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The Entrepreneurial Museum

17 December 15 -- emma.henderson_3627
Entrepreneurial Museum Workshop

Museums are not-for-profit, mission led organisations whose primary purposes include the preservation of our culture, expanding understanding of our world and inspiring our youth. However, as traditional state-funding models become insufficient to sustain the sector, museums must re-invent themselves as businesses, raising income to support their core mission.  Our sector needs to develop a generation of cultural entrepreneurs – people who in the face of diminishing resources are prepared to pursue other opportunities in order for their museums to grow and flourish. 

“I firmly believe that the success of the sector is reliant on a new type of leader - one who embraces change; is entrepreneurial in outlook; who continually looks outwards to learn new things and yet is rooted in a strong sense of values, core purpose and public service.” Diane Lees, Director General, Imperial War Museums and Oxford Cultural Leaders faculty member

Building on the success of Oxford Cultural Leaders, a residential leadership programme launched by the Oxford University Museums in partnership with the Säid Business School in March 2015, the Museums collaborated with the Business School again to deliver a one day workshop, The Entrepreneurial Museum. Facilitated by Dr Pegram Harrison, Fellow in Entrepreneurship at the Säid Business School, and Daniela Papi-Thornton, Deputy Director at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, the day aimed to teach museum leaders how to apply entrepreneurial ways of thinking to their unique challenges.

Thirty delegates from across the UK, from national, independent, university and local authority museums, attended the workshop. They were encouraged to take on the mind set of an entrepreneur – identifying needs, assessing how these needs are currently being met and finding the gap where opportunity may exist. They were given tools to stress test potential opportunities and assess risk, and encouraged to utilise resource restrictions as the impetus for innovation.

In order to give participants the opportunity to apply these approaches to real world situations and learn through experimentation, four participants from the 2015 Oxford Cultural Leaders programme were invited to attend the event as ‘Dragons’, each sharing one or two real challenges from their organisation. Delegates formed groups around challenges that interested them and applied the new approaches explored throughout the day to suggest new innovative solutions, which they then pitched back to the panel of dragons.

Overall delegates found the day to be a valuable opportunity to step back from their usual ways of thinking.

“The key messages were fantastic. The way the sessions all fed into each other was imaginative, leaving us with a well-rammed-home concept by the end of the day.” 

“I think it was great to have a session on commercial leadership in times of financial difficulties for museums.”

“The notes from the session helped to refocus me on how to simply articulate what it means to be entrepreneurial and I will build that into my internal training literature for staff”

Entrepreneurial Museum participants, December 2015

As well as enabling participants to explore the entrepreneurial mindset and experiment with new techniques for innovation and change, it provided an excellent networking opportunity for sharing experiences and perspectives. 

Oxford University Museums Partnership is one of 21 Major Partner Museum Services nationwide funded by Arts Council England to support excellence and resilience within regional museums. In 2015 it launched Oxford Cultural Leaders, a week long residential leadership programme that addresses the need for cultural organisations to reinvent themselves as businesses, albeit not-for-profit, with entrepreneurial ways of thinking and behaving. It is now looking for opportunities to expand the learning from this programme to the broader cultural sector community through a series of one day events. The next event will take place in February 2015 ‘The Long View: How futures thinking can help us plan and innovate’ 

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