You may have seen in our previous blog post that Common Cause Foundation are working at Manchester Museum on a programme of work to explore how the museum can convey a deeper appreciation of the values that most people in Greater Manchester share. I’m pleased to say that last month we kicked off our work in a ‘big’ way with a Big Saturday at Manchester Museum!
Building on insights from the social psychology of values, Common Cause Foundation is helping the Museum to become a ‘museum for life’: a museum which promotes strong communities, encourages people to take action in their own lives, and contributes to the wellbeing of their visitors.
Research published by Common Cause Foundation last year found that over three quarters of people in the UK underestimate the importance that our fellow-citizens place on values such as friendship, helpfulness, social justice and broadmindedness (what could be referred to as compassion values). This is likely to be important, because the more we underestimate the importance that others place on these values, the less likely we are to vote, the less inclined we are to volunteer, the less responsible we feel for our communities, and the more socially alienated we are likely to feel.
A museum could help to prompt people to reflect on what they values in life, and to convey an appreciation of the widespread concern that is placed on compassionate values. In a survey of Museum visitors conducted in December 2016, we found that people who felt their visit to the Museum engaged compassionate values were likely to report greater support for action on climate change, greater commitment to community involvement, and greater wellbeing.
Every third Saturday of the month Manchester Museum hosts, a day full of family activities focusing on a specific theme or topic; we used this to pilot activities that could support the Museum to communicate a more accurate understanding of what others actually value, and over a thousand visitors joined us on the day.
One example of the many activities designed to engage visitors in meaningful conversations about what matters most to them was the ‘Big Conversation’.
At least 125 visitors, staff and volunteers took part in the Big Conversation, a long conversation relay encouraging people to share what they love and valued about life with someone they’d never met before. This idea was borrowed from the fabulous People United, an organisation whose belief that ‘being kind to one another is fundamental to making the world a better place’ really aligns with the work of Common Cause Foundation and the Museum’s aspiration to be a ‘Museum for Life’. This was all about being open to connecting with someone you don’t know and the joy of finding that spark of commonality. Snippets of these conversations were all captured in this beautiful piece of art and as you can see values such as love, family, friendship, freedom and solidarity all feature.
Amy, who was facilitating this activity, said: ‘People often looked nervous about speaking to a stranger, but then looked so happy and relaxed once they made that connection’. At least one initially reluctant participant subsequently thanked Amy for encouraging her to get involved.
There were many more fantastic activities; each creating an opportunity for the Museum to show that it is a place where values such as compassion, kindness and care are widely held to be the most important, and can be celebrated. The day was also a chance for our visitors to share what they value most with others – be it their families, our staff, our volunteers or other visitors.
When asked if Museums should be celebrating and championing compassionate values, one visitor said:
‘I think it’s very important, especially for children nowadays. I think it’s very important to try and promote things like this because it’s the basic qualities we all need to have. I found this truly amazing, a wonderful way of sharing that message – and very interactive as well’
In terms of how this Big Saturday felt for the Museum one member of staff said: ‘The overall atmosphere was great. It felt like something new and fresh for the museum.’
And one of the museum’s many volunteers said:
‘It’s lovely to come into a ‘building’ where the emphasis is on friendliness, kindness and sharing – it’s refreshing to come into a positive environment basically.’
You can find out more about some of the activities we piloted on the day: