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If Museums are to be Successful they must …

Performance Indicators, Purposiveness and Capability: An Immodest Proposal

Paper for a conference, ‘A Tribute to Stephen Weil: Making Museums Matter’, University of Victoria BC, Canada September 11-13. 2006.[1], [2]

ABSTRACT: One of Steve Weil’s major contributions to our understanding of museums was his “immodest proposal” that  museums be evaluated in terms of purposiveness, capability, effectiveness and efficiency, the first two being much more heavily weighted than the others. This is a substantial departure from the trend of recent decades during which approaches derived from rational or market economics have been the dominant paradigm and so emphasized economic efficiency and revenue generation. There have been justifiable objections to these intrusions, some of which have not actually been based on best practice. This has unfortunately obscured the fact that there are many useful lessons which can be gained from the studies of other enterprises.

The best organizations, whether forprofit or nonprofit are characterized by the success with which staff work together and the way they make decisions, the qualities of executive leadership and attention to recruitment, training and development. Boards understand the nature of the business and the environment in which the organization works: governance should not equate with mere oversight.

A recently concluded study of museums in four countries revealed that the most successful were characterized by cohesive leadership and visitor focused public programming. Effective museums are like effective forprofits and nonprofits. The substantial increase in understanding the visitor experience and the “free-choice learning” in museums over the last decades has vast importance for museum boards, executives and staff but its incorporation into museum practice has tended to be marginalized by the small government and efficiency agendas.

Qualitative approaches derived from understanding of best practice in forprofits and other nonprofits are more useful than quantitative outcome indicators or outputs which describe past events and focus only on what can be measured.

Proposals are advanced as to how the board and executive leadership of museums might focus on issues of purposiveness and capability. Suggestions are made about how quality, the contentious property of “excellence”, might be advanced. Generally judgements about this have been considered to exist in the professional sphere to which boards and executives defer.

When we think about what we consider to be superior performance, even just a rewarding museum visit, we cannot afford the luxury simply of saying, “I know what I like” or “that is a matter for the professionals”. We owe it to the people we lead and are responsible for and the public we serve to strive to understand what they will respond to with their hearts and minds.


Stephen Weil left a great deal for us to learn. His writings cover a huge range of issues critical to the future of museums. Though he never accepted that museums were inherently good he stood, sometimes at the barricades, to defend museums from silly interventions. His commentary on the “conversations” over the years was full of understanding and optimism. He intended always to “cause trouble”, to challenge ideas and assumptions. In his many writings he helped us understand the difference between successful and unsuccessful museums rather than be taken in by the self-congratulatory and self referencing anecdotes of the Jack Welch kind. And he opened our eyes to lessons from other people, other areas of human endeavor and other countries, drawn from his vast reading.

It is at that point I wish to start. Much of the history of “man’s affairs” turns on misunderstandings, on ignorance and on what is made of ambiguity or “a policy pursued despite contemporary arguments to the contrary”, captured by Barbara W. Tuchman in, “The March of Folly”. In “The Piano Tuner”, Daniel Mason’s outstanding first novel, Edgar Drake is sent by the British Foreign Office to Burma in 1886 to tune an Erard piano which an important military officer, Surgeon General Carroll who was at “the front line” of the attempt to annex the Shan States (part of what is now Burma), had somehow obtained. Drake becomes involved in the affairs of the doctor but when serious conflict with local peoples breaks out he is forced to take the dangerous journey with the piano back towards Rangoon. On the way, he is captured and later shot because he is suspected, with Carroll, of collaborating with the Russians who also had designs on Burma. Carroll is accused of having been involved in espionage with the famous Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleyev (1834-1907).

If Dr Carroll had been corresponding with Mendeleyev it was [probably] about aspects of the natural environment in the valley in which he was living, just as he was with biologists in England and France.  Edgar Drake was arrested on ridiculous charges based on untested supposition grounded in ignorance. Events which had no relationship were connected to each other and more sensible – and relatively innocent – explanations never considered.

The tapestry of history is criss-crossed with the threads of beliefs of those in authority that the direction of events can be controlled by intervening in detail, even from far away, in prescribing certain processes and proscribing others, even though the evidence is compelling that those interventions are not leading to success. They become captured by their own delusions. Much of the effort to control museums in recent decades has followed a similar path. No regard has been had to the fact that where interventions have been successful, people have been allowed to adapt them to their own circumstances, to ensure they make sense to them.

In these introductory paragraphs I want to outline the political and economic drivers which have influenced museums over recent decades, the push for small government, the drive for efficiency, the demand for accountability. I will then relate Steve Weil’s contribution to museums and their future success. And draw lessons from what we know of the best of other organizations.

In these times, those who share the same philosophy that drove the American Revolution, that government is largely an unwarranted intrusion on man’s affairs, have intervened in museums trying to make them behave in a way which, in the end, is destructive or at least unproductive. Their push for small government and the notion that choices are best left to individuals, refined by the elaboration of neoliberal or rational or market economics – the proposition that when making choices among competing goods people seek to maximize their utility or self-interest and that those decisions are rational, ie consistent over time and based on complete knowledge – has recently driven museums perhaps more than any other paradigm.

Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen (1977), in his paper “Rational Fools”, spelled out difficulties with economic rationalism, as have many people before and since. “Sen’s guiding principle is that we have to think about human beings in ways that do justice to the complexity of their values and beliefs. If they in fact guide their conduct by high principle, a passion for justice or freedom, simple compassion for the badly off, or whatever else, there is nothing to be said for theories that represent “rationality” as the single-minded pursuit of self-interest defined in the narrowest possible terms.”[3] And James March (1982) has masterfully analyzed the entirely unreasonable assumptions which form the basis of market economics. Daniel Kahneman is the latest Nobel Prize winner in economics to be recognized for demonstrating the complexity and inconsistency of human behaviour. None of this is to say that markets never achieve reasonable compromises in the trade of private goods. But the complexity contributes to future (or even past) ambiguity, makes simplistic solutions irrelevant and the seeking of certainty (often heard in business speak) a nonsense.

The application of rational economics to nonprofits, including scholarly and creative pursuits, has regressed to calls for accountability and transparency (as in business, where it has failed in some spectacular instances). Since nonprofits are without the indicator of performance considered to exist in business – financial profit – it is asserted that some other measure is needed. The small government mantra has generated attempts to reduce government outlays by devices such as “efficiency dividends”, a phrase like “collateral damage”.

For the most part attempts to impose performance indicators on museums and the arts have achieved little but absorbed much time. At least in the performing arts, accountability is delivered at every performance. Imagine if the same level of accountability attended performances of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra that we have seen at Enron or Global Crossing. Or in the management of budgets or the conduct of foreign affairs by governments of the developed world for that matter.

That is not to deny that sometimes there are disappointing if not reprehensible failures in museums, as in all human endeavours, though there is no evidence whatsoever that  any area of scholarship or creativity experiences greater levels of failure than any other area of human endeavor. The attempts at reform have pushed museums away from considering intrinsic benefits and encouraged their control by an oligarchy devoted to substituting market price for intangible value, determined to conflate effectiveness with efficiency and to focus on rearranging the structure – that device for “creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization”.[4] Nor is it to deny the existence of competition or the fact that museums are engaged in different businesses. And so on.[5] Measuring performance is not irrelevant, but as in educational attainment, its greater value is in comparing one’s own behaviour over time; formative evaluation has more utility than summative evaluation.

