The original idea for MRL came from many discussions between MRL Co-Founders Stephen Feber and Andrew Lovett about leading museums as social enterprises, informed by a deep interest in leadership in the cultural, business and political sectors. In the background to these conversations was the growing drumbeat of falling public sector support for museums; whilst capital funding, since the advent of the Lottery had not been a problem, revenue support had. Our strong belief was that the answer to the revenue problem was a greater degree of self reliance for cultural organisations, based on the 'mixed economy' model, characterised by plural income streams for both capital and revenue. The Lottery capital funding was a wonderful boost to the sector but it was not enough, indeed there was a trend for organisations to become capital rich and revenue poor. We agreed that self reliant organisations needed resilient leadership; from our determination to provide this, MRL was born.
In the Autumn of 2012, Black Country Living Museum (BCLM) proposed the Museums and Resilient Leadership (MRL) programme to Arts Council England (ACE). The programme would strengthen museums in the West Midlands through developing a more robust cadre of senior museum professionals. Arts Council England agreed to support the Programme.
The first programme was delivered between June 2013 and May 2014 to a cohort of fourteen senior level museum and heritage sector professionals from the West Midlands, by MRL Directors Stephen Feber and Nick Winterbotham, with the support of a distinguished Faculty. The MRL programme is infused with thinking drawn from long experience of leading cultural organisations by the Co-Directors and faculty. MRL also benefits from methods and processes gleaned from the Getty Leadership Institute and the Directing Change action learning set. See below.
Reflections on the Programme by participants may be found here.
The initial programme was a success, and three further years, 2015-2016, 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 were funded by ACE as a key activity within the BCLM consortium Major Partner Museums programme. We have secured an additional round of funding from the Arts Council for three further programmes 2018-2019, 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.
From the outset we have applied the idea that resilient organisations depend on resilient staff who understand how their organisation works and performs, have a firm grasp of the business realm in which they operate, and develop robust relationships within and outside their organisation. The programme has a three-point focus:
To grow resilience in these interrelated areas MRL emphasises the development of 'asset capacity' for the individual, their organisation and the relationships which link them. The MRL model is essentially dynamic and is designed to allow our participants to prosper in changing times rather than suffer from them. MRL is entrepreneurial in the widest sense. We believe the resilient leader:
Builds personal, organisational and network capacity
Embraces uncertainty and measures risk
Seeks and gives feedback at any time and with equanimity
Develops strategies appropriate to circumstance
Applies and promotes personal and organisational values
Demonstrates that none of us is as smart as all of us
Promotes learning as a personal and organisational responsibility
Knows, shares and applies ‘the numbers’
Acts as a cultural entrepreneur
Creates leadership narratives with authenticity
Promotes progress before perfection in self and colleagues
Promotes the maxim that resilience is a journey, not a destination
The idea of iterative development, of testing and refinement, is central to the resilient mindset and we apply this thinking to the Programme itself, carefully evaluating it workshop by workshop and adjusting content and techniques accordingly. See Leadership for a fuller description of the outcomes of this process.
Directing Change and MRL
Since 1990, a self-organised group of senior museum professionals and consultants has met in a retreat format to reflect on leadership in the museum and heritage sector. The Group is called Directing Change. For seventeen years High Trenhouse, has been the annual venue; a major reason for the residential location for MRL. Both of MRL's Co-Directors, Stephen Feber and Nick Winterbotham are founder members of the group: Stephen has been actively involved throughout. Many current and past senior figures in the museum sector are alumni of Directing Change. Andrew Lovett joined the group 5 years ago.
Some of the foundation thinking for MRL and some of its learning techniques have been drawn from the 25 year history of Directing Change and the Faculty wish to acknowledge this. Facilitator George Gawlinski has been a constant throughout the process. In early 2015 he wrote:
Directing Change is, I think, a special and creative way of supporting cultural leadership in its many forms, both direct and indirect. It is self-managed, self-financed, self-selected and self-rejuvenating. Twenty five years is a remarkable time span for a group of this kind to survive. Others and other initiatives have much to learn from it.
Personally I have taken the insights, wisdom, friendship and generosity to my other work, for which I will be always grateful.
I believe that in a distinctive way the group has contributed to a better and more sustainable world and enriched the many communities we have all worked with and engaged in.
Getty Leadership Institute
Both Stephen Feber and Nick Winterbotham are graduates of the Getty Leadership Institute, the leading USA based museum leadership programme.