Background - Museums Association


The Sticks and Stones research project was developed as part of the Museums Association’s commitment to wellbeing in the sector from our research in response to feedback about work-related stress and treatment, and in response to this specific issue being raised by Dr Alexandra Woodall, based on her personal experience of bullying.

The research was launched in 2019 with the following aims:

  • To raise the profile of issues of bullying and bullying behaviours in the sector
  • To signpost online information and support
  • To undertake ‘preliminary research’
  • To publish the research findings and recommendations

The research highlights there is a real and significant issue of bullying in the sector. This is an ethical, moral and legal issue that needs to be addressed.

2020 saw unique challenges for museums that have been felt within and beyond the museum walls. It has been both a time for action and reflection on the purpose and work of museums and society.

2020 also created an imperative to enact change, and the Sticks and Stones research provides additional information about the experience of those who work in and with museums, and gives us the opportunity to create a safe working environment free from the risks and impacts of bullying and bullying behaviours.

From a workforce perspective we have experienced a transition to working from home, being furloughed, and seen an increase in redundancy programmes as a result of the global pandemic.

Black Lives Matter has given focus and impetus for museums to look more deeply at their inclusive practices and commitment to anti-racism.

The extent to which both the global pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement have affected the experience of bullying has not yet been explored but it is clear that addressing bullying will have positive impacts for individuals.

Creating a culture where those that work in and with museums feel and know they are in a safe environment and can meet their maximum potential is a priority.

These changes will also address needs across the whole of the museums sector:

  • Attracting and retaining the best diverse talent – by supporting and nurturing all staff
  • Creating a culture of creativity and supporting idea generation – by valuing the views and opinions of all
  • Enabling agile and flexible working – by trusting and empowering staff

For this research we adopted the following definitions of bullying:

‘Bullying is offensive, abusive, malicious, insulting and/or intimidating behaviour that occurs on more than one occasion.’

Anne-Marie Quigg, ‘Bullying in the Arts’¹

‘Bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.’

Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service

¹ Bullying in the Arts: Vocation, Exploitation and Abuse of Power, Publisher: Routledge; 1st edition (28 April 2017), ISBN-10: 1138895040, ISBN-13: 978-1138895041