Museums Change Lives

What can museums do to change lives?
Let us know your thoughts on what museums can do to change lives, and put your questions to our expert panel, below.

Then join us from 1-2pm on Monday 29 July for a live webchat.

Expert panel:

Maurice Davies
head of policy, Museums Association

Mark O'Neill
Director of policy and research, Glasgow Life

Ciara Canning
senior curator (community history), Colchester and Ipswich Museum

David Anderson
director, National Museums Wales

Helen Chatterjee
deputy director, UCL Museums and Collections

Tim Desmond
chief executive, Galleries of Justice Museum

Comments

Sort by: Most recent - Most liked
Anonymous
MA Member
29.07.2013, 14:03
Thanks for instigating it Patrick.
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 14:03
We're going to wrap it up there as we've run out of time - thanks very much to everyone who participated, and particularly to our expert panel - some very interesting food for thought.
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:58
Learning is the key word and how museums champion it to enable people to change their own lives.
David Anderson
MA Member
Director General, National Museum Wales
29.07.2013, 13:55
We need to remember that a bad experience in a museum - and there are may of them - can change peoples' lives for the worse, not the better.

An intimidating environment, an unfriendly member of staff, an exhibit that needs prior subject knowledge to understand, obscure specialist language, inappropriate cultural assumptions, lack of relevance of content to people's own Iives or their own experiences - to give but a few examples - can do lasting damage, and can trn people away from museums for life.

Museums, like all human activities, have their dark side.
Barbara Bartl
MA Member
Museum Officer (Collections & Premises); MA Wales Rep_, Newport Museum & Art Gallery
29.07.2013, 13:55
I feel that the danger Maurice is, if funders encourage people to undertake work with a social impact how is that work sustained in the long term?
David Anderson
MA Member
Director General, National Museum Wales
29.07.2013, 14:02
I appreciate the concern you raise, Barbara, about stop/start funding, and the adage it can do to everyone involved. But I hope that we will not only do this dimension of our work because funders provide targeted support. It's about how we work, as a whole institution, across all our activities.

Ask not for whom the social justice bell tolls. It tolls for us.
29.07.2013, 13:53
I recently watched an interesting video on the Happy Museum website, with MANDY BARNETT reflecting on the process of community/societal change. She explored the importance of robust and relevant feedback loops to guide the change process. I think that this focus on feedback loops is critical for bringing about meaningful societal change. Is there a growing commitment amongst UK museums to cultivating these feedback loops to steer their efforts in bringing about such change?
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:50
Would panel members like to see funding (government or otherwise) for museums to implement (or continue/increase implementation of) elements of Museums Change Lives? If so, what sort of strands would you prioritise?
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:55
I would but I don't think it is going to happen any time soon.
What is more possible is to engage HLF and ACE to adopt the initiative as a key aspect of heritage and cultural development.
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Head of Policy & Communication, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:49
This is an attempt to reply to Anonymous at 13.43 and to Tony Butler at 13.40. It is clearly possible for museums to appeal to tourists and also to change people's lives. there are a great many museums that do that already, often by offering different things to different audience groups.

