S3.3 Civically engaged natural history museums: transforming public programmes to stay relevant (Closed)


Mr  Dean Veall2, Mr Jack Ashby1, Dr Liz Hide3

1University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom, 3Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Cambridge, United Kingdom


Societies are changing around the world. With these changes, new civic and environmental challenges are emerging and as a result people are increasingly demanding more of public institutions such as museums to help make sense of them.

Some museums are rising to this new challenge for the sector, innovating in their public programmes to use their collections to effectively engage public groups on issues that are important to them individually and to society as a whole. While there are some excellent examples of this work within natural science institutions, art and social history sectors appear to be ahead of the game with this emerging civically engaged practice. In the age of Extinction Rebellion we need to ask ourselves how we can use our collections to have positive social impact and to respond to wider civic needs and priorities, demonstrating their relevance to the challenges faced by society and the natural world.

This symposium, organised by the Natural Sciences Collections Association, will look at how public programming across natural history institutions and the wider museum sector is responding to and engaging public groups with three key civic agendas:
1. health and wellbeing;
2. representation, decolonisation and social injustice; and
3. the climate and ecological crisis.
We will discuss how participants can identify ways in which their existing work can fit into this practice – and how we can identify and nurture good practice – with the aim of placing natural science collections at the heart of civically engaged practice. There will be practical examples as well as wider scene-setting, with plenty of opportunity for discussion.

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