Frequently, partly because museums are relatively compartmentalised, those in one part – say scholarship or collection management – are unable to assess effectiveness in another – say finance – though they certainly know when financial management is not being properly practiced. Further, the professional bureaucratic nature of the museum, where more attention is paid to the views of peers outside the museum than to those inside the museum and control is sought by each group over the operations of other groups, can make open discussion very difficult.[6]

Too often a balance is not struck between respect for the professionalism of others and recognition by each group that they need to be committed to best practice. Rather boards and managers often seem to defer to professionals and professionals defend their practice from invasion. This kind of situation is familiar to everyone and the attendant problems are not confined to museums! This is an argument about power, not cooperation to produce mutually agreed results.

Museums have advanced where they have attended to understanding visitors and learning in museums and incorporated some lessons from successful research and development, business and nonprofits. As well as focusing on superior recruitment and leadership. Effective leadership in museums means focusing on people and making a few important decisions about many things of which ‘market’ position, technologies and resources are but some.

To these issues of change and accountability, Steve Weil (2002a) brought, in typically troublesome language, “An Immodest Proposal”. He declared that what he called “purposiveness” and “capability” should largely inform our perception of whether a museum was in a position to achieve success and should be the focus of executive action; effectiveness, and more so efficiency, were of lesser concern and could not by themselves be enough to drive the museum. Efficiency was to be the concern of operations staff. (He observed this was the reverse of what usually happened.)

An interesting and significant adjunct to Weil’s proposal was that points would be awarded in the course of the evaluation, an excellent museum receiving 100 points, 35 for purposiveness, 30 for capability, 25 for effectiveness and only 10 for efficiency. Since the 60 points or less would be considered a failure, a museum scoring high just on effectiveness and efficiency could not pass; a museum would be considered first class if it received more than 90 points, passable if it received 71-90 points and marginal for 61-70 points.[7]

In this paper I intend to expand on Weil’s proposals first by reviewing what we know about the best of organizational behaviour and performance and what we have come to understand about the museum visitor and their learning in informal settings. I will then propose the major topics for review by boards and executives which are in the nature of “leading indicators”, likely to have the greater utility and relevance than outputs or outcome indicators which tell us about the past but are not always the reliable windows on the future which some claim. Last, under the heading of ‘quality’, I will attempt to explore briefly how collaborative approaches to programming which involve exploring outcomes at the time of approval of the program might lead to a greater level of excellence.

In considering organizational performance I believe simply drawing on political philosophy and economic theory, as opposed to some form of intelligent benchmarking, is of little value.  Museums merit support from government acting on behalf of the taxpaying citizenry when they deliver public goods for some purpose important to the future of society and when the benefits they deliver are unlikely to be delivered in a free market[8]. Weil makes clear that this does not free them from the need to be efficient, since to do otherwise would absorb resources which might be used for other beneficial purposes.

We have tended to be far too introspective in considering how to improve museums: a wealth of useful knowledge exists about other organizations. A participant at a recent conference observed that for a field that is so self-absorbed, our limited capacity for self-reflection is extraordinary[9]. The pursuit of efficiency, accountability and in many countries seeking compliance by museums with overall government policies, have diverted attention from focusing on how museums might make a difference to people’s lives which in the end is the justification for the allocation of resources, an important point also made by Weil.[10]

The interventions in museums have been justified as best business practice. The museum community typically has responded that the interventions were like the invasion of the temple by the money changers. Less simplistically, objection is based, I believe, on people’s antipathy to being told what to do by people who don’t understand what museums do and on a strong objection to any attempt to quantify the value of museum contributions. These kinds of reactions are found in all arts organizations, and indeed among all groups of people, to intrusions by others into their affairs. Most of the proposals merely cede rational control to an outside or oversighting person or body. The models imported are not best business practice at all, a fact which can be established by reasonable inquiry. Quality is a very big word and reaching agreement on what it is and on how it might be defined is very difficult. Nevertheless, it is possible to reach broad agreement: it is no more difficult an issue than many others.

There is a further point. Reliance on derivations of rational economics sees the board focusing on oversight or surveillance: it is believed that executives will exercise opportunistic or egoistic behaviour, that is fail to act in the interests of those to whom the organization is accountable, and that they therefore need to be kept in check. However, oversight doesn’t engender compliance but instead leads to a loss of motivation as trust and trustworthiness deteriorate.[11] Jeffrey Sonnenfeld (2002) argued that what made great boards great was the way board members worked together and the way decisions were made. Interestingly, these are precisely the words used to describe the results of a major survey of over 500 engineering companies around the world: Joann Lublin’s (1993) article in the Wall Street Journal about the Boston Consulting study[12] was headlined, “Best Manufacturers Found to Triumph by Fostering Cooperation of Employees”.

The Nature of Museums and their Business

Museums in this discussion refers to organizations (including libraries, zoos and botanic gardens) that seek to extend people’s understanding and knowledge by the use of real things, real objects. Science centers and aquaria, which don’t have collections, are in this sense essentially doing the same kind of thing as museums which do maintain collections. All are in essence in the knowledge or education business.

The late Michael Ames (2000) of the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology said,

Museums are complex social organisations composed of intertwined layers of routines, obligations, schedules and competing interests that frequently inhibit prompt or consistent responses to new initiatives. In addition, archaeologists, anthropologists and art historians working in museums maintain allegiances to the traditions of their own professions, sometimes even at the expense of the interests of the institutions which employs them.’

We can think of museums as coalitions of like-minded people in search of a constituency that will value the product more than they pay to gain access to it. Like clever politicians, the people in the successful museum know the utility of the common agenda, vocabulary and shared values. But they also know that the logic of the market is imperfect and that trusted allies are essential. Most of all they know that the real experience will give a competitive advantage but the collections and associated scholarship will secure the future only when influential constituencies value the past and its lessons.

To draw on Weil’s writings again, museums are about ideas not things.[13] Museum people, Weil has said, have tended to see museums in terms of their function rather than their purpose: “the issue, however, is how to make the underlying values of the objects manifest, how to bring them up to the consciousness of the visitor”.

