Conference Reports 2018

Here you'll find summaries and some afterthoughts from several conference sessions that took place. Click on the drop down arrow next to a session below to read more.

On this page:

  • Beyond Feedback Forms: Thinking Differently about Evaluation
    Sarah Fellows, Heritage Activities Officer, Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust
  • Breaking the mould: creating arts savvy initial teacher training
    Kate Fellows, Leeds Museums and Galleries and Bev Forrest, Leeds Trinity University and the Historical Association
  • Developing innovative home education programmes
    Kathryn Wharton, Assistant Learning Officer, history programmes, Great North Museum: Hancock, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
  • Planning for the future, learning from the past; developing sustainable engagement programmes in a heritage setting
    Jana Haragalova and Emma Taylor, Community Learning Producers, Historic Royal Palaces
  • New trends in informal learning
    Elizabeth Dollimore, Head of Leaning, Auckland Project
  • Making Education Pay
    Sam Derby, Director, and Martin Lamb, Creative Associate, Oriel Square
  • Poverty: Museums’ barrier of the future?
    Sarah Cowie, Learning Officer (Schools), National Museums Scotland
  • Upwardly mobile? What can museum learning programmes contribute to social mobility?
    Miranda Stearn, head of learning, University of Cambridge Museums, Fitzwilliam Museum
  • The Versatility of Archives
    Sara Bird, education outreach officer, Newcastle University Special Collections


Beyond Feedback Forms: Thinking Differently about Evaluation

Sarah Fellows, Heritage Activities Officer, Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust

We all know the value of evaluation. It can tell us what we did right and what we did wrong, who our audiences are and what they want. Then we can use that information to improve, to give people praise, to feedback to funders or much more.

But evaluation is only powerful when we’re asking the right questions. We could ask every visitor what their favourite cake is, but unless we’re planning on making changes to the café’s dessert offer it’s a pointless question to ask. And it’s really important to get this right – asking the wrong question is just a waste of time and an opportunity that could have been used to capture something relevant.

It’s also far too easy to assume that more is better; we’re all guilty of collecting data we don’t really want or need. We ask questions because we think we might want to know, rather than because we’re genuinely interested.

When it comes to feedback forms, my biggest gripe with them comes down to this; no matter how short they are, they’re too long. If I’m out having a nice day out with my family, why do I want to spend my time filling out a form? Or maybe I’ve been emailed this form, and I’m at home, and this is eating into my Bake Off watching time. Either way, you’re fighting against stuff I want to be doing with your form that I don’t really have any motivation to do.

Now because of what I do for a living, whenever I visit places and they thrust a form into my hands I do try my best to complete them, because I know how frustrating it is to be needing data that you don’t have, particularly when funders have asked for it. Other people complete forms out of obligation too, such as members or volunteers. But if you’re not doing it because you think you should then you’re probably only filling out a form if you’re one of two categories – people who are really pleased and people who are really cross. These people have a reason to do your form, and it’s because they had such a great time they want to pay that back to the organisation, or because they are looking for any opportunity to complain about the queue and the lack of toilet paper in the ladies’. The problem this gives us is that it makes our data skewed. We really want to know what the majority thinks, or at least what the “average” person thinks. Hearing only the very best and very worst comments doesn’t let us do that.

So how can we change this? It’s all about motivation. All three of the groups I described are completing forms because they want to, because something is making them want to. To get more people to give their data, we need to find more ways of making them want to part with their information. My favourite of these is to make something fun, to reduce reluctance by making the gathering of data something that people genuinely enjoy doing.

In our session we had a go at a few ways of doing this. For example, decorating cardboard cupcakes, making flags and sticking them into maps and taking selfies with emoji-on-sticks. These activities generally will only be collecting one or two pieces of information about your visitors, but because they’re fun to take part in you’ll be getting a lot more results, which in turn makes your evaluation much more meaningful.

