Julia Ankenbrand

Working together: community co-production of collections knowledge and display at a national museum

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

My research explores how to create the most beneficial conditions for collaborations between the British Museum and its surrounding communities.

Start Date: September 2015
End Date: September 2018
Theme: How objects and their histories can most effectively be presented, exhibited and explored through different media and forms of public and learning programmes
Research discipline: Museum Studies
Locations: UK
Staff member: Stuart Frost
Department: Learning & National Partnerships
University and department: School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies and Centre for Critical Studies of Museums, Galleries and Heritage, University of Leeds
University supervisor: Helen Graham, William Rea

What influences collaborations between museums and communities?

Its structure, goals, policies and organisational values influence how the museum interacts with communities. My research will help with understanding and mapping those in relation to the values and dynamics within the surrounding communities.

What is community engagement?

My research will help develop and define the processes and goals of working with communities. This will further the development of new ideas, and the communication between the museum and the communities it engages with.

How can we enhance collaboration?

Gained knowledge and understanding will be the base for a re-imagined co-created vision for collaborations between the museum and communities. This will sustainably influence the museum’s practice and findings will be shared with the wider sector.

About my research

The last forty years have seen increasing experimentation with co-production of knowledge, displays and collections in museums. Yet there remains very little sustained research exploring the practices and institutional conditions for successful collaborations with communities, a core area of museum work.

Using the British Museum as a case study, my research will address exactly this issue. Using participatory and action research approaches, my question is what do the most beneficial conditions for successful community engagement look like and how they are achieved?

My study of the topic is embedded in a three year project called Object Journeys, led by the Community Partnerships team at the British Museum. Object Journeys is a programme exploring various forms and methodologies of community collaboration. Individuals from diverse local communities are supported to engage with museum collections and co-curate object-focused displays and interventions.

Aims of my research

My aim is to specify what the potential for community co-production is to change institutional culture. How can the British Museum most effectively embed working with communities deeply within its organisational fabric?

Collaborative and participatory explorations between the museum and the communities will build up skills and trust on both sides.

The process will enable participants to reflect on the relevance and practicalities of community-led exhibitions, interpretation and programming for national museums. Findings will be used to produce and share recommendations and strategies for best practice and sustainable future development of the museum sector.