In our last blog we introduced our trip to the US. We packed our bags and travelled to inspirational places to continue our learning.
With the trip being part of our collaborative action research, we made sure to bring people from across the research project. Our delegation of eight consisted of Bradford practitioners combining creative practice and community development, museum staff and University of Leeds partners: Julia Ankenbrand (Project Researcher, University), Nabeelah Hafeez (Project Coordinator, Bradford Stories Festival), Helen Graham (Project Researcher, University of Leeds), Gin Jacobucci (Volunteer Coordinator, National Science and Media Museum), Sarah Ledjmi (Associate Curator of Sound & Vision, National Science and Media Museum), Jo Quinton-Tulloch (Director, National Science and Media Museum), Richard Warburton (Artistic Director, Theatre in the Mill), Lynn Wray (Project Researcher, University of Leeds).
What we were there to learn slots into, and is informed by, the research actions we took in the first phases of the Bradford’s National Museum project and are involved in now. Over the last five months in Bradford we have been going through an intense reflection process. Having made sense together of what we learned from making the exhibition Above the Noise: 15 Stories From Bradford, now allows us to collaboratively chart a way forward.
Reflecting on Above the Noise together
After the end of Above the Noise we spent time together thinking about what went well, about what could have been better, and where we wanted to take things next. With over a hundred people involved in creating the exhibition and in hosting visitors, reflecting on the exhibition required a range of different strategies. We used workshops, interviews and one-to-one conversations with visitors and those involved in the making of the exhibition. That included story collaborators, front of house museum staff, other museum staff, and University of Leeds collaborators to capture learning, opinions about the process and thoughts for what actions to try next.
We created a rich picture of people’s reflections of their experiences. Because we are working cross-systemically, with views from all sorts of angles, we have been able to really bring to light the dynamics large scale collaborative work in museums evokes and is set in. We have experienced the practicalities of competing needs. Many members of staff experienced Above the Noise as stressful, too complex, were torn between what felt like different priorities of quality and collaboration, while many story collaborators experienced the museum as not as responsive or as communicative as they would have liked.
Doing to learn, learning to do: Developing our research questions
Our initial action research question was how the National Science and Media Museum can be more locally connected, open and rooted through working differently. The learning from our actions of making Above the Noise allowed us to refine our research questions to inform our next research actions.
From the reflective workshop it became clear that it is relatively simple to think about any of the different issues that arose from Above the Noise singely. It is not hard for any of us to think about sound and vision technology or Bradford. It is not hard for museums staff to think about quality or being responsive to new ideas and new collaborations. Yet to really address underlying issues we need to hold together different issues, a shift from either/or thinking to both+and.
The five cross-cutting questions that emerged are:
- How can we work with the specific strengths of the museum and of the existing networks in Bradford?
- What opportunities arise from addressing questions of social justice in Bradford and questions of the science and technology of sound and vision?
- How can ideas of quality that already exist in NSMM be openly talked about and how might ideas of quality be co-produced with Bradford communities?
- How can the NSMM both be part of Science Museum Group decision-making structures and develop collaborative decision-making with people in Bradford?
- How can the NSMM prioritise the wellbeing of staff and collaborators and be responsive, brave and take risks?
We are now using these questions to drive the final year of the research. We are doing this in a number of different ways. We formed a BNMP Staff Group who are linking their own everyday practice with the wider agendas of the Bradford’s National Museum. The staff group works collaboratively with the Network, a growing group of museum staff, Above the Noise collaborators and other partners in Bradford. It acts as a regular touch point for communication and collaboration between people in Bradford and the museum. In all aspects of the research, we’re seeking to work at the knotty place where different worlds, priorities and practices intersect.