It’s easy to think that because we’ve always “done” evaluation in the time-honoured way with feedback forms and comment cards, that must be the best way to do it. But by simplifying what we do and applying a creative mind we can make our data collection more efficient, more representative and, dare I say it, more fun. And that can never be a bad thing, can it?


Breaking the mould: creating arts savvy initial teacher training

Kate Fellows, Leeds Museums and Galleries and Bev Forrest, Leeds Trinity University and the Historical Association

To misquote Shakespeare: ‘give me a teacher until they are 22, and they will be mine for life’. We want to have a hand in training arts savvy teachers for the future. Teachers that will engage with museums throughout their careers, inspire their pupils and foster meaningful, impactful engagements with the arts. Through Leeds Museums and Galleries research with York St John and Trinity Universities, we found that many trainees last experience of a museum was when they were at school, so unless we embed the arts into training, they will not pass on these experiences to pupils.

Over the last three years, Leeds Museums and Galleries has overhauled how we work with ITT providers. We used this and the experiences of the people in the room, as a starting point to discuss different models of ITT. Many organisations run INSET teacher CPD workshops and some work on a booked groups basis with ITT, but most currently don’t have a comprehensive offer.

We looked at what the government, ITE and arts organisations want out of ITT, and how the landscape has changed over the last five years. There are now various routes into teaching:

  • Teaching schools (schools with strong leadership who are allowed to train, accredited by existing providers, like a university or SCITT);
  • Teaching alliances (groups of schools led by a teaching school and allowed to train, also accredited by existing providers);
  • SCITTs (School Centres Initial Teacher Training, can accredited themselves);
  • Teach First (bringing excellent graduates into the profession);
  • As well as School Direct, apprenticeships and Academies, who can hire unqualified teachers.

We discussed finding out what happens locally as every area is different, and nurturing long term relationships with providers. This could be through:

  • One-off workshops when asked directly by providers, or targeting marketing to them;
  • Formal teaching on part of an ITT course, usually for a specific subject, such as History or Art;
  • Hosting Settings Other Than Schools (SOTS) placements for individual students – for commitment, quality, safeguarding and trust, it’s quite important that these are an accredited part of the trainees course;
  • Gathering evidence that culture works to close the attainment gap in your area, and that a little object based training works towards helping this (this is the focus of the Leeds research);
  • Developing academic year long programmes of work with multiple visits from trainees, as an accredited part of their work and tracking their progress as the move into the sector.

Most of this comes from a conversation over coffee. So, which relationships do you have that you can build on? Find out who to talk to, have a natter and be passionate about what we do!

Developing innovative home education programmes

Kathryn Wharton, Assistant Learning Officer, history programmes, Great North Museum: Hancock, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums

Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums’ offer to home educators (HE) has evolved from sporadic one off workshops to now delivering a comprehensive programme across our service. Our offer now includes structured workshops, whole museum takeover days and opportunities to complete Arts Award from Discover to Gold level which no other service offers in our region.

At the beginning of our journey we found that working with HE can be challenging so we will share with you some of the strategies that have worked for us to help support this audience. Through consultation with HE families we found that one of the learning experiences they wanted was structured, workshop style sessions. In the past this has been hard to manage but through applying firm parameters for the workshops, especially when it comes to the age of participants has created a more positive learning environment. Another challenge was the logistics of the booking system but using an online ticketing service has made the practicalities of booking individual families in much easier and allows us to continue charging for our programme.

We have had a strong uptake from HE to complete Arts Award and what we would advise is starting at a lower level and then they can progress upwards. Through setting group catch ups and progress checks well in advance families can work at their own pace, using methods they already use. We have found that with a strict timetable, planned in advance is has not taken up a vast amount of staff time and then you have an audience who may be interested in progressing to complete the higher levels.

By no means have we got all the answers but through sharing our experiences our aim of this session is to inspire you to look at your own programmes/practice and think about how you can support the ever growing number of HE.

