The Science Museum is committed to appeal to the widest possible audience. The African-Caribbean community in London was under-represented in the Science Museum’s Dana Centre visitor profile. This project explored the needs, wants, expectations of this community to ensure public events at the Dana Centre were relevant, appealing and accessible to them. The Dana Centre had never worked with the African-Caribbean community in an audience-led approach before.
More specifically we wanted:
• To discuss with the community how to sensitively explore controversial and emotive subjects.
• To explore potential formats for the events: What kind of format makes an event interesting and engaging to this community? How should it be delivered? How can we remove any barriers specific to this community?
• To find out how to target and encourage people from this community to attend the events. How and where should the Museum advertise and market these events? What form should advertising take?
• To discover a range science/technology/medicine related topics areas that would be interesting and relevant to the African-Caribbean community in London.
• To inform the audience-led process and how future focus groups will be conducted. What shape should the consultation process take (online forums, roundtable discussions etc)
Summary of activity:
The Science Museum’s Dana Centre set up a focus group of members from London’s African-Caribbean community. Initially the focus group was consulted to inform two events at the Dana Centre. The group were involved in selecting the specific topic-area, the angle the issues are approached from and influencing the format of the event both before and during the event development. The project was evaluated and was hugely successful. As a result the Museum decided to continue with it. In total thirteen public events have been developed and delivered in conjunction with the focus group, on topics ranging from scientific racism and moving genes to ethnicity and intelligence.
See: http://www.danacentre.org.uk/events/programmes/22 for more information
By working with the focus group the project identified the following barriers to their community engaging with the Science Museum.
Representation: The group identified that Black history and Black role models need to be more visible in any cultural attraction to engage members of that community and get involved with an organisation. Further, they felt that the perception of Black culture and Black Britons in society can be negative. The group as a whole was very committed to fighting for positive representation of their community in society.
Overcoming barrier: Through the project the museum worked with the community to raise visibility of Black history and Black issues. Events relating to Black History and of interest to the African-Caribbean community were embedded into the regular programming at the Dana Centre and the Science Museum – outside of Black History Month.
Institutional: Networking opportunities were highly valued by this group. Networking for this group meant the opportunity to meet new people, make new contacts, and spread information about other events of interest to the African-Caribbean community. Most of the conversations during breaks involved networking, sharing information and skill sharing. The community would like to use the Museum to be a place where they can network. For example, one member of the group was angry that she had requested to distribute leaflets at a recent Dana Centre event relating to Black History Month and had been asked to stop and collect everything back.
Overcoming barrier: The Museum reviewed some of its policies that create barriers for this audience to networking in the way they expect. This is a diversity issue, because different audiences wish to interact with the Museum in different ways. Networking is an important function for the African-Caribbean audience.
Diversity in the Workforce: The group strongly felt that staff needed to be more diverse and that diversity training was important for all staff at all levels of any organisation to help understand diverse communities needs better.. It was important to focus group members that they felt welcomed and assured that the Dana Centre is for them and one of the ways that this can be done is through a diverse work force.
Overcoming barrier: The Museum acknowledge the need to communicate to the community what it was doing to diversify its workforce and the cultural offer to overcome perceptions of not being engaged with diversity and establish and reinforce its reputation in this area with audiences.
Perceptions of Tokenism: Some members of the focus group were suspicious or had reservations of the Museum’s intentions and questioned if the Museum was being tokenistic, or really wanted to work with the community in the long-term to deliver better programming with them.
Overcoming barrier: By continuing the project after the initial year the Museum demonstrated to the community that they wanted to embed Black history and Black issues in its programming to overcome perceptions of the museum being ‘tokenistic’. The Museum has committed to regular, sustained activity with this community, and other under-represented communities, with funding to back it up. The Museum is now looking to ensure that cultural representation is embedded across all its cultural products not just in events.
