Case study: front-of-house

Maurice Davies and Helen Wilkinson, 15.04.2011
Manchester City Galleries changed the role of its visitor services team, to bridge the gap between front-of-house and the rest of the museum

When John Mouncey joined Manchester City Galleries as visitor services manager two years ago, part of his vision for the role was to get visitor services staff involved in other departments in the galleries. He hoped to combat a “them and us” culture, which sometimes separated visitor services staff from others in the museum, and to help individual staff feel more motivated and engaged.

Having persuaded senior management to trial the idea, the programme started with an audit to ascertain which members of staff were interested and to try to match people who wanted to take part with suitable opportunities.

In the end, about half of those who work in visitor services took part. They now spend one day each week in one of the other departments, working alongside colleagues there. As the scheme has progressed, more departments have joined in and members of the visitor services team now work with a range of other departments, including exhibitions and education.

The benefits to the participating departments are clear. Visitor services staff often have the best insight into how visitors use the galleries and can help shape services and programmes using this knowledge. The participating staff also pass information from the departments they are working in back to their colleagues through the visitor services team’s daily briefing meetings.

Mouncey says: “We are such a big organisation that previously people simply didn’t understand what other people did.”

Spin-off benefits include the fact that heads of departments are now keener to do briefings for visitor services staff as they appreciate the need to give them better information and are more aware of their potential contribution.

Mouncey thinks that the project is likely to survive difficult times because it makes economic sense: “When you think about it, it’s obvious that visitor services staff are an untapped resource.”

This case study is taken from the Museums Association's Culture Change, Dynamism and Diversity report, written by Maurice Davies and Helen Wilkinson. Click here to download a pdf of the report