A public museum's membership/citizenry/constituency – members, researchers, ratepayers, residents, donors, et al. – needs a professional approach to governance and management to protect their interests as the institution's Community of Ownership and Interest (COI).
For the purposes of this article, governance is that cluster of activities that relate to decisions that define expectations, that grant powers and that verify performance along with taking actions to assure accountability for results (or lack thereof) and the correction of systemic and other problems.
In the context of a museum, governance includes:
• Determining and/or validating community needs;
• Verifying purposes and objectives to fulfill those purposes;
• Assuring that strategies to achieve objectives are realistic – including funding;
• Acts to assure accountability by testing against results achieved – or otherwise;
• Acts to correct systemic or other problems that may be impeding results and value.
The museum's professional management team, its trained personnel, manage the operation of the museum and it programs while the decisions about community interests, value for money, affordability and standards of service are the domain of its governance.
Weaknesses or failures of governance would therefore be seen as:
• Public dissatisfaction with value for fees, subscriptions, rates and other charges
• Unsustainable – from the COI perspective – increases in inputs – fees, charges, subscriptions, rates etc.
• Optional activities taking an excessive percentage of total budgets
• Loss making activities impacting upon the level of inputs plus the quality and quantity of outputs – exhibits, projects, publications etc.
The overall impression would be an organisation that appeared out of control and unable to define or describe in any detail, how and why it was incurring expenses – e.g. unable to relate budgets to goals and activities as programs or line items – or failing to deliver planned outcomes.
Such a condition would be indicated by a lack of the normal organisational documentation that demonstrates a professional approach to governance. The documentation requirements and their purposes are outlined in the table below.