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Why do museums hire consultants to develop their education programs?

This is the first in a new series of articles exploring what it means to be an educator in Victorian cultural organisations. If you have an idea for an article and would like to contribute please email us. Thank you Jo for being the first contributor. 

Why do museums hire consultants to develop their education programs?

By Dr Jo Clyne, History Teachers’ Association of Victoria

When I was looking for a career, ‘museum educator’ seemed to offer all the qualities I was looking for in a job – learning, creativity, research, interpretation and presentation.

Like many museum educators, I am a qualified teacher who has worked across primary, secondary and tertiary education. I got my start in museum education when the Melbourne Museum hired me over a period of two years to develop and present education programs. (If you want to know how to score this kind of gig, it involved dressing up as a paleontologist and singing a self-authored song about dinosaurs for the interview panel). It was here that I realised how much I adore creating educational content for the very special and unique learning environment of museums.

Later, I taught an honours level subject on museums and material culture at The University of Melbourne, and always included content on the role of the educator in cultural institutions.

I am currently employed as the Manager of Education and Consultancy Services at the History Teachers’ Association of Victoria (HTAV). A big part of what I do is developing both digital and experiential educational content for museums.

I am different from many other museum educators because I don’t actually work at a museum.

Instead I work with them.

Lots of them.

And I love it.

BUT this raises several important industry questions.

Why would somebody hire a consultant like me when surely their own staff would know their museum much better than a ring-in?

Why is educational expertise so often outsourced?

After looking back on the many educational projects that the HTAV has developed for museums, I have come up with several explanations for this phenomenon.

  1. Many museums have extremely restrictive budgets. Sometimes there simply isn’t an in-house staff member dedicated to developing education resources.
  2. The resident education team is too busy looking after the day-to-day running of the education program to develop new materials.
  3. Often the project might require a specific skill such as film-making or developing digital resources that resident staff members are not trained to do.
  4. With an organisation such as the History Teachers’ Association of Victoria, we can connect the cultural institution directly to their audience by promoting the final product through conferences, bulletins, magazines and social media. We care deeply about the end user because they are our own community. We wouldn’t make something that we felt they wouldn’t like or want to use.
  5. It’s nice to work in partnership with somebody else who can bring new ideas to the table.

I think that the last point is particularly important. Consultants are used in all areas of industry to help revitalise an existing business, organisation and service, or provide an objective approach from the outside world.

You can follow Jo on Twitter at @JoClyne1

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