Museums for sustainable futures, header image

Museums for sustainable futures

I have run a number of projects that aim to use museums as tools for building futures where people and nature flourish together.

The Sustainable Development Goals
Since 2016, I have put a lot of focus into exploring how museums can contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs for short. This has involved developing myself, speaking at conferences, working as a member of the International Council of Museums Working Group on Sustainability, and making submissions to political inquiries.

The SDGs are the best available blueprint for putting the world on a pathway to a future where people and nature flourish together. They are not just for governments: they are an invitation to all sectors of society, in all places, to collaborate and participate in the achievement of this super-ambitious agenda. The SDGs are an incredible opportunity for anyone, any organisation, and any sector to collaborate in pursuit of common goals, levering their skills, capacities and unique resources, and creating new opportunities by working together. Museums have a great deal to offer this Agenda, and some of the SDGs will not be achieved without museums. I recently put together a guide for museums on how they can connect their work with, and support the achievement of, the Sustainable Development Goals. The guide aims to help museums, museum workers and museum networks get started with the SDGs. If organisations need further support, I provide that through bespoke workshops or other activities.

7 Million Wonders was an advocacy document I put together to help North West museums make a case for the importance of their natural history collections to decision-makers and other stakeholders. The central argument was that people need nature and nature needs people, and that museums with natural history collections can help people and nature help one another. This work was presented nationally at a number of conferences and helped a number of North West museums shape collections-based projects and secure funding.

Encountering the Unexpected was a research project led by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester. The project partly grew out of 7 Million Wonders (above), and asked the question ‘how can museum collections promote people’s connections with nature?’ I was a member of the steering group for the project, which worked with a number of North West museums to develop ‘experiments’

In 2019, I received a scholarship to participate in the one-week United Nations Summer Academy, organised by the UN System Staff College in Bonn. This brought together 100 people from the UN system and others from 40 countries working with sustainable development in different ways, to explore what has been done, what could be done, and what is needed for transformational change. The theme of the week was ‘The 2030 Agenda: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead’, which was particularly timely ahead of the first SDG summit at the UN General Assembly in September. The week was completely amazing, and a recurring theme was the common challenges we all faced, around silo working, lack of connectivity between policies and different sectors, and lack of awareness of the potential of different sectors to collaborate for change. I came away from the Academy full of ideas and even stronger commitment that the SDGs are a hugely valuable tool for designing and building the future.

In 2019, I helped organise the plenary session, workshop and resolution on sustainability at the International Council of Museums triennial conference in Kyoto. This involved bringing together an international panel of speakers, from the US, Hong Kong, Brazil and South Africa. My role at the plenary was as the discussant, where I used the SDGs guide as a framework to contextualise the presentations, and to highlight to the 4,600 delegates how they can connect their work with the SDGs to shape a better future. I also helped develop the workshop on SDG Superpowers that was held at the conference. I am grateful to ICOM for a grant that supported my attendance at the conference.