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Forum Connections: A Year of Living Adaptably

Forum Connections: A Year of Living Adaptably

MGS Forum Facilitator, Neil Ogilvy, provides an update on the progress The Forum Connections project and MGS have made on skill building, networking and events during the last year.

It’s been a year since the NLHF funded Forum Connections project got underway during the throes of the first Covid lockdown in June 2020. The project works with the geographic forums across Scotland to build their sustainability and resilience and improve their members’ capacity for partnership work. The first year of the project reflects the sector as a whole; one of adaptation, patience, and creativity. Geographic forums are all independent entities that work in many ways to support their local museums. Most forums are run on a voluntary basis by museum professionals and volunteers over-and-above their day job. The pandemic, staff furloughs and changing realities had a real impact on everyone's contribution. The very concept of sustainability has changed. In the first months, the focus turned from future planning to survival. Until recently museums have still been managing month-to-month.

Thankfully, flexibility was a key element built into the project’s creation. This has become invaluable. This year, the project has taken a more measured approach to the forums. Members have had space to focus on more immediate concerns. Moving to online platforms was an opportunity to speak to forums individually and provide a supporting role where it was required.

Instead, the development approach has been collaborative between the MGS team and the Forums. They have been able to work actively with us when needed and benefit from MGS background support at other times. MGS staff members have supported this approach by acting as dedicated representatives for each of the forums. Forums have had a main point of contact and a regular face to turn to for enquiries. The result has been a better understanding of the sector.

Brushing up our skills

While this ‘gentle’ approach has been used, the project certainly hasn’t been idle. MGS Reps and key forum members have had access to training. They developed foundation skills to allow them to manage the forums effectively during this turbulent time. These have included mental health first aid, group management and facilitation skills. At the same time, we undertook a Skills Audit to understand what skills the forums already have and where there were obvious gaps. Forum members identified fundraising as a main skill that is frequently used. However, very few had any training on the topic and we will be focusing on this in the second year.

We're also working closely with two newly formed forums, the Lothians Museums Forum and North East Scotland Heritage Network. We will help them establish, define their raison d’être and develop forward plans. This will continue into our second year through further sessions and expand to work with more forums. As we go, we are continually developing our approach. The aim is to create a full forward planning process that can be easily used by any forum looking to implement similar methods.

It’s good to talk

As forums continue to develop it has become clear that ways of sharing information and best practice has become increasingly important. The project has organised a series of events, entitled Talking Partnerships, that focus on best practice in partnership work and improving collaborative working. With talks from UMIS and IMS, VisitScotland and Education Scotland, these have looked at best practice in partnership working and provided museums with information and contacts for working with these larger organisations.

To further strengthen these networks we have organised two Forums’ Forums. These bring members from all the geographic forums together to speak and learn from each other. They're also a place to create cross-forum networks where ideas and support can be shared. We are excited to offer more networking opportunities in the autumn.

As things begin to open again we hope to benefit from the successes of the first year of the project. Developing closer relationships and offering further support to the forums. The geographic forums offer a fantastic, diverse platform for museums across Scotland to support each other. The Forum Connections project will work hard to ensure they are in the best position to continue this work for years to come.

Is there a forum in your area? Find out here.

Find out more about the Forum Connections project here

If you have any questions or just want to know more get in touch with our Forums Facilitator Neil Ogilvy by emailing neilo@museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk.

Published 12 July 2021