'We need to understand the impact of the digital shift on under-served communities' - Museums Association

‘We need to understand the impact of the digital shift on under-served communities’

Q&A with Anjana Khatwa, engagement lead at Wessex Museums
Geraldine Kendall Adams
Anjana Khatwa joined Wessex Museums this month
Anjana Khatwa joined Wessex Museums this month

Anjana Khatwa has just joined Wessex Museums in the newly created post of Wessex engagement lead. Her role includes working closely with the learning teams at Dorset Museum, Poole Museum, Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum to create content that engages under-served audiences. The appointment was made possible by a grant of £83,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Khatwa has worked in the nature conservation and heritage sector for 15 years. Museums Journal spoke to her about her efforts to diversify the earth sciences and her plans for learning and engagement against the backdrop of the Covid crisis.

What will your day-to-day role involve?

I provide strategic support and direction to the learning teams based at our four partners which are Dorset, Poole, Salisbury and Wiltshire Museums. The learning staff are necessarily focused on ensuring their collections are accessible, engaging and relevant to audiences. This is time consuming and leaves little time to reflect on strategic outcomes such inclusion or impact evaluation. My aim is to empower the staff through dedicated training and support on strategic programming so they can strengthen their offer and reflect on success and areas of growth. I will also take a lead on ensuring that across all four museums, there is a meaningful engagement offer that is coordinated and inclusive to achieve greater audience reach and impact.

What has your career path been up to this point?

I am an earth scientist and after leaving academia, I spent 15 years developing a sustainable and impactful education programme for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. I also work as a presenter on TV and YouTube where I enthusiastically engage audiences about the wonders of rocks, fossils and landforms. My comfort zone is very much within science, so the move into the arts and cultural heritage sector is one that I approach with a sense of adventure and discovery.

How do you plan to reach under-served audiences and support equality, diversity and inclusion?

I am a finalist in the 2020 National Diversity Awards as a Positive Role Model for Race, Faith and Religion in recognition of my efforts to diversify the geosciences, geography and natural heritage sector. I am passionate about helping our learning teams understand the unseen barriers that under-served audiences face and how we can open pathways for impactful and sensitive engagement.

Within my role I will be targeting communities from deprived backgrounds, groups of children and young people, especially those with disabilities. My focus will be on helping staff to enter those spaces, and through meaningful collaboration create programmes that are relevant and insightful.

How do you think museum learning and engagement should evolve in response to the pandemic?

The pandemic has catalysed a new digital age for museums where we are seeing refreshing and engaging approaches on how collections are presented and made relevant, particularly to younger audiences. As we move into a post-Covid world, digital engagement will become more normalised and we need to ensure that inclusion remains high on the agenda. We need to be aware of digital poverty and understand the impact of this shift on underserved communities.

Being aware of how we can enhance engagement on digital and social media platforms that are accessible to such audiences should be paramount. But alongside this digital offering, providing high quality, authentic and collaborative experiences for young people within their communities will both build social capital and keep our museums relevant.

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