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Re-envisioning ICOM : a Task Force for Organisational Change and Renewal

ICOM Reform Task Force (ICOM-RTF)

Bernice Murphy, Vice-President of ICOM

January 2000

We are at a new threshold. The potential for enriching the idea of the museum, and for its transformation through new narratives and reinterpretation of social forms, is great.

We live in a world of social and political change, with new kinds of societies in transition across the globe. These factors will inescapably have a strong impact on the concept and mission of museums. The challenge for museums now is not simply to rely on their past strengths, but to understand how their cumulative knowledge and resources may be refocused to confront the present, while retaining secure intellectual integrity and conservation functions (conservation of collections, knowledge and ideas)as well as imaginatively re-forging their connections with social change and evolution (envisaging new futures).

At the recent Triennial General Conference of ICOM, Melbourne, October 1998, there was a strong call for a comprehensive strategic review of ICOM and a re-evaluation of its mission, structure and workings. On the final day this became the official policy of ICOM, through its inclusion in the Triennial Programme for 1998 - 2001. The Executive Council has now established the Task Force envisaged in the Triennial Programme as part of the called-for comprehensive review of ICOM's structure and organisation.

In June I was asked by the Executive Council to take up the challenge of heading this Task Force, working with the support of nine members nominated through the Advisory Committee and Executive Council to assist. Their names and contact details are listed at the end of this notice. There will of course be close consultation with the Secretary-General of ICOM, Manus Brinkman, throughout the process.

Organisational reform is challenging, especially for an entity as extended and complex as ICOM, and which has grown from 800 full members at the time of ICOM's last comprehensive reorganisation in 1974 to 15,000 members today. Consultation and participation will need to be as wide as possible, and I propose to undertake this in the following ways (with requests for active participation and comment in each case):

(1) News of the 'reform' Task Force's composition and objectives will be published in the next issue of ICOM News.

(2) Material about the Task Force and its work will be placed on the main informational pages of the ICOM Website.

(3) Further material - issue-setting documents, reports and both official and individual viewpoints of relevance to reform - will be communicated through the ICOM-L email discussion group, which every ICOM member with e-mail access can join. (ICOM-L is one of ICOM's Internet facilities that has been sadly little used to date, but it is ideal for advancing communication and exchanging views in this way.)

(4) Papers and contributions will be sought from individuals to advance consideration of issues raised. These - together with reference material - can also be placed on ICOM's Website and distributed through ICOM-L, alongside more provisional, ephemeral - even intensely individual or provocative - exchanges of opinion.

(5) Working documents received will be advanced and supported through face-to-face discussions and interviews with a dozen or so key contributors and experts on crucial matters raised.

(6) Selected material, and any provisional or firm proposals from the Task Force arising through these processes, will be sent to the Chairpersons of the National and International Committees, well in advance of the next Advisory Committee meeting in Paris, 5 - 9 June 2000 (and of course made available more widely through the ICOM Website).

(7) Under the ICOM Statues any significant proposals for organisational or constitutional change must first be considered by the Advisory Committee in June 2000. Final details, taking into account the June Advisory Committee discussions, would then be drawn up at the December 2000 meeting of the Executive Council. These would then be distributed in advance of:

(8) The final decisions on proposals during the next General Conference in Barcelona, in 2001.

Finally, some quick, personal, comments on some burning questions which the Task Force - and all the membership - needs to address.


(a) ICOM's organisation and structure is still basically that laid down in 1974, when ICOM was less than a tenth of its present size. Since then membership, museums and the profession have all boomed and undergone profound changes.

The pressures for participation in, or access to, museums by new audiences, social groups and long-overlooked minorities, have brought a host of different voices to bear on the social charter of museums - affecting their ethical awareness and professional mission-setting in a myriad of ways.

