Getting on Board: Challenges and opportunities of museum governance

By Judith Taylor, South Island Museum Development Adviser

Last year I joined the board of the Motueka District Museum, which is about 20 minutes’ drive from where I live in the Tasman District.

Part of my motivation for joining the board was to be able to contribute locally and work with a group. My role as Museum Development Adviser involves a lot of South Island travel and regular commitments in my home area can be tricky to fit in.

Another motivation was to experience directly the challenges that most museums face in a real way that would also further develop my understanding of other museums. While I’ve assisted many museums in my role, it’s different to be actually taking some responsibility and having a closer commitment to a museum.

Like most museums in rural and small communities, Motueka District Museum Trust Board has a hard time recruiting new board members. It has been a busy few years planning for seismic strengthening, which is currently being completed, and some board members have recently moved on. We have been working on strategies to increase inclusion and diversity on the board, working closer with other museums, younger people, the education sector, and iwi in particular.

Motueka District Museum building. Photograph courtesy of Motueka District Museum

Motueka District Museum Trust Board Chair Anne Thompson shared some of the museum’s recent developments: “Motueka Museum is now in the process of reinstating our static exhibitions following the recently completed seismic upgrade. Removing every trace of building dust is proving to be a challenge, however, the Museum will reopen in early January.  New lighting, heating and ventilation has been installed which will ensure that artefacts are stored in more appropriate conditions than was previously possible.”

In terms of future directions, the museum is keen to play a much bigger role in education and to collaborate with other local museums to ensure we are able to offer the best possible experience to our visitors,” said Anne.

“The museum will continue to install exhibitions that focus on the history of the Motueka community rather than New Zealand history in general.”

We are wondering how to make involvement a more attractive experience for a young person. Our current thinking is that a shorter term placement serving on a board as part of work experience could work, or maybe changing the days or times we meet to make it possible for more working and young people to contribute to policy and meetings.

There is also the possibly of the museum providing support to complete the ServiceIQ museum practice training that NSTP mentors and assesses. For a younger person considering working in this area, gaining a qualification or skills could be an incentive.

Find out more about the New Zealand Certificate in Museum Practice

Trustee recruitment resources

There are a number of useful resources online which can help with recruitment of trustees and volunteers.

This resource from South East Museums in the UK has some great ideas and methods for trustee recruitment.

Read South East Museums: Successfully recruiting trustees to your board

Also useful is the comprehensive Volunteer Management Toolkit from Creative NZ and volunteer recruitment resources from Volunteering NZ.

More governance resources

At Motueka District Museum Trust Board we are also developing strategy, revising the Trust Deed and undertaking a review of all policies. It’s useful to see the resources that National Services Te Paerangi (NSTP) provides from that different angle too. I’ve called on our extensive catalogue of NSTP museum resources and contacts to help draft policy and procedures for Health and Safety.

As part of our He Rauemi Resource Guide series, NSTP published a guide for museum governance a few years ago.

Download He Rauemi Resource Guide 34: Governance Guidelines

He Rauemi Resource Guide 34: Governance Guidelines. Te Papa

The publication outlines the key responsibilities of boards as:

  • defining the organisation’s purpose, direction, and priorities
  • taking account of what is going on in the community and any potential impact on the organisation
  • communicating with the organisation’s ‘owners’ and other stakeholders both to provide input into direction and goals, and that they are kept informed about organisational performance
  • developing a governance policy ‘umbrella’ which guides operational activities
  • appointing and supporting the manager, evaluating his or her performance and rewarding it appropriately; and replacing the manager, if necessary
  • specifying key outcomes or results, approving resourcing to enable the achievement of those results, and monitoring and evaluating the committee’s achievement
  • setting standards for, and evaluating, the committee’s own governance performance
  • succession planning
  • sourcing funding/resources

In 2015, the Office of the Auditor General wrote a report about the effectiveness of governance arrangements in the arts, culture, and heritage sector in New Zealand. Larger organisations, including Te Papa, were surveyed in this report.

Read the Office of the Auditor General report: Effectiveness of governance arrangements in the arts, culture, and heritage sector

Board education

There are many free online education courses to assist board members in understanding their role, responsibilities and future museum developments.

Here are a few examples:

There are plenty of resources available to support the work of boards and committees.

With so much work to do, remember NSTP programmes and Museum Development Advisers are here to help!