For people who haven’t come across the Win-Win Workout before, here’s a summary. The aim is to find solutions to tricky and divisive political issues that work for everyone. We do that in two stages: Firstly by identifying a set of shared aims that everyone can live with; and then looking for solutions that meet those shared aims.

This two-stage solution is critical. In this divisive and divided age, discussion of solutions so easily gets stuck in the binary. Abortion yes or no, LTNs yes or no, etc. We counter that division by seeking common ground. There is far more common ground at the level of aims – which include our needs and values – than there is at the level of solutions. Once we have a set of shared aims, we can return to solutions and have a much more constructive and creative discussion.

Our events are open to everybody. We do not know if the people who turn up will represent a wide range of views, across the divide. So we use role play to ensure that range. People take on a character, of which more below.

This event on whether museums should return their objects was online and lasted for two hours.

Characters and their aims
Characters changed their position during the course of the event as set out below.

But first as the facilitator, I noticed the careful balancing of the needs of the countries of origin as expressed by Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow and Charles Kayuka; with the value of universal museums, as argued by Neil Macregor.

  • Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow argued that, “The peoples who have been victims of the plunder of their art treasures have been robbed of a memory which would doubtless have helped them to greater self-knowledge and would certainly have helped others understand them better.”
  • Charles Kayuka added, “Colonialism has robbed us of our humanity, stopped seeing ourselves as human beings. As the Tanzanian president and founding father Julius Nyerere once said: ‘a people that have no culture have no freedom. It’s time to repair our stolen identity'”.
  • Neil Macregor questioned: “Is there a value in being able to walk from Mesopotamia to China and from Egypt to Mexico, and to think about the commonalities of human experience? Obviously, I think that there is. Iif you keep looking around the world at the same moment, you do see all the societies differently. But, above all, you do see that the human family is not an empty metaphor.”

And now let me introduce the characters, their starting positions and where they moved during the event.
Flower Manase, the Curator of History at the National Museum and House of Culture, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

  • My aim: Africans should be able to decide what happens to stolen African artefacts
  • The final aim: Africans should lead and have a veto in the process to decide what happens to stolen African artefacts

Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow, Senegalese, the Director of UNESCO between 1974 and 1987 – and 102 years old.

  • My aim: ex-colonial countries should return objects where their countries of origin most suffer from their loss
  • The final aim: Ex-colonial countries should seek to return objects where their origin countries most suffer from their loss, using agreed criteria

Charles Kayuka, a Tanzanian journalist, lecturer and cultural commentator.

  • My aim/ the final aim: what matters is that we recover our identity and our culture (The final version was unchanged from the original.)

Bénédicte Savoy, a French art historian and the co-author, with Felwine Sarr, of the Sarr-Savoy Report , On the Restitution of African Cultural Heritage, Toward a New Relational Ethics. This was commissioned by President Macron of France and published in 2018.

  • My aim: I am in favour of the full restitution of all objects taken by force or acquired unfairly.
  • The final aim: I am in favour of the possible and negotiated restitution of all objects taken by force or acquired unfairly

Neil MacGregor, British, was the director of the British Museum (BM) in London from 2003 to 2009. He presented a series on Radio 4 called A History of the World in 100 Objects, based on one hundred artefacts held in the British Museum’s collection.

  • My aim/ the final aim: to use museums like the BM to teach perspective and empathy. (The final version was unchanged from the original.)

James Cuno, American, was the president and CEO at J. Paul Getty Trust until 2022. Before that, he was the Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums and professor of the history of art and architecture at Harvard from 1991 to 2003.

  • My aim: we should use antiquities so that all of humankind can understand the past
  • The final aim: Countries (especially African countries) who originally owned the artefact (where it is possible to identify them) should be supported to have priority to understand their own past.

We had only a little time to discuss what solutions would deliver the aims above. Here are the ideas that were put forward. Again, they were acceptable to all the characters.

  • Allowing restitution (aiming towards reparation) by creating process that inventories stolen objects and identifies their origin, gives agency to the origin country to decide whether or not to claim it back, and supports the claim by giving support in the process, while teaching empathy universally. (This is basically the three-step process recommended by Bénédicte Savoy in her report.)
  • Universal sharing to all cultures but the culture of origin has the primary say
  • There was a preference for loans (in secure and responsible way), via an international system of loaning artefacts
  • Establish an international support system allowing for this support/loans/museum partnerships. There might be a UN committee that discusses and reviews the aims/principles above.
  • Use of replicas to convey the history of artefacts

To repeat, those final aims were acceptable to all six characters. Look at how different their starting aims are. Achieving this level of agreement was quite a feat, and a tribute to our participants.