyond the one they had already agreed to.
  • They also asked us to publish a disclaimer, dissociating our event from their company whilst at the same time giving their company a plug. They wanted the plug because, they said, they were expanding to work internationally. As well as their company name, the disclaimer wording that they suggested referred to them having rights over another phrase which they hadn’t even registered in the US, let alone over here.
  • And then they started pursuing us about an event being run by an organisation in Italy, one to which we had no connection and which we had not even heard of. The tone of the emails became rather bellicose, including some shouty capitals in the subject field. When we put the first gentleman right about the Italian event and explained that it had nothing to do with us, we had an email 24 hours later from another person in the company, challenging us about the Italian event all over again.
  • They also asked us to change the hashtag we were using for the event. If they had taken a look at our tweets, they would have seen that we had taken care to use one that was not remotely like their name.

Now, by this time they were really becoming a bit annoying. The correspondence suggested the company:

  • Was somewhat aggressive in attitude, pursuing rights that they couldn’t legitimately claim.
  • Had a rather vague grasp of international working.
  • Was rather weak on research, having not checked out our hashtag.
  • Communicated somewhat poorly internally, as the messages were not being passed between the different people at their end who were getting at us.
  • Preferred blaming others to taking reasonable steps at their end to protect their business interests.

Basically, not the kind of business that I get excited about partnering with, or commending to my network.

To be able to respond to their initial emails, I had to learn my way around the basics of international trademark law. I knew a bit about trademarks in the UK having dealt with this in my family business, but had not yet had to look further afield. This was interesting, but a bit time-consuming.

As the exchange progressed, and their approaches became increasingly pugnacious, we were getting worn down by the constant correspondence. We were playing team relay to keep up with it and it was eating into our capacity to get on and organise the event. We’d also spotted that in the past, the company had posted some quite grumpy blogs about other organisation that they felt have infringed their IP and didn’t want them to do the same to us. So we agreed that we should get a bit of lawyerly help to make a clear statement back to them with the aim of drawing the matter to a close. We could easily have spent the equivalent of our whole event budget on getting this, so decided to each find out within our own organisations what support might be available.

This is where my host organisation, Hampshire Cultural Trust, came up trumps. Through the HLF-funded ‘Catalyst: Inspiring a Culture of Philanthropy’ project, HCT had subscribed to a legal helpline provided by Counterculture LLP, a Manchester-based law firm specialising in work with the arts and heritage sectors. The subscription covered a 30-minute informal telephone consultation. This service explicitly does not constitute legal advice but nevertheless I found that my telephone call with highly knowledgeable partner Keith Arrowsmith was invaluable in providing a sounding board as we thought through a form of words.

So, I probably won’t be following up with the US company’s invitation to ‘reach out’ and ‘collaborate’. Nevertheless, I am grateful to them, as they have prompted some really valuable learning on this side of the pond:

  • Along the way I found some resources that other cultural organisations might find useful and which I am grateful for the opportunity to disseminate:
    • There is loads of useful guidance on the Intellectual Property Office website, about both UK and international trademark registration:
    • There is something called the Madrid Protocol, designed to make it easier to file for trademark registration in multiple countries through a single application. There are currently 115 countries covered by this, including the US and the EU states. Very useful if you have a trademark that you would like to protect overseas. Given that this US company seems keen to assert its intellectual property rights internationally, they might want to use it! All the info is on the World Intellectual Property Organization website here
  • In addition, through my grumpily chuntering about the situation to all and sundry, the topic of trademark protection was raised in my network and I know of at least four South East England cultural organisations who have taken steps to clarify their own IP position or protect trademarks, directly as a result of conversations that this incident provoked.

So thank you, US-company-who-shall-remain-nameless. I’d humbly suggest that, if you are serious about wanting to work in partnership overseas, you tidy up a few things at your end, and consider your communication style. But without meaning to, you have created a great learning opportunity for us over here and helped me to deliver on my mandate of supporting museums and cultural organisations to work in partnership and internationally. I wish you all the best.

Mission, Market, Money? Reflections from the SEMDP’s ‘Creative Commercial Collections’ Study Visit to the Netherlands May 2017 – Day 3: Rijksmuseum and second seminar on the train

It’s taken me a while to post the third instalment of my ‘letter from the Netherlands’ – partly due to the sheer business of the run up to the Museums Hack Day and partly as I have been gathering thoughts (my own and others’) about the intriguing final day of the trip. The day had two parts: a study visit to the Rijksmuseum and then further seminar activity on the train, heading back to the UK.

We left Enkhuizen bright and early to catch the train to Amsterdam. Once there, on our way from the station to the Rijksmuseum we were struck by the visibility of museum images and products in shop windows that we passed, and had a real sense of a city that integrates its cultural offer into its wider tourism activities.

