The Museums Association (MA) has launched its revised Code of Ethics, following an 18 month consultation that led to approval of the changes at the MA’s annual general meeting in Birmingham in November.

The revised code sets out three essential principles: public engagement and public benefit; stewardship of collections; and individual and institutional integrity.

The development of the code has been a collaborative process involving representatives from across the museum sector, including funders, interest groups, members of the public and other stakeholders, and it represents the general consensus of the sector on the ethical standards that are expected of all museums and those who work in and with them.

At the launch event for the revised code in Edinburgh last week, attended by members of the MA’s ethics committee and museum staff from across the Scottish museum sector, the MA’s director, Sharon Heal, reflected on the changing funding climate and the issues facing the sector since the code was last updated in 2007. 

Heal cited Northampton’s decision to sell an object from its collection against the advice of the MA’s ethics committee as an example of one of the challenges facing the sector that the revised code can offer guidance on.

The event was chaired by Tamsin Russell, the organisational development manager at Historic Environment Scotland and a member of the MA’s ethics committee, who told attendees that using the code can help to analyse situations and create a pathway to solve them. 

If we want ethical decision making in culture and heritage, she added, then the right people need to have the code at the beginning, not the end of the process.

Alistair Brown, the MA’s policy officer, says: “The launch of the new Code of Ethics is an important moment for the whole UK museums sector. 

“The code clearly sets out the responsibilities of all museums to the public; to the stewardship of museum collections; and to maintaining the integrity of individuals and institutions in a world of ethical dilemmas, and provides a new framework for ethical thinking. 

“Along with the supporting guidance and case studies on the MA website, and the ongoing work of the MA’s ethics committee, museums now have a full set of resources available that will help them to put ethics at the heart of their decision-making.”

When joining the MA, members agree to uphold, promote and abide by the Code of Ethics in spirit and in letter.

A print version of the code will be distributed free with the February edition of Museums Journal. 

Copies will also be available at the launch event for the code in Wales at National Museum Wales in Cardiff on 12 February, and at Members’ Meetings across the UK. 

For additional hard copies, please email [email protected]