The conflict about the main purpose of museums continues unabated today and can be seen in reviews and commentary on organizational changes at museums: often the focus of media attention is what has happened to the scholarship and or the collections. Public programming is hardly mentioned, even when it is public program staff that are retrenched. Where exhibitions or new museums are reviewed the perspective is most often the objects and the scholarly view of them. (Interesting perspectives have appeared on the just opened Musee du Quai Branly in Paris.[14])

Part of the problem comes down to confusion between populist and popular. Despite much rhetoric, there is no evidence that poorly mounted exhibitions on trivial subjects (populist) appeal more to the visitor than challenging well-designed exhibitions, though sometimes the fame of certain artists or the mystery or intrinsic importance of some, usually distant, peoples or artists or issues may compensate for other perceived shortcomings[15]. The citizenry are no more likely to be hoodwinked by blatant propaganda to visit low quality museum exhibitions than any other similar attraction. (Consider the failure of London’s Millennium Dome, about to become a casino.) The positive reaction to exhibitions on the history of indigenous peoples which draws out their own stories is evidence of that. So is the reaction to exhibitions about problems facing the natural environment such as Darkened Waters, the exhibition on the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill mounted by the small Pratt Museum in Homer, Alaska which brought the story of that event animated by the words of those caught up in it: 15 years later, after a tour to 17 venues, it was still going.[16]

When the Canadian Museum of Civilization opened in 1989 it was termed “Disney North”. On opening, Te Papa the Museum of New Zealand, was branded a “theme park” and the art mafia tried to re-establish a separate art gallery by removing the national art collections because they were poorly displayed, as if the staff of Te Papa were entirely ignorant; some media commentators objected that floor staff might ask visitors if they could be helped. When the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on the Washington Mall opened in spectacular fashion in September 2004, some media commentators opined that Native Americans telling their story did not qualify as scholarship, as they had when that Museum’s first exhibitions opened at the New York Customs House site in the mid 1990s.

What do we mean by successful enterprises?

Success should always be seen in the long term. It takes years to achieve genuine change and the sidewalks of history are littered with the “flash in the pan”, enterprises once celebrated but now forgotten. In forprofits we have stock price as an indicator; this “aggregates” profits and losses, declines leading to changes in ownership and increases to further investment.

In nonprofits the “global” attribute usually focused on is “effectiveness”. This, as usually applied, is a value-based and time-specific construct and a political rather than scientific concept.  Though outcomes should be related to the policy framework and objectives of the organization, what constitutes effectiveness often depends on who one asks:  different constituencies have different views depending on their relationship with the organization, a result not radically different from judgments about forprofits.[17]

Lessons from forprofits

The most useful studies of forprofits are those which compare many different companies and seek to identify what it is that distinguishes the best. Six studies in particular can be mentioned here.

Jeffrey Pfeffer (1996) analyzed studies of more than 100 enterprises in the automotive, semiconductor, and textile industries to conclude that high performance companies pursued contingent compensation, employee participation, higher wages and reducing status differences.

Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad in their (1994), “Competing for the Future”, emphasized, amongst other things, that in successful organizations executives were able to converse at length on issues such as the industry in which they were involved and where it was headed, rather than simply the financial performance of the company.

In the well-known “Built to Last” study, James Collins and Jerry Porras (1994; 1996) using stock price over a very long run as the measure of success, investigated pairs of firms in the same industry, one of which was successful and one which was not. The best focused on vision and core values and built a strong organizational culture to support these; their strategies and practices endlessly adapted to a changing world. Collins and Porras say, “The ability to balance continuity and change required a consciously practiced discipline. Vision provides guidance about what to preserve and what to change. Core ideology combines an organization’s core values and core purpose, it’s the glue that holds the organization together as it grows and changes.”

In a follow up study on executives and leadership in the best companies published as “Good to Great” Collins (2001), again looking at the highest performing companies, found the key issue was recruiting the best people to the enterprise. The best, Level 5 leaders, as Collins called them, possessed a paradoxical combination of personal humility and professional will. Recruitment often fails[18] because the employer leaves until too late in the process the most important issue of clearly articulating the criteria required. Consultants are relied on to search for candidates with a job description they, not the employer, have drawn up; job specifications include unrealistic expectations. Applicants statements are accepted at face value and referees’ comments are unquestioned. Often a single interview is considered sufficient and issues such as emotional intelligence are often ignored. Last, too much reliance is put on past performance, usually in a different organization and sometimes in a different industry. In short, consideration of the future direction of the enterprise and the different job are left out.

A recent multiyear study [19] examined more than 200 well-established management practices as they were employed over a ten-year period to 1996 by 160 companies divided into forty groups of four companies each. What mattered was a strong grasp of business basics: companies that outperformed their industry peers excelled at four primary management practices – clearly defined strategy; executed through effective communication to employees, customers, partners and investors; a culture which highlighted inspiration and constantly sought ways of improving operations, promoted cooperation and shared knowledge and held high expectations for performance; and structure – decision-making authority placed close to the front-line. And they supplemented these with a mastery of up to four secondary management practices. “Winners hold on to talented employees and develop more”: mid- and high-level jobs were filled by outstanding internal talent whenever possible (a feature also noted by Collins and Porras) and top-of-the-line training and development programs were created and maintained.

Creative and innovative organizations are particularly relevant to museums: executives influence people’s willingness to engage in creative ideas but the technical skills of the executives are the best predictor of creative performance.[20] Creative work often requires different forms of expertise, which needs collaboration, which therefore places a premium on leadership. Close supervision inhibits creativity but guidance including setting expectations, identifying and integrating projects to be pursued, have positive results. Autonomy and the exercise of influence through expertise are particularly valuable.

In the best creative and R&D enterprises there is a continual challenge of ideas, exposure to other views and current knowledge through discussion within the enterprise and between similar organizations. Moreover executives promote a clear vision, provide intellectual stimulation and encourage social contact – no hierarchies. Critical evaluation of work is also encouraged. Often individual research performance is assessed by peer review.[21]

Last, a huge body of research on leadership at executive level, mainly in forprofits[22], establishes that successful behaviour means emphasizing purpose and trust and generating loyalty. The best leaders articulate an appealing vision for the future yet question assumptions and stimulate expression of ideas and discussion of new ways of doing things. They deal with others as individuals and consider individual needs and aspirations. They act as coach and cheerleader, to use the phrase of Tom Peters and Bob Waterman in “In Search of Excellence”.

In summary, studies of successful forprofits reveal a focus on a strong culture and core values and communication of them, an emphasis on integration and participation of staff, high levels of trust, training and de-emphasis of hierarchies; relationships with customers are vital. Surveys of workplaces and country and worldwide studies show these features to be economically positive.[23] Executives have good industry knowledge and are focused on individuals whose ideas and assumptions are challenged; the best of them combine humility with strong will, inspire trust and generate loyalty. The best boards see those features of executive managers’ behavior to be critical and make sure they work with executives constructively and give them support, especially at critical times.

Time and again, studies of forprofits have shown that successful enterprises do not focus first on money. Time and again it has been found that mergers and acquisitions, downsizing and restructuring are disabling and seldom achieve success. Managers and those “leading” the transition don’t clearly communicate the underlying reasons in compelling terms, don’t allocate sufficient resources or pay attention to those having difficulty with the changes. They fail to build a new rationale and a new shared vision of the future. As I have pointed out, much of the approach to reforming museums has involved restructuring and downsizing; few do more than create confusion and most destroy gains made previously. Of course that is not true of all change.

Lessons from Nonprofits

Peter Drucker[24] once observed that nonprofits have a lot to teach forprofits. I use two studies as examples.

Janet Carl & Gary Stokes (1991) studied 40 excellent nonprofit organizations throughout the USA representing a wide range of endeavors from public and private schools to multi?purpose neighborhood centers to hospitals and mental health services. Excellent meant superior output (admittedly difficult), they had to compete for their resources with like organizations and be more successful than others in gaining those resources – both government and private, they were recognized as expert by their peers and were prominent in publicly advocating the issues with which their sector was concerned. Eight of those organizations were considered “exemplary” and Carl and Stokes visited those to discuss issues with staff and board members.