Planning for the future, learning from the past; developing sustainable engagement programmes in a heritage setting

Jana Haragalova and Emma Taylor, Community Learning Producers, Historic Royal Palaces

Reflective Practice is crucial for professional development. It allows us to draw meaning from our experience and allows us to examine these experiences and actions in different ways, leading to a higher level of understanding and ability to assess impact within our organisation.

Using the development and evolution of community programmes at Historic Royal Palaces, Sensory Palaces and Build Your Own Discovery, we asked colleagues to reflect on their own activities and programmes. By exploring current models of self-reflective practice, this was used as a tool to review project development and encouraged participants to work collaboratively as a group and consider next steps and ideas for the future.

Colleagues were encouraged when feeding back reflections, both in pairs and to the wider group, to think beyond their individual narratives and timelines and instead to explore recurring themes related to the ambitions, assumptions and challenges faced over the life of the project and to identify key milestones along this timeline.

This session was designed to serve as a practical tool, away from busy schedules and deadlines, to explore reflective practice in a meaningful and practical way.  By taking part in this workshop colleagues from across the museums, cultural and heritage sector had the opportunity to support each other and consider how these tools could be adapted and implemented into their own project management frameworks.

New trends in informal learning

Elizabeth Dollimore, Head of Leaning, Auckland Project

The subject of co-creation is currently central to museum learning as audiences increasingly expect the museum experience to be participatory and yet there are many barriers implicit and explicit for adults faced with an invitation to participate.

I began by asking a question about what adults and children could DO when visiting everyone’s sites. Results were written up and discussed and people were invited to think about what the two lists demonstrated about the ways we approach participation for adults and children.  A good discussion was had about what we mean by participation. Is that limited to active participation? Physically doing something? Or did actively thinking about something, which could be a very private experience, “count” as participation. We acknowledged that it should but that it might be hard to capture.

I then shared some of the things that I had tried in my last two roles with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and The Auckland project and shared some of the challenges and barriers to participation. I also shared the highlights of a focus group about participation for adult audiences which identified the following inhibitors to (largely active) participation as follows

  • A perception that the participatory activities are “just for children”
  • Inhibitions about their own ability “Oh I am not good at painting”
  • Inhibitions about looking stupid
  • A reaction against forced jollity
  • A feeling that their contribution would be meaningless or would not be valued by the organisation.

We then played a game of “Museum Consequences” in which everyone takes a piece of paper and answers the question posed then folds over their answer and passes it on and then the next question is answered under the hidden answer to the first one – as follows ….

If we wanted to increase participation amongst adults we could … Pass on … People would join in because … Pass on … Participants would benefit because … Pass on … The organisation would benefit because … pass on ….

Participants then opened the sheet they had and shared the best ideas they found there … for every excellent idea I asked for people to share if they had any best practice tips or lessons learned.


Making Education Pay

Sam Derby, Director, and Martin Lamb, Creative Associate, Oriel Square

Our first session at a GEM conference was a provocative one: how to make educational programmes and resources generate revenue, rather than offer them as a giveaway. Co-presenter Martin Lamb and I were both very impressed with the rigour and enthusiasm with which GEM delegates engaged with our material: it was a great learning experience for us, and from the feedback we had, for delegates too.

The session was a mix of information and interaction: we shared some facts and figures on the amount of money spent by schools in the UK on educational resources (one billion pounds annually), and some great free resources to help design a compelling and effective educational offering that has educational impact on the greatest possible number of people.

Using a mixture of theoretical and generalised principles from the world of educational publishing, together with Martin’s practical experience of creating educational theatrical experiences on a grand scale in both the UK and China, we tried to provide useful tools to delegates to help them build their own improved offerings, and get support from senior leadership and colleagues for them, too – often the key to building momentum around something truly effective.

Delegates in turn shared their experiences and advice, from great ways to either design or understand a visitor’s journey or experience to how they have found the process of pitching for investment within their own institution.

