What would Tesco do? (if they ran a museum…)

Just back from the Museums Association Conference in Manchester. Could only be there for one day but managed to hear from keynotes Ed Vaizey and Neil MacGregor.

‘What would Tesco do?’ (a variation on one of my personal favourite creative thinking solutions) was used by consultant John Newbigin to get museums he was working with to think differently… their response was that if Tesco was running their museum they would know a lot more about their visitors and they would be using this information to improve their services and target potential visitors more effectively.

Quite right.

Worringly they seemed to think you need complex computer systems and processes to do this properly. It’s not the case – an organisational dispostion to listen and respond to customers is crucial; and then as we know there are all sorts of practical options (many low or no cost): informally chatting to visitors; through a regular survey – online or in person;  comments and suggestion cards; visitors books; holding discussion groups etc etc.  

Listeing to Neil MacGregor  felt rather strange that he wasn’t coming out of the i-pod in my kicthen (his History of the World in 100 Objects is one of my favourite podcasts). He spoke passionately about the role of a national museum, as a  ‘lending  library’ for partner museums up and down the country to access objects, and the unique ability of ‘things’ to tell stories and connect with other people, other times and other places. Finished with a plea to consider our national collections as one shared resource – to use to learn and study together.

Ed Vaizey was charming… (really, he was) and I thought was given an easy time by the delegates. I was struck by the contrast between Nick Serota’s heartfelt and hard hitting Guardian attack on the propsed spending cuts yesterday  and the deafening silence from the leaders of some of the country’s national museums in the room.

Some of the specifics I picked up from his speech

  • State won’t subsidise those organisations that won’t help themsleves
  • Partnership and collaborations  (or cultural convergence as Ed calls it) are the way forward (and not just with other museums)
  • Post Renaissance funding will go to ‘core’ museums which are ‘efficient, imaginative and innovative’

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