The exemplary organizations had seven characteristics or keys to organizational excellence: a commitment to a focused vision, innovation, respect for and commitment to the people served, a nurturing work environment, high standards for outcomes, a high functioning board of directors, and high levels of collaboration. Each organization had created an unusually employee centered organization that exhibited five characteristics: a high value placed on line staff, two way feedback, teamwork, a high level of trust, and celebration and rewards. Each of the eight organizations emphasized accountability and high standards.

A smaller study of North American arts organizations[25] found the more successful to have current and comprehensive data systems; natural and collaborative decision-making systems; productive, aligned and rewarded staff; a philosophy which supports the mission; and a strong and coherent culture.

In summary, nonprofits show features of staff involvement and valuation including trust, collaboration, communication and a strong culture which seeks high standards that agree with what has been found in forprofits.

What do we know about museums?

Many of the expositions on how museums might be successful are anecdotal or are accounts of a single museum and few of these reports relate performance to relative success, valuable though they are. The question arises, how do we know that the practices described are likely to lead another museum to success? Some are histories, such as that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.[26] Some are shorter accounts of change in a single museum such as that by Janes (1995) of Glenbow in Calgary, Alberta and biographical accounts like that of the Victoria and Albert Museum by Director Roy Strong (1998). There are other interesting accounts of change at the Children’s Museum in Boston, the Exploratorium in San Francisco and elsewhere given by Gurian and others (Gurian 1995). McLean (1999) gives a more recent account of how Exploratorium staff approached the challenge of improving public experiences without losing the essence of that place, and Emery (2002) recounts the challenges of reforming the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.

A study completed eight years ago examined 33 museums of all kinds, including science centers and aquaria, in Australia, Canada, the UK, USA and New Zealand (one museum only).[27] Comparison of the assessments of museums by “experts” (people considered to be experienced practitioners in the field) [28] and responses by the staff of those museums to a questionnaire about management processes and behaviors in their museums – such as the extent to which goals and objectives of various sections were cohesive and the extent to which a learning orientation was encouraged – identified almost 30 items distinguishing the most “effective” museums. These included a concern for quality, shared goals, good communication, attention to training and strategic allocation of resources. Senior managers worked together as a team, staff actively supported the goals of the museum and demonstrated a high degree of commitment and involvement, departmental goals were well integrated and everyone was encouraged to respect the skills and contribution of others.

Public programming in effective museums emphasized strategic approaches to achieving positive outcomes for visitors, including provision of a variety of learning strategies, ensuring that exhibits were in working order and attending to problems “on the floor”. The first of these recognizes constructivist approaches to learning, the visiting experience being much more than just inspection of the exhibits, but rather an opportunity for further elaboration of visitors’ understandings.

These characters merge into two key factors: cohesive leadership and visitor-focused public programming. It is not just leadership that is important, it is leadership that encourages development of shared values, commitment to agreed standards of quality, and constantly encourages effective communication, leadership which provides opportunities for training and rewards superior performance in accordance with agreed and understood standards.

Interestingly, museums closely associated with government, particularly in the UK, Canada and Australia, score significantly worse than independent museums in the features which characterize the most effective museums. Though most of the independent museums are in the US, country is not an explanation for the distinctions of the effective museum.

In museums in which change was managed effectively – where subsequent performance of the museum was judged by staff to have improved as a result – the museum’s management was able to translate external needs to internal vision and then craft appropriate actions by staff which integrated tasks, structures, processes and systems at the technical, political and cultural levels.[29] Time and resources were allocated to the change process and the advantages of the changes were carefully communicated to key internal groups of staff.

The best museums share many features with forprofits and nonprofits. These include a culture concerned with shared goals, values and standards (quality), integration (of goals), respect for individuals and collaboration, concern for ‘customers’ (visitors), leadership which rewards superior performance (which is the same as contingent compensation identified by Pfeffer). And the best of executive leadership in museums is like that in the best of forprofits. The “effective” museum is like the successful forprofit enterprise!

Performance and Performance Indicators in Museums

Performance indicators can be used to compare museums in the same ‘catchment’ but cannot be applied more widely, not least because of differences in behaviour of visitors relating to population size of the urban area from which the museum draws its audience, not to mention relative levels of tourism, and different approaches to financial reporting in different countries make comparisons almost impossible. For instance, the numbers of visitors to museums per head of population is wildly different in Perth Western Australia and London England. And American museums report financially in a manner different from museums in England. The application of international accounting standards is unlikely to make comparison any easier if the within-country experience is anything to go by. A completely ridiculous attempt to apply some universal financial measure was the application of one aspect of standard accounting procedures, the financial valuation of collections.[30]

In the conduct of operations, including commercial operations, of course there are benefits in applying financial performance measures so long as local differences are understood. Peter Ames (1985) made a very significant contribution in this area. However, it is not useful to apply them so that, on finding that one operation, say the shop in Museum A, is achieving greater efficiency than another similar one, say the shop in Museum B, one merely sacks some of the shop staff in Museum B. One needs to understand what it is that has contributed to the difference. Perhaps there is a greater outlay on advertising or more integrated marketing or differences in the type of stock purchased and the manner of its display or the way in which the staff work together or the level of support by executive staff or the nature of the visitors.

What do we know about the publics that museums serve?

Many museums, especially the more traditional, approach judgment about the public’s views of what the museum should offer on the basis of what the content specialists believe they know about the visitor. The curator who says, “What the public really want to know is …” usually means what the he or she thinks they ought to know. Daniel Spock (2006) deals with this in his recent outstanding summary of the advances in museum wrought by the increasing understanding of learning and how museums are involved in it. Or not!

These advances are as much a revolution as any discipline outside of genetics and information and communication technology has experienced. Since museums are in the knowledge business and the most important aspect of that is the generation of understanding, as pointed out so strongly by Howard Gardner, we should pay great attention to understanding in devising ways of finding out if the museum is succeeding. In the areas of collection management and scholarship there are other approaches to assessing success of the kind mentioned in respect of R&D and creative organizations.

A substantial part of the UK Government’s funding of museums at a national level focuses on learning.[31] In Australia, on the other hand, no government at federal or state level has placed education or learning at a significant point in their policy for museums! In at least one State, funding for education staff has been withdrawn by the traditional funder, the Education Department, but not replaced by the present sponsoring department. Some museums continue to equate education with school visits.

Those people who visit museums, even not very frequently, consider them more than interesting. This is not what is often trotted out by market research companies in presentations of community surveys of visitors and non visitors to museum executives – “museums are perceived as static and unchanging”. (I have long had the view that it is really not very worthwhile to ask people who don’t visit a museum what they think of museums! Visitor research ought to be more sophisticated.) Attending a conference recently I came to the conclusion that the only people who think museums are not very popular are – in some countries – politicians and the bully boys of corporate marketing departments who believe sponsorship has to be part of marketing, narrowly defined, and want to support their favourite sport: since colour and movement gets on the TV screens and attracts advertisers so and the arts don’t so … Those views are accepted far too often – in some countries – by other people with influence.