At the Rijksmuseum, our first stop was a stunning meeting room in the museum’s ‘back office’ building over the street, where Peter Gorgels, Internet Manager, met us to talk about the Rijks Studio platform and annual awards. Rijks Studio has garnered massive international attention for the Rijksmuseum. In case you have been hiding under a rock since its launch in 2013, it reverses the traditional museum approach to reproductions – ‘ban photography, charge for images.’ Instead, the museum makes thousands of high quality images of collections objects available free of charge and copyright-free, encouraging people to reuse these images in new art and design. The museum runs an annual, open-to-all competition with a substantial cash prize for the best design idea.

Following Day 2’s discussions about the ‘Mission, Money, Market’ model, our group were particularly keen to understand from Pieter the financial benefits to the museum of this project – the ‘Money’ corner. They gave him a bit of a grilling on this, which he dealt with gracefully! It became clear that the impact that the museum emphasises is, once again, all about ‘Mission and Market.’ The museum is not measuring the project’s impact in terms of additional admission or retail revenue, nor does it expect any financial return from manufacturers if they make money from a Rijksmuseum object-inspired product.


Pieter highlighted that the Rijksmuseum holds in trust collections that belong not to the museum but to the public, and that making these freely available is a high priority. The museum also recognises the public relations value of the platform and the awards, particularly in relation to the 2013 reopening of the refurbished museum, though Pieter was not aware of any ‘Equivalent Advertising Value’ or similar measures being applied to this output. Given the significant capital investment in realising Rijks Studio (just over Euros 1million, principally from BankGiro Loterij) our more commercially-minded delegates were champing at the bit to get some RoI figures. They didn’t get them, but on the other hand, they got a really valuable sense of how, if your collections are truly sensational, you can use digital, and the support of others’ commercial endeavours, to spread them far and wide. At the time of our visit, the 2017 winner was entering discussions with KLM for sleep masks, bearing images from the collection, to be used in First Class.

But there is apparently no obligation on the producers to even mention the Rijksmuseum in promotion. Let alone to share the financial rewards of their commercial activity with the museum. This magnanimity of vision inspired some members of our group, but deeply frustrated others. One of the group described it as ‘like corporate social responsibility in reverse.’

Our group’s hunger for a commercial discussion was soon sated, as Peter handed us over to the Rijksmuseum’s webshop coordinator Carlyn Hermelink. Carlyn has joined the museum from one of the Netherlands’ leading online fashion retailers and brings a strongly commercial perspective to our visit to the museum’s recently refurbished shop. There she introduced us to another Peter, a highly knowledgeable retail manager, for a highly informative discussion of pricing, stock management and retail display tactics. We saw how the museum focuses bespoke product on key items from the permanent displays and sources non-branded relevant products to accompany temporary exhibitions, avoiding the risk of being left with large amounts of dated stock once a show is over. The shop was striking for very tight management of brand identify with strongly consistent props and visual merchandising throughout.

Sadly, time was now pressing and we had (or so we thought) a train to catch imminently, so after a literally 5-minute trot upstairs to see the Night Watch, we said farewell to our hosts and caught the tram back to the station. Sod’s Law, on arrival we discovered that our train to Brussels was cancelled, so we spent an hour eating sandwiches in the station underpass, time we would all much prefer to have spent in the museum, to be frank.

Once aboard, we used the Amsterdam-Brussels leg of the journey for the third and final round of seminar activity, so that the last groups had a chance to gain from the Kickstart project learning from each of the three partner perspectives and to share their own museum’s practice with the Kickstart museums. We then used our third sticky note colour (yellow) to capture key learning points from the Rijksmuseum visit:

Day 3: Rijksmuseum (yellow)

  • Affirmed my learning to date from CCC, that a collection-inspired product/output that ‘fails’ commercially can add value to subliminal marketing and brand awareness.
  • Keep focused on your brand identity and know where its value lies. Do a full cost benefit analysis and lay out the shop really well.
  • Is it worth charging for images/licences? If we get an online catalogue up and running it will be far easier for people to administrate themselves, saving time and effort.
  • Using social media/marketing as a form of access to the collections.
  • Rijksmuseum/studio model is great if you have state support/admission charges. Branding key commercial tool is you have or can build a prestigious brand.
  • Digital images can be your ambassadors. Rijkstudio: develop the platform – you create the masterpiece. Should we give images free?
  • It is worth assessing how much it actually costs to sell images to people. It may not be worth charging.
  • The use of commissions to further the museum objects as a partially state funded organisation vs the need to be sustainable.
  • High quality visual merchandising helps you tell your story. Make it easy for visitors/customers.
  • Rijksmuseum’s big idea: that everyone can have a piece of the museum in their lives (via shop and Rijkstudio) and the idea of using images as the museum’s ambassadors.
  • Use competitions to get interest and encourage people to reinterpret collections. Big museums have problems small ones don’t e.g. possessive specialist curators.
  • Examine image licensing arrangements e.g. Art UK.Bridgeman etc and develop pricing/strategy.

