Revised Code of Ethics approved at AGM - Museums Association

Revised Code of Ethics approved at AGM

The new code aims to reignite debate around ethics
Nicola Sullivan
The Museums Association’s (MA) revised Code of Ethics has been approved at the Annual General Meeting, which took place today during its annual conference and exhibition in Birmingham.

The code, which was passed unanimously without objection, outlines three main principles: public engagement and public benefit; stewardship of collections; and individual and institutional integrity.

Addressing delegates attending the meeting, the MA’s director Sharon Heal said one of the key purposes of the new code was to reignite and broaden the debate around ethics.

She said: “Ethics does permeate a lot of our decision-making at a personal and organisational level. We started [revising the code] with very clear aspirations. The Museums Association and the Ethics Committee wanted to have a collaborative transparent process.

“We also said we wanted to look at the context in which we operate. What are the outside factors that affect our decision making? We also wanted a practical and user-friendly code. We encountered a lot of people working in the sector who hadn’t read the code since they were on their museums studies course and used it as a document of last resort.”

During the meeting there were concerns raised about the new code with museums consultant Hilary McGowan arguing that there was a lack of clarity over its guidance on financially-motivated disposal. The code stipulates that museums should not undertake disposal for financial reasons except in cases where it will significantly improve the long-term public benefit derived from the remaining collection.

In response to McGowan’s concerns Heal said: “We have only slightly changed the wording of the disposal section because we feel that it hasn’t been properly tested yet. We worked very closely with Arts Council England and other partners to go through it line-by-line and world-by-word and to test it against some previous examples of financially motivated disposal. I think it has to be tested in the future as well. I think what we have learned from this whole process is that the code cannot exist for 12 years without updates and reviews.”

Steve Miller, the head of Norfolk Museums Service said: "In these challenging and fast moving times, the MA's Code of Ethics for Museums and the MA's leadership in this vital arena has never been more important."

"I was really pleased to take part in the discussions and development of a new draft Code of Ethics and support this new succinct code. The attempt to both simplify and focus the code into a much more compact and accessible 'go to' document can only be a good thing," said Nigel Blackamore, the senior curator at Brecknock Museum & Art Gallery.

"The revised code is clearly much more accessible to all, from those who work and volunteer in museums, to the public and those outside the sector. In its more concentrated state it provides clear and practical guidance to support museums in their decision making," said Jemma Conway, the MA's Yorkshire rep and community heritage curator at Barnsley Museums.

Diane Lees, the chair of the National Museum Directors' Council (NMDC), said: "The NMDC welcomes the revised Code of Ethics. The revised Code of Ethics is clear and concise, and provides an invaluable reference for all museum staff, volunteers, trustees, officials and politicians as they seek to maintain high standards and public trust in museums."

Tamalie Newbury, the executive director of the Association of Independent Museums (AIM), said: "AIM endorses the three core principles established at the beginning of the new Code of Ethics. The three principles provide a clear basis upon which all those involved with museums can rely to underpin their decisions and actions as ethical museum organisations. AIM recommends these principles to its members, and recommends that boards of trustees should consider adopting the principles as part of moving towards achieving the AIM Hallmarks for Prospering Museums.

"The clarification of these principles, and the simplification of the associated guidance is a big improvement on the former MA Code. AIM has appreciated the collaborative manner in which the MA has worked with us and other organisations to ensure the principles are relevant and useful for all types and sizes of museum."

Sarah Philp, the head of programmes at the Art Fund, said: “I welcome the MA’s revised Code of Ethics. The focus and clarity of this important document means that it will, I am sure, become a touchstone for museums and help us all as a sector to navigate through both the challenges and opportunities ahead.”

Scott Furlong, the director of collections and cultural property at the Arts Council, said: "Museums and those who work in them are in a position of great trust. The Code of Ethics has a vital role in helping each of us to navigate our responsibilities with confidence, knowing that our values and views are underpinned by a shared consensus about what it means to do the right thing.

"In this revision, they have been sharpened and focussed so that each of us can use them on a daily basis. We must embrace them fully so that we continue to deserve this long-held public trust."

Joanne Orr, the chief executive of Museums Galleries Scotland, said: “I commend the MA for undertaking such a rigorous consultation to develop the revised Code of Ethics. Museums Galleries Scotland welcomed the opportunity to input and I encourage MA members to vote in support of the proposed changes.”

Morag Macpherson, the cultural operations and development manager at Renfrewshire Council, said: "I think the complexity of the ethical landscape has been encapsulated really well by the revised draft Code of Ethics. It reflects the evolving role of museums, and provides clear and practical guidance to support museums in their decision making.

"The more focussed and streamlined format also supports museums in communicating their ethical responsibilities to stakeholders and their wider community. It feels like there is a good balance of support, guidance and direction, and that this code will actively be used to negotiate dilemmas by all involved in museums."

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