Redundancies can lead to specialist knowledge about collections being lost

Museums urged to tackle succession planning

Rebecca Atkinson, Issue 111/05, p7, 03.05.2011
MA tookit to help boost how knowledge is shared
Museums making staff redundant are being urged to think carefully about succession planning or risk specialist knowledge about collections being lost.

The warning coincides with the publication of the Museums Association’s (MA) Monument Fellowship Toolkit, which aims to help museums improve how they share collections knowledge and skills, to help museums address succession planning.

Maurice Davies, head of policy and communication at the MA, said: “The sector has always struggled to retain specialist knowledge, but this issue is now more topical than ever as museums are forced to make cuts and redundancies.

“Museums can now use the guidance from the toolkit and create their own fellowship programmes for expert staff who are leaving.”

The toolkit is published this month on the MA website, alongside an issue of Museum Practice exploring approaches to succession planning and sharing knowledge, from hands-on mentoring to video guides. 

Jack Kirby, collections interpretation manager at Thinktank science museum in Birmingham, which took part in the fellowship programme, said: “[Succession planning] is always a consideration from a business contingency perspective, and in difficult times, it’s vital that skills don’t leave if personnel do.”

Capturing information is even more of an issue when outgoing staff are not being replaced, he added. There are also concerns about the rise of project-based curatorships and the merging of two or more curatorial posts into a single role. 

Michael Terwey, senior exhibitions organiser at the National Media Museum and chairman of the Social History Curators Group,  said: “The worry is that good museum work depends on an understanding of collections – without that, exhibitions run the risk of failing to make the most of the resources available.”

The Monument Fellowship Toolkit and Museum Practice issue on succession planning will be published on the MA website on 15 May.

For more information, please see the following links:

Collections knowledge

Museum Practice