Our change of trains in Brussels was a little stressful, to say the least. Due to the delay in Amsterdam we, and many others, had missed out check in time. And with security understandably tight, it took us quite a while to get through. Our last delegate scrambled on to the Eurostar with literally seconds to go. So we took a little breather before embarking on the final structured discussion of the trip: Action planning. Everybody used their fourth and final sticky note (orange) to express a practical step that they will take to implement learning back at their museum. The few minutes invested in logging action points at this stage was a particularly important part of the trip. It is easy for learning to dissipate once we get back to the coalface from a course or study visit. Deciding on and writing down an action is a powerful way to increase the likelihood that learning will be applied. Here are the results:

Action points: (orange)

  • Review image licensing; Take extreme care when commissioning high value items
  • Develop a licensing style guide; Review our plans for commercial photo libraries; Share excellent merchandising images from Rijksmuseum with rest of the team;
  • Get a proper plan in place before jumping straight in then bring in appropriate support, especially commercially, rather than trying to do everything myself
  • Look how to use crafts and contemporary arts practice to create inspirational products; Look at how to make our images our ambassadors; Experiment more with retail pilot schemes
  • Take a more innovative approach to product, referencing original iconic objects closely but injecting a contemporary element e.g. high heeled clogs.
  • Work in collaboration and seek advice and support in areas outside of my skills ‘Learn and share’
  • Tradition inspiring innovation; Museum identify being clear; Mission and branding being clear
  • Chicken and egg: museum has tried to fundraise before establishing before establishing a distinctive identity from main overarching visitor attraction. Need to engage in CCC projects to help establish brand identity as first step to fundraising and commercialising. Convince trustees.
  • Develop clear strategy for contemporary programming: clear mission as a starting point for future activity.
  • Sort brand statement and style guide ambition; Image licensing structure and opportunity
  • We need a brand to tell our story. Talk to colleagues to create a strategic to pitch to the boss.
  • Compile and share dossier of resources, contacts and examples. Evaluation. Blog.
  • Talk to (colleague); communicate mission to everyone in organisation; stay focused on this & make sure activities support this.

After this, I encouraged the group to stop talking shop and relax for the last few hours of the journey – by this time it was late afternoon. But this was not very successful. After a few minutes chat about hobbies, holidays or family, people kept slipping back into discussion about our learning from the trip: ‘Did you notice that in the Rijksmuseum shop….’ ‘I’ve been thinking about what Thomas Eyck said yesterday…’ ‘What did you think about the way they did…’

Formal evaluation is to follow – I have deliberately left a few weeks between the trip and the feedback survey so that people have some time to implement learning and follow up contacts. In the meantime, participants have been generous in their comments about the experience, here are just a few of the emails that have been flying about. Apologies to any museum bosses who found their staff too shattered to function on the Friday:

  • I had a great time, and came home full of ideas.
  • It was great to meet you all on our wonderful adventure in Holland. I don’t know about anyone else but I did have to go home early from work on Friday as I was so exhausted!!
  • What an amazing trip it was… We enjoyed visits to two great museums who laid on their senior staff and external consultants to talk through their amazing commercial collections projects.
  • Thank you very much for all the time and energy you invested in our fabulous trip to the Netherlands. It was intense, informative and hugely enjoyable. I very much appreciated the time away from the Museum to reflect and discuss issues with the loveliest posse of colleagues you could hope to spend time with.

Personally, I felt that it was a real privilege to organise and accompany this trip. I learnt huge amounts from the participants as well as from the museums we visited – and also gained in confidence to take learning experiences into new territory, literally and metaphorically.

Adventures in cross-sector collaboration: learning so far from the Museums Hack Day at Southampton Solent University on 16 June 2017

What a busy day we had on Friday! We had a fantastic turnout at our Museums Hack Day at Solent University. Representatives from over 20 digital businesses and all four of Hampshire’s universities took up the challenge: to come up with innovative, financially sustainable solutions to intriguing real-world challenges brought along by our six selected museums:

The event had been long in the making – in development since last year, as creating an experience that works for three very different communities (commercial businesses, non-profit, often mainly volunteer-run museums and universities) is not easy! First, we created a cross-sector working group of three: me from South East Museum Development Programme; Postdoctoral Researcher Dr Alex Reynolds from Southampton Solent University’s Research and Innovation team and technology innovator Chris Cooper, then Chair of Digital South. My collaborators were introduced to me by Charles Freeman, facilitator of Creative Network South, when I approached him for ideas about how to connect museums with the creative industries in a meaningful way that could create real added value for both. Creative Network South also put in a sum of money to add to our Arts Council England investment and Southampton Solent University generously provided venue facilities at its gorgeous new conference centre ’The Spark’ as an in-kind contribution.

