SMART Tourism, Travelling Treasures project by Maverick Photography

Scottish strategy delivery plan emphasises public value

Patrick Steel, 22.07.2015
MGS plan highlights social impact of museums
Museums Galleries Scotland’s (MGS) national strategy delivery plan for 2015-19, published last week, emphasises museums’ role in delivering public value.

Realising the Vision: Delivering Public Value Through Scotland's Museums and Galleries stresses the importance of museums’ social impact, tying in with the Scottish government’s stated priorities of fairness, equality and prosperity, and chiming with the Museums Association’s Museums Change Lives campaign.

And the plan will see MGS explore the potential for public social partnerships, where third sector organisations work with public sector purchasers to design a service, between museums and education and health providers.

“Museums are delivering on public value,” said Joanne Orr, the chief executive of MGS. “But there is still work to be done on building an understanding of the true value of museums.”

The plan has also taken into account criticism of the MGS-run Recognition scheme. An independent report published last year found that 42% of museums surveyed had partial, low or no awareness of the scheme, and public awareness was minimal.

The report also found that in 2012-13 and 2013-14 there was an underspend on the Recognition Fund in excess of £250,000. This resulted in close to half of the Recognition Fund not being awarded, largely due to a lack of demand.

While there was no underspend for the fund in 2014-15, and there is more awareness of the scheme, MGS is still looking at how to raise the scheme’s profile, said Orr. The scheme is name-checked in the first aim of the delivery plan and MGS wants to work with museums and sector bodies such as VisitScotland to make more people aware of the importance of Recognition status.

And the plan contains a number of aspirations including research partnerships with universities to access new funding streams, with Edinburgh University cited as one of the organisations that MGS is talking to; international partnerships including the development of a European Union project with partners in Belgium, Holland and England; an international touring fund for museums; and the development of a sector-wide continuous improvement model to support the long-term sustainability of museums.

In all, the plan sets out six areas in which it believes the sector should focus its activities over the next four years.

The areas are maximising the potential of collections; strengthening connections between museums, people and places; diversifying the workforce; ensuring a sustainable future by encouraging enterprise; fostering collaboration, innovation and ambition; and developing a global perspective using Scotland’s collections and culture.

The publication of the plan follows site visits to 73 museums and galleries by MGS staff last year as part of its consultation into the sector’s priorities for the delivery of the national strategy.

Orr said: “This is a high level action plan for the next four years.

“We have looked hard at the aims of the delivery plan three years on from the launch of the national strategy and tweaked the objectives, but the process of involving the sector means it is robust and will stand the test of time.”

“We are all still digesting the plan,” said Ross Irving, the president of the Scottish Museums Federation. “But it has been well received so far by the people I’ve spoken to.

“Hopefully going forward it will be integrated into [the sector’s] planning so that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet.”

Resilience

MGS is looking to diversify its income to improve its financial sustainability.

It received £2.56m in grant-in-aid from the Scottish government for 2015-16, a slight increase on the previous year. But this uplift takes into account MGS dropping its subscription model last year, worth around £92,500, allowing any museum to access its services.

There are “no guarantees” of funding going forward, said Orr, and MGS may have to consider “small cuts” in the future. However, she said the government is committed to maintaining the organisation as a dedicated museum development body.

The organisation’s business plan, which goes to the MGS board in October, is likely to include paid-for services including consultancy, mediation and facilitation that could see MGS working with museums outside Scotland to generate income. These would be additional to MGS's core service to museums in Scotland, said Orr.

And the organisation has created a business development manager post, and changed the focus of another role to look at strategic marketing.

It may also look to capitalise on its online grants management system, which it developed last year and could offer to other organisations.

“Anything we look at has to be relevant to museums in Scotland and we have to balance it with our core purpose,” said Orr. “We have a charitable purpose for museums in Scotland but expertise and knowledge as the UK’s only dedicated museum development body.

“It is very early days and we are feeling our way about what is charged and what is not, but the key thing is looking for partnerships and building on that.”

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