Brown Bag Seminar

Dr Louise Govier "Leaders in Co-Creation: Why and How Museum Could Develop Their Co-Creative Practive with the Public, Building on Ideas from the Performing Arts and Other Non-Museum Organisations"

Dr Govier is the MLA's Clore Leadership Fellow. Her research has been focused around the problems museums face in terms of 'co-creation', and what they can learn from other sectors about co-creation.

Firstly, what do we mean by co-creation? There are various definitions, but it comes under the wider trend of working with the public and how we can engage with them. As far as museums are concerned, there still remain many definitions.

Nina Simon has defined four terms of participation - contribution, collaboration, co-creation and co-option. Though these ideas are similar, they do differ. Partly this is about understanding where the power relationships lie within museums. In the first two, the power lies with the museum - they define the space and the parameters within which the project functions. In the latter two, the space belongs to the community. But when Dr Govier talks about co-creation, she means a combination of collaboration and co-creation - power is important, but here the research does not focus on this. The main point, for her, is to make something that is of benefit to all interested parties.

At the MLA conference in October 2008, Dr Govier became aware of a number of problems - people were not really engaging in the debates surrounding participation. Many people had concerns - many were afraid of the idea - but they didn't feel able to present their points for risk of sounding non-PC. More and more work is coming out all the time, but there still needs to be more work, especially in terms of how the reality does in fact match the reality. Often these projects, however brilliant, are limited in scope - to the community and to be purely ABOUT the community, as if this was all they had to contribute. Often the location of these projects are very limited - or they are kept online. This means that often projects cannot be found, or that they do not make any real impact upon the museum space.

Many people also voiced serious problems in actually managing this on a practical level. There are always, of course, issues regarding expectation on the part of the communities and the staff of museums. Often 'leadership' is brought into the debate, which ends up, often, with the issue just getting passed on and on and never getting resolved.

The advantages of the Clore leadership programme is that you get to work with other institutions to learn lessons. So Dr Govier began to ask how these other cultural forms could contribute to the understanding and development of the co-creation principle, and how these ideas might be marketed to the individuals within museums.

Her first stop was, surprisingly, business literature on collective creativity. There is an extensive amount of work that shows that groups can produce better results than individuals - and there is, after all, the continuing proliferation of co-created websites such as Wikipedia and products such as Linux. When that creative pool is extended to the public, the public can design their own products, and they are therefore more engaged with them. Those audiences may provide ideas that had not previously been thought of. This seems a good basis to work with museums who are lacking in community engagement.

Leadership theory provided another starting point, especially with regard to the leadership qualities we need now, in this changing world of increasing 'collective creativity'. How do you support those self selected groups of people in creating an idea, how do you find them, how do you create the environment where collectives can arise, and then how can you harness their power - and stop it being scary? Collaboration is always an issue. Moving projects forward is often difficult, and we need to work out what leadership qualities are needed for that. Overall, the conclusions seem to have suggested that there needs to be a leader, someone who can maintain a framework within which creativity can flourish. A call for creativitiy and co-creation needs to recognise the strengths and the weaknesses of various participants in order that everyone can be valued for what they provide. The audience wanted to gain from the museum's expertise, and the museum often needs to maintain the protected status of objects.

Many projects have been successful in the performing arts - what can museums learn from their work? Dr Govier conducted three case studies - Dance United, which co-creates productions with a variety of non-dancers, specifically their production of 'Destino' with Sadler's Wells; Birmingham Opera Company who produce only using non-professionals in non-conventional theatres in Birmingham; and Theatre Royal Stratford East, who hands over the artistic programming to the community.

Learning why you want to engage in co-creation is critical. Is it about social inclusion? Audience development? Diversity development? A sense of entrepreneurship? Personal reasons? The appreciation of the abilities of non-professionals? Ultimately, their aims were to create great art. This is essential to the success of a project. What's the point in engaging if you don't allow people to produce something great? Why you desire to commence such programmes deeply influences the way in which you do it.

How did these companies manage risk? Some people took a very hands-off approach, and some took a stronger creative lead - and in many cases, the latter is more successful. Self awareness, the awareness of other people and the situation is crucial.

What does this mean for museums? We need leadership throughout the museum workforce, at the top and at a project level. Co-creation doesn't mean no leadership - we need a flexible approach to leadership, which uses situation specific understanding in order to respond appropriately. This means being clear about aims and objectives. Often in museums it is assumed that co-creation is all about social inclusion. But this is overly restrictive - what about co-creating for creating great art, and great museums? Museums need to recognise their ability as creative artists and embrace it. We need to understand the benefits, tangible and intangible, that collective work can bring.

Good luck to you all! Now go forth and create!!!

Dr Govier can be contacted at


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