Freelance Museum Consultancy


Do we need guidelines for Museum evaluators? – A discussion

More and more museum and heritage professionals are now doing and using evaluation in their work environments. However we all need to consider the ethical implications when doing this type of work with the public. There is much written in the social sciences and elsewhere but it is something that those of us in the museum profession need to consider too.

Below I have outlined some of the chief areas that should concern us in museums. I have used as a guide the Ethical Code for the Society of Sociologists. However this list is not comprehensive and responses from members about some areas, though, are less clear cut and less easily defined. I want to consider some of these issues after the list below.

Evaluators, researchers and other museum workers involved in consulting with, and observing, visitors and non-visitors should:

  1. Behave in a manner that does not bring into disrepute the museum profession
  2. Endeavour to maintain and develop our professional competence
  3. Carry out research or evaluation only with the consent of the participants
  4. Consult experienced professional colleagues when considering withholding information about such work
  5. Refrain from making exaggerated or unjustifiable claims for the effectiveness of our methods or their results
  6. Recognise and uphold the rights of those whose capacity to give valid consent to interviews and other research methods may be diminished. These include the young, those with learning disabilities, and the elderly and thus we should establish who has legal authority to give consent and seek this
  7. Uphold the rights of participants to withdraw consent


  1. Take reasonable steps to preserve the confidentiality of information and prevent the identity of individual organisations or participants in research being revealed, deliberately or inadvertently, without their expressed permission.
  2. Endeavour to communicate information obtained through research which does not identify individuals or organisations.
  3. If we are worried about any approach found while conducting research, we should consult with an experienced and disinterested colleague (unless any delay may involve a significant risk to life or health)
  4. Take reasonable steps to ensure that any data or records remain personally identifiable for only as long as is necessary
  5. Render anonymous any records under our control that no longer need to be personally identifiable
  6. Only make audio, video, or photographic recordings with expressed agreement of those being recorded
  7. Safeguard the security of any record held on computer

Personal conduct
We should:

  1. Conduct ourselves in a way that does not damage the interest of any members of the public or institution for which we are working for or with
  2. Not accept from anyone, financial or material benefit beyond that which has been contractually agreed
  3. Not allow our professional responsibilities or standards of practice to be diminished by our own personal beliefs
  4. Not work when professional judgement is seriously impaired
  5. Respect the data collected and understand the limits of such evidence
  6. Give due credit to the contributions of others
  7. Take steps to maintain adequate standards of safety in the use of all procedures

These are only a number of suggestions and are open for discussion and addition. All comments would be welcome. There are I think a number of issues for debate. For example when doing qualitative evaluation I often ask major participants to keep diaries. Once the report is written what do I do with these diaries. They often hold detailed and personal information. It would certainly difficult to delete all evidence of who wrote the diary. So should I destroy it – even if it might be useful in the long term for more longitudinal work in the future? Also is it mine to throw away? Although I usually have contracts with my employers for an evaluation there is often no discussion about who owns the data. What would you do? There is also the issue of using security tape to observe people in galleries. It has been suggested that because people are in public places where they would expect to be observed and where the should be warning that there are security cameras do we have a right to use them for anything else without a notice or even more specifically personal permission