(b) Given the enormous expansion of ICOM's membership in recent years, the size and functioning of the Executive Council itself merits review. In contrast to the current 15,000 members, ICOM had only 800 or so (with a limit of just 15 full members per country) when the Executive Council membership was set at just 10 persons. There are now some quite huge national committees, following the opening up of ICOM's membership to all museum professionals in each country. However there is concern in some quarters that the present voting system can lead to some of largest national committees, or whole regions of the world, having no representation on the Executive Council.

(c) Should National Committees of ICOM continue to be organised and run independently in countries that have strong national associations of museum professionals? (ICOM originally promised not to seek to duplicate a national structure where one existed already.)

(d) On membership, ICOM now has an efficient, computerised, membership service within the Secretariat in Paris, which is greatly aided by electronic communications. Might it now be possible - even desirable - to administer membership directly from the central Secretariat rather than through the National Committees? Furthermore, what about the relative costs of membership to people in vastly different economic circumstances worldwide?

What could possibly be done to improve the situation, without jeopardising the organisation as a whole?

(e) How can the Advisory Committee function more meaningfully and efficiently, and how can the input of members generally be more productive, given restrictions of language, location, funding and travel difficulties?

(f) How can ICOM work more effectively at both the regional and sub-regional level? What lessons can be taken from the growth of the Regional Organizations in recent years?

(g) How can ICOM re-tune its activities to the needs of younger members of the profession - whilst retaining the wisdom and accumulated experience of established members? (ICOM now seems to be strongest among what might be termed middle-level museum staff, in terms of both age and seniority, and under-represented among both younger professionals and the most senior staff of the world's largest museums.)

(h) One of the most incendiary issues of all within ICOM's structural condition at present is the administrative and financial problems of many of the International Committees. The largest of these are now the size of major international organizations in their own right. (By contrast, up to the 1974 reforms they were small working groups, limited under the Statutes to just 30 members each.) However the largest of the International Committees now have arguably not the funding, staffing or legal status they need in relation to their current size and activities. It is time that this situation (and the question of liability under French law) should be seriously addressed.

There is much to raise and consider. And much to achieve. In particular, a great deal of good will is needed to build a substantial, workable consensus on what should be attended to, and revised, for the reorganisation of ICOM into a more reflexive, well-tuned and well functioning organisation for the evolving conditions in which museums will be pursuing their professional work in the next decade.


The 10 members of the Task Force are drawn from the Executive Council:
Jacques Perot, President (Compiègne, France,<perot@icom.org>, Fax:[33-3]4438 4701);
Alissandra Cummins, Chairperson of the Advisory Committee (St Michael, Barbados, <cumminsbgi@caribnet.net>, Fax:[1-246] 429 5946);
Lucía Astudillo, Ecuador <cdaurora@cue.satnet.net>, Fax: [593-7] 831 636);

There are two nominees of the International Committees:
Frans Ellenbroek
, MPR (Tilburg, The Netherlands, <nbnm@tip.nl>, Fax:[31-13] 535 1090);
Nancy Hushion, Pres. INTERCOM (Toronto, Canada, <nlh@inforamp.net>; Fax:[1-416] 351 0217);

There are three nominees of the National Committees:
Marie Christine van der Sman
(Den Haag, The Netherlands, <mvhboek@bart.nl>; Fax:[31-70] 363 0350);
Knut Wik (Trondheim, Norway,<knut@online.no>, Fax:[47] 7389 0150);
Aidan Walsh (Belfast, Northern Ireland, <museums.council@nimc.org.uk>, Fax:[44-132] 550 216;

A nominee from the Affiliated Organizations:
Michael Dauskardt
(Hagen Selbecke, Germany, Fax:[49-2331] 780 720).

My own details, as Chairperson of the Task Force, on behalf of the Executive Council: Bernice Murphy, Sydney, Australia, Fax:[61-2] 9357 2159.

Bernice Murphy
PO Box 1269, Potts Point [Sydney] NSW, Australia 2011
Fax: [61-(0)2] 9357 2159


Updated: 15 June 2005