The first meeting between me, Alex and Chris, back in Summer 2016, immediately flagged up that the ‘ideal’ event might look very different depending on whether you were a museum curator, a technology entrepreneur or an academic researcher. So we ran a stakeholder workshop last November with representatives of all three constituencies, to find out more about their distinctive needs – and where the common ground was. At the stakeholder workshop we shared key points from a key source of inspiration, the Culture Hack Toolkit and set out our initial ‘straw person’ design for an event where teams would develop develop technical and creative ideas and compete for a seed funding pot plus plus business planning support package.


Stakeholder consultation event November 2016

We then ran some group discussions to get feedback and ideas from our stakeholders. Key things that we learned, and that influenced the plan for the main event:

  1. Businesses wanted a high quality museum problems to work on, and choice about which ones they addressed.
  2. Most of the interest from digital and creative stakeholders was in addressing audience-related challenges, rather than internally-focused ones purely about business management within the museum or collections management per se.
  3. We needed to use different language, marketing tools and delegate recruitment processes for each. This meant basically tripling the effort compared to a typical South East Museum Development Programme event targeted at museum people! It also meant that we needed a long run up to the main event, so we decided on a 6-month lead time. It was worth it to have such a great variety of players in the room.
  4. Several businesses also wanted the chance to present or pitch their ideas to the museums, and there was a tension between this and the collaborative idea development approach that some others favoured.
  5. Business stakeholders would be much more likely to engage if there was a financial incentive to take part. Many voiced experience of having been expected to ‘work for free’ by good causes and they emphasised that even with the best intentions, they can only do so much of this. A small business has to get some money in at some point to survive.
  6. From all three sectors there was an interest in using technology in the process somewhere.
  7. There was a very variable level of knowledge about what approaches have already been tried and tested, so that there was a real risk of duplication of effort, or reinventing the wheel. So we needed to create space within the event for people to share what they new about existing technologies and approaches, and to do further research.
  8. If there was a competitive element, they would want this to be judged by people with credible, relevant expertise.
  9. There were concerns about how effectively people would work together during the event, given the different working approaches and levels of experience in digital innovation.

All of these valuable learnings fed into the way we planned the main event on Friday:

  1. Before promoting the event to digital and creative businesses and academics, I ran a competitive ‘Expression of Interest’ call, inviting museums to apply for a place at the Museums Hack Day. We promoted this through our established South East Museum Development Programme communication channels. This call was heavily over subscribed and gave the working group plenty of scope to present the digital and creative businesses with six high quality museum problems to choose from. At the event, we gave the digital practitioners and academics a chance to decide which museum to team up with, using colour coded badges to make sure that every museum had a mixed team including at least one digital technologist, one creative, one business and one academic.
  2. The call specifically asked museum suggesting an audience-related (Museum Accreditation section 2) challenge that they would bring to the table.
  3. We then had some pro bono help from Ed Gould of creative agency Carswell Gould to write a ‘business-friendly’ promotional text, Barrie Robinson from Future Basics developed an appealing graphic to go with it and these formed the basis of our Eventbrite booking page. Meanwhile Alex drafted an email communication targeted towards to academics.
  4. Chris created a YouTube playlist for the event so that businesses signing up could upload a 1-minute showreel or promotional video. The link to this was shared via social media and the playlist also ran on a loop on a big screen throughout the event.
  5. We finalised the investment pot for the winning team at up to £2,000 (equivalent to the maximum annual allowance to a museum from out Development Grants) and also I researched other potential grant and investment opportunities, links to these were included in the delegates’ pack.
  6. As much as possible, the event management and promotion made use of digital: from the online booking portal, to the video playlist, the promotion of an event hashtag #DigiMus, the use of blogs and social media to promote the event and the Twitter list that I created to make it easy for attendees to network before, during and after the event.
  7. The day included an overview highlighting some latest good practice from Alex, technology entrepreneur Nikolaos Maniatis, founder of Museotechniki, contributed a case study of one of his projects and explained how the approach generated revenue for both museums and the business. Digital attendees were encouraged to bring wifi-enabled laptops or tablets, so that they could undertake research during the event
  8. We secured the involvement of a great panel. Initially this comprised: Stephen Brown, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship & Strategy at Southampton Solent University; Anra Kennedy, Content and Partnerships Director at Culture24; and Nikolaos Maniatis. As the event unfolded, it was also joined by Catherine Lee, Solent University’s Director of Reseach and Innovation and Ed Gould.
  9. Alex and I developed a ‘top tips’ guide for the teams, including a suggestion of steps to go through when working together; and Ed kicked off the group work with an energising call to action including an important reminder that when there are so many experts working together, listening to one another is key.

