Part 7: Reporting on performance

Management of heritage collections in local museums and art galleries.

In this Part, we discuss how museums are reporting to the local authority or governing body, and how they are assessing performance. We summarise our key findings and raise issues for consideration from our assessment of whether museums were:

  • reporting regularly and transparently on collection management expenditure and activities; and
  • using performance standards and measures to enable a proper assessment of their performance in managing their collections.

Key findings

All museums were reporting regularly on expenditure. However, the reporting format used by some museums made it difficult to establish how resources were assigned and used.

A variety of indicators were being used to measure and report on the management of collections, with no common approach taken. Individual museums were providing little assurance about the management of their collections, with limited reporting on activities such as collection care and documentation.

The New Zealand Museums Standards Scheme is giving museums the opportunity to benchmark their performance against a set of expectations for sound museum management, and review reports provide valuable feedback.

Issues for consideration

Museums need to review the format of their reporting to provide more useful information for stakeholders about how they assign and use their resources to carry out their activities and perform their functions. Activity-based reporting, using data recorded about the time that staff spend on different tasks in the museum, would give readers better information about resource use and priorities.

Museums need to identify performance measures relevant to the management of their collections, to use for internal and external reporting on the different aspects of stewardship and performance. This task can most effectively be addressed by museums collectively, and will require consideration of standards and measures of performance, and information collection and analysis.

We recommend that museums participate in the review processes facilitated through the New Zealand Museums Standards Scheme, as a source of independent assurance and performance benchmarks for the management of their collections.

We also encourage museums to initiate, among themselves, periodic audits of collection management and other activities as a means of fostering collaboration, promoting the transfer of good practice, and providing assurance.

Is performance reporting regular and transparent?

We assessed whether museums were reporting regularly and transparently on collection management expenditure and activities.

All were reporting regularly on expenditure and activities. Local authorities or governing bodies (as appropriate) were receiving regular financial reports and summaries of museum activities. We analysed these reports to establish whether they showed how museums were:

  • using their resources to carry out different museum activities – including collection-related tasks; and
  • performing against measures directly relevant to the management of their collections.

Clarity of performance reporting

Museums used different formats for budgeting and reporting. Some reporting provided a much clearer overview of museum resource use and activities than others. All the reporting formats we reviewed could have been more transparent and easier to analyse.

Some museums recorded costs by input, with the main input category being staff salaries. This practice made it difficult to tell how resources – in particular, time that staff spent on the varied tasks of curators – were being assigned and used. Analysing how staff spend their time will help museum managers determine the desirable allocation of resources to particular tasks and museum services.

The way in which some museums classified expenditure also left it unclear how costs were associated with particular museum activities, such as setting up exhibitions, carrying out research, answering queries from the public, or cataloguing the collection.

Benefits of activity-based reporting

Activity-based reporting would give readers more useful information about resource use and priorities. Some reports had a stronger focus on reporting by activity, providing a more useful overview of how resources were allocated and used.

We did not examine in detail how museum staff were assigning their time, or how that information was compiled for reporting. However, systems for recording staff time will be needed if museums are to improve their reporting to show how resources are being used to carry out different activities and perform key functions.

Earlier in this report, we observed that museum staff commonly face competing priorities, noting that other responsibilities could be at the expense of core collection management. Better reporting would help to reveal areas where staffing or funding needs to be reviewed, and show the relationships between different activities in the museum.

Can performance be properly assessed?

We assessed whether museums were using performance standards and measures to enable a proper assessment of their performance in managing their collections. We analysed museum plans and performance reports to assess the extent to which they were reporting on matters relating to the management of their collections.

The management of collections is at the core of a museum’s functions and activities. Reporting on performance in the various aspects of collection management:

  • provides assurance to stakeholders about stewardship;
  • measures progress against objectives and standards, identifying areas for improvement; and
  • ensures that the role and importance of the collection is appropriately recognised by management within the museum, and by external stakeholders.

Variety of performance standards and measures

Museums were providing little assurance about the management of their collections. The 13 museums we audited were using a variety of different measures to report on the management of their collections, with some more relevant, specific, and measurable than others. In the Appendix, we list the different performance standards and measures that we found in use and the aspect of collection management to which each belonged. These aspects of collection management fall into 6 broad groups:

  • development;
  • use and access;
  • preventive conservation;
  • documentation;
  • resources and training; and
  • relationships with iwi.

However, each museum was using few standards and measures relevant to its own collection management. Some reporting was confined to recording visitor numbers, exhibitions, and public programmes, with no reference to collection management. With little or limited reporting on this area of museum activity, funding providers may have little awareness of the nature, extent, and implications of the work required to care for and document the collection.

Scope for museums to work together on performance reporting

There is scope for museums to work together to identify useful performance standards and measures. As noted in Part 2, museums have few standards for the management of their collections. A sector-wide project would need to:

  • identify a comprehensive set of specific and widely accepted and applicable standards and measures as a basis for assessing performance;
  • show how these standards and measures can be used to assess and report on their collection management, with the objective of providing assurance to external stakeholders on the different aspects of stewardship and performance; and
  • define ways to collect and verify performance information (such as system audits and inventories).

Soundly based performance reporting would enable museums to measure their progress in meeting their objectives over time. Performance standards for managing their collections might include:

  • the accuracy of sampled object documentation, including descriptive information and location, as assessed by an annual audit;
  • meeting deadlines for accessioning and approving loans;
  • the number of objects on the collection database with an associated image;
  • the number of objects packed in inert materials;
  • meeting parameters for climate control; and
  • the condition of sampled items as established by periodic inventories.

Peer reviews

There is considerable potential for museums to work collaboratively, share good practice, and promote improvement through peer review. Periodic reviews also provide important assurance about museum management to councils, governing bodies, and other stakeholders.

An independent assessment of collection policies and practices has a number of benefits:

  • confirming good practice;
  • identifying areas for improvement;
  • suggesting practical ways to overcome problems;
  • transferring knowledge; and
  • encouraging collaboration.

Review under the New Zealand Museums Standards Scheme

One means for museums to assess their performance is through a review under the New Zealand Museums Standards Scheme, developed with the museum sector by National Services Te Paerangi. This scheme enables museums to measure their performance against accepted standards of practice. Participation in the scheme involves a self-review and peer review, and the manual serves both as a guideline and tool for self-assessment.

Seven of the 13 museums had taken part in the scheme, or were preparing to do so. We examined the reports of the reviewers, which contained useful findings and suggestions for improvement. Participation is particularly valuable for smaller museums. They are less likely to have comprehensive policies and procedures in place, and may rely on unqualified volunteers with limited experience in museum management. We recommend participation in the scheme as a valuable means of benchmarking performance and setting action plans for the future.

Periodic audits

We also encourage museums to consider carrying out periodic audits among themselves, possibly in exchanges with similar institutions. Such audits would be a cost-effective way to foster collaboration, promote the transfer of good practice, and provide assurance.

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