A collaborative investigation into engagement and participation in 12 museums and galleries in the UK.
In 2009, Paul Hamlyn Foundation2 commissioned a study of engagement in museums and art galleries. Focusing on UK museums and galleries of varying sizes and governance, all of which are well known for their commitment to public engagement, it asked staff and community partners what was understood by engagement and participation in these organisations, how well it was working, and where these museums and galleries thought their public engagement work was heading.
A confidential process that applied participatory theatre techniques3 allowed professionals and community partners from the museums and galleries to open up courageously to dialogue and debate. Most importantly, it allowed trust to develop and thus for very frank views to be exchanged and examined collaboratively. What happened frequently surprised all involved.
As a result of this process, in early 2011 the Foundation supported a further series of ‘surgeries’ for each of the organisations to begin to plan a process of change. Some of the organisations have since formed clusters around particular areas of practice such as inter-arts and inter-agency working, transferable skills and capability-development, and strategic partnerships with local organisations and local authorities. These clusters are already engaged in exciting out-of-the-box thinking about new organisational models and partnership processes. For some, it has meant refocusing on their community foundations, reaffirming the sense of collaboration with their local communities that helped establish the organisation in the first place.
The organisations taking part in this research project were:
This set of urban and rural museums and galleries from across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales thus includes two large national museum services, medium and larger local authority urban services (a couple
with multiple sites), a university museum and some smaller independent museums and galleries.