The Role of Museum Core Values

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

February 26, 2020

Winter always brings with it a time for reflection. Last year I shared how to create a 2019 Master Plan for Museum Professionals with tips on how to use the museum strategic plan and the employee performance metrics to plan your way to a successful year. This year I want to introduce you to the concept of core values.

Your Dictionary definition:

Core values are the fundamental beliefs of a person or organization. These guiding principles dictate behavior and can help people understand the difference between right and wrong. Core values also help companies to determine if they are on the right path and fulfilling their goals by creating an unwavering guide. There are many different examples of core values in the world, depending upon the context.

Why “Core Values”?

As museum professionals we’re familiar with a mission statement and strategic plan, but many aren’t familiar with the inspiration behind their creation. How does a museum decide what its mission statement is? How are the pillars of a strategic plan chosen? Both are crafted to be very specific to the museum itself and are intended to communicate to external audiences the following: 1. What is important to the museum; and 2. How it intends to achieve and/or support those important items. Both the mission statement and the strategic plan are created (intentionally or not) based on the core values held by museum staff.

What do Core Values do?

Core values are something we each hold whether we are conscious of it or not. They are what we reference internally to help guide our actions and make decisions. When core values are consciously defined and committed to they can provide insight and inspiration for how we govern ourselves. When applied to a museum setting, core values inform the museum’s mission and the pillars of its strategic plan—and are used to determine resource allocation and project priorities.

How do Core Values Work?

Each person holds their own unique set of core values, but when we’re in groups—and especially groups that form an organization—there are some core values that are held universally by the group in order to support the organization. In addition to providing guidance to museum staff to assess behavior and help realign programs, core values should be seen in decisions and actions taken by museum staff.

Where do I Find Core Values?

Core values are unique to each person and organization. Whether for yourself or for the museum, it helps to reflect on what you feel is important. Here are a few guided questions for you to consider:

  • Which past projects or decisions felt like they were in alignment with what you felt was important?
  • What projects or decisions felt like they were mistakes or caused regret?
  • What projects or tasks do you hold as the most important?
  • How would you like external viewers to define your work or the museum?

Put it Together and Stick to It!

Reflecting on the above guided questions should lead you to some keywords and phrases. If you amassed a list of more than five I recommend you prioritize the list down to three so that you can really focus the scope of your core value work. If you’re doing this exercise with other museum staff, bring everyone’s list of core values to the group for discussion and prioritization. Remember: the core values agreed upon must be authentic and meaningful in order to be effective. Once core values have been defined, next apply them to the museum mission and strategic plan and update them as needed. Periodically revisit the core values to keep yourself conscious of them and to make sure they’re still relevant. And most importantly: commit to your core values. If there isn’t consistency, everything that is built on top of the core values will be jeopardized.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Consultant, author, and blogger Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management, grant writing and the future of museums for a wide variety of clients. Learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for museum collections management and download your free copy of Rachael’s book from Lucidea Press, How to Select, Buy, and Use a Museum CMS.

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