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.


Whose story is it anyway?: ‘Public’ and ‘Ownership’

Posted here are the slides from recent presentations connected to the project – both at International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, Newcastle University ‘Work in Progress’ seminar and the University of Leeds ‘Museology Seminar’.

The aims of the paper (still very much work in progress) are:

1) to explore how the idea of ‘public’ are set up through the Museum Association Code of Ethics as something which has to be ‘balanced’ with individual donors;

2) to locate museum debates over notions of ‘public’ within wider and very current renegotiations of the relationship between individual and the state (e.g. though confluence of privatization, ‘public value’ and ‘audit’, volunteerism, notions of self-determination and public participation);

3) to consider how ‘web logic’ and copyright activism is reconfiguring notions of both ‘public’ and ‘ownership’ (difference between notions of ‘public’ and notions of ‘commons’);

4) to conclude by exploring how copyright became enmeshed within different notions of ‘value’ (importance/montary worth) through Culture Shock!, a digital storytelling project led by Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums which we were involved in as part of the Art on Tyneside project. The paper ends by beginning to consider whether there are other ways of connecting notions of value which might allow copyright to be approached differently?

‘Whose story is it anyway?’ workshop at the Culture Shock! Conference, 29th September 2011

Last week saw the end of project conference for the Culture Shock! project. Inspired by the vision of museums as a place for facilitating ‘tolerance, respect and understanding’ set out in a report by Culture:Unlimited (then clmg), Culture Shock! collected 550 digital stories over from people across the North East over two years.

Culture Shock! is incredibly interesting for thinking about issues of copyright and informed consent because it was very clearly a project which asked people to tell personal stories for public collection and display. The ethical issues raised by Culture Shock! are also very important for us (me and Rhiannon Mason, one of the other researchers on this project) as 12 of the 63 media items we worked with people to create for the Northern Spirit: 300 Years of Art from the North East gallery (through the Art on Tyneside project) were made through the Culture Shock! project.

The Conference was an fascinating day which genuinely brought together people from different types of organisations – museums, NHS trusts, social care – as well as bringing Culture Shock! participants firmly into the discussion. In the afternoon session, Mel Whewell from Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and I ran a workshop – Whose story is it anyway? – to explore both the technical issues of copyright but also the ethical issues of ownership and consent which come out from Culture Shock!, Art on Tyneside and other projects where members of the public co-produce media or exhibitions.

We were especially interested in exploring further one of the findings of the recent Culture Shock! Evaluation conducted by Culture:Unlimited:

[…] although each participant was asked to sign a copyright waiver, which in a legal/technical sense gave control over their story to the museum concerned, this was not the way participants saw it in reality. Their view, instead, was that they had given something of themselves to the museum(s), and that it remained precious and they held a strong stake it how it was used thereafter. This project created a community of stakeholders, rather than suppliers of stories and, rather like the transformation of the music and publishing industries, the old structures for protecting assets and controlling their use (copyright, licensing, loan agreements, legal ownership) began to dissolve.
(Culture:Unlimited 2011, p. 7)

We specifically wanted to explore how this might challenge ways of understanding ‘informed consent’ and how ongoing relationship with the ‘community of stakeholders’ might be institutionally managed.

We opened the workshop by asking people to imagine that they had made a digital story and that they had signed a copyright form setting out the terms of how the museum could use the story (e.g. in exhibitions, on websites, in broadcast). We then asked people to place themselves at a point on a continuum between ‘It’s the Museum’s Story’ and ‘It’s Your Story’.

In both workshops around half of workshop participants took positions on either end of the spectrum with the other half clumping in the middle. In both workshops we opened up the debate by taking views from either end of the spectrum.

On the ‘It’s the Museum’s Story’ side, there was a strong sense that once the form was signed it was essential that the museum was free to use it. This was partly expressed in terms of practicality but also quite simply that this was what had been agreed – everything was clear so the museum could use the digital story as it would any other type of object. This was likened, by an academic participant, to a research consent form.

At the ‘It’s Your Story’ end of the spectrum – which included Culture Shock! participants who actually had made stories for the project – there was an equally strong sense that while the story was being looked after by the museum it was still their story and, in practical terms, this meant that they’d like to know how it was being used. There was also a particular concern that no money should be made by the museum from people’s stories.

