Introducing the Subject Specialist Network Consortium

The largest collections specialist support organisation in the UK

We are the first consortium of support for specialist knowledge, advocacy, skills and research in the UK.

For over a decade it has been recognised that museum specialisms are being eroded, despite acknowledgement that access to specialist advice and guidance is pivotal to the future of excellent, accessible and relevant museums and wider heritage activity. Key sector stakeholders and important policy documents such as The Mendoza Review have identified the importance of Subject Specialist Networks (SSNs) in supporting the sector and have highlighted the need for their wide scale strategic provisioning.1

However, with over 30 SSNs, each with different organisational structures, memberships and statuses, identifying strategic need is a significant challenge. To address this, the majority of SSNs have joined forces to form the Subject Specialist Network Consortium. The Consortium represents a unique sector support organisation with a wealth and breadth of specialist knowledge, experience, and skills across a wide range of subject areas. Together, the SSN Consortium forms the UK’s largest collections support network.

The SSN Consortium will work within the Terms of Reference (ToR) you can download at the bottom of this page. The ToR provide a mechanism for a strategic approach to SSN activity in the UK. They allow the SSNs to remain independent organisations working together strategically for the good of the sector, to advocate the need for SSN activity across the board and in the long term, rather than sporadically and focussing on only a handful of subject areas.

SSNs deliver a range of subject specialist activity across the four UK nations, namely:

  • Strategic advice and guidance for at-risk collections and organisations
  • Advocacy and research advancing the knowledge and understanding of the relevance of their subject area and increasing partnerships
  • Training, in-depth specialist support, networking and mentoring activity supporting professionals and volunteers across the heritage communities
  • Increasing access to collections with both traditional and non-traditional audiences through campaigns, programmes, projects and resources

Benefits to museums, archives, and wider heritage organisations

SSNs exist as individual organisations, societies, and charities, working largely in isolation to provide support within their own subject areas. However, this has meant that access to these networks and the vital support they provide to those working in museums, archives, and other organisations, has been ad hoc at best and those with the greatest need of support have often found it most difficult to find. Whilst the Consortium has no intention of replacing individual organisations, it will provide the platform by which they can work together better to provide a joined-up approach to specialist support. This approach will allow the SSN Consortium to put the needs of all specialisms on the same footing, increasing advocacy for the role and value of SSNs in the UK, and develop a clearer knowledge and understanding about the activity and important of each and every SSN to the museums and wider heritage sectors.

In the short-term, the outcomes of the SSN Consortium will include:

  • A one-stop-shop website guiding everyone with a need to access specialist support across a range of specialism areas to key networks advice
  • An easy access calendar of events, training, workshops, and key specialist support
  • Regular strategy meetings and discussions with key stakeholders
  • A clearer route to access specialist support and work across all the SSNs

In the long-term, the SSN Consortium will become the voice for SSN activity in the UK. Operating across all four nations providing a parity of support for all those who need it, across all specialisms, is the only sensible route to deliver a relevant and excellent provision for all audiences into the future.

To read the Terms of Reference please download the document below. For more information, or to discuss how your organisation can work with the SSN Consortium, please contact:

1 Mendoza, N. The Mendoza Review: an independent review of museums in England. November 2017; John Orna Ornstein, the then Museum’s Director for Arts Council England, stated the importance of SSN activity to Arts Council England’s strategic planning at the Museums Association Conference in 2016.


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