Welcome to our new blog. This research comes out of a partnership between Saïd Business School and the British Museum, funded by the AHRC through their Collaborative Doctoral Awards scheme.
Our blog is not about running museums as businesses, or even necessarily about the management of museums. Instead we are interested in larger questions of museum operations, especially questions around the acquisition, management, documentation and use of museum collections.
Museums handle a lot of stuff – the BM has an estimated 8m objects in their collection – and so do commercial organisations. If a car plant was producing 1,000 cars a day, and each car was assembled from 1,600 components, then after five days the plant would have made 5,000 cars and utilised 8m components. Operations that involve millions of items require careful management and monitoring. So what can museums learn from the way commercial organisations manage their stuff? Or rather, can operations management be used to understand and improve museum operations?
Which is why we’ve decided to call this blog “Museum Mechanics”. We’re interested in the objective and quantifiable aspects of managing collections, such as rates of flow and wait times, for example. Not exactly mechanics, but definitely not finance and accounting. We take as our inspiration “Factory Physics”, by Hopp and Spearman, which was an analysis of factory processes written by physicists. With an Operations Management approach, we’re going to try to do the same for museums.
Of course, there are profound differences between a museum and a retail or manufacturing operation. We are finding that the application of operations management to museums raises perplexing questions that challenges what museums do and why, and stretch the concepts and assumptions of operations management to their limit. It seems that museums do curious things, and that operations management is not always fully equipped to explain them. So, we will refer to related disciplines, such as Organisational Behaviour, to understand what goes on. This blog is an opportunity for us to air some of our views and ideas as we scratch our heads and try to figure out what goes on in a museum. And we hope to engage with both museum professionals and management researchers along the way.
Hopp, W., Spearman, M., (2008) Factory Physics, 3rd edition. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press.