Marc Pachter[32] of Washington’s National Portrait Gallery recently asserted, “more and more people are coming to physical places, not only museums – museums do this in a particular way – but physical places as a relief from the non-physical existence that they have in the electronic world.” Changing exhibitions are certainly an important driver of visiting by residents and committed tourists from nearby and bringing out more of the permanent collection can be almost as suitable a drawcard as importing exhibitions entirely from elsewhere[33]. Visitors to museums, including adolescents and minority groups, are quite clear as to what they want out of their museum visit.[34]

Partly in response to the view that museums are elitist and merit ongoing government support only if they serve a wider audience, there have been demands in some countries that museums seek to attract broader audiences and that they “take the museum to the people”. Simultaneously there has been the assertion that museums are part of the leisure industry and that they ought to be more entertaining.[35] One response has been to put on exhibitions about sport.

Leisure is a class of activities which includes eating, sleeping and working. During leisure time one watches sport, reads, goes to entertainments or visits museums or even behaves like a couch potato. “Museums are part of the leisure industry” is marketing speak and not very helpful; more useful marketing lessons are to be found in the practices of other arts and heritage organizations in the same city. Asserting that museums should be entertaining is a reaction to using the term education in the schooling sense to mean the “student” receiving a lot of information so as to regurgitate it later.

Learning for the most part is not like that and visiting museum is not very often a fact-finding exercise. Jay Rounds (2002), for instance, talks of simple and general theories created by scientists “driven by a search for large-scale explanatory power rather than an urge to nail down all the details” as likely to be of most interest to visitors but notes that simple but very accurate theories are the more common in science museums. Learning is successful when it is fun and research shows people mostly conflate the two rather than seeing them as separate.

The museum visitor: identity and motivation[36]

Museums don’t function in isolation but are influenced in their programs by what is going on in schools and the community. Socio-economic status is the principal determinant of museum visiting (and library use and attendance at cultural events). We have known that for decades. However, negative attitudes to museums can arise from the way visits by school groups are managed.

Griffin & Symington (1997) and others have compared family and school group visits to museums. Visits by school groups most often involve only short notice of the visit being given by the teacher to the students; the teacher makes little or no attempt to locate it within any topic already being studied so that there is little or no preparation or follow-up. Students are expected to fill in “worksheets” and discouraged from talking or wandering about seeking those exhibits that most interest them. (Some museums have school groups taken around by volunteer tour guides, which is hardly sufficient to satisfy children full of curiosity who want to ask questions about everything and turn off if they can’t.) Family groups, on the other hand, make a point of looking at, and for, those features that most interest them and talking about what they see, recalling connections with what they already know. Visits by individuals or couples similarly involve choice in time spent and exhibits studied.

It is a tragedy that the push in so much of education is towards testing and “accountability” in that, amongst other things, it is leading to a decline in school visits to museums in some places. Rather than museums, like libraries, being central to the educational structure and “part of the educational activities, along with every other kind of opportunity for children to participate in life activities” as John Dewey believed[37], they are being considered marginal.

What visitors take away from their visit is influenced much more by the knowledge, attitudes and interest they brought with them to their visit. They construct their own knowledge through free-choice learning experiences. Learning is advanced most by control over visitors’ own learning journey and takes place within three contexts – personal, sociocultural and physical – which interact over time. Eight key factors are influential including expectations and prior knowledge, choice and control, sociocultural mediation and facilitation, orientation, design and later reinforcing experiences.[38]

Leading experts say, “recent education theory acknowledges, even promotes, the object-based, experiential, thought-provoking, and problem-solving type of learning in which museums excel. The overriding conclusion is that museums offer visitors profound, long-lasting, and even life-changing experiences… The challenge for museum educators is to convert the many ‘lively, vivid and interesting’ experiences into opportunities that promote learning”[39] And “museums are ideal constructivist learning environments. They allow visitors to move and explore freely, working at their own pace. They encourage group interaction and sharing. They allow personal experience with real objects. They provide a place for visitors to examine and expand their own understanding…”[40] Such a view sees the museum educator as learning facilitator rather than knowledge expert, which is a challenge to much of previous practice.

Rather than digesting facts, learning (in museums) may be as much as sitting on the steps of the Orangerie in Paris contemplating Monet’s water lilies and thinking how we react to art.[41] Visitors don’t equate learning with education or recreation with entertainment.[42]

A series of four articles in a recent issue of Curator The Museum Journal explore the relationship between visiting, motivation and identity. Rounds (2006) explores how visitors use exhibitions for “identity work,” the processes through which we construct, maintain, and adapt our sense of personal identity, and persuade other people to believe in that identity. John Falk (2006) reviews recent research particularly at the California Science Center where he and Martin Storksdieck found the course of an individual’s learning – was better explained by who the visitor was – what they knew and why they came – than by what he or she did. “Visitor’s learning is influenced – but not dictated by – interactions with exhibits… Museum visitors’ identities, motivations and learning are inextricably linked. Identity influences motivations influences behaviour and learning.”

Thus as Scott Paris (quoted by Falk) has said, in order to understand museum visitors’ motivations and learning, one needs to view both constructs in their broadest sense. As Zahava Doering and Andrew Pekarik (again, quoted by Falk) found it is the visitor, not the institution, that drives the visitor’s experience in the museum. “Entry narratives will direct learning and behaviour because visitors’ perceptions of satisfaction will be directly related to experiences that resonate with their entering narrative.”

Spock (op cit), commenting on Rounds’ and Falk’s views, concludes, “People may find the pursuit of curiosity pleasurable and value it more highly than knowledge acquisition. The practitioner may conclude that museums stand for the value of curiosity for its own sake, and for that reason will never wear out their welcome… museums might be better at provoking curiosity than satisfying it. Museums have to get comfortable with the increasingly evident fact that, for visitors anyway, the explication itself is not the main event… The product museums sell isn’t education so much as it’s a self image of intelligence, cultural awareness and curiosity.”

George Hein (2006) concludes the series of articles on identity with an essay examining the significance of John Dewey’s educational views for museum exhibitions and education programs and his interpretation of “experience”.

The way people behave in exhibitions reveals the extent to which learning is occurring[43]. Exploring the nature of the learning going on in the museum and the reactions of the visitors to the museum is as important as research about the objects in the collection, a point made by David Anderson (at a Royal Society of the Arts panel 21 May 2003 Chaired by Loyd Grossman) when he defined an “Open Museum” as one that was “committed equally to research about the visitor as well as research about the object…. has a clear sense of social purpose, and in particular that learning is its raison d’être… is energetic … and scholarly in trying to identify what barriers [to visiting] are, as much as it’s academic and scholarly in trying to find out about its objects. …”[44]

I have not done, and cannot do, justice to the vast amount of high quality research on this area but I have spent some time on it because of its importance. I sometimes fear that far too many people at executive management and board level, let alone those outside the museum but nevertheless having influence over it, are unaware of the research. But this is like many domains where people in positions of power place their already formed views ahead of any evidence.

