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Consolidating Museum Staff - Training in the Great Outdoors

David Ford
Conservation Scientist, Conservation Research

Often, it is not the obvious that reveals the obvious. Often, you need to lose yourself to find yourself. As the reader will now be aware, this is not a typical article about conservation. This is an article on a training opportunity experienced by some members of the V&A and the Natural History Museum. This is a short article on museum people, not museum objects. It is not a case study nor a definitive article on the experiences gained or events encountered. It is merely illustrative.

In mid-October last year four members of Conservation Research embarked on a five-day outdoor development programme in the Brecon Beacons with ten other museum employees. During the programme the course leaders gave each of two teams various outdoor and indoor tasks. These tasks were specifically designed to enable each team, and individual, to explore aspects of team working such as leadership or communication. Within this environment a chance for individual team members to explore themselves mentally, physically and emotionally was provided. Personal knowledge and development were placed firmly in context of interpersonal relationships within the professional environment. Independence and interdependence were an important part of the group dynamic.

Another aspect of the course allowed people to respond positively to challenges, such as abseiling, that, to say the least, would not normally present themselves. The development programme, with its contrived tasks, allowed people the opportunity to experiment and learn by experience outside the constraints of the normal work situation. The great outdoors became a vast set of learning laboratories.

Figure 1. Entering a 'worm hole'

Figure 1. Entering a 'worm hole'. Photography by Graham Martin (click image for larger version)

One of these 'learning laboratories' involved a series of caves. A leader was chosen based on experience from the previous days' tasks. The team identified an area for this individual to work on; namely to explore aspects of communication by leading one task. Effective communication was essential once inside the caves. Each individual took responsibility for the person behind and ensured that he or she had understood any instructions passed down. Lack of effective communication could have lead to dangerous situations. Lack of effective communication in the work environment can also have dire consequences. However, as in the work environment, you have to 'get on and do it'. Once the planning stage was over the only way to find out what was down that very small hole in the cave wall was to go through it.

Each member came back changed to varying degrees. Some came back with increased zest and renewed inner strength. Others changed their perceptions of others and how they received their perception of others' perception of themselves. For some it was an intensely personal experience while others may not yet truly understand what they experienced. Many changes to the working environment will be subtle, either on a personal or interpersonal level, but certainly beneficial.


We are grateful to Human Technology Consultants Limited for running the outdoor development programme and to the V&A's Training Section for giving us the opportunity to join the course.