The purpose of this document is to provide a consistent Science Museum Group wide approach to working in partnership with people who currently do not see our museums and sites as places for them.
It provides top-level definitions, rationale and principles to enable all our museums and departments to work together constructively towards our organisational value of being Open for All.
This framework will require constant reflection and adaptation as we continue to learn. It focuses on our visitor-facing work, rather than our workforce, which is being addressed elsewhere.
Some people, particularly those marginalised by dominant systems of class, race and gender, have historically been excluded from science. They don’t see science, and museums and sites like ours, as places in which they belong, or are welcome.
To achieve our objective to grow science capital in individuals and society, and to be truly open for all, the Group needs to address and transform the structures and practices which reproduce these inequalities.
This is about acknowledging and addressing how we, both as individuals and as an institution, play a role in this exclusion.
A significant body of audience, market and academic research demonstrates that our culture of practice and ways of working do not do enough to address underlying issues that affect exclusion from STEM and wider museum culture.
We can and must do better.
As shown by the Science Capital research, an interest in science – or finding it fun – is not enough to support a broader range of people feeling science is ‘for them’.
Informal science learning needs to consider who is represented, whose ideas and cultures are centred and valued, and focus on changing the environment – the museum – rather than the groups who experience exclusion.
Science Capital provides us with research-based insight into what influences and shapes people’s engagement with, and attitudes towards, science. It explains how patterns of STEM engagement reflect and replicate the power inequalities that exist in wider society. This ultimately manifests itself in who does, and who does not, see science as ‘for them’.
Our equity framework outlines a set of principles to consider in our internal working practices and to guide our work with audiences who feel excluded from science. This framework suggests methods and ways of working to address the unequal distribution of power and resources among individuals, communities and institutions.
We are working towards a vision where all people are able to engage with STEM and access the social and economic benefits it brings. We cannot achieve equality without first establishing equitable practice through organisational change. Improving our internal practices, and working with groups facing exclusion, is central to this.
Why Equity and not Equality?
Equality aims to ensure that everyone is provided with the same resources and support to access opportunities. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, BUT it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things.
Equity recognises difference in people and how they are differently affected. It involves trying to understand and give people what they need to access opportunities in society.
While equality means treating all people the same, equity identifies the adjustments needed to ensure all people have equal access to resources and experiences.
Importantly, equity is both the way in which we work and the outcomes which we seek to gain from doing this work.
Social justice considers the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges across populations. Within society there are stark inequalities in the distribution of resources across systems of class, race and gender. These are reflected within the cultural sector, including the makeup of our staff and volunteers and the stories we tell.
Equity is a model used and discussed in relation to social justice. An equity model takes a needs-based approach and pays attention to difference. The model argues that people’s needs must be considered in relation to who they are and what their lives are like. In this model, differences are valued and seen as positive aspects of our society, to be recognised and respected.
Science capital is a tool for understanding participation, and thereafter supporting equitable engagement. It provides us with a good practice framework that we can all use to play our part in helping to improve science participation and grow science capital in individuals and society. This we do by reflecting on the unwritten rules of being in a museum; broadening what counts as engaging in the museum; personalising and localising content; and valuing the contribution of visitors.
Across the Science Museum Group steps have taken place to address the way in which museums favour some groups and exclude others, or to understand how they can create and develop better partnerships. These include:
- Seeking to be more representative in our portrayals of the people who do science e.g. STEM Ambassadors and Future Engineers
- Working with people to tell their stories on gallery and digitally, for example in the Science Museum’s Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries
- Research partnerships which seek to identify how certain groups of people are marginalised within wider STEM practice, for example the Building Bridges and Enterprising Science projects
- The use of science capital practice in the development of interpretation and resources
- Identifying ways in which sites can work in close collaboration within their city to identify new ways of working e.g. ‘Bedtime Stories’, and Bradford’s National Museum Project
Whilst there have been examples of success and learning across sites and departments, much more can be done to prioritise the needs of the audiences and embed an equity-led approach.
The Science Museum Group Learning Strategy 2020-30 will help to drive this work with a stated aim to bring authentic, diverse voices into our practice.
The equity framework outlines a cycle in which colleagues identify processes of exclusion, work in partnership to remove these, and reflect on and embed changes within our work.
We need to identify and recognise barriers that exclude groups and take actions to recognise, reflect and value different ideas and knowledge that have been excluded.
Identify exclusion and inequity
- Embed learning around social justice, exclusion and equitable practice as core to all roles. All colleagues need to be able to identify how groups are excluded to be able to make change.
- Identify the systemic/ structural barriers that lead to groups feeling excluded from our museums.
- Identify internal working practices which perpetuate exclusion of groups from our museums e.g. whose stories are held in our collections, what stories are valued and presented on gallery and digitally and with whom are we working in collaboration.
Foster an equitable environment
- Broaden what counts as and is recognised as science rather than framing non-participation as a deficit or lack of interest
- Represent, value and centre a broader range of cultural experiences, interests, identities, skills and behaviours as having a legitimate place in our museums and their practices.
- Centre the knowledge, interests, aspirations and experiences of historically excluded groups as relevant by sharing them in our museums and our practice.
Work in partnership to make change happen
- Work with excluded groups on mutually beneficial collaborations, engaging in open and critical discussion starting from who they are and what their lives are like rather than the needs of our museums
- Trial new ways of working in collaboration with external groups and continually reflect on what works and what could be improved to move our equitable practice forward
- Reflect on our internal decision-making processes and adapt these in collaboration with partners so that change can be enacted at all levels.
Reflect and embed structural change
- Set equity-based outcomes where we prioritise the needs of audiences who are excluded from our core work and programming.
- Embed a cycle of reflection based on equitable practice into our work reflecting on outcomes for community audiences, museum visitors and SMG.
- Embed equitable practices across all levels and departments – organisational change is key to embedding equitable practice and outcomes.
Creating change on a structural level takes time and we need to be open to learning, reflecting and changing.
As we begin our journey to become more equitable, we will define what success looks like and how this is measured. Methods may include:
- Audience Research (in-house and externally commissioned)
- Visitor Insight Reports
- Critical feedback from external groups and partners
- Science engagement measures