South Western Federation of Museums and Art Galleries

Blog: Time, Trust and Tea. What we’ve learned about collaboration in Cornwall

After a fantastic workshop (involving several boxes of Lego) from Emmie Kell and Dr Tehmina Goskar at our SWFed Conference 2017, we invited them to write a blog post about what they have learnt from their recent experience of partnership working (all images taken from their SWFed Conference 2017 workshop):

We’ve been thinking a lot about the power of collaboration in Cornwall over the last few years and how we can use it as a tool to help ensure the future sustainability of museums and galleries.

Most recently as part of our Arts Council funded Change Makers programme (a partnership between Dr Tehmina Goskar Cornwall’s Change Maker, Royal Cornwall Museum and Cornwall Museums Partnership) we been reflecting on how collaborative working can assist culture change.

This blog summarises some of the things we’ve learned (and which we shared with colleagues at our workshop at the SWFED conference on 6th July 2017).

1. Collaborative working culture is an essential prerequisite for a successful museum. A culture of collaboration and openness is at the heart of organisational resilience.

2. If you want to deliver a service which is genuinely participatory, where there is active public engagement – you need to work in a collaborative way – within your organisation and outside of it.

3. Genuine collaboration gives you access to many voices, it breaks people and organisations out of the isolation that is the thing that can crush entrepreneurial and innovative thinking.

4. Partnership is about organisational culture – it is not a box you can tick.

5. Those who can embrace distributed leadership and Agile methodologies are the ones who have a natural advantage – it is much easier for these organisations to genuinely collaborate with their communities and much harder for those organisations who operate strict hierarchies with a high degree of control at the top.

6. If you want to create the kind of museum described in the Museum Association’s Museums Change Lives then you have to share power and build a culture of trust in your own organisation.

7. Changing things in a museum is really difficult and take a long time; it’s lonely.

8. You can’t do it on your own, you will have to collaborate with others, even people you don’t like, and who don’t like you.

9. Museums are important players in civil society. But they are weird. They are buildings full of old things and we expect people to part with money to enjoy them. Keep a sense of proportion

10. Get to know what bubbles underneath the surface of your museum. What baggage is it carrying?

11. How does the group’s behaviour compare to the individual’s? What relationships are at play?

12. As a change agent, what’s it like being on the other end of me? What’s it like for others to be on the other end of you? Facilitation skills are really useful

13. Change doesn’t pan out how you might have planned it; negotiate the outcomes, be flexible, communicate widely and regularly to achieve a collaborative culture.

14. Repetition of a few simple messages is key, especially common values around community, integrity and authenticity.

15. Be confident in challenging the status quo or accepted thinking, but use sparingly.

16. Be prepared for the inner biases and prejudices of others to be projected onto you; don’t accept poor behaviour but you will need to develop a strong stomach.

17. Small, incremental change adds up. You’ve succeeded when you hear your words quoted back at you, don’t worry about receiving credit.

18. Don’t be the change they seek, be there to lead their changes.

About the authors:

Emmie Kell is the CEO of Cornwall Museums Partnership, leading on strategic planning and fundraising. Emmie has over 20 years of experience within the museum sector including working at the V&A, Somerset House, MOSI Manchester, and Thinktank Birmingham. Prior to joining the Museum’s Partnership, Emmie worked as a consultant, providing strategic advice to museums across the UK. She also advised and co-authored the Cornwall Museums Strategy. Emmie is a member of the Institute of Fundraising and was the Arts Council England Museums Clore Fellow in 2014/15.

Dr Tehmina Goskar is an Arts Council England Change Maker at Cornwall Museums Partnership and the Royal Institution of Cornwall, and a cultural and curatorial consultant. She is also a Museum Mentor, member of the Museums Association's Ethics Committee and an Accredited member of the Association of Facilitators.