Top Ten Tips for a successful museum partnership
By Sarah Burry-Hayes (University Museum in Scotland) and Emma Halford-Forbes (Industrial Museums Scotland)
NOTE: This blog first appeared on the Museums Galleries Scotland website on 20 April 2021
In increasingly lean and unpredictable times, partnerships can be a meaningful support for organisations. In March 2021 we presented a session as part of MGS’s Talking Partnerships series.
We looked at how partnerships can strengthen organisations by sharing experiences, pooling resources and amplifying advocacy. We talked about everything from developing strategy to the practicalities, as well as touching on how we feel the current digital climate has provided increased opportunities for working in partnership. We were joined by Fiona Thornton, President of the Scottish Museums Federation, who chaired the Q&A.
Following the session, we said we’d elaborate on our Top Ten Tips for a successful museum partnership. So here goes…
Find common ground & set parameters
Play to your strengths, and recognise your differences – both are important in a partnership. Involve everyone and make sure you understand expectations – and limitations. Set up appropriate governance or an agreement – and establish a joint vison (or strategy) so you all know where you are headed. But remember, what sort (and level) of governance or agreements you set up will depend on the partnership you’re forming. If it’s a short term project or programme specific partnership, you might take a lighter touch. Whereas if you’re planning on sticking together for a while, you’ll want more parameters for the partners. But do have at least a joint vision or purpose to remind yourselves why you’re together!
One of the most useful part of meetings is to hear what everyone else has been up to since you last spoke. It might be prudent to put a time limit for each member! But it’s important to give everyone a chance to speak. It’s a great source of ideas and inspiration, as well as bonding the group and getting a better idea of common issues and strengths (and see top tip 5 ‘don’t reinvent the wheel’!).
Support each other in difficult times
We’ve found in our organisations that mutual support has been invaluable, especially over the last year. Just having the support of the partnership (who aren’t involved with your organisation, you trust, and you can both share experiences with and learn from) has been amazing. It not only gives you a sense that you’re not on your own, but also, in our case, has helped with our mental health and wellbeing and given us a sense of purpose, allowing us to stay active, even though the museums have been closed.
Shout about your partnership
Make sure the sector and stakeholders know who you are and what your messages are. And don’t be afraid to shout about it! Advocating on behalf of our members has always been one of the main aims of both UMIS and IMS, but this year that has been taken to the next level. What makes advocacy for partnerships so impactful is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In short – you can both make more impact and shout louder together. That’s a familiar theme that runs through all aspects of partnership working.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
Whether it’s a project idea, Accreditation documentation or a risk assessment, someone will have done it before. Just ask. Create a shared drive for storing documents, if that’s useful. Have someone collate and anonymise the templates or data, if it’s sensitive. Have a brainstorm about it. We’re all in this together. This past year we’ve swapped intel on the implications of social distancing, shared risk assessments and discussed (and collaborated on) online activity – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Remember that things change and circumstances change. Go with the flow. Not every partnership will last forever, and not every partner will be able to be super-engaged all the time. The secret to long and happy partnerships is to revisit, amend and adjust things regularly. Things will change so it’s important that’s acknowledged and addressed as early as possible. Each time it happens!
The basis of any great partnership is the ‘touchy feely’ stuff. Ensure there’s openness, trust, honesty and mutual respect between those involved. Not everyone has the same capabilities, resources or time to put into a partnership, but respecting this (and setting your parameters early on as we mentioned earlier) will help the partnership to flourish. It’s cheesy but think of it as a personal relationship or a marriage. It takes some work, but the rewards should speak for themselves.
Don’t bottle anything up
Animosity is bred when things aren’t said! It’s not worth harbouring grudges or concerns. Talk it out. There’ll always be stuff that people don’t necessarily feel comfortable addressing. But, like personal relationships, these are the issues that, if left, can fester and undermine a partnership.
It could be a swishy annual report (though it’s possible to do this on a budget – ask Sarah!), a simple infographic, or a series of tweets – or all three! But make sure you celebrate what’s worked, whether its something small like having a wee round of applause in a meeting, or something more substantial (we want to get back to those days where everyone could meet for a celebratory drink!). Remember that celebrating successes will bring the partnership closer together and help everyone feel that what they’ve achieved, they’ve achieved together.
Talk. And then talk some more. And more…
We can’t stress this enough: just carry on talking. About everything. The more you communicate and share your thoughts, the more everyone will be on the same page when it comes to the big things.
If you’d like to talk about setting up a new partnership or about an existing partnership, we would be more than happy to have a chat. Just get in touch…