How is the heritage sector engaging with global histories and communities?

Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust explores how the sector approaches equality, diversity and inclusion internally and through its work with global majority communities.

We’re pleased to announce that the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust, with support from NLHF and Museum Development networks (North West, Yorkshire & Humber and West Midlands), is carrying out an exciting piece of research with the heritage sector in England. 

A sector trying to engage with global histories and communities

Over the years there have been many initiatives aimed at increasing the diversity of the heritage sector workforce, as well as building anti-racist / anti-discriminatory culture and practice. Events in 2020, however, underlined the long distance yet to travel and sharpened focus on institutional and systemic racism. Heated debates about how our archives, galleries and museums approach the history and legacies of the British Empire and transatlantic slave trade illustrated very differing views. And monitoring data revealed that, despite many decades of diversity initiatives, the heritage sector still struggles to engage audiences that reflect our multicultural population. 

From our conversations with other archives and heritage organisations it became clear that whilst there is often a strong desire and a recognition that the sector could do so much more, much of the sector still feels unconfident in how to use its collections to thoughtfully explore and talk about this country’s global histories, and isn’t sure how best to build relationships with global majority communities. We are increasingly being asked to share our expertise in this area. 

“Research with real impact”

We know that the sector wants to move forward in these areas and we want to understand what support the sector needs. As a result we decided to carry out a piece of research with the heritage sector in the UK. Our research will explore the current state of play in relation to work on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) with particular reference to race and racism. 

The funding from NLHF and Museum Development networks has enabled us to recruit an experienced researcher to the project. Marta Riccardi is currently working on a PhD at the University of Liverpool and has a track record of working on EDI initiatives in the academic sector. 

Marta Riccardi

She told us “I was attracted to this role because I saw it as an opportunity to do research with real impact. I think it’s fundamental for everyone to be able to access and truly enjoy heritage in the UK, so contributing to creating a more equal and inclusive sector through this project was a fantastic opportunity I just couldn’t miss.”

With Marta’s help, we will explore where organisations lack confidence and impact (and why) and what support they might value. We will also seek examples of interesting and creative ways in which organisations are building inclusive and representative teams and culture, and examples of good practice in collections-based work with global majority communities. 

Importantly, our research will include community organisations who have partnered with heritage organisations. Given the unique position we occupy, between heritage sector and communities, we often hear conflicting accounts of collaborative work: heritage organisations reflect positively on recent projects with community organisations, while community groups share (often privately) less positive experiences of collaborations. Our research will give community groups a voice and ask them what they consider to be the ingredients for meaningful community engagement. 

A solutions-based approach

Our research is not about shaming the sector. We want to establish a clear picture of the sector’s strengths and weaknesses in engaging with global communities and histories, but with a solutions-focused approach. We hope to identify and spotlight interesting projects and practice, to explore what types of support would most help the sector, and to offer some concrete recommendations. 

As Marta explains: “ I think this research can have a significant impact on the sector. There’s still so much to know about this topic and, given the developments brought on by the events in 2020, there’s clearly a need for change. I think there are already so many examples of good and inclusive practice, and we want to highlight those, while also showing where the sector is truly at in terms of EDI. Once we all have a clear picture, then the real change can happen.”

Opportunities to take part

We kick off our research with an online survey aimed at heritage organisations. Through the survey we will gather data on how the sector is approaching EDI issues and what kinds of support would be most valued. If you work for a heritage organisation please take a look. The survey is reasonably detailed and will probably take 30 to 40 minutes to complete, but as Marta says:

“I think this is a great opportunity for organisations. By participating, they’ll give a fundamental contribution to understanding what’s going on, but it’ll also be an opportunity for them to reflect on their current practice. We’re very keen to hear about examples of good practice and community inclusion, and organisations that will do so, will be able to inspire others to follow a similar path. We’ll also use this research to provide examples of concrete ways to move forward, so by getting involved people will receive potential solutions as well.”

Complete our survey here

The deadline is 30 September 2021. Any data you give us will be confidential and anonymised.

The second phase of research will involve telephone interviews with heritage organisations, funders and sector networks, and – as described above – with community organisations. Look out for opportunities to contribute at this stage in the next few weeks. 

If you have any questions about the project please contact Marta Riccardi (Research Assistant) at [email protected] or Maya Sharma (Research Manager, for Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust) at [email protected]

*By global majority communities, we mean communities whose roots are in the Caribbean and Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, South and East Asia. We use this in place of BAME.