Here are a few things that we highlighted in case you want to find out more:

  • some great free design / research / customer experience tools and templates can be found here 
  • a great strategy book without the jargon, from which our approach to strategy is drawn, is Good / Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt
  • Oriel Square are shortly to be launching some training courses in strategy and agile methodology via the Publishing Training Centre which might be of interest (and we can also deliver these in house / bespoke to make sure they fit museum and heritage needs perfectly)
  • and if you want to find out how an MRI scanner is like a pirate ship (and why focusing on customer experience can help you make design breakthroughs) then watch this TEDx talk from Doug Dietz here.

Thanks again to everyone who attended or showed an interest – and do get in touch with us via the website if you want to talk anything through or find out more.

Oriel Square logo

Poverty: Museums’ barrier of the future?

Sarah Cowie, Learning Officer (Schools), National Museums Scotland

In the UK, 14 million people live in poverty and this number is growing. During this session, we considered what that meant for our visitors, communities and museums.

To understand the impact on children of living in poverty, we watched a short film by the Child Poverty Action Group which highlighted that in Scotland 1 in 4 children live in Poverty. In some areas of the UK, this figure is 1 in 3. It is estimated that by 2022, it will be 1 in 3 UK-wide.

We also read heart-breaking quotes from teachers about how they support children in their class in accessing education.

“Breakfast club introduced as school lunch from previous day often last thing the child has eaten”

“Pupils using socks instead of sanitary towels”

“Buy pupil clothes when they came to school in rags”

People reflected on their own school programmes and that a child saying they were hungry during a session would now take on more meaning to them.

We then considered the barriers that children and families living in poverty face when visiting museums. We thought about these barriers in three different stages from the viewpoint of the family…

  • …who are at home – what barriers do they face in making the decision to come to the museum?
  • …who have decided to come to the museum – what barriers do they face in getting from this decision to arriving at the museum?
  • …who are outside the museum – what barriers do they face in entering the museum and during their visit that might prevent them from returning?

Try doing this exercise for your own museum – it might make you realise barriers you weren’t aware of before.

We also talked about the attainment gap and discovered this starts at an early age and affects children throughout their lives. We discussed the mistakes we’re making for families living in poverty.

Finally, we looked at examples of good practice in museums including:

We also heard during the session about the fantastic work taking place in museums across the UK including:

  • Williamson Art Gallery & Museum Case Study in GEM Vol 20 (2017)
  • Rochdale Pioneers Museum – examples provided during session –
  • Manchester Museum Early Years programme

At National Museums Scotland, we are:

  • Supporting Holiday Hunger initiatives
  • Trialling ‘essentials package’ to allow pupils to take part – healthy snack, sanitary products, travel subsidy, encouraging return visits, developing inclusive sessions & thinking about our language.
  • Expanding our outreach programme to schools, community events and working with local partners
  • Giving young people a say and a place in the museum

The session generated lots of discussion throughout and I would love to hear about any other museums tackling similar issues, or if anyone has made any changes since attending the session.

Thanks to everyone who came along.

Sarah Cowie

Upwardly mobile? What can museum learning programmes contribute to social mobility?

Miranda Stearn, head of learning, University of Cambridge Museums, Fitzwilliam Museum

At University of Cambridge Museums (UCM), we started thinking about how our programmes might positively impact on social mobility when the 2016 Social Mobility Index revealed that our region has a disproportionate number of social mobility ‘cold spots’ – the places where the outcomes for young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are significantly worse than those of their more affluent peers. The index noted that ‘Many of the richest places in England are doing worse for their disadvantaged children than places that are much poorer,’ and Cambridge was one of these places, while Fenland ranked worst and East Cambridgeshire 11th worst for school-age social mobility.

The UCM’s mission is to provide and facilitate inspiring and innovative encounters between diverse audiences and our diverse collections, informed by leading-edge scholarship and artistic practice. We wanted to think about how these inspiring and innovative encounters might play a part in addressing the social mobility challenge.

