The Covid-19 carousel: learning how to pivot #ADA
Aisling Serrant and Natalie Rowan, Museum of London Docklands realise that taking little steps can help you to achieve the big ideas as part of their Fellowship at the Audience Diversity Academy.
2020 started with such promise, and such big ideas. My co-fellow Aisling and I were accepted on to the ADA programme and already had lots of ideas and a project in mind to focus on. As I write, it’s early November 2020 and we all know how the time in between has gone. That said, we’ve still been fairly optimistic as the museums have been open since August, and our programmes had pivoted to ensure they could still run in a Covid-secure way, so things were looking promising.
But over the weekend just gone, we’ve learned we’re going to be closing our doors again. It’s tough, to keep picking up the pieces of your workload and trying to fit them back together in a new way. I’m cheered by the great people I work with, and my other fellows and the rest of the sector who are all in the same position, but there’s a pervading sense of being on a carousel, going round and round, up and down.
That said, the year has allowed for a lot of reflection, on our priorities, our audiences, and even on the opportunities this situation has provided us with. In some ways, access has improved via the digital transformation so many of us have undergone and I sincerely hope we can build on that and not just go right back to “normal”. I hope that we all take the learnings with us when we get back to our sites. And perhaps this can form the basis of our experiments…
I think my key takeaway from the year, and that I will apply to the ADA process and our experiments is that taking little steps can help you achieve the big ideas.
It doesn’t have to be all singing all dancing all of the time. Much like the Couch to 5k programme I’ve been attempting during the pandemic, it can start with small sprints that will eventually lead to big results.
Now we just have to decide what the first small sprint will be, and I’m looking forward to discussing that very soon with Aisling, and our mentor Michael. Like everything in 2020, it’ll need to be flexible and we’ll need to be creative as the carousel continues to trundle round – but hopefully soon we’ll be welcoming new people on the ride with us.
The past half a year has required us to develop our flexibility and adaptability as individuals and as an organisation, as it has with many others. It has been challenging in many ways, but I have on multiple occasions been inspired and uplifted by the relentless energy, commitment and innovation of those working around me.
In the first meeting with our mentor Michael we started talking about the limitations and uncertainties of trying to deliver an experiment during this time. Museums closing again just as we were slowly starting to rebuild our programmes felt like a kick in the teeth to many of my team, who have been working tirelessly to figure out how to welcome visitors for safe, stress-free and enjoyable visits in this new world.
Look for opportunities instead of focussing on limitations
However it suddenly struck me that we could flip the way we were viewing the situation on its head, so instead of identifying limitations of the situation we could identify the opportunities instead. The opportunity to embrace and learn from a new, more collaborative way of working developed out of necessity as colleagues were furloughed. In my case this meant a move from delivering a programme of community festivals onsite at the museum, to delivering a range of projects for various audiences including secondary schools and young people. The opportunity to focus our energies on our digital offer with a potential to build relationships with new audiences, and experiment with different types of digital engagement, from live streams for families to virtual walks for adults.
Looking on things this way it seemed there were a huge number of possibilities for the route of our experiment. We are in fact still working through those possibilities, but have identified some key audiences we are interested in developing our relationships with, the first being the Black British community.
We recognise great recent work at the museum including an exciting programme for Black History Month this year and the opening of our exhibition ‘Dub London: Bassline of a City’ shortly before lockdown, however we also recognise a way to go, including further developing a year-round programme which represents the amazing diversity of London and which encourages diverse audiences to engage with our regular programmes as well as special events and programmes.
We also identified a gap in our engagement with young people and a huge potential, especially given the recent rise of digital engagement, to improve this. We’ve still got a way to go with pinning down specifics of an experiment, and I understand it may not be a straightforward and linear path, but I’m excited to see how our early ideas develop and grow as the programme progresses.
Aisling Serrant Natalie Rowan
Aisling Serrant, Community Engagement Manager, Museum of London Docklands
Aisling delivers a variety of projects and events, including a programme of onsite festivals in partnership with the local community. She also works on a contemporary collecting project called ‘Curating London’, most recently leading a strand capturing the experiences of women and children in the British-Bangladeshi community in east London.
Natalie Rowan, Assistant Head of Communication (Marketing), Museum of London
Natalie has worked extensively in marketing and communications for visitor attractions for a number of years, throughout the UK.
She joined the Museum of London in 2018, to lead the marketing team in delivering compelling, data-driven campaigns which place audiences at the heart.
Currently Natalie is focused on the museum’s rebrand and future audience segmentation strategy ahead of the new Museum of London opening at West Smithfield in 2024.