Developing skills and expertise
in partner museums.
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Choosing the group
When selecting a group for your project you must consider who is likely to connect with Talking Objects and what their motivations for being involved might be.
You may understand what is prompting your interest in specific groups, but it’s important to consider what will galvanise and sustain their interest. It’s not a problem if the creative element and the opportunity to gain new skills is the initial hook for the group rather than the object itself. Partner museums often found this to be the case in the early stages of planning and recruitment, but the projects always resulted in individuals developing an unexpected connection with the collection and the museum.
Recruitment can be one of the most challenging aspects of your Talking Objects project. The recommended model of the project expects a big commitment from the participants involved. This section will look at some of the successful strategies for recruiting a group and effectively retaining their interest.
- The importance of taster sessions
- Having a flexible approach when recruiting
- Building good links with group leaders?
- Carefully considering what the group’s motivations are
Taster sessions that take place a few weeks in advance of the start of the project are an important opportunity to introduce the programme. This can occur at either a group’s community centre or the museum. Taster sessions are normally an hour in length, including a short introduction to the museum, a hands-on object enquiry session, and asking the group to explore what questions they might ask about an object. Ice Breaker exercises are also used to help build a relationship with the group (visit Resources and practical advice for more information on warm up games and techniques). Taster sessions also contribute to a higher retention level throughout the programme as they allow potential participants to make an informed choice about whether or not to be involved.
Taster sessions act as:
- A recruitment tool to attract potential participants to sign up for the programme
- A means of developing an early relationship with the group
- A means of developing an early relationship with the group
All partners have agreed that a flexible approach is essential during the recruitment and planning stages of your project; you may find groups are unable to commit to the programme at the last minute due to conflicting schedules or community group staff shortages due to funding cuts. You may also need to think on your feet to maximise participation numbers at certain points in the project. The Taster session can also act as an opportunity to mould your project based on the participant’s interests and needs. This may include making collaborative decisions about the creative elements and the object selection.
The Community Partnerships Officer at Bristol felt that the successes of the project were driven, to some extent, by the challenges. Reflecting on the experience, he suggested the need “to look at the audiences we are hoping to engage with and develop the projects alongside them to work out what will maximise the engagement.
At Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives, it was a challenge to keep participation numbers up despite lots of initial interest. The project leaders made the decision to relocate the sessions away from the museum back out in the community at the groups meeting place as a way of increasing participation. This proved to be very effective.
While you can manage risks with solid planning, don’t be disheartened by smaller numbers or inconsistent attendance. This has been a common feature of many Talking Objects projects and one better handled by managing your expectations from the start and having a contingency plan for when things don’t go to plan.
All partners have benefitted from building good links with group leaders who coordinate the group visits and are primarily responsible for the behaviour of the group off-site. If you decide to work with a more informal group without a key point of contact you’re likely to spend more time on building a network of contacts and organising sessions.
Building a strong relationship with group leaders in advance is likely to enhance your project and minimize the chances of last minute changes; if the group leader sees the value of the programme it should have a ripple effect on the motivation and interest of the group.
Type of group
Working with existing groups
Newark Museum Services (NSMS) had originally intended to work with socially excluded young people from local schools. However, the group was unable to commit at the last moment due to timetabling restrictions. Because the project took place between Sep – Nov they were unable to utilise a longer school holiday, and therefore needed to work with a group that could work a mixture of full days in the week and weekend plus evenings. This disallowed other youth groups approached who only wanted to work on fixed evenings or days. As a result, a pre-existing group who were already partners of the museum were invited to attend instead. Working with a group of young people from the Newark and District Young Archaeologists Club had several benefits. No extra time was needed for participants to get to know each other, and with a strong interest in the subject area the project could hit the ground running. The group also benefitted from having supportive parents who were enthusiastic about the project; often attending and driving their children who lived up to 20 miles away to the sessions. The programme was seen as an opportunity to deepen the existing relationship the young people had with the museum and its collection. This meant that they were able to try new delivery techniques and evolve the programme in response to the participant’s interests.
"The group selected in the end is often the group that is able to meet the structure of the programme rather than the group or groups you had initially hoped to work with. This is not necessarily a bad thing and often results in a great partnership."
Ruth Peterson, Education officer, Millgate Museum.
For NSMS staff the experience highlighted the importance of having sufficient time in the lead up to your project for securing your target audience and having the resilience to think on your feet, should a group pull out at the last minute.
Working with new groups
Colchester and Ipswich Museum the team decided to use the project as a platform to recruit for the museum’s youth panel. This had previously been tested at The British Museum where all the original members of its youth panel BMuse were recruited from Talking Objects projects. At Colchester the opportunity was advertised through local newspapers, posters and referral through local community and arts organisations. As the young people didn’t know each other, more time was allocated to encouraging the young people to get to know each other better from the early stages of planning. It was also decided very early on to link the project to the redisplay of Colchester Castle, enabling participants’ interpretations to feed directly into the new exhibition.
As an additional incentive, the group was offered a bronze Arts Award. The young people saw the value of a nationally recognized but informal learning pathway and subsequently the uptake was high. The Learning and Engagement Officer advises using the Arts Award accreditation scheme as it really is a natural fit for the Talking Objects template and allows the participants to have formal recognition of their work.
Arts Awards offer young people arts and leadership skills and can be achieved at five levels, four accredited qualifications and one introductory course. If you are interested in finding out about how you can run arts award please visit http://www.artsaward.org.uk/