In the middle of continuum, there was discussion about specific instances when going back to people might be especially necessary (if the story was especially personal or the exhibition was on a controversial subject). There was also a sense that a key issue was how consent had been built – if it had been a good and reflective consent process then the museum going on to use the story was more legitimate. One contributor emphasized that while she didn’t think the museum had to go back and ask people, they still should because it was an opportunity to build stronger relationships with specific people and groups.

The main part of the workshop was small group discussions around one of four dilemmas. The aim of the four dilemmas were to set out specific practical issues relating to how participation was facilitated, how informed consent might be understood and how ongoing relationships with participants – after forms had been signed – might be approached.

In the feedback from the groups, there was sense of there being certain kinds of ‘big issues’ which needed to be thought about further:
• Where the emphasis on process and outcome should be placed, with discussions around issues and criteria of quality (whether ideas of ‘quality’ should be/needs to be museum generated or participant generated).
• Tensions between the duty for museums to make collected items as available to the public as possible versus considerations for the people contributing the story.
• The importance of museums as non-profit making organisations – is trust compatible with focus on income generation?
• Need for considering more expansive models of consent (such as that used by Patient Voices).
• Need to consider other models of copyright – such as Creative Commons.
• That ethics is about discussion and that people who make stories/media/contribute to the museum in other ways should be very much part of that discussion.
• Whether these issues could feed into the code of ethics/other documents about ethics organized by the Museum Association.

Be great to hear any reflections from anyone else who came to the workshop and anyone else interested in these issues…

Helen Graham

Partnership and Participation: Copyright and Informed Consent

‘Partnership and Participation: Copyright and Informed Consent’ is funded as a ‘follow on’ project linked to the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Museums and Galleries Research Programme. The project researchers are Rhiannon Mason (PI) (International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, Newcastle University), Nigel Nayling (School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology, University of Wales, Trinity St David) and Helen Graham (International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, Newcastle University). In developing the project, researchers are working closely with staff from Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and Newport City Museum and Heritage Service.

Overview of the project:
The Museums and Galleries Research Programme has enabled new knowledges to emerge precisely through collaborations between museum, libraries and archives, academic researchers and the public. With such models of working a range of questions relating to intellectual property, copyright and informed consent have emerged. These issues are core to both enabling collaborative research across institutions and community groups and need to be approached in a way which will actively enable (rather than constrain) the possibilities for arts and humanities research to realise its potential in contributing to ‘perceptions and visions for the future’ and perceptions and visions of community and society (AHRC Care for the Future Theme; AHRC Connecting Communities Theme).

The aim of this project is to scope out the issues relating to intellectual property, copyright and informed consent. It will do this by:

• Drawing together insights generated by projects funded under the AHRC Museums and Galleries Research Programme;

• Soliciting contributions by experts in the areas of IP law, research ethics, museum accessioning, participative research and working with vulnerable adults

• Drawing on the views and experiences of members of the public involved in our projects.

• Contributing to the scoping of the Care for the Future and Connecting Communities themes in terms of partnership working and the ethics of informed consent in community participation.

Research Questions:

• What are the current issues relating to intellectual property for research institutions? How might these issues relate differently in differently disciplines? Are there specific issues which are more or less relevant for arts and humanities research?

• What issues relating to intellectual property emerge through collaborations between academic researchers and museums, libraries and archives? Are there any specific differences between approaches to research ethics and those required for display and accessioning (e.g. anonymity, difference between a present and future-orientated ethics – see below for explanation)?

• What are the ethical issues which emerge through participative and collaborative research with the public? How might these issues differ in the context of museum work (e.g. needs of collecting versus display practices)?

• What is informed consent and how can it best be supported? How is consent built over time and throughout the project? What is the effect of paper work, such as consent forms? How can consent forms be used alongside other methods of supporting informed consent (visual, active, materialised)?

• How do research ethics relate to other policy and legal issues (safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults, Mental Capacity Act 2005)? Are there insights from best practice in other areas (digital media, social work, community work, youth work, medicine or psychology) which might be drawn into arts and humanities research and museum practice