Decolonisation Confidence and Skills programme - Museums Association

Decolonisation Confidence and Skills programme

Our Decolonisation Confidence and Skills programme is now underway, providing support for people who work in and with museums to advance their decolonising practice through a series of in-person and online modules and events throughout 2022 and 2023.

In 2022 we advertised to recruit a cohort of people to be part of the Decolonisation Collective, and a cohort to join our Decolonisation Leaders’ Network. You can find information about both initiatives below.

Decolonisation Collective

What is the Decolonisation Collective?

The Decolonisation Collective is a group of museum professionals embarking on a journey to learn about decolonisation and its importance to all areas of museum practice.

The programme introduced participants to some of the histories and theories that inform this and will help them tackle some common concerns and myths that have built up around it. Importantly, it created a space for thinking, learning and reflection to support members as they develop their understanding and build an approach that sharpens the lens through which they look at all their work.

As part of the collective it is hoped that participants will develop the confidence to become agents of change and be able to connect decolonial thinking and practice to contemporary inequalities and to the potential of the museum to shape our understanding of them.

What did it involve?

As part of the group, members were among the first to access the Museum Essentials module Introducing Decolonisation in Museums. In addition, they were invited to participate in a series of workshops, talks and events, which will highlight different aspects of decolonisation work and encourage reflection on a range of museum practices

These five events, spread out from September 2022 to June 2023, were a chance to deepen understanding of the issues and develop thinking on the ideas that participants were introduced to in the Museum Essentials module. These events were online, with the final event having an option of in-person attendance as well.

Importantly, participants have a forum to share their thoughts with others who are also newly embarking on this work. And as the first cohort of learners taking the module, they are uniquely placed to feed back their experiences and help us shape the direction of the support we provide in this field.

Who was it for?

The programme was for everyone who works in and with museums in the UK. It was aimed primarily at people who are coming to this area of thought and practice for the first time, but also contained content for those who have had some exposure to the ideas but want to learn more.

Decolonisation Leaders’ Network

What is the Decolonisation Leaders’ Network?

The Decolonisation Leaders’ Network is a cohort of museum professionals recruited to help influence policy, process and practice in the sector so that decolonisation is not only embedded into the everyday work of museums, but harnessed explicitly into conversations about contemporary inequalities, particularly around anti-racism.

The network aims to influence a significant culture shift in the sector – in the past commitments to this work have too often been sporadic, piecemeal and overly dependent on extraneous funding streams or sudden shifts in the status quo. To break this cycle, we wanted to ask why, and created a cohort of people who can help ensure decolonisation stays on the map as a central pillar of all museum work. 

We hope that this provided an opportunity for like-minded leaders to come together to share and innovate ideas and practice that will further ignite the potential for museums to be engines of progressive social change.

What did it involve?

The network met three times over the year of the commitment in various in-person locations as well as being accessible online. 

The three sessions asked people to consider some of the challenging underlying questions of decolonial work, and faced some of the more uncomfortable, psychological barriers that inhibit progress.

They were policy and action-led facilitated workshops. It is hoped that through this frank exploration the network will be able to develop practical strategies for change that they can advocate for across the sector.  

In addition, members of the network were invited to attend events/talks/workshops comprising the Decolonisation Collective programme, so they could be part of a wider conversation between those with experience of tackling decolonisation and those who are just starting to think about it.

The Decolonisation Leaders’ Network was also asked to suggest and plan pathways and strategies for continuing this work into the future.

Who was it for?

A ‘leader’ in this context may be anyone who is leading on this work in their museum and/or is able to effect real change, both within their institution and in the sector. Participants needed:

  • A good understanding/experience of at least one aspect of decolonisation theory/practice in museums
  • An awareness of how and why the sector needs to be more equal, diverse, and inclusive
  • An ability to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ practice and the courage to speak ‘truth to power’ on these issues
  • To be ready to challenge assumptions
  • A commitment to sharing ideas and knowledge
  • To have the full support of their organisation to explore change and grassroots innovation in this field
  • A commitment to embedding and moving this work forward, both within and beyond the lifetime of the network

Image credit: (From left to right) Laurence Westgaph, National Museums Liverpool’s Historian in Residence, Jean-Francois Manicom, Lead Curator of Transatlantic Slavery & Legacies at the International Slavery Museum and Susan Goligher from Afrograph: Specialists in African Arts at a Project Sankofa event © National Museums Liverpool