Weil’s immodest proposal and leading indicators for museums

Weil’s four criteria for assessing a museum were purposiveness, capability, effectiveness and efficiency.[45]

Purposiveness means having a clear sense of what purposes external to the museum staff are seeking to accomplish: programs in all three “museological imperatives” of scholarship, collection management and public programs addressing specific audiences for stated benefits/purposes (issues mostly to be addressed by governing authority) expressed in “sufficiently concrete and time-bound ways that they can serves as the basis for accountability”. This, being the most important first step in the organisation’s road to success (possibly before getting the right people), requires the greatest thought. One has to know as far as possible how the purpose will feel, look and even smell and sound like when achieved, if it is ever completely achieved. This is the vision and the business statement, it is something that everyone in the organisation has to know, understand and be committed to. Weil said that if the museum is not to spend all its time trying to gain enough money then there “has to be some realistic fit between a museum’s aspiration and its capability”.

Capability means having and controlling the resources required to accomplish those purposes: financial resources but also technical resources and skills (issues of concern to both board and executive staff). Not only sufficient staff and money, both operational and capital, but the necessary and relevant knowledge and skills are required, capabilities that must be continually updated.

Effectiveness means being able to demonstrate that one can accomplish the stated purposes: policies and procedures relevant to purpose and adequate to capability (issues addressed by staff overseen by the board from time to time). This is the area on which performance indicators frequently focus and is the one which differs most from one museum to another and certainly between type of museum. To say simply that effectiveness is a focus on what is right is not much help.

Efficiency has the meaning usually attributed to it: able to accomplish those purposes in a least costly way. (These are activities undertaken by staff (and properly only rarely considered by the board.)

The specific proposals

I will confine my attention to the purposiveness and capability aspects of Weil’s proposals. I will not advocate measures. I list specific issues to be focused on by the board alone, the board and executive management together and executive management only. The outcome of addressing each issue will be an indicator of likely success or otherwise.

The consistent assumption is that the focus of all discussions is the nature of the business already clearly defined (and reviewed regularly), the resources of the museum and the environment in which the museum operates. The assumption is that whilst the board indicates the areas with which it wishes to be concerned it makes clear that it is delegating to executive management sufficient authority necessary to do all other things appropriate to the mission and consistent with the charter/enabling legislation.[46] (This is “a work in progress”.)

It is not the sole function of the board to hire the CEO and fire them if they do not perform and nor is it the principal function of the board to raise funds any more than oversighting the financial performance of the museum is. Fundraising is a function in which the board and the CEO must be involved but it is best done by a group reporting to the CEO. Auditing of performance, of financial issues but also ethical conduct such as acquisition and disposal of collections, is a critical function which must be carried out by people reporting directly to the board. I do not deal with those issues further.

The functions outlined for the board should be the principal concern of the board when it meets; other matters can be dealt with at each meeting by drawing up a list of items and resolutions to be adopted without discussion unless challenged.

The principal function of the director/CEO is to lead; although leadership is a function which can be performed by people at all levels, leadership by the CEO is unique.

In the list below I mean by the word “review” receive reports, consider their meaning, adequacy and appropriateness, etc and formulate the next steps.

The Board

Review developments in the museum industry and related areas – 3-5 most important eg advances in museums locally and internationally, learning, information and communications technology, public policy and relevant area of scholarship.

Review museum’s own performance – 3-5 most important achievements in each of the designated areas relevant to the statement of mission/business including scholarship, collections management and public programming.

Review board’s performance in respect of adequacy of information received for board meetings, time spent on most important issues, degree of participation by board members in discussion. Adequacy of financial and other numerical data presented as it indicates performance against goals ensuring focus on the medium to long term.

Review relationships with significant stakeholders including financial and other supporters.

Review the performance of executive management; review compliance in areas of probity and legislation including ethical considerations.

It is common for the board to approve the strategic and business plans of the museum, documents drawn up by the executive management. It is worth noting that some of the best performing museums (and other enterprises) do not have such documents as a foundation for their planning but instead focus on vision and values. (If plans are to be prepared they must involve management and staff: it is participation in the planning that brings people together and develops cohesion and shared commitment.)

The Board and Executive Management

Review museum’s performance in the following areas: recruitment of middle level staff and above; resources devoted to training and development highlighting 3-5 most important areas and their relationship to the major issues identified in reviews of industry trends and museum’s medium to longer term goals; consider indicators of workplace performance including eg morale, staff turnover, skill development in areas identified as critical to future success.

Review executive management’s conduct of reviews of performance in principal areas of operation, focusing on sufficiency and reliability of statistics provided and actions taken, if necessary focusing on financial and human resource areas as well as commercial operations and development/fund-raising.

Review audience and customer studies focusing on major developments and trends as well as specific major exhibitions/programs and the relevant principal aspects of the museum’s marketing activities.

Executive Management

Review performance in recruitment, training and development including skill development in areas identified as critical to the future.

Review achievements in major areas relevant to the mission and goals.

Review major trends in significant financial performance and human resources not already covered, focusing on reliability and utility of information and timeliness of response to any changes in resource allocation.

Review major aspects of staff management and performance reviews ensuring performance management procedures, as they positively influence performance and achievement, are in place.

Identify any issues concerning security of the physical assets of the enterprise.

Review those aspects of leadership and team work at senior and middle level line management relevant to achievement of effective and efficient operation.

Identify issues of major significance to be explored in the next review by the board.

Quality: the ultimate goal. What is it and how might we recognize it?[47]

One of the more disabling aspects of work in creative organizations is the way in which projects, when completed are criticised for not having achieved the standards and purposes which justified their being commenced in the first place. Quite often genuine understanding of what the outcomes of the project will be is not reached and the constraints, including financial and logistical impediments which will likely emerge during the course of the project are not understood. Too often overly ambitious goals are set or timetables approved and too often the nature of the impediments is not explored. Interestingly behavioral economists like Daniel Kahneman make significant contributions to this area but their cautionary tales are seldom addressed.[48] Of course some projects fail because they are beyond the capability of those involved. Risks have to be taken.

There are a number of performances and exhibitions which I consider meet superior standards of excellence but I think trying to quantify the indicators which support such a judgment to be beyond the scope of this paper.

John Dryden’s audio dramatisation of Dickens’ “Bleak House”, that condemnation of lawyers and psychological thriller, was set in Chiddingstone Castle in Kent: “not so much a reproduction as an interpretation” it has won numerous awards. Acting and atmosphere combine to produce one of the most outstanding audio productions ever: every single word spoken is perfect. Is it extraordinary because of the dramatisation itself and the casting?

Baz Lurhman’s 1989 production of “La Boheme” for the Australian Opera, later toured to the USA and filmed, went on to become one of the Opera’s most successful yet least costly productions. It starred relatively unknown though young and attractive singers in the two main roles. AO’s artistic director Moffatt Oxenbould told Lurhman and designer Catherine Martin “treat this as a totally new piece and this as the first performance”; he observed, “Lurhman harnessed energies, he found like-minded people and formed a meaningful relationship with the conductor”.

The presentation of evolution and the natural environment in the Grande Galerie the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris with its dramatically lit central parade of animals and displays, increasingly interpreted as they radiate out from it and continue on floors above and below, was hugely expensive. It replaced dreadfully outdated, crowded and uninformative displays of all the “treasures” which centuries of French exploration of distant lands had brought back to Paris. The new exhibition is regarded by many as perhaps the best exhibition on the subject at any museum. But it was not greeted by all and became embroiled in complaints by scientists about the creation of the new underground building (below the level of the Seine) for the Museum’s collections and reform of the way budgets for the Museum’s research and collections were managed.

