Exhibition development — culture and roles
And for my last Museum Musings post, I’m sharing a section of Museums Victoria’s Exhibition Development Guide. All work is done by people; methodologies get nothing done alone, they must be enacted. So this is the section of the Guide that’s about enabling through culture and roles.
Versions of this were developed over years and after a review as Head Exhibitions in 2014, I did a major re-write, blending the existing with elements of good practice from the UK (For example, the approval process I wrote about previously). I’ve edited only to remove specifics and demystify internal lingo. I think it is poor by the sector that these internal ‘how we do things’ documents aren’t more widely shared; it’s a way wealthy museums can help. Not telling, just publishing! Anything useful — take and use. Anything not useful — ignore and move on ;)
OK, here’s the guide excerpts:
Principles and Practice
For a project to proceed, it must be defined and of value to the delivery of [The Museum’s] vision and Strategic Plan. This is expressed in the project’s briefing documents and subsequent approvals. The continued fit between the project and the organisation is maintained, informally and formally as part of governance, while the project team maintain their focus on the defined project.
The organisation outside the project
A number of ingredients must be in place for project success, including departmental management (the supply of appropriately skilled staff into the project is not a function of the project itself) and the maintenance of a functioning procedural framework.
Projects can face challenges through no fault of the project team, but due to factors outside their control. Effective programme management and annual business planning is an essential ‘enabling’ component.
The function of governance
Governance refers to processes and decisions that seek to define actions, grant power and verify performance. There are two components to this. One is governance of the project — that the defined goals and outcomes are achieved as planned. The other is the governance of the organisation, and how it encompasses the project and all the activities around it, for example recruitment or procurement policy. The latter is not dealt with in this development guide, but is assumed to exist and to work effectively.
The project’s governance is dealt with below. The key balance for all exhibition project governance is the relationship between control and creative enabling. Both are essential.
The three components of a project process
There are three different classes of activities within a project. Each of these has its own section in this guide. The principle is that a project is broken down into discrete stages with boundaries in between to ensure that defined tasks are completed and checked before others commence. There are activities that then sit over these, ensuring all the pieces are managed to one suite of outcomes and benefits.
- Ongoing, overarching activities some project activities continue through the life of the project. Cost management, for example.
- Project stages some activities happen only at specific stages of a project and not in others, for example design documentation.
- Stage Boundaries gaps between stages in which quality, cost and risk is reviewed and the detailed plan for the next stage is completed.
Critically, the individual steps and activities in any given stage are not defined in this guide. It is for the Project Leader and team to define how they are to complete the work. This document sets out the deliverables and some guidance, and trusts our skilled people to deliver to that.
This development guide assumes the environment of the Networked Museum. We are highly skilled professionals, acting in good faith and in accordance with Public Sector Values:
- Human Rights
We trust and value our colleagues, and will act to support them as far as we can. The guide and its associated templates and guidance notes provide a development process in which people can deliver, thrive and develop their professional skills.
We must pay attention to the wellbeing of its team members. Apart from our duty to care for our colleagues, people need to be well in order to perform. We will invest time and effort in teambuilding, across the core team and the Project Steering Group. We will take care to welcome incoming team members, and farewell outgoing ones. While we have clear roles and accountabilities, we ensure broad awareness of the project across the teams, in order that no-one shoulders burdens alone.
And in our decision making, we ensure that we are realistic in the workloads we allocate to people, both over a long period of time and in short bursts such as during installation. We do not plan a project on with underlying assumptions that some staff will need to work 12 hour days in order to deliver.
We are public sector employees, acting in the long-term interests of the people of Victoria. We embrace these expectations and requirements, as enacted through policies and procedures. Some project processes are necessarily transactional — essential to meet compliance and control aspects. Our attitudes towards these should be positive — it is how we ensure we are spending public money wisely and serving our public well.
We balance our attitudes towards control and openness — it is only through opening up and embracing uncertainty that we will deliver a truly innovative product. We acknowledge that this carries a measure of risk; an approach free of risk would not deliver our strategic plan. We are open-minded to new ideas, we experiment and prototype, and we challenge ourselves to deliver on — and exceed — the project’s vision.
In addition to the skills required for occupying any of the named roles on the project, some skills are generic. For example, all staff should have skills in audience focus and financial management. Other skills are related to a particular role — such as space planning as a key responsibility of the designer. Others might be developed further through the project, which should enable professional development in a supportive atmosphere.
Effective teams contain a range of different personal approaches. For example, some people are detail thinkers, some see the bigger picture; both are essential. Our differences should be celebrated and used to the advantage of the project.
We must ensure that every role is occupied by a person with the skills to deliver its requirement, or with the mentoring and training backup to enable them to grow in the role. It is unfair and inefficient to expect someone to deliver in a role for which they are not appropriately skilled.
