brain-synapsesSimon Floyd, SHARE Co-Ordinator

At NMAS’s recent conference on Museum Workforce Development and being a Teaching Museum,  Gaby Porter, Museum Association board member, surprised everyone by turning most of her keynote speech into a lecture on neuroscience.

Essentially what Gaby was trying to get across is that for far too long we have been using our rational, analytical brains to construct and deliver development opportunities, at the expense of the intuitive, empathetic side of our natures. The ability to rationalise, categorise and define – our left brain – has come to be the master, not the servant.

How many training courses have you attended where you felt like you have been filled up with information and expert opinion without the chance to explore or even form the questions that might lead you to a deeper understanding of the subject?

We don’t leave enough time to enquire, to express doubt or speak as the situation actually is, as opposed to what it should be.

This is surely why SHARE programmes are filling up quicker than ever. More and more we are emphasising experience alongside expertise, acknowledging that we are all experts to some degree – by very virtue of our experience. For example, one of the models of workforce development we use is the “cohort model”, where a group of around six museums and 12 staff are brought together to chew the fat on a particular issue, such as volunteer development, forward planning and community co-creation. To see them recognising and wrestling together with common issues is much more meaningful and ultimately a more practically useful exercise for those involved. Here are two quotes from recent participants:

“One of the most useful things was the cross pollination and cross fertilisation of idea – simply realising you are not alone.”

“The meeting of others with the same questions gave you an opportunity to be really honest and download stuff and that was the most valuable of all.”

By stressing peer to peer learning and valuing each contribution, giving the time and space to listen to others and to express themselves without the fear of determining immediate solutions, we create real capacity for positive change.

One group for whom the in-tray of issues is always full is the lone professional of a small or medium sized museum. Very often they have a huge load to contend with: an army of volunteers needing direction, a motley board of trustees, finances, health and safety, security, premises management and legal issues. And all before they get to even consider working with the collection. How can we help them?

Well of course, solution oriented things can and do help. If you need to know how to fill in a spreadsheet or deal quickly with a thorny HR issue, then a factsheet or bit of clear directed teaching is a big help. But it works on the symptom not the cause. The pressure of managing multiple tasks for which you do not feel qualified in relative isolation is surely only eased by making trusted connections with people who have been in a similar boat and survived.

Not Only But Also is a SHARE programme running throughout next year that aims to create such connections. The course will use much of what we have learnt in the programmes we have developed in the last few years. As well as practical, instructive sessions and resources on the kind of issues mentioned above, we will be working hard on developing a mutually supportive network amongst the cohort, underpinned by the simple act of listening to each other. To further stitch in this approach some of the regions most experienced leaders are offering their services as mentors; professionals ready to give time, ears and the benefit of their experience to the participants.

How much easier everything is when we know we have a network around us. We don’t promise solutions, only support. Let the solutions find themselves.

So I hope we are doing Ms. Porter proud. Skills and knowledge are rife – we can find expertise in every field to draw on. But the attitude – to be prepared to share, and to listen and to support – that is lasting help. We will continue to do work on programmes which will help the long neglected other side of our brains to thrive, and enable lasting change in the process.

For more information on Not Only But Also, please contact Simon Floyd on 01603 638141 or at

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