Research to understand, and learn from, museums that have experienced significant change in the past five years
Pomegranate and Scott Dickinson & Co Ltd. for Arts Council England, 2017 (publication forthcoming)
As a local authority museum, we’re a dying breed.
There’s a lot of negativity around change … It can be self-perpetuating. So many museums are changing and a lot of it’s positive. It is not all doom and gloom. It feels like a one-sided debate. (Research interviewees)
Change, resilience and sustainability are issues that will continue to preoccupy and be discussed by museums. Our research for Arts Council England, undertaken in September 2016, explored significant change experienced by museums between 2010 and 2016. The lessons learned and action taken by local authority, regimental, university and independent museums (including those managed by volunteers) identified forms of change and drivers.
Forms of change in museums included changes of: mission and focus, leadership, legal status, organisational structure, staffing structure, business model, buildings, collections, and services.
External drivers of change included, predictably, reductions in the level of public sector funding to museums, especially from local authorities; Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)’s continued investment in museums, which is a force for, and an enabler of, change in the sector; demographic change and changing visitor and community expectations; technological change, including use across all aspects of the business and new ways of communicating with and engaging visitors; and changes in the local cultural offer, which may create clusters of attractions, which increase visitor numbers, or may result in competition that attracts people away from museums.
The most significant internal factors promoting change in museums were identified as leadership and culture. Poor and dysfunctional leadership, if left unchecked, leads to crises. On the other hand, visionary and effective leadership, linked to political and strategic acumen, helps to identify the need for change, its initiation and management. Other significant internal factors supporting change include the production of an open and transparent plan for change, which is communicated to all constituencies; the analysis of timely and accurate management information along with data on the external environment, in particular demographics; and the flexibility of buildings.
Relatively few museums considered their collections to have driven significant change, although many cited the centrality of the collection to the museum. The need for further discussions about the relevance and purpose of collections was viewed as a sector-wide issue.
Successful change in museums is, first and foremost, anticipated; integrates commercialisation, collection development, and community engagement; is led from the top, but distributes leadership through the organisation; is dependent on the committed support of staff and volunteers; is based on organisational ambition, political awareness, pragmatism, and is often facilitated by grants and capital investments, which enable better use of collections and spaces that enable income generation.
Cultural change was highlighted as a major element of change and, for some museums, the most important.
Museums reported that community engagement with plans to change organisational or governance arrangements was limited. Museums were more likely to involve communities in rethinking access to services.
Common barriers to successfully implementing change were often the opposite of success factors, in particular; lack of consensus among senior managers and/or board members with regard to the changes required; lack of awareness of the demographic, social, economic and political context in which the museum operates; insufficient capacity, and an absence of meaningful, accurate and timely management information on the drivers of cost and income.
Recommendations for museums and local authorities are proposed based on planning, clarity of decision making, action and timescales and reviewing the outcomes of change.
Place branding and heritage
TBR, Pomegranate and Middlesex University for Historic England, 2016 (published at https://historicengland.org.uk/research/heritage-counts/2016-heritage-and-place-branding/)
This report explores the relationship between place making and culture, which is a current policy focus. The themes explored include communities shaping places; economic development through tourism, and effective cross-cultural working though such initiatives as the Great Place Scheme and Cities of Culture. Place branding and Heritage explores Business Improvement District’s (BIDs) engagement with place and heritage to support local economic development. The report’s case studies share issues and successful approaches by BIDs across England.
Intangible Heritage: Literature Review and Stakeholder Interviews
Pomegranate for HLF, 2016 (unpublished)
“We must continually recognise that objects and places are not, in themselves, what is important about cultural heritage. They are important because of the meanings and uses that people attach to them, and the values they represent. Such meanings, uses and values must be understood as part of the wider context of the cultural ecologies of our communities.” (Palmer, 2009)
In a world in which tangible heritage currently constitutes the main focus of the UK’s heritage policy and funding, it could be said that intangible heritage is a Cinderella. The stakeholders interviewed for this report suggested that there is considerable ambivalence towards, if not discomfort around, intangible heritage within the heritage sector. But, as recent research for the Heritage Lottery Fund found, it is intangible heritage that people most profoundly identify with and which carries the greatest meaning for them (BritainThinks, 2015),
Many of the stakeholders interviewed for our research welcomed HLF’s serious consideration of intangible heritage as a way of opening up the discussion or “debate” about intangible heritage. HLF is perceived as being well-placed to raise the profile of intangible heritage and play a leading role in locating it center-stage within the discourses around developing policies related to culture, communities and place.