The Museums Association will keep providing encouragement and advice for those who need more confidence to increase their museum's social impact. There will be material in Museum Practice, in Museums Journal and there's lots in the annual conference. We'll also be asking funders to encourage people to undertake work with a social impact. It's to be expected that some in museums are uncomfortable with some of the things in Museums Change Lives. Change can be hard for people and some curators seem to feel particularly beleaguered at the moment. But as the examples in Museums Change Lives and elsewhere (such as the Happy Museum Project) show - a great many curators have been brilliantly enacting the key principles of Museums Change Lives for years.
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:54
Do we want to change foreign tourists's lives as well as UK residents? It is an interesting thought and a challenging one.
Basically we want our collections to create a response from visitors which improves their lives and the society they live in.
I'm sure Oscar Wilde had the view of Art for a Social purpose, rather than for Art's sake.
Anonymous
MA Member
29.07.2013, 13:43
I am interested in how difficult it is for larger museums who are often required to maximise tourism to satisfactorily match that with the very different approaches and programmes implicit within Museums Change Lives
29.07.2013, 14:04
You raise an excellent issue. My sense is that, if museums can generate a vital and ongoing relationship with local communities, then tourists will be fascinated if they encounter such vitality. Problems abound when museums start to cater to the 'needs' of tourists, which are all about being introduced to the history of a place, or visiting high-profile exhibits - and these are not necessarily the needs of a local community that is already engaged in a meaningful process of reflection, dialogue and change.
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:47
I think the challenge lies in the governance of museums and whether the non executives/trustees with their legal and political obligations feel committed to museums having a social role.
29.07.2013, 13:42
Tim... when you say that 'our resource is history and our medium museums', I wonder if it might not be better expressed as 'our resources emerge from insights into history and the applied creativity of the arts - and our media ranges from specialized materials, places and processes dedicated to public engagement'?
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:45
Well put Douglas, that shows how the profession has the skills and expertise to make an impact, what we need now is to support the ambition.
Tony Butler
MA Member
Director, Museum of East Anglian Life
29.07.2013, 13:40
I think Museums Change Lives is a very brave document and should be celebrated. I think it would be safe to say that it has not been universally welcomed by all the sector. Many museum people either through ideology or lack of confidence are uncomfortable that museums should have such an overt social role. What will the MA do to assuage doubters and encourage those who want to but don't quite know to change people's lives?
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Head of Policy & Communication, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:50
Pls see my comment above at 13.49
29.07.2013, 13:38
I am from Canada and have a sense that UK museums have been responding to local community needs (e.g. economic, social, employment, etc.). What I am less clear about is whether there are good methods being used to 'take the cultural pulse' of communities in order to identify priority issues that can become focal points of museum operations?
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:43
Good point Douglas. We need to be asking what communities want rather than deciding always what they need.
I know the Big Lottery Fund always place a key emphasis on community consultation and this is vital to buy in and success.
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:38
is what we have got a mosaic of individual evaluative responses when what we would like is a cultural shift to change lives?
Our resource is history and our medium museums, the question is what do we want to do with it?
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Head of Policy & Communication, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:43
That's a pretty good summary of one of the key messages of Museums Change Lives - that a museum should take changing people's lives as seriously as it takes its other activities. Every museum needs to be strategic about it, to clearly set out what it wants to achieve for people.
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:34
Wouldn't it be great if we could get the notion of museums change lives into schools and bring a dynamic to History which gets children using their knowledge of the past to project forward.
Museums as a catalyst for social and individual change..
29.07.2013, 13:27
Are there any good examples of museums that have worked to facilitate the generation of a vision of community that is relevant and realistic for citizens, and which people feel some sense of common ownership? I see that there is a need across our societies to envision a sustainable future that people (individually and collectively) can identify with and work towards - but they have to feel a sense of ownership over this vision, as well as the individual and systems change that are required.
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:35
Hi Douglas -

