Working in Partnerships

Partnership working is our default setting, it maximises impact and secures real value, says Science Museum Group Director, Ian Blatchford.

Last year I declared that it was time for the Science Museum Group to punch its weight, because the nation’s future prosperity and quality of life depend on an urgent commitment to science and engineering. One year on, the Group feels like a vital player in science engagement and inspiration. We do not have all the solutions, but we are a major national force and will have the greatest impact through partnerships, internationalism and doing work of real substance.

Partnership working is our default setting. It maximises impact and secures real value for money, and ought to be the best show in town. I am often driven to intense irritation by a national landscape blasted by too many initiatives of scant value; too many public bodies, learned societies and companies ploughing on regardless of what others are doing; and a dreadful dearth of good evidence about what works. Goodness knows what the schoolchildren and adults of Britain are supposed to make of this blizzard.

That is why we have vowed to work with the best national partners. Waffle about synergy has become hackneyed, so I prefer to talk about amplification. Strong partnerships mean that the great organisations work together to increase signal strength.

There are many examples in this Review of working with the best. Such as the way the Group led a unique collaboration with the GREAT campaign (based at 10 Downing Street), the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (with whom we mounted the Make it in Great Britain exhibition), The Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, Engineering UK and the British Science Association to organise a vote for the greatest British innovations, which has left a legacy in the form of a website now in use by GREAT worldwide.

Partnerships with outstanding arts organisations will bring new audiences to science. The Science Museum hosted Universe of Sound, the Philharmonia Orchestra’s daring digital installation, in which visitors could conduct a virtual symphony orchestra, and experience performing Holst’s The Planets under the baton of EsaPekka Salonen. Both the orchestra and Museum fundraising teams collaborated to secure the funding for the project (the kind of cooperation still too rare in the cultural sector) and the project won the Audience and Engagement prize at the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards.

Interesting young people in careers in engineering has also been a crucial theme over the past year. Our High Performance festival brought together women engineers from many manufacturing and industry backgrounds, to offer a surprising insight into inspiring working lives, and encourage more young women to think about these options. Building on this, we are working with the Royal Academy of Engineering, National Grid and many major companies to create a provocative exhibition in London and at the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester about modern engineering careers.

Our impressive education work has been boosted by partnerships with BP and the BG Group. Not only will this expand our outreach work across the country, but both companies are taking a long-term view about impact. They share our regret about the scarcity of good academic research into educational practice, and are sponsoring new research with two universities. The Group is also working for the first time with the Prince’s Trust after pop star urged us to team up; and he launched the project with a passionate plea for disadvantaged children to have access to STEM subjects.

Our new relish for international cooperation brings the best science and engineering to our audiences, and promotes British science and expertise. We are working with the Brazilian government to create a science museum in São Paulo and, just as important, getting their perspective on the science of sustainability. Our Learning team worked with science and cultural foundations in South Africa, South Korea and Turkey; and the National Railway Museum signed a prestigious agreement with the Railway Museum in Saitama, Tokyo and the East Japan Railways Culture Foundation. The National Media Museum in Bradford made worldwide headlines by announcing the discovery of the world’s oldest moving colour pictures.

Above all we pledged ourselves anew to academic and scientific substance. There could be no better symbol than mounting Codebreaker: Alan Turing’s Life and Legacy, marking the centenary of the birth of the great mathematician and computer pioneer. It tackled his achievements and personal life with such intelligence and verve. The Group is getting its message across loud and clear.