Museum development officers: put storytelling at the heart of your job

Jude Habib, 20.06.2012
MDOs are so busy going about their work supporting the sector, they are forgetting to be storytellers, says Jude Habib
What do you get when you bring 40 or so Museum Development Officers (MDOs) together to share ideas? A lot of energy, that's for sure.

It's not often that I get the opportunity to spend time out of the office to consider, with others, the importance of museum development.

So I invited myself along to the Museum Development Network Conference for people who have such an important role in supporting and encouraging museum staff across the country. Such was the importance of the gathering that not one but two representatives from Arts Council England came along too.

MDOs are a rare breed. They come in all different shapes and sizes but at their core they are passionate about their work and the role museums play within their communities.

Yet I don't think they really do enough to champion what they do. Central to their role is to contributing to the development, improvement and sustainability of museums.

In this economic climate that is a huge challenge. Like other sectors they face cuts in funding and posts, increased responsibility and the same pressure (as many face) to deliver more for less. But eavesdropping on conversations around the room they are clearly a resilient bunch.

As individuals, museum development officers are change creators, influencers, visionaries, networkers and community champions and trusted partners. Putting simply, they are a 'resource' to be treasured.

However, MDOs are so busy going about their daily work supporting the museum sector that they are forgetting to be storytellers. This is a skill that should not be underestimated.

There was wide agreement at the conference that this was the case and that they need to be more confident to tell stories about what they see on a regular basis.

This storytelling isn't just to be shared within the sector but to the widest possible audience – from local authority managers who might question whether MDOs are worth funding to local communities who use the museums. Social and digital media provide amazing opportunities to capture what's going on within museums at a grassroots level.

And, of course, MDOs can actively encourage museum staff to be storytellers too. We hear about the Tate galleries of this world but what about Crich Tramway Museum or Mansfield Museum?

I have no doubts that museum development officers and museum staff will grab the opportunities storytelling will bring them. I look forward to reading and hearing these stories – and of course sharing them too.

Jude Habib is director of social and digital media training and production company Sounddelivery and is passionate about storytelling – follow her in Twitter @judehabib

By Jude Habib for Guardian Culture Professionals Network