Partnerships: sharing skills and collections across the UK

Museums of all sizes and types regularly work in partnership to deliver collaborative projects with other museums, educational establishments, and heritage and community organisations across the country. Many of these partnerships are based around the loan of objects, including from national museums, but others focus on developing new public programming, sharing skills and expertise, education and learning, and working with communities.

NMDC has been actively promoting the sharing of skills and collections between museums, and with organisations outside the sector, for many years.

Museum partnerships

In 2014, NMDC produced this briefing which looks at the breadth and variety of partnerships in which its members' organisations are involved. Museums continue to adapt the focus and nature of partnership working as a way of managing the impact of cuts to public funding and developing greater resilience.

Partnerships: an NMDC briefing outlines the many different sorts of partnerships national museums and Major Partner Museums develop. Thousands of objects are lent and borrowed by museums each year in the UK - lent to places where the object has special significance, or to form the content for a museum or historic house, or for a short period for an exhibition. Loans ensure a much wider audience can see the objects, and this can increase visitors and drive regional tourism. Museums work in partnership to share good practice and knowledge, and on almost every area of museum operations - from acquisitions to learning, volunteer programmes to marketing, and through formal and informal networks about the management of collections.

The briefing can be read here.

Sharing skills and knowledge

National museums and Major Partner Museums work with partners to share knowledge and skills throughout the sector. They participate in networks, such as the Subject Specialist Networks, and run their own programmes focusing on different areas of museum operation or specific parts of the collection. For more information, click here.

In 2011, NMDC commissioned a survey of its members to establish how members share knowledge and skills. This survey informed future NMDC-facilitated activity and a summary of this is available here.

Borrowing and lending objects

Central to many museum partnerships is the borrowing and lending of objects for temporary display and on longer-term loan.

This 2012 briefing, the UK collection, outlines some of the projects, exhibitions and partnerships national museums have been involved in to ensure their collections are seen by audiences across the UK.

Members are keen to lend objects to a greater variety of venues and ensure that the collections are seen by more than those who are able to visit their main sites. Therefore, members support the adoption, where appropriate, of the principles outlined in the Museum Association’s Smarter Loans document. Details of recent loans made by members are available on their institution’s website, along with details of who to contact to enquire about borrowing objects.

Strategic partnerships and collaborative projects

National collections and major museums enter into strategic partnerships with cultural institutions - including museums, media organisations, galleries, heritage organisations, community groups and arts organisations – to deliver collaborative projects which reach audiences beyond those able to visit the museum itself. Museums embrace technological changes and the benefits of working with a broad range of organisations to ensure that the widest possible audience is able to access the collections.

Previous projects

In 2009, NMDC commissioned research into the extent and scope of partnership work between National collections and regional museums. The summary report, National Museums: Working in Partnership Across the UK, included a series of recommendations to strengthen and maintain this activity in the future. Full details of this research project.

Key findings included:

  • Across 16 national museums the total number of projects undertaken with partners across the UK in 2008-9 was well over 1,600.

  • Loan activity is strong, with nearly 80% of survey respondents describing their loan service as good and sustainable.

  • There is good provision for learning, with three quarters of loans and exhibitions in 2008-9 supported by access to specialists in learning.

In 2004, NMDC published National Dimensions, a report examining the many forms of collaboration between national museums and the rest of the sector.  The report, by AEA Consulting, was the first to identify the scale of joint activity underway at any one time. Produced following a series of consultation days around the country, the report looked at different types of collaborations, from one-off projects to long-term strategic partnerships, and included a wealth of case studies covering all major areas of museum activity.  The report acknowledged the need to continue to develop genuinely nationwide access to the national collections and set out a series of proposals aimed at ensuring this. 
Download full report

In 2003, NMDC published Loans Between National and Non-national Museums: New Standards and Practical Guidelines, which aimed to facilitate greater access to the national collections.  More.