In 2013 the Happy Museum undertook a major review of its vision and principles – following text is taken from a paper Happy Museum – the Story So Far written by Tony Butler at the time.
The Happy Museum simplified its vision from
High well-being, sustainable museum practice contributing to civic life
Museums that foster wellbeing that doesn’t cost the earth.
At the outset, the Happy Museum sought to prompt museums to think differently about their role and what they do. However our evaluation showed that the interventions of the commissions, which had small budgets and limited resources, had more impact on individuals than institutions. The second iteration will take a different starting point, more concerned with personal and communal change – promoting Resilience as a key principle in its work. Moreover Happy Museum believes the word ‘resilience’ should not refer to a narrow definition of financial sustainability but to the concept of an individual or community’s ability to flourish in the context of economic, social and environmental challenge.
This is less about helping people in the transactional sense which characterises some of the socially motivated work of museums and more about encouraging active citizens and emboldening civil society. This approach Happy Museum believes is more likely to induce systemic change.
Systemic change is recognised as a dynamic, iterative process with change happening on many fronts at once and to all parts of the whole. (See Fritjof Capra, Peter Senge, Donella Meadows, Joanna Macy amongst others). HMP builds on the linkages between the commissions, and their relationships to one another, whilst acknowledging the wider context of economic, social and environmental challenges in which the museum sector sits and depends. The Happy Museum becomes a system itself for re-imagining a future for museums as resilient and viable institutions. The Story of Change tracks how elements or ‘principles’ combine in new ways.
Whilst the 8 point ‘Manifesto’ provided useful guidance for the programme, some points were not readily understood. It has now been distilled to 6 principles which could apply equally to individuals or institutions.
The revision included:
• Replacing, make people happy with create the conditions for well-being. Museums were uncomfortable with the notion that they exist to make people happy – they challenge, excite and induce anger and sadness too. Well-being is more than smiles or positive emotion but about the quality of our lives and relationships. Happy Museums will explore how to create the environment for these to flourish
• Be an active citizen challenges individuals to be more active within civil society (and includes individuals working in museums as well as their communities) Using what they learn from connections within their communities the work of museums should better reflect current trends and issues which affect people’s daily lives. Active citizenship also relates to awareness and understanding of connectivity across the world, seeking international associations to contextualise local issues (and vice versa). This, as one participant noted ‘creates an opportunity for Happy Museum participants to put their personal beliefs into influencing organisational change’.
• The second iteration of Happy Museum introduces the notion of stewardship. This term can encompass both the natural environment and museums’ function as keepers of material culture. In an environmental context, stewardship applies to the notion of responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. Happy Museum suggests that collections and the environment are the same part of the ‘Museum ecology’ – its cultural and natural resources
1. Make People Happy
2. Pursue Mutual Relationships
3. Value the environment, the past, the present, the future
4. Measure what matters
5. Lead on Innovation for transition
6. Think global and be networked
7. Support Learning for Resilience
8. Find your niche
1. Create conditions for wellbeing
2. Pursue mutual relationships
3. Value the environment and be a steward of the future as well as the past
4. Be an active citizen
5. Learn for resilience
6. Measure what matters
A clearer vision and how to achieve it
Happy Museum believes that museums which understand the advantages of social and environmental wellbeing are better equipped for the future. The ultimate aim is resilience, a systems-wide encompassing of individuals, organisations and the wider community.
So three of the new principles focused on this outcome:
1. Create conditions for wellbeing
2. Value the environment and be a steward of the future as well as the past
3. Learn for resilience
In order to achieve these outcomes, Happy Museum will suggest that investment be made in organisations and individuals which encourage people to become active citizens and pursue mutual relationships.
Future funding could be aimed at developing expertise and motivation in individuals, for example the programme might offer a Happy Museum Scholarship for individuals to carry out research or embed the principles within an organisation. Consideration might also be given to developing a museum’s skill as a ‘host’, actively inviting groups and individuals to connect, to communicate and to contribute to activities within the museum and in wider civil society.
Finally Happy Museum will ultimately prove its worth if it is able to measure what matters. In the Happy Museum paper we suggest that counting visitors tells us nothing about the quality or impact of an experience. The Story of Change model has been used to evaluate the programme, highlighting impacts, testing assumptions and suggesting improvements. A variety of methods have been used by the commissions to explore the impact of their work locally, including Observational Evaluation (Manchester Museum), Mood Tree and a Happy Tracker for staff (Story Museum Oxford). At the national level, Daniel Fujiwara of the London School of Economics, who has recently published valuation guidelines for the UK Government, has been engaged to start to value well-being in response to cultural activities.
Here are the current Happy Museum Principles