Preparing for change

Piotr Bienkowski, 06.09.2017
Transformers roadshows
How do you prepare people to lead change?

This was a key question the Paul Hamlyn Foundation asked as its programme, Our Museum: Communities and Museums as Active Partners, came to an end last year.

The programme was about embedding active participation through a process of organisational change. We had learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and had produced a report, evaluations, and an extensive online resource of animations, films and written documents.

Let’s face it: we all know that most reports and evaluations gather dust and are quickly forgotten. We wanted to ensure that these would make an impact, contributing to real change in the sector. So instead of packing up our bags once the reports were published, we thought about who we needed to influence in order to achieve that real change.

Although the programme was about organisational change, it is an obvious truth that change starts with people. So we needed to target the current and future directors of museums and galleries, those who are leading change now and who will change our sector in the future.

That’s why we partnered up with the Museums Association’s Transformers: Influence programme, which is about supporting mid-career museum professionals to become change agents, to develop innovative ways of working, and to be inspired to make change happen through museums and communities working as active partners.

Three Transformers Our Museum in Action roadshows were held in July, at three of the venues which took part in the programme: National Museum Wales in Cardiff, The Lightbox in Woking, and St Mungo’s, part of Glasgow Museums. These were a vibrant mix of sharing learning, perspectives from community partners, project surgeries and site tours.

Each venue shared how it used the Our Museum process to deepen engagement with its community, and encouraged participants to explore and experiment, testing how the ideas might be applied back at base.

It was the simple, easy to fix approaches that particularly seemed to inspire the delegates. Yes, change can – and usually does – take time, and it can be complex and scary; but there are simple things you can do to start.

I showed a short film about how Bristol Culture arranged staff tours to give staff a better understanding of what is going on in the communities around them, to make them familiar with media contacts and to build their confidence. Delegates recognized this as an easy mechanism to underline that participation is everyone’s job.

I was impressed by the wide range of those who took part in Transformers, all of whom are committed to change. Their optimism and energy was infectious. In particular, they were interested in how to involve communities right at the start, rather than bringing them in to rubber-stamp projects already decided by the museum.

But they also discussed the difficulties and challenges of participatory work and looked at the obstacles to progress within their own organisations, and tried to find joint solutions.

In this way, Transformers is creating a community of current and future leaders who are committed to change and are linked into a network of like-minded colleagues whose careers will develop in parallel. It’s having that network of support that is one of the most important factors in leading change.

Piotr Bienkowski is the project director of the Our Museum programme, Paul Hamlyn Foundation