Lack of confidence in the audience-led process to go beyond informing events: A few members of the panel were not confident that focus groups would be able to affect the direction of exhibitions. They were pleased to be part of planning events, but did not think there would be the opportunity to do the same with exhibitions.
Overcoming barrier: To gain the increased confidence of this audience, the audience-led approach to visitor focussed services should be embedded. The focus group was pleased that the Museum responded to their request to focus on scientific racism as opposed to issues surrounding the 2007 Bicentenary of Abolition.
What went well:
The project was hugely successful in creating a dynamic and committed focus group with which the Dana events team developed a strong relationship. Together they developed many interesting and unique events which appealed to the African-Caribbean community and attracted them to the Dana Centre. Attendance at the events by member of the African-Caribbean community rose significantly. The project has enabled an effective and thorough exploration how to target and encourage the African-Caribbean community to attend events, find out topics or formats of particular interest, how to sensitively explore challenging topics and how we can remove barriers to their involvement.
The focus group’s feedback was very positive. Some key thoughts are below:
• Overall, the focus group participants were positive about the events and nearly all specifically said that they liked the choice of speakers and found them interesting.
• The focus group articulated early on that they wanted to audience at the event to be diverse and from many different ethnic backgrounds. They noted that it seemed to them, from appearance, that the audience was very mixed and diverse, and they were pleased.
• The focus group liked the fact that the event was relevant to everyone, not just the African-Caribbean community.
• The group felt that they had genuine impact on the shaping and direction of the events.
• Many related that they felt the process empowering and that the Museum staff really took on board the recommendations they had.
• Due to the length and depth of the process, with 4 meetings and an online discussion forum, the group felt that the organisation had not been tokenistic, but genuinely valued the group, giving significant time and resources.
• Members of the group felt that the Dana Centre provided the partnership opportunity to get events off the ground that they wanted to see but had not had the resources to do individually or in smaller communities.
• After experiencing the events, participants praised the innovation of the Dana Centre
What was learned:
Below are the key recommendations from the evaluation:
• The Science Museum must embed Black history, Black role models, and Black contribution to science and technology into its cultural offer to ensure reaching African-Caribbean audiences and working towards a true reflection of its audience. Further, the Museum must work with the Black community to define and deliver on this aim. This will ensure more diverse voices are heard and truly reflect its audience. This project has demonstrated at the Dana Centre is gaining a positive reputation with the African-Caribbean community and this approach will ensure that reputation continues to flourish.
• Amongst some sections of the Museum audience the perception exists that somewhere like the Science Museum would not know about diversity or is not active in embracing diversity and delivering on related action. The museum needs to promote all the work it does on diversity, including external communication, ensuring representation on museum websites, highlighting in marketing material when offers have been developed in consultation with audiences.
• The focus group now view the Museum as an appropriate and appealing partner to deliver subjects of interest to diverse communities in a sensitive way. The Museum should continue to explore opportunities and partnerships with the African-Caribbean community to continue to build on this successful partnership project.
• The Museum must engage diverse leaders for key cultural offers to ensure diverse voices are heard and diverse representation is embedded. Leadership by Elizabeth Anionwu, Dana Centre Trustee, Professor Emeritus of Thames Valley University and Head of the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice was a key factor in the success of this project.
• To develop effective, targeted and innovative topics, communities must be consulted at the earliest possible time in the planning process. Ideally, before a funding bid is agreed. This will ensure that the topic is something that the Museum’s target audience wants us to explore. The Museum should continue to use audience-led processes to explore sensitive topic areas. This project ensured that sensitive and challenging topic areas were explored thoroughly with key audience groups.
• The Museum is now looking to involve the African-Caribbean focus group in shaping the content of other outputs, for example the Museum’s monthly ‘Lates’ events, which attract several thousand adults to the main Museum.
Top tips and advice for others
Employing a respected and authoritative member of the community to facilitate the focus groups on behalf of the museum was crucial to this project. Future projects should always seek to engage respected community consultants.