Introduction: Code of ethics and professional practice
Our Code describes the responsibilities of museums, galleries, governing bodies and staff, to each other and to the collections, as well as to the public who support, fund and visit a museum or gallery.
Museums Aotearoa Te Tari o Ngā Whare Taonga o Te Motu, The Museums of New Zealand Inc, recognises the 2007 International Council of Museums (ICOM) definition of a museum as a foundation statement:
A museum is a non-profit making, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.
It also affirms the principles which inform ICOM’s Code of Ethics:
- Museums preserve, interpret and promote the natural and cultural inheritance of humanity.
- Museums that maintain collections hold them in trust for the benefit of society and its development.
- Museums hold primary evidence for establishing and furthering knowledge.
- Museums provide opportunities for the appreciation, understanding and management of the natural and cultural heritage.
- Museums hold resources that provide opportunities and benefits for other public services.
- Museums work in close collaboration with the communities from which their collections originate as well as those they serve.
- Museums operate in a legal and in a professional manner.
This Code of Ethics & Professional Practice amplifies and refines the requirements of the definition and principles of ICOM. It is intended for the use of members of governing bodies and the professional staff of museums and art galleries in Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as for the reference of local authority managers with direct responsibilities for such museums. It describes the responsibilities of governing bodies, museum and art gallery managers and staff to each other, to the collection which is a core element of museums and art galleries, and to those who support, fund and who visit museums and art galleries.
In reflecting on the unique aspects of Aotearoa New Zealand, Museums Aotearoa and its members recognise the relationship established by Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Treaty of Waitangi, and we accept that the principles of tino rangatiratanga apply to many aspects of museum and art gallery work.
This recognition requires museums and art galleries to understand and incorporate the values of tangata whenua and all other peoples who have made Aotearoa New Zealand home. It recognises that full authority in relation to the collections does not rest within the institution at all times and that it is crucial to maintain regular and mutually-respectful contact with appropriate Māori, iwi and other interested groups to fully reinstate stewardship and properly value their connections to the works and activities of the museum or art gallery.
Other points of reference for museum and art gallery staff include ICOM’s Code of Ethics and relevant international conventions for general guidance in professional matters. The appendices include a new section, Natural History Ethics for Aotearoa New Zealand, and make reference to relevant current international codes of ethics and other codes of professional practice developed within specific museum sector groups (such as for those in both the conservation and registration sectors). Human remains policies have been developed within our sector and two examples are provided for the reference of others in Appendix B.
A new initiative developed as a result of the review of the 2003 Code of Ethics in 2011-13 is the establishment of a Museums Aotearoa Ethics Committee. Further detail about the committee and its current membership is available from Museums Aotearoa; the terms of reference are attached in Appendix C.
The Code applies primarily to publicly-funded museums and art galleries and it is expected that organisational and individual members of Museums Aotearoa confirm and adhere to it.
It also provides guidance to those with an interest in the smooth running and increasing professionalism of their museum operations – whether public or private.
Documents such as this Code of Ethics and Professional Practice are kept in review and updated from time-to-time. While its tenets and suppositions flow from principles discussed and agreed in an international context, this Code seeks also to summarise agreed good practices specific to Aotearoa New Zealand.1
It is anticipated that all individual and organisational members are champions of ethical behaviour, routinely inducting new staff to the Code and incorporating its principles into their daily work.
It is acknowledged that there is a range of privately-funded and volunteer museums, for whom Affiliate membership status of the professional body may be more appropriate. Should it be successfully introduced in Aotearoa New Zealand, a museum accreditation system will provide independently assessed measures of success in addition to matters covered by the 2013 Code of Ethics and Professional Practice.
1 It is acknowledged that there is a range of privately-funded and volunteer museums, for whom Affiliate membership status of the professional body may be more appropriate. Should it be successfully introduced in Aotearoa New Zealand, a museum accreditation system will provide independently assessed measures of success in addition to matters covered by the 2013 Code of Ethics and Professional Practice.