I think most of the panel members would be able to provide examples of how their museums are doing this - I noticed Tony Butler has also joined the discussion - the Museum of East Anglian Life would be another good example, I would suggest, with the Happy Museum project.
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Head of Policy & Communication, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:25
I think Tim's question is really important. Unless museums specify how they hope to change people's lives then it will be impossible to convincingly determine whether they are successful. Of course, any research must also be able to record unintended and unexpected changes, but the starting point has to be assessing the impact that was intended in the first place.
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:18
Following on from Tim's question below, would the panel also like to comment on the extent to which life-changing/social impact projects are led by available funding? Particularly in a local authority context?
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:29
Funding investment by local authorities has declined dramatically in the last five years and has made it more complex for museums to work with communities.
However lots of good work still exists and what has happened is more partnerships have sprung up meaning that bartering has replaced financial investment.
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:16
One question could be should be how do we want to change people's lives and to what?
Is this there a political subtext?
Ciara Canning
MA Member
Senior Curator (Community History), Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service
29.07.2013, 13:54
I think if we're honest (and work for a local authority) there will ALWAYS be a political subtext. It can be frustrating at times but sometimes the beliefs of a portfolio holder can really influence which projects or initiatives a museum service are encouraged to pursue. In my experience, illustrating the social impact of museums, especially working with homeless people, has really strengthened our relevance to our councillors and helped to bolster their belief that museums are relevant and necessary.
David Anderson
MA Member
Director General, National Museum Wales
29.07.2013, 13:14
In reply to Maurice, we have to remember that, given the nature of museum visiting, it is easier to capture the responses of the small groups he describes than those of individual visitors. But there is no logical reason to expect that individuals who visit informally will be any less powerfully impacted than those in groups. Maybe these impacts will just be less visible.
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:12
I have been working with social inclusion throughout my career but liked what Dominic Cook did at the Royal Court Theatre by putting the spotlight on the middle classes and challenging their lives. That would bean interesting task for museums and could then affect society and how its run!
At the Egalitarian Trust that is part of the work we are doing with the legal profession.
Ciara Canning
MA Member
Senior Curator (Community History), Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service
29.07.2013, 13:11
I’m Ciara Canning, senior curator at Colchester and Ipswich Musems and have been working in the sector for 10 years. I manage a team of curators who specialise in lots of different areas and am also directly involved in delivery through community history.

I’m interested in the idea of how museums can help people to explore their identity and develop a sense of place and belonging. My work over the last few years has involved working with people who are marginalised and under represented in museum displays and collections. Most recently I have worked with people who have experienced accommodation issues and disabled people.
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:14
Sounds fascinating Ciara, how important do you think outreach is as part of this and how do you bring the marginalised into the centre?
Ciara Canning
MA Member
Senior Curator (Community History), Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service
29.07.2013, 13:39
In my experience outreach is vital in building up trust and engaging with a new or vulnerable group. On a project working with the Women's Refuge the sessions became part of their weekly coffee morning group. At the Refuge the women are more relaxed they could therefore drift in and out of the sessions as they wished. This built up trust and resulted in many of the women coming to visit the museum, bringing their children or friends.
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:11
Hi everyone -

Just a housekeeping point, but you can reply to existing discussions by clicking 'Reply' below the comment. Or you can begin a new discussion by typing in the comments box.
David Anderson
MA Member
Director General, National Museum Wales
29.07.2013, 13:09
I fully support Iain Watson's point that we need to avoid reliance on anecdote, and must continue to built a strong evidence base.

However, it is also important to listen with the respect to the first and statements of those among our visitors and oter users who say that museum experiences have had a powerful impact upon them.
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Head of Policy & Communication, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:09
I oversaw the production of Museums Change Lives and I'm convinced that museums do often change the lives of people who are involved in small-group, intensive projects, especially people who are disadvantaged in some way. But I'm less convinced that museums make dramatic change to the lives of most 'ordinary, every-day' visitors.
David Anderson
MA Member
Director General, National Museum Wales
29.07.2013, 13:34
Maurice, I am aware that there has been quite a bit of research which has looked at how people get switched on to the arts, which throws a little light on the lives of your "ordinary, every-day visitors". One I remember from the early 1990s, conducted by someone at Exeter University (sorry, I'd need to search for a reference) was based on interviews with students studying arts subjects.

This found that, for roughly half of this admittedly atypical group, it was parental induction that got them this far; the arts were just all around them as they grew up. For the other half, there had been a memorable and often unexpected conversion experience of a work of art in whatever medium, after which things were never the same again.

Also in the 1990s, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) dd a study, The Arts In Their View, which found that the reason for engagement in the arts among young people varied between social classes.

