CEO and Strategy Level Support

If the support for change does not start and stop with the chief executive officer or the executive director, then change will not happen.

Robert Janes, Museums and the Paradox of Change (2013), page 84
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The Association for Science and Discovery Centres required that applications to take part in Explore Your Universe included a clear statement of support and commitment from the CEO or senior manager to the vision, mission and goals of the programme.

However a lack of active support and championing by directors and trustees does present a barrier to ongoing participatory practice with local communities, and the relative invisibility of diverse community engagement programmes on impact reports and websites, contributes to the stereotype that informal science learning spaces are only for the ‘science engaged’ public.

One goal of Explore Your Universe Phase 4 was to encourage the formation of ongoing partnerships, advocacy, and advisory panels that operate at a strategic level and remain and evolve beyond the project period. Ongoing collaboration should be equally beneficial to both parties, so with this in mind, science centres planned to be open to legacy from the very beginning and looked to create opportunities to maintain relationships with community-based organisations.

Learning from the wider sector

‘Our Museum: what happened next?’ also placed mechanisms that enabled community partner involvement at strategic levels of the museums as an indicator of success. Our Museum found that 2 years on from the project completion, community partners continued to be involved in the wider strategy of musuems including: community partners sitting on the board or governing body of the museum, being inolved in advisory panels or participating in workshops that influenced the long-term strategy for museums. 

The feedback from EYU4 - from the centres, evaluators and facilitators - demonstrates a need for an ongoing role and responsibility for the Association for Science and Discovery Centres in terms of providing support for continuing change in the centres, and to act as an external voice and critical friend. This is potentially a crucial role, to encourage the centres to continue to have open and honest conversations about the process of change, to offer a fresh and independent perspective, and to encourage reflection.

Piotr Bienkowski, Director of Our Museum programme, cultural consultant

Case Study from Explore Your Universe

Science centre interviews provided evidence that senior management take notice and support this way of working (working with community partners, multiple engagements and work with families/individuals who have not historically engaged with science centres). For example, science communication practitioners were invited to discuss EDI at board level meetings and cross-departmental EDI groups were initiated in a number of centres

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Explore Your Universe was a 3.5 year programme from kick-off to final reporting, with science centre and community partnership building and delivery taking place for less than a year before the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

Even more than usual, at this time all practitioners within the partnerships were committed within their roles to other priorities. When line-managers and senior staff were able to prioritise this work or reassign their other responsibilities, practitioners were able to be more responsive, flexible and adapt as much as was necessary.

Time was the most valued resource during this programme. Time for science centre staff to work with partners to co-produce multiple engagements, and time for reflection, with staff and with community partners, as an essential tool to support learning.

Change is a continuous process, not an event. Most organisational change succeeds after five years, if at all

R Hewison, J Holden and S Jones, All together: a creative approach to organisational change, page 19