HOW CAN YOU BUILD A SUSTAINABLE
FUTURE FOR YOUR MUSEUM?
         MUSEUM CONSULTANT, CAROL SCOTT, USES AN INSTITUTION'S VALUE TO ACHIEVE MAXIMUM IMPACT WITH STAKEHOLDERS AND THE PUBLIC.
Carol Scott

Negotiating with the public

Carol Scott - Sunday, October 20, 2013

In August, I attended the International Council of Museums (ICOM) Triennial Conference in Rio de Janeiro.  The exciting theme of the conference, ‘Museums+ Creativity= Social Change’, reflects a focus on the social role of museums that is gaining momentum in many counties. 

Contributing to social change, addressing social issues, creating social impact are subjects at the forefront of museum discussions these days.The UK’s Museums Association has taken this agenda onboard with their bold vision for role of museums in the next decade.  Museums Change Lives’[1], the title of their 2020 plan, focuses on the role that museum can play in fostering well-being, building communities, raising awareness of environmental issues and engaging in conversations around inspiring ideas. These initiatives are directed at building positive social value in the public sphere.

But for whom is this agenda of social change directed? Who are the recipients of our bold vision? If we undertake actions that impact on people and change their lives, what role do they have in deciding the vision and the actions taken?

Mark Moore, who wrote Creating public value: strategic management in government [2], believes that the public are the true authorisers of any value created by public institutions and that the public themselves have a role as co-producers of that value. He argues for ‘closer linking of users and producers in creative joint development of products and services...’ (Benington in Moore and Benington 2011, 45)[3].

Co-production involves negotiating values. Sound simple?  In 2009, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation published ‘Whose cake is it anyway’?[4], a study exploring the way that British museums and galleries engage in co-production with the public. The study was highly critical, finding that...the actual experience of engagement and participation frequently revealed a level of control, risk aversion and ‘management’ by the organisations that served to undermine its impact and value.

I don’t think that outcome is unique to British museums. 

The lesson here is that co-production involves a level of risk and a willingness on the part of museums to be challenged by different voices and new views. Co-production requires museums to share authority with others.  The public need to be seen as ‘active agents’ rather than just ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘recipients’ of museum initiatives.

Importantly, the Paul Hamlyn study defined co-production as ‘enabling individuals or groups to shape or modify an activity so that it becomes a different thing(Lynch, 2009, 16). In short, if we are going to embark on social change-and- if we are going to engage the public in co- creating that change, then museums must be prepared to admit ‘other’ values.

[2] Moore, MH 1995, Creating public value: strategic management in government, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

[3] Moore M. and Benington J. (eds) 2011. Public Value: Theory and Practice, Palgrave and Macmillan, London.

[4] Lynch, B. 2009, Whose cake is it anyway? , Paul Hamlyn Foundation, London, UK. 

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