Diversifying the Museum Voice offers a flexible framework for inclusive programmes and sharing authorship in a collections setting, plus case studies and provocations to support you in putting them into practice.

The framework was developed through an action learning process involving colleagues from across the University of Cambridge Museums, supported by programme facilitator Ruth Clarke.

Principles to Diversify the Museum Voice

These six interconnecting principles provide a flexible framework to support collaborative working and the sharing of authorship. The Principles consolidate contemporary ideas and thinking and provide provocations for dialogue designed to enable change.

The framework has its full strength and hence value when used by colleagues and collaborators as opportunities to work together to:

  • plan together: asking eachother why action is needed, what difference or change needs to be made?
  • do or act together: asking eachother how we might achieve this, what activity could make the change happen?
  • review together: asking eachother how is the project going, what indications of change can be seen, do assumptions stack up, does anything need to be done differently?

Each of the six Principles contains three components, each of which set the scene for teams to ask themselves questions to open-up dialogue and enable progress. They are:

  • What, the tenet or key ingredient

Question – what does ‘diversification of relationships’ mean to us?

  • How, activity and approach

Question – how might we, for example, extend our networks, locate synergies and make sure that we are receptive to difference? What investment and activity can we make?

  • Why, the reason or outcome

Question – what does ‘find our relevance and increase impact’ mean to us? With and for whom?

Case studies

Opening up the Polar Museum’s collection for and with blind and partially-sighted people

Working in collaboration with a group of local people who are acting as consultants, the Polar Museum have been developing and producing resources to improve the public interface with their Ernest Shackleton collection.

Read the full case study

Refresh, Rebrand & Re-present at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences

This project is an investment in the museum’s Community Cabinet, a display space dedicated to sharing the geological treasures of others reaching beyond the University and the academic community.

Read the full case study

Research & Representation at the Museum of Zoology

This is a digital initiative that fosters relationships between the Museum, women and people of colour to foreground their research on the Museum’s blogsite.  

Read the full case study

University of Cambridge Museums Community Panel

The consortium’s Community Panel is bringing together local voices to provide new perspectives on the work the Cambridge museums undertake, with the remit of challenging group ways of thinking and working.

Read the full case study


Putting the Principles into action: provocation and inquiry

As you think about putting the Principles into practice, you might find these provocations helpful for thinking through your approach.

Diversify relationships

  • What privilege are we holding and how can this be employed to best effect?
  • What is happening specifically at this moment in time that we need to respond to?
  • How can we respond not react to the urgency of change?
  • What do we really mean by ‘relevance’?
  • What is helping and what is hindering the development of new relationships?
  • How and where can we purposefully contribute to the work of others?

Pursue Authenticity

  • What is specific about a relationship, how can it best be defined, is it a collaboration consultation, co-production or perhaps a process of ‘exchange, lending or borrowing?
  • Are we being true to our purpose, have we deviated – if so, are we clear on our motivations for this?
  • If we are upfront from the beginning, is it OK to limit or be prescriptive about what we’re able to offer?
  • To what extent does the relationship need to be sustainable to be authentic?
  • Are we respecting peoples time, how can we be elegant in using this?
  • Is the mutual benefit clear to those involved? How can we create the conditions for these to be fully and honestly acknowledged?
  • Is there mistrust, what do we know about this, to what extent can it be overcome and to what?

Commit to dialogue

  • Do we really understand what is meant by dialogue, what the intent is and how to take part in it?
  • What capacity do we have for it? Are we prepared for the discomfort and uncertainty that are often part of the process?
  • Is it OK to be clear and realistic about when and to what extent dialogue can take place?
  • In what contexts or settings is dialogue happening, who is it between and what can it be or is it fed into; are there places where unacknowledged dialogue taking place?
  • What investments are needed for people to participate in dialogue? What permissions need to be sought?
  • How can we structure a process of dialogue to avoid getting lost in it?
  • What approaches can we take to manage / establish what’s in scope and out?
  • What does effective management of expectations look like?
  • Are we the right people to be in the room taking part in the dialogue – are others to busy to take part; how to be an effective proxy?

Share authorship

  • Is ‘sharing’ enough?
  • Do we know who is holding the narratives and what do we understand about the importance that is attached to them?
  • What perceptions do we hold about the potential to challenge authors, have we tested these to see if they are true?
  • How can we ensure that traditional power dynamics aren’t perpetuated? Can the University really value experience in the same way it values expertise?
  • Where (in our work, our organisations) is it possible for us to potentially relinquish authority; can we do this with integrity?
  • How can we represent – or have! multiple voices in the stories told and at the same time have cohesion?
  • How can we best define the museum’s role in this new paradigm?

Design Inclusively

  • Who do we currently invite to take part and what is our intent, who isn’t being invited and why?
  • How do we make that invite, who is making the invite, what are the implicit messages and how might people be interpreting these?
  • How can we make the most inclusive invite to take part and become part of? What do we need to lose and what might we benefit from turning towards?
  • How can we best express the benefits of participation to increase perceived value and the investment?
  • How do we create ‘quality’? Are we sure this is quality and is it quality for all?

Measure what Matters

  • What matters, to whom and why and are we forgetting to ask ourselves what really matters to us, beyond our obligations to others?
  • What is the most impactful way of sharing the story of our work to galvanise change?
  • How can we best work together to understand and share this story? the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Are we hindered by academic rigour, is it stopping us from acting, when can we agree to that its ‘good enough for now, safe enough to try’?