Ethics consultation

Alistair Brown, 02.12.2014
When was the last time you looked at the Museum Association’s code of ethics?
In many museum offices, I’d guess the Museums Association's code of ethics is a document that sits on a shelf, only to be called upon at the start of a new job or in a time of crisis.

Most of the time, we tend to think we know what to do without reference to a document that covers first principles.

And yet we all have strong opinions about museums. We care about what a museum should be for, and about the standards we expect of museums and the people who work in them.

We are constantly making judgements about what is or isn’t appropriate in our work – and sometimes we are faced with difficult decisions that we need outside help to resolve.

So it’s incredibly important to have our ethics set down on paper.

The code of ethics is the place where we set out the shared values of the museums sector and the guidelines to ensure that we stick to those values in our work.

It is also a document that tells the rest of the world about the distinct role that museums play in society. It should inspire public trust in museums as places that are well run and with a clear purpose.

Every so often, it helps to go through the exercise of debating and reiterating what we believe museums are for and what people should expect from them.

It’s been a while since that last happened – the code of ethics was last fully reviewed in 2002, and a lot has changed in the intervening decade-and-a-bit.

Alongside traditional concerns around acquisition, disposal, care and preservation of items, museums are now answering new questions about their role in a globalised world, and about how they adapt to technological change and to the demands of new business models.

It’s really important that we revise the code of ethics to reflect these changes.

That’s why we’re launching a very broad consultation this week.

We want to hear what you think are the most important values for museums to abide by.

And we particularly want to find out what ethical dilemmas you are facing in your work, and hear your opinion on what guidance the code of ethics should offer to help you navigate these. The more that you participate in this process, the better the new code will be.

We also want to find out how the code of ethics could play a greater role in your day-to-day work. One of the main complaints we hear about the current code is how difficult it is to use.

Perhaps we can structure it differently to make it more user-friendly, or reduce the amount of text? We’re really keen to make sure the new code doesn’t just sit on that shelf.

So please do have a look at the consultation, and take the time to send us your views.

Alistair Brown is the Museums Association's policy officer. Follow him on Twitter at @acbrown511.


Code of ethics online consultation