Young people from ABC1 backgrounds were more likely to attribute their engagement in the arts to parental encouragement; those from C2DE to school.
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Head of Policy & Communication, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:39
Obviously, I'm being devil's advocate here, and putting myself in the position of someone in the treasury or a local-authority finance department, but I think museums will need extremely robust research into their claimed life-changing effects if they are to be funded for it. It's very rare to see evidence of museum impacts that is independent of the museum concerned and that includes a proper control group. It's also rare to see research that takes account of the value for money of museum activity.
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:50
Museums also need to be conscious of council and government agenda's can changing lives lead to changing votes?
Ciara Canning
MA Member
Senior Curator (Community History), Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service
29.07.2013, 13:29
I think that perhaps we don't always know what effect we're having on our 'ordinary, every-day visitors' Maurice. One of my proudest moments as a museum curator was walking through the toy gallery in Hollytrees Museum and overhearing a conversation between a mother and son about a Paralympic Barbie doll on display. She thought it ‘distasteful’ but he was questioning her saying ‘why, they’ve got other dolls on display, why not one in a wheelchair’. The display had provoked a debate and it was only by chance I was there and witnessed it. Our front of house staff are great at capturing feedback but some of the rich data can be lost as it walks out the door!
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Head of Policy & Communication, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:34
That's a great example of museums stimulating serious discussion and maybe changing someone's attitudes, but can it realistically be described as 'life changing'? In an environment where museums are competing for funding with everything from social services to adult basic-skills training, I wonder if we need a harder approach to interrogating the differences we make.
Ciara Canning
MA Member
Senior Curator (Community History), Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service
29.07.2013, 13:42
Depends on your definition or scale of what's 'life-changing'. It's a subjective concept and will be different for everyone.
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:18
I always felt with Renaissance that despite its many successes it didn't tell the visitor and wider society what it was setting out to achieve.
Should we be telling our public that we want to change their lives and by being engaged with our museum this may happen??
Mark O'Neill
MA Member
Director of Policy & Research, Glasgow Life
29.07.2013, 13:09
Our starting point should be that the epidemiological evidence from a number of large scale studies is that museum visiting contributes to wellbeing, even when controlled for education, income, chronic illness, age and gender. (for a summary of this evidence see http://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/policy-research/Documents/Mental%20health%20article%20(MON).pdf). This evidence is important because it relates to simply attending museums, not to engagement by small groups in intensive projects. While these may serve particular target groups they are rarely scaleable to provide population level benefits. Health and wellbeing benefits at this scale can only be delivered by increasing usage of museums by population groups who do not traditionally visit due to poverty, poor education or other forms of exclusion.
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Head of Policy & Communication, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:27
Mark, sorry I can't open the document, but if I remember rightly it covers a whole range of activities in addition to museum visiting - can we conclude that there's something particular about museum visiting that's good for people, rather than most activities that involve being active, learning, connecting with people and paying attention to things (to quote four of the New Economics Foundation's five ways to wellbeing)
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:22
Are there any controls of comparable experiences: such as how other leisure pursuits affect wellbeing such as going swimming?
How do museum's compare with other leisure or cultural pursuits I wonder?
Tony Butler
MA Member
Director, Museum of East Anglian Life
29.07.2013, 13:31
The museums and happiness research by Happy Museum conducted by Daniel Fujiwara from LSE suggested that the well-being value to people who visited museums was twice as high as those participating in sports and arts. This research used very large data sets from DCMS's Taking Part survey c. 14,500. We are carrying out further research this year to determine causality. http://www.happymuseumproject.org/blogs/happy-museums-are-good-for-you-report-publication/attachment/museums-and-happiness
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:40
Comparisons are vital to contextualise the outcomes museums are having in specific areas. This research has real currency as it can be understood outside the sector as well as within it.
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:20
Hi Mark - I'm afraid that link is crashing my computer. It's possible that the issue is at this end, but do you have a link to a parent page (ie that isn't the document itself)?
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:08
My view is that all museums should be ambitious to change lives it is not enough to just expect visitors to come through the door and admire exhibitions.
But we need to be smarter in making our museums more interactive so visitors can record their views and be questioned about their understanding and insight.
Last week at New Art Exchange in Nottingham they had an ipad in place where visitors could straight away interact with the curator and place their thoughts. It was immediate and accessible.
Helen Chatterjee
MA Member
Senior Lecturer/Deputy Director Museums & Collections, University College London
29.07.2013, 13:06
I think you have raised a really important point Iain. In order to clearly articulate the value of culture we need effective means of understanding the impact it has on people lives. This means developing effective ways of capturing, measuring and evaluting that impact and using approaches that are understood and valued across museums but also by our audiences and partners. This is really challenging but I think working closely with experts (be it evaluators/researchers) helps. At UCL Museums we have been working with around 20 different museums to develop a 'museum-wellbeing measure' which seeks to capture the impact of museum activities on people's psychological and subjective wellbeing. Its been challenging but we have some really interesting findings from the process.
Ciara Canning
MA Member
Senior Curator (Community History), Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service
29.07.2013, 13:20
Picking up on Helen’s point - There are some tools and techniques which can be adapted from psychological methods such as personal construct theory. I’ve previously use the Repertory Grid Technique which is a tool for investigating attitudes and perceptions and found it a really useful way of rating qualitative data in a more quantitative way. The issue is trying to get a standardised way – cross sector – to rate this ‘soft’ data. Generic Social Outcomes have been used by some.
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:10
Good point Helen, we cant just have museums evaluating museums, we must work with a range of stakeholders at every point to engage with our communities.
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:08
Hi Helen -

