A new Collections Significance Toolkit for Welsh Museums

It’s been ten years since Welsh Government published its last collections significance assessment toolkit, ‘Why do we have it? A Significance Process and Template’, and the world is now a very different place. We’re ready for a new toolkit and a new approach. It’s time to bring clarity, communities and conversations to the process.

In late summer 2022, Welsh Government appointed Headland Design Associates to develop a new toolkit, which could be used across the sector but with the Welsh context at its heart. The team embarked on consultation with colleagues in Wales, first through an online survey and then conversations and focus groups. The consultees were wide-ranging, from volunteer-run organisations, independent museums and heritage sites to those caring for local authority, university and national collections. Staff at Amgueddfa Cymru were involved throughout in an advisory capacity. Respondents gave feedback on previous collections review and significance assessment projects they’d undertaken, the tools they’d used, what did and didn’t work well, and whether they’d involved any associated communities.

This consultation, alongside a study of existing toolkits from the UK, Australia, Finland and the Netherlands, informed the team’s thinking and contributed towards the formulation of the toolkit’s structure. At the beginning of 2023, pilot studies and training sessions tested the toolkit’s processes and feedback refined the guidance.

The aim was to produce an easy to use toolkit; something that would work for a wide range of users, from those with little to no experience of significance assessments, to those with prior knowledge. This fed into the development of a four-stage process: planning your approach; collections review; significance assessment and review and reassessment of the project. Tasks are organised clearly, guiding users through a logical process, with a set of tools that can be tailored to meet the needs of the organisation, its collections and those working on the project.

At the significance assessment stage, four Action Plans have been designed to help museums achieve different assessment goals: defining the status of collections; informing rationalisation; assisting with acquisitions and making interpretive decisions. Scored matrices are out and conversations are in. Those using the toolkit are encouraged to take a more philosophical and qualitative approach, engaging in conversations with colleagues, communities and those with specialist knowledge to inform significance decisions. These conversations are guided by assessment criteria listed on Prompt Sheets for each Action Plan. The toolkit advises that external verification through peer review is then sought to confirm the assessment conclusions made.

Community involvement is highlighted as a key part of this process: the identification and engagement of people associated with collections to incorporate their thoughts, knowledge and lived experience. No greater importance is placed on potential national or international significance; objects with local and community relevance are of equal value, especially if they help to connect people with collections. Presenting opportunities for new voices to contribute their thoughts is vital to ensure we are making the right significance decisions for our communities and their collections.

Jennifer Cragg, Heritage Consultant, Headland Design Associates 

The Collections Significance Assessment Toolkit for Welsh Museums launched in spring 2023, and is available on the Welsh Government website here>>

Hallmarks at Home – A new approach to Collections Significance

Join Jennifer Cragg from Headland Design Associates on 12 September to hear how the toolkit was developed and how it can be used by different types of museums in Wales and beyond. Delegates will also get the chance to test out the toolkit in small breakout groups using hypothetical collections and scenarios.

Free webinar for AIM members, 11am on 12 September. Click here to find out more and to book>>