In recent years, government, charities and the cultural sector have all begun looking at what might help address the decline in social mobility. The Sutton Trust defines the social mobility as follows: Social mobility is about breaking the link between an individual’s parental background and their opportunities to reach their full potential in terms of income and occupation. It is about better opportunities for each generation and making access to these opportunities fairer, regardless of background (The State of Social Mobility in the UK, Sutton Trust, 2017).

During the GEM conference session, participants were introduced to the 2017 State of the Nation report as a way of finding out about social mobility rankings in their area. We then looked at the evidence and strategy context to consider ‘what works’, taking in national and international reports from the charity and arts sectors and government research and strategy. From these we distilled a list of types of activity which museums and heritage sites are well placed to deliver, which evidence suggests can positively impact on social mobility:

  • Programmes targeting disadvantaged children, young people and communities
  • Programmes supporting high quality Early Years experiences
  • Programmes promoting teacher CPD
  • Programmes supporting accessible, high quality extra-curricular
  • Programmes supporting transition from early years to primary or Primary to Secondary
  • Programmes supporting the development of ‘soft skills’
  • Programmes raising aspirations and offering insights into the work of work
  • Programmes supporting varied post 16 pathways

The group carried out a mapping exercise, identifying existing programmes at their organisations in each of these categories. Examples included Rochdale Pioneers Museum’s ‘pioneer pantry’ which families could access through a low-cost membership scheme; Culture Shift’s early years literacy programme with the National Children’s Bureau and cultural venues, Bletchley Park and The Auckland Project’s free visits for schools with high pupil premium numbers, and St Alba n’s Museums’ teacher CPD work, to name a few. It was clear that the sector was already engaging with these issues and there was lots of potential to share practice in terms of successful interventions. We shared case studies from University of Cambridge Museum’s strategic school relationships and also our participation in the My Cambridge Local Cultural education partnership project activate, offering high quality extra-curricular cultural experiences to pupil premium pupils. The session ended with conversations about approaches to evaluation and how we might measure the difference our programmes make if we want to explore our contribution to social mobility.

Useful links:

State of the Nation 2017: Social Mobility in Great Britain

Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential (December 2017) 

The State of Social Mobility in the UK, Boston Consulting Group, Sutton Trust (July 2017)

The Attainment Gap report 2017, Education Endowment Foundation

A Broken Social Elevator? How to Promote Social Mobility, OECD Publishing (2018)

The Versatility of Archives

Sara Bird, education outreach officer, Newcastle University Special Collections

Fun was the main objective of our Heritage Lottery Bid based on the English Civil War and we hoped our workshop at the GEM conference would be fun for the participants too!

With opportunities to try blood clotting experiments (using fake blood), do some palaeography detective work and create a pop-up museum in 2 minutes, our workshop sought to showcase some of the archives inspired activities undertaken by the 400 Year 8 children involved in our project.

Archives are an incredibly rich and versatile resource, which can be used to explore, inspire and educate. In our project, we engaged with all of the Year 8 students in four local secondary schools, with each school focussing upon one particular subject: History, English, Food Technology and Science. Every Year 8 student interacted with the archives and took part in a workshop, with 30 students from each school chosen to showcase their work at our celebration day, which was held at Tynemouth Priory with support from English Heritage.

History: Using our Civil War tracts for inspiration and working with English Heritage, and a historian, the students devised history trails to be completed by other Year 8 students at the celebration day and also a pop-up museum about the Civil War, which was professionally designed and printed.

English: Beginning with excerpts from the Civil War tracts, and working with a drama practitioner and an historical interpretation and re-enactment group, the students identified characters, created dialogue and wrote and performed their very own play about the Civil War.

Science: Learning about the treatment of 17th century war wounds through contemporary medical books, the students compared this to modern day treatment and devised science experiments on blood clotting.

Food Technology: Becoming palaeography detectives, the students transcribed recipes from a 17th century recipe book and then baked 17th century afternoon tea.

At the celebration day plague doctor workshops, witch hunts, singing, drills, and much more made for an unforgettable day when the work or the students was celebrated 17th century style. In the words of one Year 8 student, it was “Belta, mint and enjoyable!”

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