Search the site

News categories

News archives

RSS feeds

Conclusions from the Study

“Measuring or assessing a museum’s merits must focus on how to develop the critical values which distinguish museums from other public institutions and which are the basis of the very way in which they contribute to the community and to society, even to the uplifting of the human spirit.”

Des Griffin & Morris Abraham, The Effective Management of Museums: Cohesive Leadership and Visitor-focused Public Programming. Museum Management and Curatorship 18 (4), 335-368 (2000).

Near Col de Val d’Elsa, Tuscany (More)

A museum is an organization of people, not first of all an entity concerned with caring for and displaying collections, notwithstanding the importance of those functions.

Better museums give attention to values and to the development of a shared culture including views about why the particular museum exists and where it is going. Successful organisational reform generally emphasises transformational leadership, attention to communication about the nature of the changed organization and the shaping of its culture and climate, not to cost-cutting, downsizing or restructuring. Our study demonstrates the truth of this in museums and like organisations. Effective boards contribute to the goals rather than intervene in executive management issues. In particular they see that change is managed so as to enhance the organization’s effectiveness rather than strengthen the power of certain managers. These issues are far more important than matters such as structure – organisational design – which receives such a lot of attention in some places.

Measuring or assessing a museum’s merits must focus on how to develop the critical values which distinguish museums from other public institutions and which are the basis of the very way in which they contribute to the community and to society, even to the uplifting of the human spirit. It is these very things that too many governments and boards have forgotten in the rush for financial resources which no longer seem to be coming from an increasingly affluent society in the free markets of the “globalised” world.

New thinking is required of many governments and boards in respect of how their museums, like other organisations, work effectively and take hold of the opportunities of the future. A greater focus is needed on what actually leads to effectiveness in the long-term. Establishing agreed statements of vision, mission and assessment of performance, seeing that strategic thinking as well as planning takes place and genuinely encouraging creativity and risk taking are positive. Individual and short-term contracts, a focus on the financial bottom line, restructuring and downsizing, however, make no contribution to success. Neither does frequent intervention in process by board or government.

Much more care is needed in choosing people for leadership positions: leadership is as important in museums as in other organisations. Boards and others need to agree on what leadership is and how to recognise and support it. For their part, staffs of museums can come to realise that museums can be managed as are other organisations but that this does not mean the adoption of managerialist practices and its negative effects in all domains. Genuine leadership and management can be a contribution to achieving everyone’s goals for the museum. Equitable employment means people at all levels being able to pursue the tasks and objectives for which they were hired and developing and expanding those: it also means the right to be respected for genuine contribution rather than being discriminated against on the basis of one’s role. In short, good museums, like good arts organisations, have lessons for commercial organisations, just as the latter have lessons for others.

Most particularly, the future of museums must be pursued in the context of making a difference to people’s lives, not for the mere purposes of ensuring the survival of the museum with its traditional activities and behaviours. The indicators and markers used to assess success must reflect that. Appointing directors principally for their fundraising and public relations skills ignores the fundamental role of cohesive leadership which only the chief executive can play. Boards and governments alike must be as prepared to undergo assessment of their performance and their contribution as much as they expect the management and staffs of the museums for which they are responsible.

The items and factors which emerge from this study as characterising effectiveness are practices and processes. Like leading indicators in economic forecasting they are not aims in themselves! But if museums are positive in these attributes it is highly likely that they will succeed over the long term because of their ability to learn from the past and the ‘industry’, foster and exploit creativity whilst always co-operatively focussing on why the organization is there and what it is supposed to be doing for whom. Encouraging such practices and processes is the principal role of leaders and senior managers. It is a matter of how people work together and how decisions get made. Boards and governments have a responsibility to recognise that and media commentators would do well to. So would all working in and associated with museums.