Sadly, Chris had to withdraw from the working group a few weeks before the event, and just as we were getting to the point where we were ready to recruit digital businesses. Alex and I got busy and pulled in all our networks. I spent a couple of busy evenings on Twitter, locating and approaching digital networks and this was very productive – for example, several members of the Eastleigh Tech hub responded, booking places and helping to spread the word to their contacts. Alex made great use of her Higher Education contacts to connect with faculty and postgraduate students across a range of digital and creative disciplines from Solent, Winchester, Southampton and Portsmouth Universities. Chris brought Ed and Nikolaos to the team and they both used social media, blogs and personal contacts to promote the event. Ed had been a key player in the Venturefest South event a few months ago and so had made connections with dozens of businesses with highly relevant capability.

With our combined efforts, we recruited an amazing diversity of digital and creative practitioners, including systems developers, 3D modellers, engineers, filmmakers, web designers, augmented reality specialists, games designers and digital artists. The range and depth of expertise in the academic attendees was amazing too, with researchers, lecturers and even professors in a plethora of digital, cultural and business disciplines.

It was a jam packed day of intensive activity, with our working groups spreading out and about in the breakout spaces of The Spark’s futuristic atrium and using a range of techniques to organise their group work and develop their ideas. Then after a working lunch, all reconvened in our main space, where the series of ‘3-minute pitches’ to the judging panel was scheduled to start.


Museums Hack Day June 2017: group work and pitching (photography by Ian Williamson of Focus Business Communications)

At this point, one of the museums let us know that their dialogue with the digital practitioners had produced an unexpected result. They had been asked a series of challenging questions, as the businesses worked to develop a clear brief. This prompted reflection by the museum, and its representatives had a powerful moment of insight, realising that they needed to get some organisational and strategic thing in place to be properly ready to implement the kind of digital innovation that they had been thinking about. So they withdrew from the competition at this point, which was both sad and sensible.

So we had five pitches, each different and interesting. After each pitch, the judges asked questions, all thought-provoking and some of them were really quite challenging. The judges were clearly taking their responsibilities very seriously and were very thorough in testing each of the proposals against the success factors which have driven the project from the outset, to look for the idea that would best:

  • Showcase local digital and creative talent
  • Raise the profile of the South’s cultural offer
  • Address the key challenge expressed by museums
  • Advance best practice in the museums sector
  • Enable collaboration, sharing and economies of scale
  • Draw sustainable financial investment into the cultural sector


Museums Hack Day June 2017: the panel hard at work (photography by Ian Williamson of Focus Business Communications)

After the pitches, the judges were sent away for 45 minutes of deliberation, cogitation and decision. We used this time to help the digital practitioners and academics to network more widely, outside their working groups, with a specially adapted version of good old ‘People Bingo.’

When we reconvened, Culture24’s Anra Kennedy was an impressive chair and spokesperson on behalf of the judging Panel. Each team in turn was provided with clear and constructive feedback on their pitch – what the judges had been impressed by and what they felt were its key areas for improvement.

And then Anra announced the judges’ decision. The Lightbox team was announced the winner and a very well-deserved win it was. IBM Design Intern Chloe Poulter, Professor Graeme Earl of University of Southampton, commercial artist Sam Allen and Dave Slater, Managing Director of touchscreen specilists InfoAktiv worked as a highly effective team alongside The Lightbox’s Lauren Jones, Beth Hopper and Amy Plewis to propose a project titled #ThinkOutsideThe Lightbox. They created a persona – this is a valuable technique to take a customer-centred approach to developing a service, which coincidentally we are currently using in a review of our programme communications. Using the persona they pictured a young woman in the Lightbox’s target demographic, and explored her lifestyle, needs and motivations. This helped them to develop the concept of using an interactive multimedia booth in a high-footfall location in the town centre to reach out to the target audience and engage non-visitors. View the presentation from the winning team’s pitch

After congratulating the winning team, and confirming arrangemetns for them to access the support package and seed funding pot, we provided some suggestions of where the other teams could access support to take their ideas forward, too.

We closed the event with an invitation to everybody to use a ‘Good because…’ ‘Even better if..’ wall and sticky notes to give us some immediate feedback – we will be doing a more detailed feedback survey in a few weeks. Alex has taken all the sticky notes and I look forward to reading them when we meet shortly for a review meeting. We’ll be doing further evaluation down the line, including following the progress of The Lightbox’s project, so there may be more blogs to come. But in the meantime, what are my immediate reflections on the event?

  • With such a diverse group of attendees, some of the groups really soared in terms of their team work – but others definitely struggled. Our speakers, judges and Hampshire Solent MDO Jaane Rowehl, acted as roving experts during the group work, chipping in with support and challenge. If doing something similar again, I would probably deploy one or two ‘home team’ members as team facilitators, to help struggling teams to put a process in place.
  • When doing something new, especially when working in partnership, it’s worth putting the extra time and effort in. This event took many times more preparation than an equivalent-scaled South East Museum Development Programme Event and had a much higher level of planning documentation, but there were several times during the day when I was really grateful for the planning we had put in and the clarity that this provided.
  • Disproportionately, late cancellations and no-shows to events are from people who specify special dietary requirements. We’ve observed this phenomenon consistently over years of running events and Friday was no exception. Around 5% of attendees notified us of a special dietary need when registering, but 30% of the half a dozen no-shows were from this group. No idea why this happens, there’s a PhD in there somewhere, when I have the time.

