What policies should a museum cover?
The scope of your education policy will depend on what is meant by education in your museum and how you see this developing in the future, and on the available resources.
In recent years the profile of education in the museum profession has grown dramatically and there has been a shift in emphasis from thinking about how museums ‘educate’ to how they facilitate learning.The traditional view that museum
education is about the services provided to schools is rapidly being replaced by a broader understanding that its purpose is to maximise learning opportunities for all users, for example through an audience-focused approach to exhibition development. It is therefore becoming more and more difficult to separate education from areas such as interpretation, access, social inclusion and audience development.
Your education policy could encompass all the above areas, or at the other end of the spectrum, you could decide to limit it to services to particular audiences. This might have implications for what you call the policy – you may decide to call it a ‘Learning & Access Policy’ for example, or a ‘Schools Policy’. However broad or narrow you make it, the important thing is that it needs to work for your museum at its current stage of development – there is no point in producing a policy that your colleagues are not ready for and will not support. However, a successful policy should also move the museum forward in how it regards education.
What should a policy contain?
There is no set formula for what an education policy should contain. Every policy will be unique because every museum is unique, with its own combination of audiences, collections, aspirations, staff, volunteers and other resources. However, there are a number of key elements that all education policies should include in one form or another.
Education mission statement
This should relate to the museum’s overall mission statement but should be specific to its educational role. It should sum up in one short, memorable statement the museum’s vision for education and learning.
Involve as many people as you can in brainstorming the statement and look at examples from other museums.Try to concentrate not on what the museum will do, but on what users want and should expect from it. For example, users might expect the museum to be inspirational, accessible, fun, engaging, thought provoking and relevant to their everyday lives.
planning for learning
a guide to developing an education policy
'Think clearly about your objectives – this is your chance to be creative.Write these all down, then work out what is actually possible givenyour resources.'
An education mission statement is important because it sets the tone for everything the museum does and can be used as a check throughout the policy development process.
These set out the museum’s overall philosophy and approach to education.They should state what the museum means by ‘education’ and outline its role and how it relates to other functions. The statements should set the direction for education in the museum, identify priorities and areas for development, and define standards or levels of quality that the museum would like to maintain or meet.
The policy statements should cover the following areas:
• Audiences – who is visiting the museum and who isn’t? Who are your target audiences? Which existing audiences would you like to develop and which potential audiences would you like to reach? Try prioritising target audiences into first, second and third priority to help you plan future provision and marketing.
• Market research – how will the museum find out about its current and potential audiences? This will probably include both desk research (collecting existing information) and field research (collecting original information from visitors and non-visitors). Field research could be quantitative (collecting facts and figures, eg through questionnaires) or qualitative (collecting people’s thoughts, ideas and feelings, eg through interviews and focus groups).
• Learning needs – how do your target audiences prefer to learn? What abilities, experiences, attitudes and expectations might they bring with them? What are their interests and prior levels of knowledge and understanding? What motivates them to use the museum? What prevents them using the museum? It is important to think about learning in the broadest terms – learning in museums is not just about acquiring knowledge and understanding but can involve the development of physical and social skills, and changes to attitudes and feelings.
• Types of provision – what kind of services will you provide for your target audiences? This will depend on your collections and how they relate to the needs and interests of your target audiences, and the resources (including expertise) available to you. Examples include handling sessions, tours, workshops, loan services, outreach sessions, travelling exhibitions, drama and role-play sessions, storytelling, lectures, teachers’ packs, activity sheets and trails, web-based resources, weekend and holiday activities for families, reminiscence sessions for older people and so on.
• Exhibition development – how will the museum ensure that its displays and exhibitions are planned and designed to cater for the range of learning needs of target audiences? It is important that museum educators are part of development teams from the beginning of the project.
• Evaluation – how will the museum evaluate the appropriateness and success of its education provision? Ideally this should include front-end (before development), formative (during development) and summative (after completion) evaluation with target audiences.This might include observing visitors, surveys, questionnaires, discussion groups, trialing mock-ups and designs, asking for comments on draft materials, and consulting advisory panels.
• Marketing – how will the museum market its education provision to target audiences? This should be closely linked to the museum’s overall marketing strategy to ensure consistency. Methods need to be appropriate to the audience, but possibilities include word of mouth, mailings, advertising in the local press or magazines, leaflets, flyers, posters, promotional events, conferences, competitions, websites, outreach activities, networking and working in partnership.
• Resources – what resources (staff, volunteers, collections, displays, time, money, space, facilities, equipment etc) do you have available to you? What opportunities or limitations do the collections present and what kind of access do you have to them? How relevant and appealing are the museum’s displays to target audiences? How might you supplement resources by fundraising, working with volunteers, sharing facilities etc?
• Training implications – will the policy require staff or volunteers to develop existing or new skills or expertise? How will the museum provide access to appropriate training?
• External relationships – what are the key contacts you need to make and networks you need to get involved with? These might include community groups, local schools and colleges, the local education authority, Area Museum Councils, museum network groups, Group for Education in Museums, Engage, Museums Association and so on.