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Performance Indicators

  1. Footnotes

“It doesn’t really matter if you implement ERP software or a CRM system; it matters very much, though, that whatever technology you choose to implement you execute it flawlessly. Similarly, it matters little whether you centralize or decentralize your business as long as you pay attention to simplifying the way your organization is structured.”

Nitin Nohria, William Joyce & Bruce Roberson 2003

Cottage garden, Grampians, Victoria (More)

If performance is to be assessed it should contribute to improvements in the long-term. Benchmarking should involve the understanding of the operations and strategies that lead to best performance. In fact in most cases performance indicators are a measure of operational efficiency. They can be a tool for gaining political control. They are valid only in comparing like with like. The most comprehensive set of performance indicators (pi’s) for museums and similar organisations were developed in the 1980’s by Dr Peter Ames, then of the Museum of Science, Boston [1]. Ames’ indicators included such things as number of visitors last year compared with the average of the previous three years, ratio of investments to operational expenditure, expenditure on salaries compared with total operational expenditure. Consideration of the issue by groups such as INTERCOM (the International Committee of ICOM concerned with management) and meetings in the USA in the late 1990’s [2] make it clear that there are substantial limitations to widespread use of pi’s.

In respect of collections, management’s concern, after ensuring proper standard operating procedures are in place, should be with the means of providing effective access to the collections: the works and items in them and their meaning, above all the enjoyment of the collections and exhibitions in such a way as to make a difference to our appreciation of life’s meanings.

It is argued by some that collections of cultural, heritage and scientific significance should be valued and that value placed in the balance sheet. But management makes decisions about insurance and security based on assessment of sustainable risks and some view of what good museums ought to do. Premiums on insurance policies are very high and the items often irreplaceable. Variations in the total overall value, especially in the case of major State and Commonwealth collections are of no significance in this context and in the case of smaller regional galleries are not, once the total value exceeds a certain amount which does not have to be determined in detail.

Performance indicators are of doubtful utility in comparing scholarly or any creative contribution in the short-term.

In conclusion, Pi’s can be very useful in certain operations and certain domains, especially if the meaning of results are understood. The concern with efficiencies is blinding governments to the need to follow the best practice of the most successful businesses: those centre on clear understanding of goals, valuing and developing the creative contribution of the staff, focussing on the longer term and so on.


  1. “Guiding museum values”, Museum News, Aug. 1985, 48-54
  2. Stephen E Weil, “Progress report from the Field” p 19-31 in A Cabinet of Curiosities: Inquiries into Museums and their Prospects, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1995