Chap 1: ‘The Essence of the Museum: Mission, Values, Vision’ by David Fleming

In the first chapter, David Fleming notes that museum management was something that until recently was regarded by some professionals with suspicion, back in the “dark days—not that long ago—when museums were run by an amateur cadre of egotistical directors who had no truck with accountability, or social value, or even with the notion of management, if that meant anything other than issuing orders”. In chapter one, Fleming argues that mission, values and vision capture the “essence” of the museum. Drawing on his experience as director at Tyne & Wear Museums and National Museums Liverpool in the UK, he demonstrates how the experience of the business world has been adapted to museums, arguing that: “Missions in the non-profit sector are complex, the values are profound, the visions are, or should be, inspiring.” In both case studies he explains how he lead the process of re-visioning and setting a new direction for the institution through a process of clarifying and operationalising this vision through mission and values. Change in museums is constant because the world outside is forever changing. “No museum can afford to stand still,” warns Fleming. All this change means the museum must “rethink constantly what it is doing and how it does it” but mission, values and vision remain contstant and provide anchors in unsettling times. Indeed this challenge lies at the heart of what museums do, as Fleming explains: “Recognising the need for constant change in museums, and implementing this change, is the most important role of the modern museum director, and a huge challenge for their leadership skills. In fact I would argue that managing change lies at the heart of the contemporary museum” (Fleming, this volume)

David Fleming

Dr David Fleming OBE AMA has been Director National Museums Liverpool since 2001. During his time there, he has completed major projects including the opening of the Slavery Museum, the Museum of Liverpool and the project Into the Future which involved the refurbishment of the Walker Art Gallery and World Museum. Before that he was Director Tyne and Wear Museums for 11 years, and principal keeper at Hull Museums. David has spoken at many international conferences and published widely on museum management and leadership, city history museums, social inclusion and human rights.

For more information on David Fleming, see:


About mccartco

Conal McCarthy is a former museum professional and academic who has published widely on museum history, theory and practice. He is the Director of the Museum and heritage studies programme at Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.
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