Realising the Vision: Putting Public Value at the Heart of Museums

Shetland Museum and Archive. Photo credit Phatsheep Photography.
Shetland Museum and Archive. Photo credit Phatsheep Photography.

Museums and Pubic Value – Creating Sustainable Futures, which has previously been referenced here by John Reeve, is a publication that I contributed to as Chief Executive of Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS). MGS is the National Development Body representing over 460 museums and galleries throughout Scotland and now the only specialist museums development body in the UK and one of the few in Europe.

Following extensive consultation with the Scottish sector and stakeholders it became clear that creating public value was crucial to the ongoing sustainability of museums in Scotland, so much so that it would be enshrined in our National Strategy, Going Further which we published in 2012. The strategy progresses public value through six aims and a series of objectives which the sector has been encouraged to include in their own plans and to align their work to.

The approach taken in reporting on progress on the Strategy has been to evidence the creation of public value rather than to prove it. The strategy is driven by a delivery cycle of alignment, investment, evaluation and advocacy.

Example of the Delivery Cycle

In 2013 a two-year delivery plan was produced, again following a consultation period with the sector. This was an action plan for the sector that MGS facilitated and enabled the delivery of as well as participated in. This was very much a pilot the first two years to try out formats and approaches to progressing the vision at the heart of the strategy of:

Scotland’s Museums and galleries will be ambitious, dynamic and sustainable enterprises, connecting people, places and collections; inspiring delighting and creating public value.

The first delivery plan followed a format of delivering to five priorities, which were then related to the six aims of the strategy. This proved to be confusing to everyone, and the next iteration of actions has been set out under the six aims. In June 2014 MGS published One Year On, which was a report on the first year of Strategy delivery. This uses the combination of big data collected and collated by MGS to track overall sector progress with short case studies illustrating sector examples of good practice. One Year On returns to the format of aligning everything under the six aims and was purposely written to be accessible in the format of an advocacy document.

Image: Johnshaven Heritage Trust Lifeboat House Community Hub
Image: Johnshaven Heritage Trust Lifeboat House Community Hub

This report was then sent out to a wide cross-section of sector and stakeholders as well as to all politicians in Scotland. The politicians were issued with the invitation to visit their local museums with MGS to see first-hand the public value and social outcomes being created at local level. As there are over 460 museums in Scotland, many of them local, community-run museums, it was fairly straightforward for politicians to identify with a local museums in their constituency and the take up for the invitation has been very enthusiastic. This campaign has been very successful in raising awareness at a political level of the work museums are carrying out in local communities which is essential as part of the authorising environment of public value.

Local museums have been able to showcase the public value they have created as many have been doing projects such as supported employment places; taking referrals from doctors; and the criminal justice system, to rehabilitate people into society and community through working in and with their local museums. What they had not been doing was raising awareness that this is part of the work of the ‘Contemporary Museum’ of today, and this campaign as part of the National Strategy process has given them a platform on which to do so.

On July 14th, MGS published the next Delivery Plan, Realising the Vision, which is a four-year action plan. As we gain confidence in the direction of travel, this again follows the format of the six aims of the National Strategy and the objectives beneath these have been reviewed and sharpened to ensure they remain fit for purpose. Again, this document will be sent to all politicians and its publication will be used to raise awareness of the valuable work all museums in Scotland carryout in creating public value.

Museums in Scotland engage and involve the public at every level of operation. The public are passionate about their heritage and many museums are owned and operated by their local community. It is this aspect of the context here in Scotland that has made the concept of public value so appropriate it is the public who decide what heritage is important and what is valued. This creates a dynamic heritage environment – with the emphasis on doing heritage rather than being a passive consumer.


This post was first published by Joanne Orr on in August 2015

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