Renaissance: MLA consultation

Museums Association Response
MLA Consultation: Review of Renaissance

The Museums Association (MA) is an independent membership organisation representing museums and galleries in the UK and people who work for them. The Association has over 5,000 individual members and 600 institutional members.

These institutional members encompass around 1500 museums in the UK ranging from the largest government-funded national museums to small volunteer-run charitable trust museums.

Formed in 1889, it is a charity, receiving no regular government funding, which seeks to inform, represent and develop museums and people who work for them in order that they may provide a better service to society and the public.

In putting this response together the MA facilitated discussions with members of its Council, Executive Committee and MA staff. It also requested informal written comments from its Council members. These comments and discussions have shaped the MA response.

General comments

In terms of the engagement of new audiences, educational value and increased capacity to serve the public, there is no doubt that Renaissance is a success story.

It is an example of an effective publicly funded cultural programme that has engaged a large number and range of people.

Renaissance has not only increased and diversified audiences, it has also improved the quality of experience for the visitor. Renaissance has also transformed the educational provision for school age children in museums.

In some regions, museums now feel they have a much stronger cultural voice and presence.

Greater visibility and confidence has enabled them to be a more equal partner and contributor to regional culture together with arts and theatre.

Partnerships with other regional museums and related organisations, such as Universities and regional development agencies, have created opportunities and raised status.

However, the picture is different around the regions, some regions excelling and grasping opportunities others struggling to find their way.

This is partially due to the disparity of phase 1 and phase 2 funding and partially to do with how fit for purpose the hub model is for that region.

Renaissance has never been fully funded, and therefore has never been given the capacity to reach all of its original goals. It is also plagued by short-term contracts and commitments. DCMS must accept that long-term support and funding of major regional museums is essential and not a short-term programme.

Specific Questions

This response tackles your specific questions by looking at Renaissance from the point of view of its original purpose of transforming regional museums.

1. What do you consider to be the five most important achievements of the programme?

1.1 Preliminary build up of capacity in collections and learning through investment in documentation, collections care, specialist staff, SSNs, and focusing on learning activities, making them a core activity of museums.

1.2 Some aspects of training and workforce development, in particular the diversify scheme, leadership and core skills development.

1.3 The beginning of partnership working, with small, regional and national museums.

1.4 Some support for small museums through Museum Development Officers and the Museum Development Fund.

1.5 Partial refurbishment of some hub museums, improving facilities for visitors and standards in museum service.

2. What hasn't it achieved that it should have?

2.1 It is generally felt that Renaissance has not radically transformed regional museum services in the way that it was originally intended or provided regional leadership.

The lack of clarity about what the regional role of the hubs should be, has led to it being interpreted differently in different regions and by different museums, leading to an inconsistent offer.

2.2 Although important and significant progress has been made concerning the points listed in the previous section it is felt that none of these areas have reached their potential.

Also, success in these areas is variable across the country, with some regions excelling and other regions not. In particular there is a long way to go in terms of workforce development and diversifying the museum workforce.

The development and co-ordination of collection expertise and sharing collections also needs further investment, for example subject specialist networks have the potential to facilitate the sharing of expertise nationally and regionally.

The development and retention of collection related knowledge is still a major issue.

3. What has been good about the way the programme has been designed and managed that you would like to see continue?

3.1 Regional collections are acknowledged as important to the nation and they should therefore be funded accordingly - it is crucial that this underpins the whole scheme.

3.2 The programme funds core museum work and is not all project based funding. This enables good practice to be developed and sustained. The work package approach to business planning is helpful in ensuring that the money is well spent and outcome focused while enabling sustainable improvements.

3.3 The brief for working together across the hub has begun to forge fruitful relationships between museums who had not previously worked together.

4. What would you like to change about the design and management of the programme?

Renaissance needs…

4.1 A more flexible and responsive system. (Some regions do not fit the current model, it should be possible for hubs to look different in order to be fit for purpose, taking into consideration issues such as tourism and geography.)

4.2 A clearer vision of what Renaissance is for and what is included in it. A clear direction from MLA with regard to ambitions and aspirations, particularly in light of the changes to Regional Agencies.

4.3 A streamlined business planning process that is delivered in a more timely manner.

(The short-term timescales and delays in confirming business plans have had a negative impact upon the sector. It has caused tension between hub museums, the MLA, project partners and stakeholders due to the lack of lead in time and lack of clarity regarding future funding. In many cases the delay in confirmation of funding for projects has caused a loss of staff from projects, sometimes from the sector, causing a drain of knowledge and resources.)

4.4 A stronger message, management and branding. (There is confusion regarding what lies within Renaissance, especially with regard to elements that are not focused on the hubs.)

4.5 A greater emphasis on museum collections, building on the foundations that have been laid by providing greater investment in sharing and using collections and developing and sharing expertise.

4.6 The capacity for organizational change. (If Renaissance achievements are to be sustainable then greater organizational change is needed.)

5. What is the most important thing to get right for the future?
Clarity - determine the role and responsibilities for hubs in the future, especially in light of the demise of the regional agencies.

Purpose - reinforce what Renaissance is for, emphasize and re-look at purpose, need and capacity.

Communication - better communication to help match expectations of museums, MLA, DCMS and stakeholders. Better links between regions, in particular hubs should have a greater knowledge of other hub business plans.

Commitment- there needs to be a strong commitment from all hub museums (not just some), to ensure hubs are fully fit for purpose and working towards the Renaissance vision. Renaissance should be embedded into the infrastructure of museums, rather than seen as a separate or detachable function.

Likewise, there needs to be a strong belief and commitment from MLA in the future of the programme.

Outcomes - Renaissance should be more focused on outcomes, concentrating on providing for the best public outcomes.

Evaluation and measurement - how quality is measured is critical, taking into consideration other sector initiatives such as those stemming from the McMaster report. Although there has been a lot of data gathering and 'bean counting', there has been a lack of robust evaluation to demonstrate effectiveness and impact.

Realism - Renaissance money can only stretch so far, and in some cases is only a small fraction of the budget of hub museums. Efficient use of this money is needed, with a greater emphasis on spreading skills, knowledge, expertise and collections to the wider region, rather than money.

Strong management - a central vision and strategy needs to be managed with rigor and confidence. Monitoring and support is crucial, together with the recognition that this is a partnership.

Integration - there are many other programmes, initiatives, schemes, strategies etc having an effect on the sector such as MLA's National Strategy, Local Area Agreements, Find Your Talent, Effective Collections. It needs to be clear how Renaissance integrates with and complements these.

Sustainability - the level of Renaissance money is not guaranteed, therefore the good practice, initiatives and skills developed need to be built into organisational change.

Nikola Burdon
Policy Officer
24 July 2008