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 southeastmuseums.org
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.