Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA): an Emerging Self-Improvement Strategy for Cultural Services

Response from the Museums Association, May 2006
1.0 Introduction

1.1 The Museums Association (MA) is an independent membership organisation representing museums and galleries in the UK and people who work for them. The Association has over 5,000 individual members and 600 institutional members.

These institutional members encompass around 1500 museums in the UK ranging from the largest government-funded national museums to small volunteer-run charitable trust museums. Formed in 1889, it is a charity, receiving no regular government funding, which seeks to inform, represent and develop museums and people who work for them in order that they may provide a better service to society and the public.

1.2 As a body representing people who work in local government run cultural services, the Museums Association falls within the definition of key stakeholders used in the consultation document and so we felt it appropriate to make a response. However, we represent people working in museums in many different contexts, not just local government, and do not have the detailed knowledge necessary to comment on some of the questions raised in the consultation document.

1.3 We are happy to endorse the broad principles embodied in the emerging strategy and to do what we can to support self improvement in local government. However, we do not feel we are in a position to formally sign up to the strategy because some of the functions envisaged for professional bodies are beyond our remit (see 2.3 below).

2.0 Answers to consultation questions

2.1 Will the component parts of the strategy lead to improvement in and delivery of cultural services? It appears to us that the strategy does have potential to deliver improvement. However, the paper as drafted is rather abstracted and it is hard to grasp at this stages what specific changes it will deliver. We hope that one of the next steps will be to produce a simple action plan with a timeline to set out more clearly what is envisaged.

2.2 Are the emerging improvement tools appropriate for your needs: do we need a greater range of tools reflecting specific services or fewer coherent and focused tools? We are not convinced that a one-size-fits-all approach will work. Moreover, where sector-specific tools already exist and are widely accepted, it will be most beneficial to work with these. In museums, for example, MLA's Inspiring Learning for All (ILFA) framework has been widely adopted and many services have found it a very useful tool. It would be better to build on this success that start again from scratch.

2.3 Are the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders the right ones: what are your views about the roles and responsibilities suggested for your own organisation, and those for others?

The responsibilities envisaged for professional bodies are not a perfect fit with our remit. We have a role to promote good practice and we have a strong emphasis on workforce development and professional development. However, we do not set competency standards or advise on service standards, nor would it be appropriate for us to do so. (Creative and Cultural Skills, the Sector Skills Council, is doing work in this area.)

We suggest that you develop broader, more inclusive wording for this section that takes account of the differing roles and remits of professional bodies across the cultural sector.

2.4 Will the proposed regional and national structures enable the work being done to become self-sustaining in the future? This seems over-optimistic. There is likely to be an ongoing need for leadership from a central body.

2.5 How might we incorporate citizen and user assessment and engagement in the self-improvement model? This is clearly not straightforward, since in many cases professional standards use criteria that a user would not include in a list of criteria by which to judge a service.

In museums, for example, MLA's accreditation standard looks at essential aspects of museum practice such as documentation. The benefit of such essential behind-the scenes activities is not immediately apparent to museum users.

And conversely, Accreditation does not serve as an indicator of which museums provide an excellent service to their users; it would be possible for a museum to be accredited but not be valued by its local community. New mechanisms will be needed to incorporate user assessment.

Work is currently being done to develop a mechanism for grading attractions (led by Visit Britain). Whatever mechanisms IDeA proposes must take account of this.

2.6 What have we missed or what else do you think we should be doing to support this important area of work? We would like to be able to provide clear, jargon-free information about this area of work to our members. More accessible briefing notes from IDeA would help us to do this.

2.7 Note on Appendix 1. We have one small suggestion to make regarding the definition of cultural services. We suggest that the third bullet point should read, "museums, collections, archives and design", rather than artefacts. Some disciplines within the museum sector such as natural history do not regard the objects they deal with as artefacts (they use specimens), and so collections is more inclusive.

For more information, please contact: Helen Wilkinson, Policy Officer, Museums Association

Telephone: 020 7426 6950