Action research with our Community of Practice

Combining action with academic research combines active citizenship with measuring what matters.  Our 22 strong Community of Practice means we know things have been properly tested, and our twitter, website and advocacy reach is growing all the time, including internationally.

Our learning comes from identifying what works in common across locally led projects.  We find very different organisations can still learn together:

“I am amazed at the similarity in issues faced – whether it is Shakespeare or Transport, the same problems with collections, volunteers and other staff always arise” – HM commission.

Happy Museum Story of Change

We have produced regular Learning & Evaluation Reports and have combined what works into our Happy Museum Story of Change framework:




The Story of Change process itself has been taken up by some, like the London Transport Museum learning team and the senior leadership team at IWM North.

Measure what matters tools

Using good tools makes building a new future much easier and we borrow from others as well as making our own.  For example, the project management triangle and change management theory have taught us to use time, resources and scope creatively and have generated our Transformation Tool.

Our tools highlight the importance of using evaluation to plan and of taking a baseline for individuals, not over-claiming the difference we’ve made.  Our embedded tools gather evidence through the activity itself.  But we also know evaluation is sometimes an after-thought, and our review tools take account of that.

The role of the individual

Active citizenship focuses on the individual.  It helps creates work-life synergy (more than work-life balance).  And we think it’s no surprise that three emerging HM leaders were selected for the Transformers’ programme.  Some found Happy Museum made a profound difference to them.

“I feel like have done a module of a degree course and it makes me want to know more so I can argue the case with the NAY sayers” – HM commission.

A highly networked sector gives them a great platform from which to share.

The museum’s USP

Happy Museums are not just about good mood, they are about profound feelings.

Objects can generate the most in-depth sense of realisation, as IWM North found testing their large object handling session; “one of the participants had a strong physical reaction to sitting on the Field Gun in the position where someone died. She went cold and shivery.  I could see the shock on her face” – HM commission.

The social space is vital too, for hosting projects and networks like London Transort Museum’s Conversation Hub that have many knock-on affects.

Beyond these familiar assets, museums’ civic role enables the sector to role model as well as interpret sustainable wellbeing.  Both Godalming and Manchester Museum explicitly sign the environmental impact of their building.

Our two areas of specific learning also used what makes museums special.  Craft projects were key to learning about the link between making and caring and sharing.  Young Carers who learnt weaving at Abergavenny coined the phase ‘that busy with your hands thing’ which so beautifully sums up the concept of ‘flow’.

And digital work provides a excellent medium for introverted visitors, as Gwynedd found developing the ‘What’s Your Story?’ app, to collect and chare visitors’ own stories, in turn giving the collection a more diverse voice.  Of course there are huge benefits from digital, and Ceredigion Museum used social media to promote active citizenship in three ways to counter austerity – building volunteer capacity, crowd sourcing funding and a generating a social media profile.

Museums’ role in the community

Beyond the museum Happy Museums support resilient and even flourishing communities.  For example by sticking to the HM principles, Kirskstall worked with six families new to them from the Children’s Centre.  Bilston encouraged nursery children to walk to the Gallery, not only building core strength but setting the right tone for their outdoor play.  Being a good host, or better still a hub, means relationships beyond the museum can be built.  London Transport Museum set up a Community Conversation, whilst Chiltern Open Air Museum worked with sustainaiblity organisations to create Green Ways from Yesterday.   This can happen at different levels; RWA and Happy City Bristol set up a critical friends group for directors (of anything) in the city.

Organisational change

Not surprisingly change was strongest when the director was involved, but dovetailing the investment with a large-scale capital project, or even austerity driven organisational change, helped the Happy Museum Project to punch above its weight. Several Happy Museums won awards or further funding which they put down in part to Happy Museum.

With LA or university museums, the principles can give permission to cut through contstraints.  In Manchester, for example, our principles helped the team to persuade the university that they could buy from a sustainable print company off the purchase roster.

Happy Museum processes like Story of Change help embed a new way of working, for example in all London Transport Museum’s learning plans and IWM North’s strategic vision.

Academic research

Our academic research found that the wellbeing value of visiting museums was £3200 a year.  This compares with £1,500 and £2,000 for participating or being an audience to the arts, £1,500 for participating in sports, £1,600 for adult learning and £3,000 for socialising.

We also learnt that the biggest reason people don’t visit museums is not being taken by a parent as a child – they are 17% less likely to visit, more than being from a low income group.

Our work created a lot of attention and we went on to present to the AHRC on cultural value and to write for the RSA and ACE.  Daniel was also commissioned to work for the Arts Council, DCMS and AHRC.

One impact of the Happy Museum Commission is Canterbury Museums and Galleries now include promoting wellbeing in its strategy. A stated aim of the city’s cultural institutions is now to:

“Act as a catalyst for social change, contributing to the quality of people’s lives and the wellbeing of local communities.

“We know that museums have the power to help promote good and active citizenship, and that we can play a significant role in supporting our users’ health and mental wellbeing as well as enhancing creative ability and academic performance.”The 2013 strategy document states: