Sian Woodward reflects on the Changemakers programme
In 2015, my manager nominated me to apply to the Changemaker programme. As I read through the invitation to apply, I was uncertain as to my suitability, but could recognise the opportunity. SHARE were looking for 12 established museum professionals with commitment to working in museums, some level of responsibility, and the desire and ambition to make change happen and to develop their own leadership potential. Change was evidently going to be a key part of this programme (the name ‘Changemakers’ was a bit of a clue), yet it is often something we fear or dread, and often in the museum sector it can seem to be something that happens to us, rather than something we ‘make’. Clearly, SHARE wanted to equip participants for just such circumstances – the change that happens to us, and also to consider making changes ourselves.
So the 12 of us who were chosen have spent just over two years becoming Changemakers, and there have been plenty of changes over that time! (began Changemakers as Heritage Access Officer for North Hertfordshire Museum, and am now Collections Manager at the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture at Middlesex University. Babies have been born, roles and jobs have changed, and we said goodbye to SHARE co-ordinator Simon Floyd and hello to Jamie Everitt, Regional Museums Development Manager, as one of our facilitators. It has been such a valuable experience, overseen throughout by Vanessa Trevelyan, past director of Norfolk Museums Service and now a consultant and museums adviser, in keeping with the excellent training and networking opportunities offered by SHARE Museums East generally.
Meeting together at regular intervals gave us the opportunity to visit each other’s organisations. We enjoyed time at Flag Fen, the Museum of East Anglian Life, IWM Duxford, Strangers Hall Norwich, HMS Belfast, Ipswich Art Gallery, North Hertfordshire Museum and Moyse’s Hall Museum.
Two residential sessions were spent at the Cambridge Moller Centre, part of Churchill College, which is a fantastic conference centre. It was so valuable to have extended time away; a day for a session was great, but could be taken up by a lot of travelling, and sometimes seemed to be over almost as soon as it started. The residential sessions allowed us to spend more time on activities and also just chatting with each other.
Not only did we work together trying out various strategies and techniques to employ back in our workplaces, but we also benefitted from visiting speakers giving up their time to share some of their wisdom and experience. Over the course of the programme we heard from: Steve Miller, Head of Norfolk Museums Service; Kate Carreno – Assistant Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum: Ruth Burwood, Museum Development Project Officer with responsibility for Accreditation; Cat Hobbs, Director of We Own It, a campaigning organisation; and Bill Seaman, Director of Colchester & Ipswich Museum Service.
Over this time, we have developed a supportive network of museum professionals facing similar dilemmas. Each meeting has provided a safe environment to articulate, discuss and find solutions to current challenges. It has been a kind of therapy to find out that the challenges we face are not ones we face in isolation, and we have been able to make use of each other’s experiences and reflections to work out strategies in difficult situations. Activities like active listening exercises, courageous conversations and multiple cause analysis – looking at what is at the root of a problem, and what actions on your part will make the most difference – have improved our ability and confidence to assess situations, helped develop interpersonal and negotiating skills, and given us problem solving approaches to equip us for our changing environments.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of Changemakers has been this opportunity to reflect on the experience and skills that each of us has, to develop confidence in our own abilities and resilience in the face of the many challenges in our sector. Wherever our career paths take each of us next, we recognise all that we have to offer our work places and the wider sector, and have seen the value of sharing our knowledge and skills. SHARE Museums East is a great resource for equipping and connecting museum professionals, and the Changemakers programme has been a great way to help us develop good leadership practices. These will not only benefit those of us who participated, but our workplaces, those we manage, and those we mentor. I hope SHARE is able to offer similar programmes in the future, as investing in museum professionals to develop their potential and the potential of the wider sector and fellow professionals is an invaluable way to secure the future of the sector as a whole.