We’d suggested that attendees who wanted to carry on networking should head up to Mettricks in Guildhall Square. After clearing up, I’m afraid the ‘home team’ was too exhausted to join them! But I understand that a good number did go, and spent an enjoyable evening, including playing Quirk! “a ridiculously silly game for awesomely fun people” a current Kickstarter project developed by one of the brilliant creatives who made our day so special, Emma May of Emmerse Studios. What a great way to end the day, so sorry I missed out.

‘Museum Hack’ is registered as a trademark in the US by Museum Hack, LLC, a company based in NYC that provides museum tours. This event was not affiliated with nor endorsed by Museum Hack, LLC.

Mission, Market, Money? Reflections from the SEMDP’s ‘Creative Commercial Collections’ Study Visit to the Netherlands May 2017 – Day 2: ZuiderZee Museum

After breakfast we walked through picturesque Enkhuizen to our first host institution: The ZuiderZee Museum. Netherlands ‘Museum of the Year’ 2013, this indoor-and-outdoor museum uses collaborations with artists and craftspeople throughout its displays to interpret the stories of people who lived and worked on the shores of the ZuiderZee before the Afsluitdijk (IJsselmeer Barrier Dam) changed the sea into the Ijsselmeer inland waterway in 1932.

Our host at the ZuiderZee Museum, Femke van Drongelen, Head of Education and Presentation, had arranged an absolutely packed day of exploration around the theme of Creative Commercial Collections. Our ‘base camp’ was the delightful Koffiehuis Hoorn, with its delightful tiled interior, one of the historic buildings transported to Enkhuizen as part of its collection. First curator André Groeneveld introduced the museum and its evolution over 50 years from inception for opening. André highlighted the role of leadership in shaping the way that contemporary creative practice had come to play such an important role in the museum’s interpretive approach with directors during the 2000s using this as a strategy to make the museum more outward looking and relevant. Head of Collections Kees Hendricks highlighted that whilst few of the objects in the collection are outstanding in their own right, the combination of objects, houses and art creates a unique experience.


Next we headed out into the Outdoor museum, led by guide Anneke who gave us a fascinating insight into the range of interpretive techniques employed. Our primary focus was the Design Route – a trail of contemporary Dutch design objects in the outdoor museum related to ZuiderZee heritage, communities, trades and crafts. We also explored other interpretive approaches, including ‘in role’ costumed interpreters, hands-on demonstrations and more conventional museum displays and signage. Anneke’s background in anthropology came to the fore, as we explored the layers of interpretation and the way that the artistic interventions change the way that the past is brought to life for visitors. We also saw the range of retail units that are integrated into the outdoor museum. As well as a souvenir shop, there is a cheese warehouse, bakers shop and sweetshop, all in historic buildings brought from around the region. It was great to see the range on offer and get a general idea of the retail approach, but sadly none of the museum’s commercial or retail specialists were able to join us and so some of our group’s specific questions about the business decisions and results couldn’t be answered for us on the day. However we did get a general understanding that the museum is still significantly supported with public funding and, although it is being encouraged to widen its revenue streams, does not face the same level of financial imperative that most of the UK museums in the group are addressing as a matter of urgency.


Back in the Koffiehuis Hoorn we were joined for lunch by the museum director Stefan and then were treated to a most fascinating presentation by Thomas Eyck, a leading figure in the Dutch design world. His unconventional retrospective ‘10 Years of Thomas Eyck’ is currently on show in the Indoor Museum. Thomas showed how a study of art history and deep fascination with the creative processes of the past have driven his vision as a curator and retailer of contemporary Dutch design. He gave numerous examples of how museum collections had inspired his own work and that of the designers whose work he sells. Thomas gave valuable pointers to making design retail work commercially: go high end and sell in galleries – the museum retail market is not sufficient, he says, you need the world to sell your products.

Guide Rita then led us on a tour of the ‘10 Years of Thomas Eyck’ exhibition and other aspects of the Indoor museum, including the shop. Startlingly different from the retail offer in the Outdoor museum, this features a contemporary Dutch design-led offer. Many of the items are highly priced and derived from specific collaborations between the museum and makers, inspired by objects and narratives from the collections. We learned that this shop is not primarily focused on revenue generation, rather it plays a role in repositioning the museum as a player in the art and design scene, both in the Netherlands and internationally. We saw some of the highly successful design products that had emerged from collaborations between the museum and designers represented by Thomas Eyck – such as Christien Meindertsma’s Flax Ottoman, selected as a gift to be given from the Dutch Government to President Obama. And we came to understand that while there are financial benefits to these collaborations, they accrue to the designers, makers and retailers, rather than to the museum.