To enable us to work effectively, there is a range of tools, of which this guide and its associated documentation are one. Others include
- Spaces: project offices, stores, workshops. These should be used to foster good professional practice, particularly in encouraging a team approach and not a departmental approach
- Mentors: there are few genuinely new problems; we will always have people who can be asked for advice and this is encouraged and welcomed.
- A common language: using this guide and its terms consistently across projects is itself a tool, reducing confusion and building shared understanding
- Technology: from Outlook calendars to virtual models, we seek to use the available technology and introduce new approaches if it will better serve our needs
Being a good client
As we behave with each other in the Networked Museum, so we behave with our consultants and contractors. We procure openly and fairly. We work to build a sense of teamwork that irrespective of an internal / external division. We set clear briefs, ensure shared understanding, and avoid blame. We share project goals and challenges — our contractor may have a better solution. This is within a framework of effective contracting and financial controls, in which contract obligations are met on both sides. In the event of difficulties, we will seek to resolve with minimal friction and recourse to contract, but always with the best interests of Museum Victoria and our public. We work with our contractors to mutually learn lessons in the interests of continuous improvement.
[editorial point — I cannot emphasise enough that these are roles, not job titles or position descriptions. In many museums, a person with the job title ‘Curator’ or ‘Museums Officer’ will be doing three of these roles at once. However, knowing the hats you are wearing at any moment is key, if a costume change is needed every ten minutes]
The following project roles are defined. Note, the role occupied on a project may not match an employee’s permanent role statement. In the core team, there are six defined roles. These may be combined or deleted depending on the needs of the project.
- Project Leader, either
o Producer, or
o Project Manager
- Experience Developer
- Lead Operator
- Project support
Many other roles are involved in the project for specific, time-bound activities.
Some staff are not involved in the project
The Core Team
The core team is made up of six roles whose contribution is essential to every project. They are closely interdependent; the team culture and behaviour is important and must be built and maintained. Depending on the scale and specific requirement of the project, these roles may be combined, deleted or bolstered with ‘assistants’. However, a lead within the project’s core team is always identified and empowered.
Core team member responsibilities
- Work in accordance with the Policies, procedures and values of [the Museum]
- Work together to deliver the agreed project brief, with mutual respect and support
- Act in the best interests of our audiences
- Recognise the need for, engage, and act on, the input of Specialists
- Apply the development guide and templates consistently, using the [museum templates]
- Take collegiate responsibility for the project and decisions taken
- Continually reflect and improve practice (self, others, corporate)
- Maintain broad awareness of all aspects of the project and its links with the rest of [the museum’s] activities
- Welcome and farewell specialists through the lifetime of the project
- Maintain a positive and open attitude to spectators
The project leader is responsible for delivering the project to the defined requirements, within the identified parameters (such as cost, quality, time, loan constraints…). Ultimately, the project leader delivers the project’s outputs, and enables the delivery of the project outcomes. There are two types of project leader at Museum Victoria.
The producer role is used when the project is large, complex and primarily for audience benefit and mission. The dominant requirement is for high intellectual and creative leadership. A typical example of a producer‐led project would be long‐term exhibition renewal such as First Peoples, or a touring show in which MV develops an exhibition around loaned objects.
The project manager role is used when commercial and practical concerns are the dominant requirement. Examples would be an inbound ‘venue hire’ touring exhibition
Project Leader responsibilities
- ‘Own’ the project vision and business case (hold selves to account to deliver what has been agreed)
- Be accountable for key project documentation (relating to risk, cost, schedule, dependencies, quality, stakeholders, legal, H&S, reporting, outcomes)
- Manage the project to deliver the identified outcomes, by leading and enabling the core team and specialists through the project stages and stage boundaries
- Manage delivery within the parameters set out in the Business Case and Project Plan, such as costs, schedule and revenue, including management of staff time with regard to TiL and overtime.
- Brief, monitor and control the work of the core team and specialists, including liaising with relevant line managers
- Active contract management of consultants, contractors and suppliers
- Report and communicate effectively with the Steering Group
- Deploy professional judgement within specified parameters, including foreseeing and managing risks and seizing opportunities.
- Ensure all project activities take place within policies and procedures, including within this development process
The Curator holds the intellectual and academic dimensions of the project’s content/subject matter, including object selections. For inbound touring exhibitions, this role may be delivered by a partner organisation or not required.