When a major project is formulated for consideration not only does it need to be related to the purpose of the enterprise and the broad contemporary goals but as far as possible the outcomes need to be described in ways that address as many intelligences as possible. That is to say words, pictures and sounds need to be used to describe the anticipated reactions of the audience or client group and agreement reached on the project in the light of that. It stands to reason that should the project’s outputs be consistent with the original agreement then the executive management would be prepared to promote and defend it.

If the processes outlined above for board and executive management are followed, significant improvement in performance is to be expected.

Conclusions: recommendations for the future

In the successful museum maximum attention will be paid to those issues which will most likely bring success in the medium and longer term. These involve a clear understanding of the industry and environment including those publics whom the museum most significantly intends to serve. The quality of the people involved and the nature of their shared understanding and commitment to achievement of the goals are critical and therefore maximum attention will be given to ensuring best practice in recruitment and in providing necessary opportunities for ongoing development of understanding and critical knowledge.

Those concerned with governance will be clear as to their responsibility and areas of authority and leave other areas to executive management who in turn will ensure that their focus is not on operational matters but that nevertheless efficiencies are sought wherever appropriate. (Staff are able to work through these issues themselves.) Much is to be learned from various areas of human endeavor and from history and in the successful museum staff will seek out useful knowledge in both the usual and the unusual places.

To an extent all of this could be taken as being like the Enlightenment belief that a condition of society is in principle attainable in which all values that are truly important can be fully realized.[49] Nevertheless, one must do the best that is possible. And keep trying: the gain is always to those confident of success in the end.

When we, as members of a board or executive management, think about what we consider to be superior artistic performance, creative production, outstanding scholarship or just a rewarding museum visit, we cannot afford the luxury simply of saying, “I know what I like” or “that is a matter for the professionals”. We owe it to the people we lead and are responsible for and the public we serve to strive to understand what they will respond to with their hearts and minds.

“Artists, and those who work with them, will tell you … that they need money. But money is not at the beginning of the artistic assembly line … It is at the end. It is the applause, not the hushed anticipation. And in our buy now, pay later, money back guarantee society, applause comes only from those who have seen, and touched and tasted. Who have been touched and had themselves transported. From those who know what it is to have an artist capture their imagination like a balloon, hold it for a moment, and then set it free again, refreshed… “[50]


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[1] This essay was commissioned by the Getty Leadership Institute for the convening, ‘A Tribute to Stephen Weil: Making Museums Matter, 2006’ held at the University of Victoria BC, Canada September 11-13; the financial support of the Institute is gratefully acknowledged.

[2] Gerard Krefft Memorial Fellow, Australian Museum, Sydney. Contact address: Dr Desmond J. Griffin AM, 4 Winslea Ave, Frenchs Forest, NSW 2086, Australia; phone +61-2-9401-9861; email

[3] Alan Ryan (2003), The Way to Reason, New York Review of Books Vol 50/19

[4] The following quotation, or variants of it, is frequently attributed to the noted satirist of Rome, Petronius (c. AD 27-66), “We trained hard … but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.” However, according to Wikipedia, the actual author was the American writer Charlton Ogburn Jr. (1911-1998), in an article published in Harper’s Magazine in 1957 which recounted his experiences as a junior officer in the famous WW2 US Army unit known as ‘Merrill’s Marauders’, and the quoted passage referred to his somewhat chaotic early training.

[5] At the Boston AAM conference 2006 Michael Porter spoke on strategy. An outline of the presentation is on his website. He talks of how museums think about competition, identifies appropriate kinds of goals and explores value chains, business concepts, defining value and testing a good strategy.

[6] Henry Mintzberg (1983), The professional bureaucracy, In “Structure in Fives” (New York: Prentice Hall)

[7] Allocation of points can be done in a jury system; it is essential that each member’s scores be subject to challenge and that members of the jury be not of like mind or the results will be skewed

[8] This is the area of arts economics well traversed by many distinguished scholars including DiMaggio (1985, 1986).

[9] David Anderson (2005) remarked recently that museums risked becoming fox food because of their focus on the “one big idea”. (This is a reference to the metaphor used by philosopher Isaiah Berlin taken from the Greek poet Archilochus about the fox knowing many things whilst the hedgehog knows one big thing (See John Gray (2006), The Case for Decency, New York Review of Books Vol. 53/12.)

[10] Weil draws on the outcome-based evaluations of the United Way when he says, “I would argue that these United Way concepts can be directly imported from their health and human-service context into the world of cultural institutions, and specifically into that of museums.” (Weil, 2002b)

[11] See Ghoshal & Moran (1996); Ghoshal (2005). With the scores of books and papers on boards it must surely be one of  the wonders of the century that so many boards continue to behave as if they are caught up in a fog as dense as a “London Particular”, pursuing power and self interest, some members interested only in padding their resume and unprepared to venture into any domain foreign to their knowledge and experience or place themselves in a situation where, in seeking financial or other support from private individuals, business executives or government ministers, they might embarrass themselves by failure.

[12] Wall Street Journal, July 20, p A2; see also Thomas M. Hout & John C. Carter, Getting It Done: New Roles for Senior Executives. Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec, 1995, p. 133-146.

[13] Weil  (1989)

[14] “A Heart of Darkness in the City of Light: Musée du Quai Branly” by Michael Kimmelman, New York Times July 2, 2006 is one view

[15] Crowds have visited the British Museum’s current exhibition of drawings by Michelangelo, an exhibition of which Richard Dorment (Daily Telegraph 21 March 2006) wrote, “the long-awaited exhibition of Michelangelo’s drawings at the British Museum presented a thrilling opportunity to look again at the corpus and to argue for and against each work, separating Michelangelo’s hand from those of colleagues and pupils as we routinely do with the drawings of Raphael. And that is why, for all its pleasures, “Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master” is a crushing disappointment”; see also Ingrid Rowland, The Titan of Titans, New York Review of Books Vol. 53/7 (2006)  for another review of the exhibition.

[16] O’Meara (2003).

[17] Rosabeth Moss Kanter & Derick Brinkerhoff (1981), Organizational Performance: Recent Developments in Measurement, Annual Review of Sociology 7, p. 321-349.

[18] Fernadez-Araoz (1999)

[19] Nohria et al (2003)

[20] Mumford and Licuanan (2004)

[21] This is probably the worst of indicators save all others: the famous study by Stephen Ceci and Douglas Peters in American Psychologist Vol. 40/9, p 994 (1985) revealed bias by journal editors toward the better known and the well regarded and discrimination against certain others. The Research Quality Framework  which the Australian Government is currently introducing to universities, is merely a complicated version of peer review.

[22] The literature on transformational leadership and related matters is vast and is found in a number of journals, especially The Leadership Quarterly and Leadership and Organizational Development. A recent review of the field is given by Francis J. Yammarino et al. (2005), Leadership and levels of analysis: A state-of-the-science review, The Leadership Quarterly Vol. 16/6, p. 879-919.

