National Museums - Working in Partnership Across the UK

In 2009, NMDC published a report on partnership working between national and regional museums across the UK, based on a survey of its members’ 2008-9 partnership activity and mapping excercise  by Kathy Gee of Volition Associates.  The research findings informed development of a set of recommendations for national museums and other sector bodies to improve and develop partnership working. 

Download the project summary report.

Download the full report of the partnerships mapping survey and research findings.

Read the press release for the project launch.

Mapping national-regional museum partnerships

The mapping exercise of UK national-regional museum partnership aimed to provide a high-level snapshot survey of NMDC members’ recent partnership activity, in Summer 2009.  

Map of 2008-09 national-regional museum partnerships

The mapping exercise included consideration of generic issues relating to partnership working, as well as the many different aspects of partnership activity including:

  • Public services – exhibitions and loans, digital access, learning, audience development.
  • Collections – scholarship and knowledge sharing, distributed national collections.
  • Professionalism – staff issues, Subject Specialist Networks, brand and profile-building.

It also considered patterns, formats and quantities of current partnership activity, value for money of working in partnership, and the context of local and national government priorities and the current economic climate. It was not intended to be a major new study or in-depth statistical survey, and in order to ensure focussed and useful research and recommendations was limited to partnerships between national and regional museums and galleries only.

Map showing locations of regional museums with which NMDC member national museums worked in partnership on all types of activity in 2008-09.

Key findings include:

  • 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.

Strengths of current partnership working include:

  • The large number of national-regional museum partnerships.
  • The importance of sustained government funding – in particular Renaissance in the Regions funding to build regional museum capacity,and Strategic Commissioning funding for museum education projects.
  • Cross-border relationships between UK home countries.
  • Increased strength in working with universities.

Threats and barriers to the future development of partnership working include:

  • Diminishing resources – reductions in government funding, earned income and grants.
  • Absence of UK-wide museum sector delivery strategy.
  • A lack of comprehensive data collection.

Project recommendations

A project advisory group chaired by Diane Lees, Director-General of the Imperial War Museum, used the findings of the mapping exercise to develop a set of recommendations for national museums and other sector bodies to improve partnership working.  The 11 recommendations focus on 8 key areas:

  • Building collaborative partnerships
  • Working strategically
  • Sharing knowledge
  • Developing best practice
  • Making lending easier
  • Staff development
  • Joint advocacy
  • Recording partnership activity.

Project advisory group

  • Peter Berridge, Colchester & Ipswich Museum Manager, Colchester & Ipswich Museum Service
  • Caroline Collier, Director, Tate National
  • Alec Coles, Director, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
  • Bill Ferris, Chief Executive, Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust and Chair, Association of Independent Museums
  • Diane Lees, Director-General, Imperial War Museum (Chair)
  • Ellen McAdam, Acting Head of Museums, Culture and Sport Glasgow
  • John Orna-Ornstein, Head of London and National Programmes, British Museum
  • Fiona Talbott, Head of Museums, Libraries and Archives, Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Mike Tooby, Director of Learning, Programmes and Development, National Museum Wales
  • Hedley Swain, Director of Programme Delivery, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council

Next steps

NMDC convened meetings of partnership leads from member organisations, together with representatives from DCMS, MLA, HLF and other sector bodies, and discussed how to take forward the project recommendations and improve partnership working between national and regional museums. Current activities and further information about how NMDC members share knowledge can be found here.