- Research, develop and communicate a deep understanding of the intellectual content
- Research and select exhibition assets (objects, images, film, oral histories…)
- Develop and maintain an expert academic / content reference group as required
- Quality control of factual content
- Predict, plan and manage other curatorial and collection management input to the project
- Contribute to the creation of exhibition text and other scripts, including developing tone of voice and authoring final text, either in a lead role or in collaboration as determined per project
- Participate in the development of visitor experience methodologies and the implementation of audience learnings during exhibition development
- Develop and maintain community engagement strategies and relationships for the development and delivery of content
- Close working with the Experience Developer role in particular
The Experience developer holds the audience and experience dimensions of the project, and is responsible for its eventual success in delivering visitor engagement and effective delivery of audience‐related outcomes.
Experience Developer key responsibilities
- Develop raw subject matter and assets into a compelling learning experience — thematic structure, communication methods, interpretive content — and ensure it is delivered through the design and production
- Own the relationship with audience information within the project team, including working with [the audience research dept] to develop evaluation plans (research, prototyping, etc.) and then implementing the results in experience development
- Develop and use audience outcomes through the project, in order to ensure an effective learning experience is delivered
- Develop, and monitor through delivery, the content and experience briefs for film, interactives, illustration and image production and so on.
- Develop the script outline, author the final script (or commission, brief and manage a writer) and steer through approvals
- Ensure the quality of texts, including developing tone of voice and authoring final text, either in a lead role, in collaboration, or in an editorial role as determined per project
The designer is responsible for development, presentation and delivery of exhibition and other designs, in order that the project’s objectives may be met on schedule, on budget and efficiently, to the highest standards of creativity and design excellence.
Designer key responsibilities
- Research design potential and develop early concepts for how the objectives could be realised
- Hold a singular aesthetic vision in dynamic balance with the functional requirements of the project, ensuring the eventual delivered experience is of high quality on opening day and in operation
- Ensure good consultation and full understanding of the requirements and constraints of the project, and ensure the design meets these as far as possible
- Keep the needs of audiences front and centre during design development, including responding effectively to evaluation and prototyping
- Detail and document the designs for production, ensuring that all production briefing (drawings, briefs and so on) enable production staff and contractors to deliver their part of the project to the overall goal
- Ensure inclusive design throughout the experience
The lead operator ensures the eventual successful operation of the exhibition and associated programs. They represent all operational teams within project definition and development, and ensures effective operational handover at MV. This may or may not include a role in operating the exhibition post‐opening. It may or may not include analysis, development and eventual success of the operation of an outbound tour.
Lead Operator key responsibilities
- Create operational assumptions (cost, staff, lifecycle) for the project
- Ensure that these operational issues are voiced and recognised throughout development, working to lower costs and maximise long‐term operable quality
- Integrate operational assumptions into approvals and stage boundaries
- Lead the Readiness For Service stage of the project, ensuring effective transfer into operational readiness (eg staff training)
- Deliver the operational manual
- Work with the annual Business Planning process to ensure future operational assumptions are fed into overall [organizational] budgeting processes.
The project support role is a project‐focused administrator. It enables good record keeping and manages documentation and record keeping. It enables the Project Leader to remain focused on the big picture, and is a key enabling role for the entire team.
Project Support key responsibilities
- Maintain paper and electronic files
- Prepare papers for key meetings and activities eg Quality Reviews, PSG meetings, Risk Reviews
- Minute key meetings and chases actions
- Take on project‐related administration tasks, eg travel arrangement for Touring Exhibition couriers, organising tender review processes.
- Maintain statutory records (financial, procurement, contracts, OH&S, etc.) including end‐of‐project archiving
- Maintain awareness of other MV documentation and reporting activities and ensure project alignment (eg Board reports, Arts Vic KPIs)
The majority of roles on a project are Specialists, involved for specific, time‐bound activities. They may be permanent Staff, fixed‐term staff, or external contractors. Some examples include:
- Loans manager
- Lighting technician
- Security manager
- Live Exhibits
- Facilities Manager
- Customer Services Manager
- Retail Manager
- Touring Exhibitions Program Manager
- Collections manager
- Image research
- Film research
- Health and Safety adviser
- Graphic production coordinator
- Legal and risk manager
- Administration assistant
- Digital Media systems
- Business manager
- Software developer
- Procurement manager
- Marketing Manager
- …and many more
While these are essential roles for certain aspects of some projects, they are not involved in every stage of the project. The core team must respect this scale and type of involvement, and brief appropriately. The Specialists must respect the project brief and context, and contribute to the goals of the project as defined. Few specialists will be full‐time on the project. As such, their input must be flagged in advance and negotiated amongst other organisational activities.
The term ‘Project Team’ is used to refer to the team in place at any given time formed of the Core team and one or more Specialists.
Some staff are not directly involved in the project. But it is essential that all staff are able to appreciate the work of project teams, contribute in open fora, and share in successes. The core team ensure broad formal and informal communication, and welcome constructive comment from those not directly involved in the project.
it’s worth adding that a treasured colleague suggested that this role be renamed ‘Cheerleader’. I wish we had ;)