ADA 2.0 Fellow Jennifer Rowland from Epping Forest District, Lowewood and Chelmsford Museums delves deep into her area to connect with the communities.
I joined the ADA to bring new ideas and perspectives to the public engagement work of the ‘No Borders’ project. This project, supported by Arts Council England Resilience Funding, brings together three local museums in Essex and Hertfordshire. We are working to develop and diversify our audiences, as well as develop our fundraising and commercial work. We are sharing resources, skills and knowledge across the three museums.
An important part of my work is engaging with currently under-represented audiences. We want those audiences to feel represented in our collections and programming. We want them to feel positive about visiting the museum and inspired to do so.
Our categorisation of these audiences comes from demographic data collected from previous current-audience surveys which we have compared to local census information. We have chosen to focus on two under-represented audience groups in the coming months – visitors with additional access requirements and BAME residents.
We are hoping to run two focus groups at each of the museums this summer, one looking at access issues and the second at how to diversify our work in relation to BAME audiences. The process of recruiting people to take part in these focus groups has highlighted some of the methods and also challenges of reaching these audience groups. It has also got us thinking about how to embed community involvement and evaluation as a regular part of our work.
It was very useful to discuss these challenges with my mentor Monica Montgomery. One of the points that came out strongly was the need to get out there in the community and really connect with people. Find out where those audiences are, where they meet, how to reach them. Research has been very helpful here, really drilling down in the local data to find where these audiences live, and where they meet. But there are also other sources of help. Finding community leaders, those people who run local groups or sit on local councils can be a key way of reaching audiences.
Monica also suggested creating a permanent Community Advisory Panel. We could ask people to apply by CV and cover letter to join this panel. This gets round one potential weakness of focus groups – that the participants may not necessarily be representing the views of a range of local residents who are part of the target audience.
There is lots more work to be done and it will be interesting to see how the project develops over the year.