Get your governance right and life gets a whole lot easier - Museums Association

Get your governance right and life gets a whole lot easier

Governance is a dull subject. Nobody questions its importance, but it hardly sets pulses racing. You only really start to …
Mark Taylor
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Governance is a dull subject. Nobody questions its importance, but it hardly sets pulses racing. You only really start to appreciate its importance in times of difficulty.

If your museum is doing well, then governance weaknesses are not noticed or fretted over. But if things are not going so well, poor governance can become a major problem that can make things worse.

It is no coincidence that the current difficulties museums face have prompted an outbreak of initiatives around governance and structures – big boards, small boards, trusts, social enterprises, joint boards and even talk of a new governance structure for national museums.

This has coincided with greater interest in good governance throughout the not-for-profit sector. Bodies such as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Office of the Third Sector have pushed governance high up the agenda.

What these organisations are saying is that good governance structure and procedures matter.

The Museums Association (MA) is undergoing a major change in its governance; the most radical since it was formed in 1889.

Once we began looking at the key issues and talking to similar bodies, such as the National Trust and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (Cilip), it became clear that the MA’s governing body, its council, was built to reflect two differing agendas – representation and governance.

In many ways these two are incompatible. The council has 39 places (in itself hardly best practice) because, since its formation, it has wanted to be and remains eager to be a broad church; to have members from all over the UK and from all types and size of museum.

This helped the association maintain a dialogue with the whole museum sector. But this body also has to govern the MA and the size and nature of council makes this very difficult.

After a thorough review of governance, the current council is putting forward a radical new model to be agreed by members at the MA’s AGM on 4 October. The new board will be 12-strong, and the majority of its members will be directly elected.

The MA will maintain its representation and dialogue with members through new initiatives such as national and regional correspondents throughout the country and at least four members’ meetings each year in different parts of the UK.

The MA aspires to achieve with its governance what many museums and not-for-profit organisations look for: effectiveness, accountability and transparency. The challenge is to make sure that governance is part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Mark Taylor is the director of the Museums Association. The MA conference and AGM will be held in Manchester 4-6 October.




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