Advocacy matters

Stuart Davies, 02.03.2010
Tell the world about your achievements, says Stuart Davies
Whenever elections – local or national – are on the horizon, or when budgets are to be set, the word advocacy is heard around museum corridors and there is a general scramble to marshal the evidence that we are worth supporting.

This is of course essential.

But better still is that we continuously advocate and advocate for the long term, not just for whatever is about to impact upon us.

To be good at that we need to build stronger advocacy cultures within our museums and within the agencies that support them.

To start with we need to overcome our boredom with the cliché that every member of our staff is an advocate for the museum. Everybody needs to be clear about the museum’s purpose and to want to tell others about it.

This includes volunteers, and friends, and must extend to agencies, universities and schools.

One of the things that museums are often not very good at when planning work is building in funds to tell the world what we are achieving. The focus is on the effort and cost required to initiate and carry out, neglecting to allow for communicating the outcomes and value of the museum's activities.

To do this effectively we need to think about who might want to know and who would be valuable to inform and influence. In other words, the advocacy needs to be built into programme and project planning.

Another thing that is sometimes neglected is the adequate recording of what was actually done and who was affected by it. This may be as simple as photographing an exhibition or simple recording of people’s reactions to what is being done.

This then both provides advocacy materials and the raw material for a more substantial evaluation of what we achieve.
Equally, good relations with local media continues to be a bedrock of engaging the interest and support of local communities over the long term. Most museums know the importance of this but occasionally we let ourselves down by not keeping it going consistently, year in, year out.

But these relationships do not just happen, and this is one reason why the MA is focusing its ...Love Museums campaign on refreshing advocacy skills within museums.

We believe that building a sustainable advocacy culture within our museums is crucial to our long term wellbeing.

Click here for more information about ...Love Museums

To read Stuart's previous blogs, please click here


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MA Member
25.03.2010, 19:24
Too little, too late?
Budgets for the vast majority of us have been set, or predicted, cuts have been generated, and we all wait, with our fingers crossed, that the cuts that come are no larger than those we are already making. Advocacy is really important, but it was needed at least a year ago, not now. The decisions that have been taken by many local authorities are unlikely to sway greatly, and when a museum service is put up against weekly bin collections, the bins always win.

So what now? How can we take the idea of advocacy forward? Rebuild the case for culture, and the role of museums in that, in the new regime - a regime that sees less funding, tighter belts, and potentially an increasingly 'cutting' government? This is what we need to face up to, we need to be talking about the elephant in the room, and discussing how we can make museums relevant to more central policies, regional policies and local concerns. The silly thing is, we can do this, we have the information, we talk about it all the time...only we talk to each other.

Working for a local authority, I know members don't 'get' museums; don't realise the real community benefits they offer, and see the occasional impressive temporary exhibition, or big purchase as the be all and end all of what museums are. We are damaged, we will be more damaged before the end of the year, and we need to face this harsh but real truth. And we need the MA to lead the fight for the museum cause.

I find it worrying how many authorities have NI10 as one of their key indicators (I believe three!) compared to NI11 (arts), and how ACE run workshops on how to better the arts offer, join up people and organisations and really 'sell' their offer - for museums, this is the real failure of the MLA and Renaissance, and failure we are all now suffering the effects of.

So what for the future...we will have to wait and see, but selling ' museums' is a love, for many museums, that is too little, too late.
MA Member
23.03.2010, 15:36
I think this is exactly right - however surely museums need to be a bit cleverer about *who* we want to push the message of the valuable work we are doing to...

People who already visit museums generally appreciate and see the value in the work that they do, the same applies (most of the time) for those who work in the if it is the case that we need to look towards the funders (be it government or other sources) then we need to find a way of using a language that really works instead of the standard intrinsic/ economic/ social inclusion arguments that see museums going round and round in circles when we try and advocate for the work that we do.
04.03.2010, 12:27
I think this usefully flags up the internal dimension to advocacy, which can be overlooked. Before we begin to advocate we should be sure that what we want say matches what we do. Good leadership is crucial.

I would also add that there is a wealth of evidence and data (just see the many advocacy documents doing the rounds) that can be used to help make the case. We don't always have to reinvent the wheel!
03.03.2010, 12:19
Thanks Stuart. This is an important message in the runup to the election, but also a good reminder that advocacy is not just for pre-election times. Museums need to be getting out there and bigging up their work throughout the year, every year.