The best way to protect our cultural heritage is to demonstrate how much of a difference it makes in all aspects of people’s lives, from employment to education, and from mental health to environmental sustainability. Advocacy is any activity that promotes your organisation with the aim of influencing decisions within political, economic, and social systems.
What is advocacy?
Museums play a vital role in the lives of individuals, families and communities across Scotland. Their learning and outreach work bridges inequalities in education and mental and physical health provision. Museums help to connect people with their community, while enhancing the experience of visitors to Scotland and bringing a positive economic impact.
Although you may already know this, do the people who are making decisions about the future of your organisation? It’s important to make sure people are aware of the true impact of your work, and to ensure your supporters are vocal in their support for your museum.
Advocacy is just that - any activity that promotes your organisation with the aim of influencing decisions within political, economic, and social systems or institutions. This can include a range of public-facing activities, including print, press, and social media campaigns, publication of visitor research, or events. Advocacy does not necessarily involve developing direct relationships with elected officials, although this may be part of your activity.
The information in our Raising Your Profile section will help you to start advocating for your museum, working with a wide range of supporters and partners, crafting effective messages to appeal to a range of audiences, and showcasing the value of your museum. This information includes information to help you to better understand impact measurement, and to begin to measure both your Economic Impact and Social Impact.
Museums are making an extraordinary impact in our communities every day, and the work you do is valuable. Let's work together to help share this amazing work.
How to start your advocacy campaign
The first step to advocating on behalf of your organisation is to craft clear messages that show the value of your work. The most effective messages are designed specifically for their audience, emphasising shared values and taking into account their priorities.
When you begin to identify your key audiences, we recommend beginning close to home. Your staff, volunteers, stakeholders, and trustees should all feel confident speaking about the value of your museum, and the ways in which your work makes a difference.
Additionally, museums don’t deliver their work in isolation. Make a list of other organisations you work with regularly, as well as those who could be affected by changes to your services. Building relationships and sharing your key messages with these organisations can help you to mobilise them to help advocate on your behalf. Sharing your experiences with other museums can help: work with peer support networks on a local or national level to understand your impact and advocate collectively for the benefits museums bring.
To engage your key audiences successfully, why not try a RAP?
- Be Rational: keep a level head and instil confidence in others about your work;
- Be Authoritative: provide facts and figures about your impact.
- Be Positive: phrasing your message positively can help the recipient to be more receptive to what you are saying.
Following this general advice, you can then begin to target your messages to specific audiences who will be able to advocate on your behalf.
The Culture Counts Toolkit offers further guidance on advocacy. Although encompassing culture in a broader sense, the toolkit gives: help to find your local policymakers; key evidence on the impact of culture; ideas about engaging with your local community; and tips on lobbying politicians and getting involved in elections.
The Museums Association offers some good general advice on advocacy.
Also, the newly-updated Museum Association Code of Ethics for Museums is essential reading. It promotes three core principles: public engagement and public benefit; stewardship of collections; and individual and institutional integrity (which is particularly relevant to advocacy work).
The Association of Independent Museums’ (AIM) Economic Value of the Independent Museum Sector Toolkit provides a straightforward approach to help estimate the impact museums might have on their local economy. The toolkit was revised in 2014.