Partnership and Participation: Intellectual Property and Informed Consent – final reports and outcomes

The ‘Partnership and Participation: Intellectual Property and Informed Consent’ project (2011-2012) worked with museum staff and people involved in participation projects in museums to explore questions of ownership and consent.

Key findings from the project:
Scale and timescale: Questions of copyright and consent become urgent when the outcomes of participation projects move beyond their specific context and are made widely available or are to be kept by the museum for future use.

Personal stories: There has been a shift in the kind of knowledge produced through working with individuals and groups. This has shifted from the factual to the personal and as a result participants expect to have a more personal relationship with the museum.

Museums’ political legitimacy: Approaches taken to copyright are often explicitly linked to the way staff think about museums’ political legitimacy. One point of view is that the museum must balance individuals’ interests and a broader ‘public interest’. In this view setting out transparent copyright and consent agreements at the outset of a project was seen as reasonable. In another point of view, a ‘bottom up’ approach placed the emphasis on how you treat people. Here copyright and consent were seen as negotiated, with agreements being drawn up together.

Courtesy: Participants used the word ‘courtesy’ to evoke the kind of relationship they expect with museums – suggesting the importance of questions of ownership and consent being seen not simply in terms of a legal contract but as a social contract as well.

Booklet: Earning Legitimacy: Participation, Intellectual Property and Informed Consent
[PDF] [Word]
The booklet explores some of the practical, legal and ethical questions raised by co-production projects. The aim is to help people who work in museums, and researchers who work with museums, to explore and think through questions of ownership and consent. With this in mind we aimed to put questions of ownership and consent into a broader context of institutional politics and the different emerging democratic tendencies in UK museum practice: 1) Representation democracy, public accountability, professionalism and participation; 2) Grassroots activism to create institutional change and; 3) Associative democracy which flows through earning legitimacy through interactions and building ‘commons’.

Literature Review: ‘Participation’, Intellectual Property and Informed Consent
Synopsis [PDF] [Word] Full Literature Review [PDF] [Word]
The literature review is an attempt to range widely across the relevant literatures to draw out key themes which link questions of ownership and consent. The review drew on academic and practice literature from museum and heritage contexts, participatory action research more generally as well as work on intellectual property and ethics. We see this as a working document as more literature is emerging all the time.

We hope both are useful and warmly welcome discussion around either document, either by posting here or through contacting one of the team.

Helen Graham, Rhiannon Mason and Nigel Nayling


Many thanks to everyone who participated in the ‘Whose story is it anyway?’ workshop at the Culture Shock! Conference, 29th September 2011.

Particular thanks to all those we interviewed. For the ‘Partnership and Participation: Intellectual Property and Informed Consent’ project thanks to: Barbara Bartl, Michelle Brown, Tony Butler, Wendy Carrie, Clare Coia, Alex Henry, Mike Lewis, Bernadette Lynch, Mark O‘Neill, Morag Macpherson, Crawford McGugan, Nick Merriman, Emma Routley, Aileen Strachan, Ian Thilthorpe, Iain Watson,
Annette Wells and Georgina Young.

For the ‘Tackling Ethical Issues in Community-Based Research: A Practical Resource’ project thanks to: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums’ Culture Shock! participants, Mary Cleary, Henry Holden, John Kilpatrick, Barry Martin, Pip McKever and Michael Young and Glasgow Museums’ Curious participants: Gabrielle MacBeth, Nikki Pardasani, Rose, Zenobia and one other who chose not to be named.

Thanks also to the rest of the ‘Tackling Ethical Issues’ research team: Professor Sarah Banks (PI) (Durham University), Andrea Armstrong (Durham University) and Nimah Moore (University of Manchester).

Special thanks to Sarah Jenkins who acted as a consultant on intellectual property during the research and who gave invaluable comments and clarifications throughout.

The research presented here is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


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