SWMDP workshop: “Getting things done in new ways”

SWMDP snapshotOn 21st March the South West Museum Development Programme (SWMDP) organised a workshop day at M-Shed Bristol for heritage organisations and for academics. The goals were… to do some matchmaking, to identify ways to improve understanding between partners and to identify some focused ways in which new collaborations could be generated. This was a great opportunity for Bridging the Gap  to get an idea of how the heritage sector perceived collaborative work, and some of the difficulties in getting those collaborations off the ground.The Getting Things Done workshop echoed a lot of the sentiments expressed at Bridging the Gap‘s launch workshop on 19th January (see here).  There was, yet again, a huge amount of enthusiasm about the potential of these collaborative relationships, but some hesitation around how to go about making them happen. SWMDP provided resources for the attendees which definitely helped! This included pointing people towards existing resources on collaborative work (I’ll put a page up on resources soon). It also included a handy guide to acronyms in use across the two sectors.

The message that I took away from the day was that research collaborations are just one of a very wide range of ways in which museums and universities are working together.

  • Museums provide a site and real-world problems that can be a resource for engaged, active learning programmes for undergraduate, masters and doctoral students.
  • University students represent a large potential audience for museums, and new enthusiastic hands to develop projects, whether as volunteers, interns or employees.
  • The heritage sector often provides experts to contribute to lecture courses.
  • University researchers may well give informal advice that guide a museum’s strategy or take formal roles such as sitting on the boards of museums.

However, responsibility for organising these activities sits in very different offices within a university. As a result a heritage organisation wouldn’t necessarily feel that is was collaborating with one institution, but rather holding several relationships with different members of staff across the same university. This is complicated by the fact that each university tends to organise its  business rather differently. These different kinds of collaboration might be managed by Student Services, or the Public Engagement team, a Head of School or Faculty, or Research Innovation Services, depending on which university you approached. Developing a Memoranda of Agreement, or a Partnership Agreement might reduce some of the institutional complexity – but not necessarily.

At the Bridging the Gap workshop on 19th January, we learned that it was difficult for external partners to figure out which researcher might be the best point of contact. SWMDP’s Getting Things Done workshop showed that this problem ran much deeper. Is this a problem that GW4 can help solve? We’ll be giving it some thought.

Image: ‘Recipe for success’ from the SWMDP presentation Getting Things Done in New Ways: Museums and Higher Education.

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