As you may be able to attest from personal experience, long-term relationships have greater impact than short ones.
While single interventions can be impactful, having the luxury to make time for long-term projects often yields results that are more substantial.
Shortly after joining National Museums Scotland (NMS) as a fixed-term assistant curator five years ago, I sat down with three universities from across Scotland to discuss the possibility of an exhibition around their work. Many will be familiar with planning an exhibition that you do not get the opportunity to finish or does not happen at all.
Thankfully, we were able to deliver the project in question; and at the heart of its success is long-term collaboration. The exhibition I’m working on, Parasites: Battle for Survival, highlights the contemporary work going on in Scotland, and globally, to combat tropical disease.
The project relies not only on the relationship between three partner universities and NMS, but also on our work with a secondary school. The former made sure the exhibition was accurate and cutting edge; the latter ensured that our exhibition was fit for purpose and suited our audiences. All relationships began at the outset of the project, allowing for maximum input and impact from those involved.
Of course, each relationship had its challenges. Our partner universities had their own wishlists and each came with its own stakeholders. Finding a school to commit to taking part in such a long-term project took time and commitment from both parties.
Overwhelmingly, however, the relationships with the universities and the school have been positive. Long-term collaboration with universities has given us access to further expertise and resources.
By engaging with secondary-school students from the outset, our target audience had input into virtually all aspects of the exhibition. It turns out that teenagers make excellent critics. They have been able to steer the exhibition to make sure that our audiences will enjoy it.
What is more, the relationships have not been one way. Evaluation has shown that our partners have also benefited. We have worked with the universities to create a programming schedule to highlight their science, and helped to make their activities accessible for our visitors.
Our secondary-school students now have a sense of ownership over the exhibition and the museum space, and a change in attitude towards science.
Delivering long-term projects demands commitment from museum staff – permanent posts are indispensable in this respect – as well as consistent support from management and funders. Museums need to think long-term to achieve impact.
Sophie Goggins is the curator of biomedical science at National Museums Scotland
Parasites: Battle for Survival opens on 5 December at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, in partnership with the University of Dundee, University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow and Castlebrae Community High School in Edinburgh