Doing less

Can doing less, better, be good for your museum?

As he embarks on one of the museum’s busiest fortnights, Mark Macleod head of The Infirmary in Worcester, vows to change his mantra and do less, better rather than trying to do too much

At The Infirmary Museum there is me, half a trainee – the other half is spent with collaborating partner museum George Marshall Medical Museum (GMMM) – and roughly 0.5FTE hours per year from volunteers helping in all areas of our work. We partner on many projects, like the traineeship, with a four day a week curator at the GMMM.

Even though a small team, I am sure we are not unique in the demands and opportunities which are presented regularly from partners, funders, visitors and people wishing to be partners. Sometimes it seems the corridor of things to do goes on indefinitely.

In a conversation this week with a colleague from the University which hosts our venue, he said he wanted to be “doing less, better”. Since considering his mantra, I too am now wishing to do less, and with the extra time, be better at it. Is it possible? Has anyone any tips?

My first go at changing is a project at the museum happening over the next two weeks. We are delivering a taster of our educational offer to 500 schoolchildren from years 1-5. That is not far off the total number of children who participated in our education workshops for last year. It’s a big fortnight to squeeze 17, 45 minute sessions in about 13 hours to the children. We are used to delivering more than we should!

Selection of fliers for events at The Infirmary Museum since opening copyright University of Worcester

After returning from two weeks holiday on the 2 October to an almost confirmed timetable and numbers, I was adamant to ensure each pupil gets a full experience of workshops.

Not having more trained staff made this impossible, so by placing limitations on what can be achieved for these free sessions, and based on the resources available it was decided to do less but deliver it better. Each child will visit the exhibition, look at the building and experience doing observations, just as nurses have done for over 130 years.

Such journeys are not unique, I bet you have many examples of being placed under pressure, partners moving goalposts or simply trying to please partners by offering far more than is actually needed, or often covered by the expense.

As professionals I think we should be keeping a few secrets and finding ways to make them generate more benefit for the organisation, either in cash, donations or partnerships.

As an intern in 2001, I was paid to deliver tours by the hour around a modern art collection. My memory says it was £15, which was not insignificant and I assume the gallery also took a percentage. Yet, the individual, family or group who toured was always appreciative, they appeared engaged and pleased with the service they received from the transaction. And the tour was never allowed to run past the hour. Nowadays we give free tours on event days and only charge £3/head for any specially arranged community groups.

I am guilty of stretching the time spent if people are interested and want more, I should not! Better to tell them to come back, especially while a metric for success continues to be number of visits. Would it be better to write a book/online blog of the secrets and monetise the knowledge?

With a small team The Infirmary has opened its doors up to planned activities with 500 schoolchildren in the space of a fortnight

Back to next week, we are offering our venue, staff time to prepare, deliver and train new volunteers to help support the delivery, all at no cost. It’s a huge marketing coup and an opportunity to meet teachers and engage with their students to plant the seed that school visits to museums are necessary to bring ‘a-ha’ moments about architecture, maths, medicine and health.

This project is in line with our mission and business plan. However ‘doing less better’ for future work will require these policies to be looked at more regularly. It is so easy to say yes to something that sounds fun and which may not be on mission. Last Monday, I was invited to help organise and decide on erecting public hoardings in the city and managed to say no, even though my boss asked and it involved my interests of public art. As an art history graduate this was more in my wheelhouse than the medical collection we exhibit! It was empowering to say no and will give me encouragement to say it again. Two successes in the first week is a running start.

Going forward I pledge to do less, better and remember to review the policies and plans we worked hard to write. Focussing on the benefit we aim to bring to the local audiences and celebration of Worcester’s medical past and how it can be included for present and future enjoyment, education and engagement.