We returned to the Koffiehuis Hoorn to meet another Dutch designer who has conducted a series of fascinating collaborations with the ZuiderZee Museum and other museums. Jos Kranen is one half of renowned design studio Kranen/Gille. Jos took us through the fascinating creative process of creating a range of ZuiderZee lamps, an idea that started when curator Andre showed him behind the scenes in a store where the museum keeps reserve collection items for set dressing. Ceramic food storage jars became the basis of both individually crafted objects for museum display, and a production line of lamps that are sold with the museum’s logo on the base. We had a chance to discuss with Jos and the museum team some of the financial decisions that go into creating a saleable product based on a museum collaboration.

At the end of the day we headed to the museum’s Hindeloopen Café for a final chat and review. We discussed the financial model underpinning these collaborations and learned that whilst they are commercial, in that they are undertaken on a commercial basis by the design studio, they are not primarily commercial for the museum, which is actually an investor through commissions. The museum gains some income from items sold through its shop. However, income generation is not the primary motivation for the ZuiderZee Museum. It’s main goals in this kind of work are, firstly, to be a different way of delivering the museum’s mission – an innovative means to interpret the stories of people who lived and worked on the shores of the ZuiderZee – and to raise the profile of the museum with different audiences.

On the train on Day 1, Gwyneth had emphasised to the group the importance of deciding which of these goals was the priority in any creative commercial collections project at an early stage, as this will inform the kind of product developed, the design and commercial partners needed and the selection of distribution channels. Alistair captured these three factors, often in tension in a creative commercial collections project as ‘Mission, Money, Market’ and I present them for you here as a triangle of competing priorities to be balanced:


The tensions between these factors, and the difference in priority between our Dutch host museum and the UK museums in the group provided ample discussion fodder for the evening. And the De Enkhuizer Visafslag restaurant, although they had initially mislaid our reservation, made a great service recovery and provided us with ample dinner fodder. Our learning highlights from Day Two were on pink postits:

Day 2: ZuiderZee Museum (pink)

  • Ensure the museum message is evident and relevant in the creative commercial activity product you are developing
  • Don’t be discouraged by others’ success – firstly they’re not perfect, secondly they’re not directly comparable
  • The contemporary use of collections in displays can tell a powerful story – how this translates commercially is more problematical.
  • Design Week may be worth a visit for potential partnerships.
  • None of them seemed to make any/much money from the collaborations. What is your reason for doing it?
  • Using contemporary artists in the interpretation of the museum/collections
  • Think about whether your key motive is mission, money or marketing and focus on that outcome.
  • Artist museum-inspired work will not sell to mass market visitors
  • There’s lots of ways to build a brand identity but be clear about what you are about and why you are doing it
  • A collaboration can be “commercial” but not accrue financial benefits to the museum – e.g. if designer/maker/retailer gets the money
  • Rolling programme of themes – every five years – worth investigating to bring variety to static exhibits.
  • Commercial activity can have a wider remit than traditional interpretations suggest – but tread carefully
  • Branding would enable you to make money when working with emerging artists. Making money is not always possible, depends on your requirements.

Mission, Market, Money? Reflections from the SEMDP’s ‘Creative Commercial Collections’ Study Visit to the Netherlands May 2017 – Day 1: the seminar on the train

As part of our previous (2012-15) programme, my predecessor as Cultural Partnerships Officer, Katerina Kremmida, supported a partnership of museums (Hampshire Cultural Trust, National Motor Museum and Jane Austen’s House Museum) to secure Arts Council England funding for a project ‘Kickstart: Creative Commercial Collections’ to develop commercial opportunities, connecting with the creative economy, working with creative practitioners and businesses from across Hampshire.

The project is now well underway and we agreed with Arts Council that as part of our 2015-18 provision, we would deliver an event to share the learning from this project with other museums. Linking this to our work to encourage museums to work internationally, rather than a conventional sharing seminar I developed an alternative model that would create a very different environment in which to share and discover inspiring practice. And so we offered a study visit to two very different museums in the Netherlands that have interesting practice in creative commercial collections: the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen.