But, not all aspects of intangible heritage are viewed positively and decisions about what intangible heritage comprises and how it might be interpreted are contested (Northern Ireland Assembly, 2011). Indeed, some of the stakeholders whom we interviewed even questioned whether intangible heritage requires support.
This, then, was the context within which HLF commissioned Pomegranate to undertake a literature review and stakeholder consultation into the nature and impact of its support for intangible heritage across the UK. A parallel research project, undertaken by Museums Galleries Scotland reviewed the impact of intangible heritage projects that HLF has already supported.
Our study highlighted seven issues:
- questions of definition;
- questions of time;
- the language used to define and discuss intangible heritage;
- the relationship between intangible and tangible heritage;
- the politics of intangible heritage;
- risks to intangible heritage, and
Several interviewees suggested that questions of definition have a tendency to dominate discussions about intangible heritage, and can lead to “analysis paralysis”. However, they had little doubt that conventional ideas about heritage should be challenged and that intangible heritage is not necessarily the same as oral history or memory. The intangible is understood to give meaning to both the tangible, and to peoples’ experiences of heritage more generally. Four potential definitions emerged from interviewees’ reflections – namely, that intangible heritage is
- anything that is not physical or material heritage is intangible heritage – “you can’t touch it”;
- about the ordinary, the everyday and family. It may not be grand or spectacular;
- living heritage (or living culture). As such it is identified and defined by communities and embodied in individual and community skills, knowledge and understanding. It comprises forms of heritage that are practiced, transmitted, shared and passed on across generations. It is, therefore, contemporary and open to change, and
- associated with specific areas of cultural heritage within the contexts of cultural diversity, sustainable development, human rights, cultural heritage generally and safeguarding. These include “oral traditions and language; performing arts; social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practice concerning nature and the universe” and “traditional craftsmanship” (UNESCO, 2003).
Discussions of these definitions raise questions of time, language and politics. The issue at the heart of all these definitions is whose ‘voice’ is heard and who is making decisions about heritage, and on what basis. It follows, that the role of heritage professionals, in particular, in determining what is heritage and heritage priorities was regarded as being open to question.
BritainThinks (2015). 20 years in 12 places. London: HLF. Available at http://www. hlf. org. uk/about-us/research-evaluation/20-years-heritage
Northern Ireland Assembly Research and Library Service (2011) Heritage and Cultural Rights International Standards Northern Ireland Assembly. Available at http://archive. niassembly. gov. uk/researchandlibrary/2011/2611. pdf
Palmer, R. (2009) Preface, in Council of Europe (2009) Heritage and Beyond. Strasbourg: Council of Europe
UNESCO (2003)Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Available at http://www. unesco. org/culture/ich/en/convention
Museum Development Impact Evaluation
TBR, Pomegranate and Scott Dickinson & Co Ltd for Arts Council England, 2016 (published at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/download-file/Museums_development_evaluation_Dec_2016_0.pdf)
The museums sector frequently regards museum development as an important source of support for non-National Portfolio museums. This review of the impact of the 2012-2015 Museum Development programme sought to identify what difference it had made to museums, how the need for support was assessed, whether any impacts were sustained and how the programme was valued. While it was possible to discern its impact on museums, the consistency with which change was reported and the commitment to sustaining change both emerged as challenges. Clearer identification of museums’ needs and the sharing of agreed good practice across the regions would considerably contribute to the value of the programme.
Research to understand the resilience, and challenges to this, of Local Authority museums
TBR, Pomegranate and Scott Dickinson & Co Ltd for Arts Council England, 2015 (published at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/innovation-and-resilience/sector-resilience#section-1)
The Economic Impact of Museums in England
TBR, Pomegranate and Scott Dickinson & Co Ltd for Arts Council England, 2015 (published at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/download-file/Economic_Impact_of_Museums_in_England_report.pdf )