Learning and engagement research case studies

How can we develop and deepen our relationship with communities and citizens, who are both visitors and non-visitors, and learn about their needs?

Learning and engagement work is centrally concerned with enhancing wellbeing and lifelong learning. This helps the Museum respond to the policy content in Wales. For example, Welsh Government’s Well-being of Future Generations Act places responsibilities on public bodies (including AC-NMW) to contribute to a prosperous, resilient, healthier and more equal Wales, with cohesive communities and a vibrant culture.

AC-NMW are lead partners in Welsh Government’s Fusion programme, aimed at creating resilient communities through engagement with heritage and culture. We are involved in the development of the new National Curriculum in Wales and have been commissioned by Welsh Government to advise on the ‘experience’ strands. The Children’s Commissioner for Wales is also advising us on developing the Young People’s Cultural Rights Scheme.

Hands-on Heritage

Young people often see museums as ‘not for them’. They may feel that heritage lacks relevance to their lives, and find museum spaces unappealing. Heritage and culture can seem stuffy and elitist, too traditional or educational. AC-NMW has built up experience working with young people, such as the HLF funded On Common Ground and Bling! Their legacy was the creation of Youth Forums in 2013, voluntary groups run by young people, who meet regularly to plan better involvement in AC-NMW Museums.

The latest funding is from Kick the Dust, a Heritage Lottery youth and community engagement programme aiming to to work with 14-24 year olds with diverse backgrounds, needs and interests. Hands-on Heritage offers four levels of engagement: one-off half-day activities; 5-7 day courses; larger, 6-month projects, and ‘Heritage Leader’ roles. Shorter activities could see young people curating small scale displays, doing construction, design and conservation work, volunteering, or reenacting. Longer commitment offers accredited skills in marketing, digital media, exhibitions, annual events.

The project is working with Dr Dawn Mannay from Cardiff University, who specialises in creative methods with young people and brings insights from sociological work on transitions to adulthood, youth cultures and social identities - including LGBT, gender, class and disability.

How can we become more inclusive and co-productive in our learning and community engagement activities?

AC-NMW is the largest provider of learning outside the classroom in Wales (500,000 school children, students, families, young people and adults engage with the bilingual learning programmes annually).

There are important gaps to fill in the knowledge-base about museums’ educational and social role within communities and with demographic groups outside traditional museum audiences. Learning and engagement research can explore how research evidence can be brought to bear on these. By building innovative research elements into project proposals, the team has recently achieved significant success in winning grants from funders who do not usually fund pure research (e.g. HLF; Paul Hamlyn Foundation). In undertaking research, the team understands the need to work together with the many diverse communities of Wales to design the best activities and displays to facilitate learning and to explore how the collections, and research on them, can be used effectively in the delivery of learning and community engagement.

Highlighted projects:

My primary school is in the Museum

A collaboration between AC-NMW, Garbers & James Architects and Kings College London, this project tested the hypothesis that there may be beneficial learning, social and cultural outcomes for primary school children and their families when a significant portion of their learning takes place in a museum setting, as well as benefits for museums.

Two Reception-year classes (ages 4-5) of a local primary school in Swansea took all their classes for a six-week period at Swansea Waterfront Museum between January and June 2016. Benefits for museums, schools, and children and their families, were found to be:

  • For children: increased confidence; improved social and communication skills; greater engagement with and ‘ownership' of local cultural spaces and places.
  • For museums: a deeper understanding of younger audiences, enabling the development of more relevant, engaging programmes; an extended use of their spaces and collections.
  • Schools and teachers: examples of creative ways in which to deliver the curriculum and confidence using out-of-classroom spaces.