The leads from the three ‘Kickstart: Creative Commercial Collections’ museums were key to making this a success, being the key points of knowledge their museums’ experimentation through the project. All had a strong commitment to sharing their learning to the benefit of the wider museums community and a curiosity to learn about practice elsewhere:

Andrea Bishop, Director of Collections at the National Motor Museum

Gwyneth Campling, Commercial Product Manager with Hampshire Cultural Trust

Ashleigh Stimpson Retail Manager Jane Austen’s House Museum

In addition, we invited applications for the study visit to museums across the South East and South West of England. Applicants had to demonstrate the willingness both the learn and to share. An energetic and enthusiastic group of 12 secured places on the study visit, from a diverse range of museums. We had a great mix, with curatorial, interpretation and commercial specialists:

Emma Ayling, Director of The Priest’s House Museum

Kirsty Bell, Collections Support Officer at Southampton Arts and Heritage

Anna Bowman, Archivist at HMS Warrior, a joint post with University of Portsmouth

Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of The Charleston Trust (Bloomsbury in Sussex)

Rosalyn Goulding, Collections & Engagement Manager, St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery

Paul Griffiths, Head of Operations (and Trading Company Managing Director) at the Mary Rose Museum

Valerie Mills, Commercial Director of Brooklands Museum

Louise Musgrove, Commercial Manager at The Lightbox

Sarah Newman, Programmes Officer at Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum

On our first day, Tuesday, we met at up at St Pancras International, got through check in, passport control and security (not without its challenges to someone as myopic as me as the new high tech face recognition system requires you to take off your glasses and then follow instructions on a screen which, without glasses, I couldn’t see). Then had half an hour prior to boarding Eurostar, a key opportunity to create connections in the group and help it to gel as a learning community, via a game of People Bingo. I don’t know who first had the idea of People Bingo but I am very grateful to them, it’s an extremely useful tool. In this case, I’d structured the game to focus on people’s Creative Commercial Collections experience, based on information from their applications:


What a great group of people, who really rose to the challenge. Immediately the buzz of conversation and interaction was amazing. And to be frank, it never stopped from that point. Ashleigh was the first to complete her card, shout ‘Bingo’ and win the prize.


Once on the train, after our (rather surprising on a lunchtime journey) Eurostar light meal of croissant and jam we started the first of our seminar sessions. Apart from one blooper, Eurostar’s advance booking team were pretty obliging in providing groups of table seats to make this work.

All participants had prepared for this element by bringing notes and visual materials to answer the following questions: What have been your museum’s aims in undertaking commercial, creative collaborations? What have you done so far? What have been the results? (Including financial/commercial results e.g. additional revenue generated/costs incurred to your museum) What partnerships have you developed so far? Where have you had support (e.g. funding, advice) from? What has been successful? What has not worked? What are your next steps? What would be your 3 ‘top tips’ for someone trying to do something similar? People used a range of media to make this a really interesting way to travel and learn, bringing flip books, tablets and actual products to show to one another. We revisited these questions 3 times during the trip, and everyone’s commitment to keeping on topic made the train travel very productive learning time. By clustering the ‘not Kickstart’ participants in 3 groups of 3, and circulating the ‘Kickstart’ project reps between them, everyone had a chance to gain from the Kickstart project learning from three different perspectives: Hampshire Cultural Trust, National Motor Museum and Jane Austen’s House Museum – and also to find out about practice in each other’s museums.


Our train was a bit delayed so we missed our connection in Rotterdam, so it was late and dark by the time we got to Enkhuizen. By this time people were pretty tired after a full day of seminar-ing and changing trains, so the planned walking tour of the historic town was sacrificed in favour of checking in at the friendly Suider See Hotel and getting some dinner. The nearby Onder de Wester Restaurant did us proud on the limited budget I’d negotiated with them! Rather than have a detailed review of learning from the day, I have each person a green sticky note, to write a key learning point from the day on, for discussion at breakfast. This formed the first of 4 ‘leaves’ that would, by the end of the trip, make up each individual’s ‘mini learning log’ and would collectively create a record of the group’s reflections.

The following morning at breakfast, people looked at one another’s green sticky notes and compared key learning points from Tuesday. Here is the collated content of the green sticky notes:

Day 1: peer learning exchange on Eurostar (green)

  • Don’t jump into producing artist work. Get the price right
  • Ensure that the whole museum team especially the curators are involved and on board with the use of collections commercially
  • Licensing is time heavy – needs and takes time to set up. Trial and error with partners – and some won’t work out. Style guide.
  • The importance to sorting out all the legal and other details before rushing into a collaboration.
  • Planning for clear outcomes is essential. Research is never wasted. Collaboration is always a good idea.
  • I’ve learnt how vital commercial partnership is. No organisation will survive without skills across creative and commercial ways of working.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to explore all avenues.
  • Sources of help e.g. ACE Enterprises.
  • Decide your museum’s priorities first (income generation? profile/brand building? collections access/interpretation?) – this determines your approach, partners, products and distribution channels.
  • Just like you need to know your audience, you need to know your market, before producing goods.
  • Employing the right person in retail/commercial roles can impact quickly and very positively.
  • So many museums are without the right skills/experience to exploit the commercial potential of their collections.
  • Commissioning style guide for £3-5k – worth exploring?
  • Need for our new products to have a wider reach/market e.g. wholesale via other channels and using specialist expertise.