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12.00  Co-Producing Health and Wellbeing Programmes in the Museum

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“Co-production” is a relatively recent term to have entered the museum discourse, as a way of working with communities and participants in more reciprocal ways. However, the notion of co-production also has its origins in health and social care in the 1970s. In the UK, co-production was adopted as a model of public service delivery for health by the mid-1990s and is still central today via policy directives. Co-production is based on shared information and decision-making between service-users and providers. It builds on the assumption that both parties contribute different and essential knowledge. The approach also promotes the importance of front-line staff for the delivery of quality services. In recent years in the UK, a number of museums have developed or expanded their work with health and social care providers, as an expression of their social role in community. 

This paper will consider the shifting meanings of co-production in this new context. It will ask, what changes when museums collaborate closely with health and social care agencies and their service-users? As a case study we will explore the changing practices of the Outreach team at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums over the past five years, a large local authority museum service in the North East of England. In examining the above question, the primary focus of the paper will be on the experience of museum professionals as the front-line staff delivering these services, and how health and social care contexts of co-production mediate the practice of museum professionals. The paper will consider how co-production changes at a number of different scales: from the intimate moments of the community engagement session, to the institutional politics associated with these new forms of partnership, to the local and place-specific orientation of this work. The paper will also consider how heritage meanings and values are negotiated in the process of co-production with health and social care service-users, and the role of material culture in health and wellbeing. As a collaborative paper between a practitioner and a researcher, the piece will bring forth a practice perspective while at the same time grounding the practice experience into theory. As such the paper will move between descriptive accounts of work/practice and more abstracted instances of critical reflection, which aim to highlight the critical politics of the changing terms of co-production, as well as bring forward the agency of (non-human) objects and their materialities of care. As a further point of methodology, the reflections presented in this paper are derived from the researcher’s own embedded ethnography of the museum, in particular the engagement work of the Outreach team.

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