What is a Museum Development Officer?

Colchester Castle

Supporting Colchester and Ipswich Museums in their current exchange project with Nanjing Museum

This is a question that I’m often asked, but that doesn’t have a straightforward answer. The role of MDO varies from county to county, even within the East of England, so I can really only answer with regard to Essex.

My post is the result of a partnership between Essex County Council, SHARE Museums East, Museums Essex and Southend-on-Sea Borough Council. This means that I cover ALL of the museums within ECC and Southend’s local authority borders and other museums within “historic Essex” that are members of Museums Essex.

The advice and support I provide falls into three categories:

  • Collection care
  • Resilience and sustainability
  • Audiences

These are the three areas that the sector’s Accreditation scheme assesses, and part of my role is to support museums to achieve and maintain Accreditation, but actually they cover everything a museum does.

I provide this advice and support through several different avenues:

  • I send out a weekly e-newsletter for museums detailing news, funding and training opportunities and local vacancies. Museums can use this to advertise for items they need or items they want to dispose of that others might find useful.
  • I feed into the SHARE Calendar which runs training for museum staff and volunteers on a range of subjects. I also organise local training and events based on feedback I get from museums.
  • I work in partnership with SHARE to run target projects and cohort. For example, in the last year we’ve run the Forward Planning Cohort, a Governance Surgery Day and launched the Digital Learning Project.
  • I chair the Essex Heritage Education Group, which supports learning and engagement staff and volunteers in the local heritage sector.
  • I provide resources museums can borrow (such as oral history equipment) and have commissioned some template documents which will be available for you to use soon.
  • Probably the most significant part of my post is providing one-to-one support for museums. Already in 2015, I’ve helped museums write applications to the Heritage Lottery Fund, advised on new displays, provided support with conservation problems and given pointers on opening social media accounts.

So how can your museum tap into this support? Ask! My job is to help you but I can’t do that if you don’t let me know that there’s something you want help with. Size isn’t an issue and you don’t have to be Accredited. If you have a collection and you’re in Essex, please get in touch.

~Amy Cotterill, Museum Development Officer

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