Does the Business Thinking Approach End the Era of 'Traditional Museums' or does it set the Museum free?

On 30 September 2016, the Association of Danish Museums (ODM) hosted NEMO's seventh international training course: "Does the business thinking approach end the era of 'traditional museums' or does it set the museum free?"

NEMO members from Albania, the Netherlands, Malta and the Czech Republic met in Copenhagen to learn from ODM's experience and business thinking approach. The course started at 9.30 with registration, coffee and refreshments. Jacob Buhl Jensen, Head of Education and Deputy Director, gave a short introduction to the association and to its employees, members, and board of directors. The Association of Danish Museums (ODM) was established in 2005 and represents the majority of Denmark’s museums and conservation centres. ODM is now the leading voice and meeting place for museums and organise training, networks and conferences for museum employees.

The NEMO members were also asked to introduce themselves and to express their expectations for the training course. They had very different backgrounds and motivations for attending and in accordance with ODM learning principles, Jacob wanted to adapt the contents of the training course as much as possible to their needs.

Then, Jacob gave the participants an overview of the ODM universe – from important stakeholders in the Danish Ministry of Culture, libraries, Nordic colleagues and attractions to ODM members and their needs. How do you, for instance, identify needs and transfer knowledge? And how does it fit with the business thinking approach?

After a cosy lunch at a nearby restaurant, Jacob continued the course and focused on how hardcore financial results can balance with more intangible results from museum initiatives in order to demonstrate the performance of a museum as a cultural institution. All participants asked numerous questions and discussed their own challenges with each other, trying to define success in this context.

The next session focused on how far you can drive stakeholder engagement in museum development and daily work. For example, how do you work with your customers? How do you develop services and customer segments? And how do you remember who you are as a museum in everything you do at the same time? Jacob introduced experiences from other museums to the participants to describe the variety of ODM's expertise and to give practical examples of how to and how not to work with customers.

After a short coffee break, the last hours were spent discussing project management in museums and the need of project thinking. The participants were asked to share their experiences with e.g. exhibition processes and how they would link projects with processes and manage and/or coordinate multiple projects at the same time. 

Jacob concluded the course by asking (and answering) the main question once more: Does the business thinking approach end the era of “traditional museums” or does it set the museum free? If a traditional museum reaches out for the local society, co-develop with its audience and understands that nothing is for free, the answer is:

Business thinking approaches can set the museum free! If a traditional museum looks at the people outside the museum as intruders, is longing for the good old times, always knows better and considers itself as the only true guard of national heritage and culture, the answer is: Business thinking approaches will kill the museum.

All participants were then invited to join Jacob at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek for a coffee, a short tour at the current exhibitions and further knowledge sharing.

You can find the presentation by Jacob Buhl Jensen, Head of Education, Vice Director, ODM here.