Sensory Objects Enterprise - Co-Development and Start Up project

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Art

Abstract

We aim to enhance the value and benefits of the award-winning AHRC-funded 'Sensory Objects' project. This enriched the experience of people with learning disabilities within museums and heritage sites through the development of sensory interactive objects.

Resulting from the Sensory Objects project we have the opportunity to work in partnership with the inclusive employment agency Jobs Enterprise and Training JET), to co-develop employment for people with learning disabilities as part of a training and sensory dialogue service that can help museums and heritage sites to realise more accessible and meaningful experiences for their visitors with learning disabilities.

We aim to create long-term sustainable employment for people with learning disabilities in museums and heritage and to help that sector achieve wider social and cultural inclusion by incorporating the understanding and working methods developed during the Sensory Objects Project. Our inclusive teams will use creative sensory approaches and multimedia to work with museum professionals. Our experience from the Sensory Object Project was that people with learning disabilities told us they felt respected and were able to communicate their ideas and museum professionals e.g. Kate Arnold-Forster Director of the Museum of English Rural Life during the Sensory Objects Seminar MERL 25.02.15 told us they were challenged to rethink their approaches to sensory engagement because of the Sensory Objects approach.

We will create a social business Sensory Objects Enterprise (SOE) that will provide an innovative set of services that can be provided to Museums and Heritage sites. The SOE will offer alternative approaches for dialogue with museum professionals, create alternative sensory interpretation of museum collections and encouraged greater awareness of the valuable contribution people with learning disabilities bring to the museum and heritage sector.

We will establish a viable and self-sustaining business vehicle to deliver this service and refine these into three distinct product offers:

1. Provision of Interactive Workshops direct to museum staff and/or co-delivered with staff to the local learning disability community.
2. Provision of Sensory Focus Groups that work in participatory and creative ways to engage disabled people to meaningfully review collections and curatorial approaches with museum staff and contractors.
3. Provision of Sensory Dialogues services to assist communication in the design and development of interactive exhibits. This model of product strand will be rehearsed through engagement of the team in partnership with a professional museum interactive production company

These will be co-produced and trialled in three pilot implementations with representative cultural organisations, The Ragged School London, MERL and The British Museum.
These will then be disseminated as publicity at the heart of a viable commercial package that will be the core outcome of the Follow-on Funding phase. This will constitute a service offer for the museum and heritage sector that we can take to market with confidence.

Planned Impact

The ultimate impact for the SOE will be continued and broader influence of the Sensory Object's methods on the Museum and Archive sector's approaches to accommodating and engaging people with learning disabilities. In the original project we aimed to leave a set of objects at each museum to improve their accessibility, but we learnt through the project that the most valuable and influential resource that we brought into this sector through our approach was the proactive interaction of people with learning disabilities with museum professionals and the public in creative and reflective co-production activity. The sensory objects we constructed served as tools for engagement. The multisensory and multimedia production processes we applied to the design, development, refinement and dissemination of Sensory Objects provided opportunities for cultural sites that were groundbreaking. The genuinely inclusive nature of the project teams, the workshop design and focus-group models that they demonstrated and the calibre of the intellectual dialogue that they afforded for Museum and Archive sites proved to be transformational. Our business aim and impact objective is to bring these innovative methods and fresh perspectives to all UK museums. We will provide opportunity for them to rethink their collections through our unique multimedia and multi-sensory approaches that can enable them to extend their audiences, visitors and makeover their interactive displays through activity driven by people with a learning disability, alongside specialist technologists and art practitioners.

Project outcomes include a sustainable business model of employment of people with LD in museums and heritage sites that has been tried and tested with prestigious representative clients with established reputation for innovation and a growing profile in the Heritage, MLA Sector. We will follow up with our clients at 6 and12 month intervals to ascertain their subsequent implementation of inclusive sensory approaches after they have used our services. This will enable us to measure and record impact on the museums culture of inclusion and maintain our customer relationship with clients. The impact for the apprentices will reflect in their subsequent progress on their route to employment. We anticipate that apprentices will move on to more traditional jobs after our apprenticeship pathways. We hope to follow their progress and see them working in the museums and heritage sector as well as media and creative industries with the sensory objects programme. Sensory Objects Enterprise will commission Mencap Liverpool's Access to Heritage, the specialist learning disability organisation will be commissioned to undertake a study on the effect on the museums with which we work and their opinions on inclusivity of museums. As part of our service we will invite Access to Heritage to carry out a pre-and-post survey for their inclusive approaches and strategies. We will trial and refine our impact evaluation strategy during our pilots.

Impacts include:
Demonstration of new pathways to employment for people with LD struggling to penetrate the labour market with pioneering models of inclusive working practice in Creative and Cultural industries.
Influence on inclusive design of public heritage and culture.
Advance state-of-the-art application of interactive and social media technologies for social inclusion, education and the widening of participation in public culture.
Develop new strategies for inclusive business and enterprise activity that can be captured and applied in other contexts, particularly in the creative industries.
Direct impacts for participating supported employees and apprentices with LD, for Museum and Heritage site visitors with disabilities and for members of the public whose awareness about disability and the potential contributions that people with disabilities can make to their communities and our society generally.

Publications


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