Our influence – museum practice - Museums Association

Our influence – museum practice

The Collections Fund is an integral part of the MA’s campaign for values-led, socially-engaged practice. It is positioned to inform and – through funding and learning dissemination – deliver MA campaigns and policy.

In 2018 we published the Power to the People framework to help museums understand and improve their participatory practice and community engagement.

The framework provides benchmarks of best practice, showcases excellence in this field and supports museums to develop strong and sustainable connections to their communities. In our 2021 members’ survey 42% of respondents reported using the framework in the last year.

We have also produced Measuring Socially Engaged Practice: a Toolkit for Museums, which has had over 1,145 views and was reported as used in the last year by 43% of respondents in our members’ survey.

Members survey
used Power to the People
used Measuring Socially Engaged Practice

In 2019, learning from the Collections Fund underpinned production of the Empowering Collections report; a strategy for the future of UK collections that gave 13 recommendations for change in the museum sector. With others, the MA has implemented a number of the recommendations, including: 

  • Commitment to workforce diversity as demonstrated by projects such as Cornwall Museums Partnership’s “Citizen Curators” programme.  
  • Decolonising museums with our new guidance, Supporting Decolonisation in Museums and Decolonisation Confidence and Skills programme and seen in EFCF-funded projects such as St Paul’s Cathedral, University of Cambridge Museums and Bristol Museum.
  • Engaging online audiences with collections, for example the MA’s collaboration with UKRI and AHRC to provide Covid-response Digital Innovation and Engagement grants. Learning from this and the Sustaining Engagement with Collections grants awards is central to our research with Art Fund UK about the impact of digital funding. Through this work, we will identify and share successful approaches to engagement through digital and hybrid delivery. 
  • Innovative, participatory rationalisation projects as seen in Collections Fund projects at Bridport Museum and Hastings Museum and now supported by other funders. In addition, these case studies will inform a review of disposal guidance launching in 2023 to support the wider sector.
Visitors at Birmingham Museums Trust, the cover image of Empowering Collections Image courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust and Paul Thomas Photographic

Collections fund projects have featured in many MA publications including the Learning and Engagement Manifesto; Supporting Decolonisation in Museums guidance; and regularly in Museums Journal.

The MA produces Museum Essentials, a growing range of e-learning modules for the museum workforce. “Working with Collections” features case studies and learning from funded projects including Bridport Museum’s “The Right Stuff”, Museums Sheffield’s “Protest Lab”, National Museum Liverpool’s “Project Sankofa” and Derby Museums’ “Objects of Love, Hope & Fear”.

As of February 2022, the module has reached 1,737 learners with very positive feedback. Collections Fund projects with organisations including Jarrow Hall, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and the Pitt Rivers Museum have also featured in other Museum Essentials modules on ethical practice, learning and engagement and working with communities. 

Museum Essentials
taking part in Working with Collections

In 2021, with additional support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, we commissioned new research that looks at Local Authority Investment in Museums after a Decade of Austerity. The report found that across the whole UK, local authority spending on museums and galleries declined between 2009/10 and 2019/20 by 27% in real terms from £426m to £311m.

Spending decline
down by 27%

We know from our funding that local authority museums have consistently supported their communities during the pandemic and are playing a critical role in supporting community recovery. The findings of this research have been used by the MA in its call for governments across the UK to take a strategic approach to investment in local museums and to campaign for the continuation of Museums and Galleries Exhibitions Tax Relief.  

Our conferences and events regularly feature Collections Fund projects as exemplars of leading practice. Most recently the MA Conference 2021 featured the Collections Fund on various themes including disposals, measuring the impact of digital engagement, and paying participants in order to produce more equitable relationships; and through speakers from our projects at University of Cambridge Museums and Birmingham Museums.

Other events that have featured funded projects as speakers or case studies in the last two years include:

  • Coronavirus Conversations 
  • Manifesto for Learning and Engagement series 
  • MA Conference 2020