This sounds fascinating - would you be prepared to share any of the headline findings with us?
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:01
Welcome to today's webchat everyone! If you have any questions for our expert panel, please fire away... and if everyone on the panel would like to introduce themselves with a few words about who they are and what they do, that would be great.
Iain Watson
MA Member
Director, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
29.07.2013, 09:23
I am committed to the view that museums change lives and am very supportive of the MA initiative. I would be interested in the panel's views on how we most effectively evidence the work that we do in this area, particularly bearing in mind the numerous studies of 'cultural value' and the need to avoid relying on anecdote. TWAM has done some work on this as, I know, have others. I would be interested in the panel's thoughts.
Ciara Canning
MA Member
Senior Curator (Community History), Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service
29.07.2013, 13:19
I worked on a number of projects working with homeless people and found that evaluating ‘success’ is difficult as statistics alone can’t tell the whole story. Quite often the real impact could be seen through subtle changes in the participants and you could only see that by getting to know them personally. For example in one project we had a participant who took home her sewing to finish in her own time. This may not seem remarkable but she had initially been reluctant to take part in the project at all and it illustrated a real sense of purpose and engagement. In another project working with disabled adults the fact that the participant smiled while doing an activity, was a huge breakthrough according to his care worker.
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:04
In my experience evaluation is essential to record hard evidence of change. To do this you need an entry level assessment and then a response after the experience. Ideally visitors can then be monitored after lapses of time.
The difficulty is how one visit's impact can be recorded. My view is that ACE or the MA lead an initiative to record how individuals visits to combined museums has an effect rather than individual visits.
There are of course lots of examples of best practice such as the work done on the Happy Museums and where better to share it than the MA conference.
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Head of Policy & Communication, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:03
I think the first question to ask is whether we in fact want 'evidence' that we can use to justify our work, or whether it would be better to set off with an open mind to try to understand what works well and what doesn't. Almost by definition, anything that sets out to find evidence will be seen as biased.
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
24.07.2013, 17:25
I'd like to ask the panel if they could give some examples of what their museums have done to change lives?
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive , Galleries of Justice Museum
29.07.2013, 13:00
As CEO I helped develop the charity that manages our museum to become the Egalitarian Trust with a remit to promote equal equality through an understanding of the Law.
By putting the focus on the social aspect of the museum we showed that we wanted to change the lives of our visitors by providing them with knowledge that they can use.
Specific examples are crime prevention projects which intervenes early on in a young person's experience.
I also always think that we affect the staff and volunteers who work with us. Certainly working at the Galleries of Justice has changed my life!
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Head of Policy & Communication, Museums Association
29.07.2013, 13:05
Following on from Iain's question above, has there been research into the impact you've had on individuals' lives?



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