Bold Futures - Museums Association

Bold Futures

Working together to build a shared, strategic vision for museums, galleries and science centres

Bold Futures was a UK-wide STEM engagement programme from the Museums Association, Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC) and The Liminal Space, supported by Wellcome Trust.

Emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic, it brought together a science centre and museum cohort of active champions for community representation and public engagement. The programme delivered values-led work involving underrepresented audiences and exploring how this could have an impact on future purpose and financial sustainability.

As part of Bold Futures, seven capacity building grants totalling £157,000 were awarded across the science and discovery centre network. These grant projects ran through 2023 and you can read case studies of the funded work on the ASDC website.

Each of the funded organisations contributed to research led by ASDC into shared outcome areas to measure and value the impact of inclusive and participatory practice. ASDC will publish a guide to using the outcome areas later in 2023.

The seven projects have many themes in common, despite a spread of locations, participants, topics and outcomes. These range from the truisms of project working – such as things taking more time than anticipated – to those that indicate more genuine steps towards sharing power with communities and participants.

Children taking part in an interactive activity
Science Oxford

One approach, which demonstrated to groups that they had real power to influence change, was to grant access to areas of the organisation not normally seen by visitors.

For instance, Dynamic Earth embraced multiple different partners to develop plans for a new ‘community core’ hub at the science centre, and Connor Ellis, head of learning and engagement, explains the approach: “The co-creation really came through involving community partners in more ‘back of house’ processes, so it was a bit more of influencing things that audiences wouldn’t normally influence under normal ways of running a science centre… That was the big bit of growth from my perspective.”

From the participants’ perspective, this was shown to create a sense of ownership and pride over the project with the knowledge that they were involved from the start and being listened to.

An ambassador from Euan’s Guide, one of the groups involved, said: “It was a privilege to be asked to take part in the consultation. To be an advocate for accessibility is so important and Dynamic Earth take our considerations seriously and are open to hearing suggestions… To consult with a venue that is actively interested in accessibility is brilliant and this kind of forward planning ensures that everyone can benefit from changes.”

Similarly, Armagh Observatory and Planetarium invoked guidance from autistic young people in the form of a youth steering panel to better design inclusive organisational practices and engagement experiences. The simple gesture of allowing the young people to choose the boardroom as their meeting place gave them a sense of empowerment.

People gather around a plasma ball
More than Words and Middletown Centre for Autism at Armagh Observatory and Planetarium

Joanne McCracken, founder of the autism support group More Than Words, shared the lasting impact of this for the young people: “They are still talking about it; still telling people how important they were in the boardroom… It’s giving the children a wee voice to explain their struggles… Not many people ask the autistic child ‘what is it you don’t like about a place?’. The planetarium gives them an opportunity to speak and not be embarrassed about their struggles.”

The longer-term impacts that these projects will have on the organisations and the communities involved will continue to be researched and explored. What is already clear is the importance of the meaningful relationships developed between the science centres and their community-based partners.

As examples of this, Science Oxford has made substantial progress towards making their centre a place where the communities on their doorstep see themselves as welcome and represented, while Cambridge Science Centre has developed new ways of working with a local secondary school and youth groups via their youth steering group initiative. 

The programme began in September 2022 with workshops for leaders from museums and science centres to explore shared challenges and opportunities. We asked: how can we work together to build a shared, strategic vision for museums, galleries and science centres? See the links below for resources from the workshops.  

The ideas and learning from these workshops and from the seven Bold Futures projects live on through Mindsets + Missions which aims to explore them further through cross-sectoral research and innovation-focused projects with underrepresented groups.

Explore your own Bold Futures

All the materials used in the Bold Futures workshops are available to download below, with a guide to how you can use them with your team to develop ideas that might innovate within your organisation. 

Lead image: credit to Cambridge Science Centre