[23] ‘Human Synergistics’, reporting their survey of more than 130,000 employees ( ) said,” management styles and bosses’ actions are out of touch with the espoused values of most organizations”. Hewitt Associates’ 2003 “Best Employers” study ( found the primary factors contributing to perceptions of good employers to include trust, communication, passionate concern for employees, provision of different work experiences, investment in employee learning and development, employee recognition and performance management. The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s 2005 report by James Heintz and colleagues, “Decent Work in America” relates work environment and economic growth. The World Bank Development Report 2006 (released 18 September 2005 and available at ) titled “Equity and Development” deals with the same issues globally.

[24] What Business Can Learn From Nonprofits, Harvard Business Review, July-August 1989

[25] Krug (1992)

[26] Tomkins (1970)

[27] Griffin et al. (1999); Griffin & Abraham (2001).

[28] This is reputational analysis; see V. Murray & B. Tassie (1994), Evaluating the Effectiveness of Nonprofit Organizations. P. 303-324 in Robert D. Herman and Associates, “The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management”. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass). The assessments were surrogates for effectiveness, direct comparisons of museums in many different domains in respect of attributes like financial performance and attendances being highly suspect and visitor ratings of the museums’ public programs beyond the resources of the investigators. Respondents were not asked to make judgments about whether those processes and behaviors were good or bad!

[29] Abraham, Griffin, and Crawford (1999)

[30] The rationale was the assertion that once the public knew the relative value of various components of the collection of any museum they would ask that maximum attention be given to the care and display of those items. This ignores the fact that the citizenry has a great deal more to do than interfere in the relatively arcane issue of relative worth of museum collections and that such valuation is meaningless in itself because the collections are not tradable items in the way that the assets of a commercial organization are. Nor was the move accompanied by an undertaking to service the asset to maintain its value, except in the case of national museums in Australia for a short time until it was realized that it was costing too much. Weil vigorously opposed the proposition.

[31] The UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s website says, under the heading museums and galleries:

“Our core aim is to maximise the contribution from the museums and galleries sector to our four strategic priorities (children and young people; communities; the economy; delivery), as well as to other Government Departments’ priorities on education, social inclusion, regeneration and community cohesion.

“We aim to:

* Broaden access for all to all museums and galleries, including through free access to our sponsored museums and galleries

* Ensure that our sponsored museums and galleries continue to retain their reputation as world class institutions in terms of research and collections care

* Develop and promote the educational potential of all museums and galleries, including those we do not fund directly, working in partnership with the Department for Education and Skills

* Improve standards of training and encourage diversity in the museums workforce

* Ensure an adequate skills supply for the museum and gallery sector

* Promote best practice in the museum and gallery sector in all areas

In a consultation paper published in January 2005, “Understanding the future: museums and 21st century life”, we invited views on these issues … A small collaborative Working Group has been formed to consider the purpose, content and potential goals of such a strategy.” The minutes of the working group’s latest meeting are on the site.

[32] Pachter, Marc (2002), Why Museums Matter, Museum Documentation Association Conference 2002 (

[33] Alan Riding, Art Rearranged: The Shock of the New and the Comfort of the Old, New York Times July 22, 2006

[34] Visitors to art museums, for example, talk of wanting their learning experiences to be directly related to the objects they see and that visitors have diverse learning styles so a variety of interpretive strategies should be provided. Successful interpretation for the primary audience – the general public – means “accepting where they [the visitors] are” – keeping their backgrounds, preconceptions and values in mind and that, for instance, labels should be written for them. (John E. Schloder et al., “The Visitors’ Voice ….” (Cleveland: The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1994); Steve Grinstead & Margaret Ritchie (editors), “The Denver Art Museum Interpretive Project” (Denver: Denver Art Museum, 1990.) Similarly, adolescents are not uninterested in museums and are articulate about what they want: according to a current study in Australia, positive perceptions are that museums are informative and offer adventure, discovery and new experiences; what they most want is a modern and welcoming atmosphere, to see behind the scenes, to be able to sit on the floor and talk and not be bossed around and better promotion in teen magazines.

[35] “Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate about the Benefits of the Arts” (a study by Kevin F. McCarthy (2004 – accessed 17 March 2005) and others for the Rand Corporation commissioned by the Wallace Foundation) says, “People are drawn to the arts not for their instrumental effects, but because the arts can provide them with meaning and with a distinctive type of pleasure and emotional stimulation. We contend not only that these intrinsic effects are satisfying in themselves, but that many of them can lead to the development of individual capacities and community cohesiveness that are of benefit to the public sphere.”

A recent article by Gayle McPherson in Museum Management and Curatorship Vol. 21/1, p. 44-57 (2006) informs us, “There is no doubt that museums now operate in a distinctly different market to those of the past.” She credits the push by the UK government to have museums broaden their audiences with increased revenue, better services and programs and “blurring and breaking down boundaries that once separated museums from other recreational and educational organisations”. She also talks of “museums repositioning themselves in the marketplace” and becoming more accountable… [and] “more business-like”.

Paul DiMaggio (1985), like many others, criticises those views which seek to justify support of the arts on economic grounds because they produce other benefits such as attracting business, providing employment, increasing tourism. “In the long run, concentrating on economic effects is neither good advocacy nor good policy… the arguments are too weak and open up the possibility that support will go to arts projects with the greatest economic impact or to other projects which produce greater economic benefits”. He concludes, “cultural policy must regard the market as a tool rather than a standard. Policy towards the arts should use the market when it serves its purposes, but insulate and protect those goals—and the organizations that support them—that the market will not support.”. Elsewhere (DiMaggio, 1986, p. 85) he traverses the way in which seeking to be popular can draw an enterprise towards eventual market failure.

[36] This section is included to give background to the proposals for compiling evaluation by board and executive management at the end of this paper; its contents will be well known to many readers.

[37] Hein (2004; 2005; 2006)

[38] Falk and Dierking (2000)

[39] Hein & Alexander  (1998).

[40] Jeffery-Clay (1998).

[41] Kindler (1997).

[42] Combs (1999).

[43] Griffin, Kelly, Savage & Hatherly  (2005); Leinhardt, Crowley & Knutson (2002); a number of people including Ben Gammon at the Science Museum (London), Sue Allen at the Exploratorium and Beverley Serrell have developed ways of evaluating exhibitions which attempt to reflect the visitor’s reactions.

[44] One response attempted to position Anderson’s comment as constituting [sic] the visitor as “some sort of victim who’s got to be somehow looked after” and concluded, “… the most accessible newspaper you have is The Sun, should we have the copy for our museums written by the sub editors of The Sun?… That would seem to be the logic of your argument.”

[45] The elaboration I give is a mixture of the notes I took when the paper was first presented and the statements in the published paper.

[46] John Carver, Boards that Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit and Public Organizations” (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1990, 3rd edition 2006).

[47] DiMaggio (1986, p. 69) observed, “Some quality differences in both execution and presentation are apparent to almost everyone; discerning others is better left to experts… nearly everyone agrees support … should encourage excellence.” His essay also clearly makes the point that a diversity of sources of funding is essential where the audience is part of a pluralistic society.

[48] Dan Lovallo & Daniel Kahneman (2003), Delusions of Success, How Optimism Undermines Executives’ Decisions, Harvard Business Review, Vol. 81/7, p56-64

[49] Gray op. cit.

[50] New York arts consultant Charles Ziff speaking at the ‘Future Challenge: Administering the Arts in the Eighties’ conference Adelaide, 1982.