Miranda Ellis, SHARE Accreditation Advisor
Arts Council England’s revised Museum Accreditation Standard launched on 1 November after a long period of consultation and planning. Natasha and I went along to a training session in Birmingham to find out what the revised standard means for museums in our region.
5 Year Cycle
A change that we’re sure will be very welcome is that Accredited status will now last for 5 years from the date it is awarded. That means you will be invited to re-submit 4½ years after your successful award. During this time it will be as important as ever to keep your policies and key documents up to date and relevant, which will make life easier for you when your resubmission invitation arrives. You’ll also need to work on any ‘Areas for Development’ identified in your previous assessment (previously called ‘Areas for Improvement’), so that you can demonstrate your progress in these areas.
The revised Accreditation Schedule is now available online. Please have a look at this and check when your next return is due. If you have any problems with this, please contact your county Museum Development Officer (MDO) or the Regional Accreditation Adviser (Miranda Ellis or Ruth Burwood) for help.
Museums wishing to apply for Accreditation for the first time will complete an Eligibility Questionnaire as before, but this is a little different from the previous version. The questions are a little clearer, to identify the person who will be the main contact, for example. There will be a greater emphasis on having an appropriately constituted governing body from the start – see ‘Appropriate Governance’ below.
The initial eligibility assessment will be carried out by the Regional Accreditation Adviser, who will make a recommendation to the Arts Council. The Arts Council Accreditation Team will make the final decision. Museums not considered eligible will be supported by the Regional Museum Development service (SHARE Museums East, the Regional Accreditation Adviser, Museum Mentors and County MDOs) to make the necessary changes if they still wish to apply. Eligible museums will then be registered as ‘Working Towards Accreditation’.
Working Towards Accreditation
In order to standardise this phase of the process, museums will be given up to 3 years in which to submit their first full Accreditation Application. Regional Museum Development services (SHARE Museums East, the Regional Accreditation Adviser, Museum Mentors and MDOs) will support museums during this phase.
The revised standard places greater emphasis on museums having an appropriately-constituted governing body. As mentioned above, to be eligible for Accreditation, museums will need to demonstrate this from the start. The following are eligible legal structures:
- Charitable Company Limited by Guarantee (CCLG)
- Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO)
This is not a full and exhaustive list – there are several other eligible structures (including Local Authorities and Universities), but for the sake of simplicity, these are the structures that museums in the region are most likely to have. Other legal entities like Charitable Trusts may also be eligible, provided they meet the main criteria to demonstrate they are appropriate for managing a museum. That is, constitutions must specifically refer to:
- Ownership and protection of collections – it should make clear that the organisation has the power to operate a museum
- Nature and status of the governing document (i.e. state the organisation’s legal constitution – CCLG, CIO or otherwise, set out the organisation’s objectives and how its governance is structured to achieve this)
- Oversight by an appropriate regulatory body (e.g. the Charities Commission, Companies House)
- The benefit to the public through access to the collections
However, we know that there are lots of museums that are already Accredited that probably don’t have this. Don’t worry if your museum falls into this category. The Arts Council is not looking to remove any museums from the scheme, so you will not be penalised on your next assessment if you can’t demonstrate appropriate governance. However, you are likely to be asked to review your constitution before your next return, as an ‘Area for Development’. It is, in any case, best practice to review the constitution of any governing body on a regular basis to ensure it is still ‘fit for purpose’. I’d recommend doing this around every three years. This is also very important for succession planning.
SHARE Museums East regularly offers workshops for Trustees, which we highly recommend Trustees to attend. Your County MDO can also offer support with governance review, so talk to them or the SHARE Museums East Team to ask for help.
The revised standard is more specific about the use of Spectrum procedures for collections documentation and management. If you are not already using Spectrum, have a look at our forthcoming workshops with the Collections Trust and book yourself a place to learn more.
Access Policy and Plan
There is a new requirement to have an access policy and plan in place. This is not just about physical access but should also cover anything you are doing to enhance sensory and intellectual access to collections. For example, this might be about layered interpretation or providing autism friendly access.
Again, this area of the standard has been made clearer in its requirements. The requirement is to understand who uses the museum and who doesn’t, using user feedback to inform development and planning for developing the range of users.
The standard specifies provision of ‘stimulating learning and discovery activities’ that help a broad range of people to access the museum and its collections. Plus ‘effective communications’ with audiences though a range of appropriate media. This could include audio-visual interpretation, digital access to collections, and audience engagement via social media, for example.
Accreditation Mentors (formerly known as Museum Mentors) are experienced museum professionals who provide support for museums with the Accreditation process, where the museum does not have an experienced museum professional member of staff. The requirements for becoming a mentor have been relaxed to reflect the broader range of skills needed for Accreditation. Mentors need to have at least 3 years’ experience working at a senior level in museums (this used to be 5 years). There is no longer a requirement to have a professional museum qualification since the Arts Council recognises that other skills backgrounds are equally useful, for example business skills and qualifications.
Additional Information We recommend having a look at the following resources on the Arts Council’s website:
- The new Accreditation Standard
- Eligibility Questionnaire – for museums wanting to apply for Accreditation for the first time
- Quick Reference Guide – this flowchart sets out the constitutional requirements for Accreditation
There is also a supporting guidance document that deals with Museum Constitutional and Governance Arrangements, which may be helpful for some museums. However, it’s quite a long, complex document. It will probably be quicker and easier to speak to the Museum Development Team at SHARE, the Regional Accreditation Adviser your Museum Mentor or County MDO before delving into this document.
The launch of the revised Standard represents the beginning of a process of improvement, not the end. There are still more supporting documents to come and the new online submission system, via Grantium, will go live in the Spring. The Arts Council will be continuing to assess how the Accreditation process is working and monitor the impact of the changes.
We will be working on some further guidance resources for you over the coming months and will publicise these as soon as they are available. In the meantime you might like to familiarise yourself with the new standard and check the schedule for your next submission date.
Remember, we are here to help you. Please get in touch if you have any questions.
I will be in post until January 2019, when Ruth Burwood returns from maternity leave and will take over again as Regional Accreditation Adviser.
SHARE Accreditation enquiry email – email@example.com
Miranda Ellis – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ruth Burwood – email@example.com (from January 2019)
Or call us on 01603 495881.