The Role of Museums in the Heritage Sector

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1.0 Introduction

Museums are institutions used for preservation and representation of the history of human civilisation, religious practices and cultures from different parts of the world. The major reasons why people visit museums are for academic purposes and entertainment. Museums are known to host rare artefacts, iconic works of art and display them according to their exhibition programs for public viewing. Such artistic works and historical artefacts attract visitors from all parts of the world as they seek to entertain themselves and nourish their knowledge of human history and civilisation. Museums are categorised under the heritage sector in the United Kingdom.

British Museum is quite an old institution having been established in the year 1753 (Harris 2015, pp. 138). The museum is located in London, United Kingdom and it attracts quite diverse visitors. Since its establishment, it has since been able to grow its collection to over 8 million works currently (James 2016, p. 197).The museum is accessible to the public at no fee and it is ranked as being one of the country’s popular attractions having received over 6 million visitors in 2016 (Robinson 2017, pp. 964).The current and continued success of the British Museum significantly relies on how well it exhibits its collections in a manner that users can gather and comprehend the intended meanings by the authors of the various works. Strategic initiatives must involve the implementation of factor that engage the audience to develop a relationship with the product by being innovative in providing the users with tools that aid them in the interpretation of meanings (Calcagno and Biscaro 2012, p. 44).

2.0 Organisational Profile

British Museum is a public institution and it is run under the trusteeship of the UK government. Being a government institution, its legal and regulatory framework is described in various acts of parliament such as the British Museum Act 1963 and Museums and Galleries Act 1992 (Ambrose and Paine 2018, p. 72). To effectively run its operations, the museum is financed by a combination of funding sources. These include budgetary appropriations through the Department of Culture, donor funds, income from fundraising activities, sponsorships, and charges for various activities (Spiridon and Sandu 2016, p. 211).

2.1 Products/Services Offered by the Organisation

British Museum strives to be the centrepiece in the telling of the stories of humankind. Exhibition of iconic and famous collections is the core service offered by the museum. This is achieved by putting together a collection of rare art, artefacts and other hard-to-find works for its audience to view, learn and entertain themselves from the experience. The organisation has a well-structured exhibition plan whereby selected collections are displayed for public viewing for a period of 3 to 4 months. The organization also lends its various works to responsible external organizations wishing to carry out exhibitions of specific items. Such collections are loaned to the organisers of such exhibitions at a fee.

Apart from the public exhibition areas, the museum houses a study room where visitors can request to view any item in the collection through booking an appointment. This service is critical given that the museum owns millions of collections which have a rich history and unrivalled academic value. Furthermore, the museum houses a library comprising a rich collection of books and various forms of literature (Webster 2017, p. 87). The library has a wealth of information dating back to hundreds of years and is a significant element of the museum in the preservation of history.

2.2 Users of the services offered by the organisation

In the UK, visiting museums and galleries is among the most popular cultural activity undertaken by the citizens. This finding is supported by a survey done by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) that indicate that over 40% of adults in the UK visit galleries or museums annually. Data from Target Group Index (TGI) reveals that the proportion of gender visiting museums and galleries in the UK is fairly equal (McIntyre 2007, p. 19).In terms of age, museums attract a greater proportion of older people (over 50 years of age) as compared to the younger demographic. The lower attraction of museums towards the younger demographics is an aspect that should inform the strategic direction of decision making.

International tourists also form a crucial part of visitors received in the British Museum every year (Chung, Marcketti, and Fiore 2014, p. 198). The museum houses collections derived from all corners of the world portraying cultures, religions and other historical practices. International tourists, therefore, visit to experience these cultures which are part of their adventure while touring different parts in the UK.

2.3 Overview of the arts and heritage sector

The heritage sector comprises of institutions dedicated to collecting, preserving and exhibiting broad information resources especially in the realms of history and art. These institutions operate under DCMS. The heritage sector comprises museums, archives, galleries, libraries, among others. Organizations found in this industry are mostly not-for-profit and are government owned. However, there is also a section of commercial galleries and Museums in the UK. The commercial galleries operate through buying and selling artistic works. Public museums such as the British Museum do not trade their collections but rather acquire collections and keep them safe. Such organizations are driven by the special responsibility endowed upon them to take care of the elusive artefacts and pieces of art to preserve the history and enhance scholarship (Sabiescu and Charatzopoulou 2018, pp.335).Many of the museums, however, loan some of their collections to external exhibitors on a short-term or long-term basis.

2.4 British Museum competitor analysis

Competitor analysis is critical in helping an organisation to compare its competitive strategies alongside other institutions operating in a similar line of business. The competitors of British Museum comprise of other museums in the UK who are its rivals in terms of the market share for audience. The major competitors of British Museum include Tate Modern, National Gallery, Natural History Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum. As per the current situation, British Museum is the market leader since it receives the highest number of visitors annually (Chung, Marcketti, and Fiore 2014, p. 198).

Apart from the direct competitors which include other museums and galleries, British Museum also faces competition from other tourist attractions. The UK has a high level of both domestic and international tourism. Domestic and foreign visitors travel around the UK to see its various attractions. A survey commissioned by the Department of Culture, Media and Sports(DCMS) shows that around 20% of the tourists visit museums and galleries. The remaining 80% are interested in other attractions such as beaches, wildlife, and natural scenery, among others (GOV.UK, 2018).

2.5 Competitive Advantages

The museum has a vast collection of artefacts and artistic works that represents diverse cultures which attracts the audience from diverse backgrounds. The museum is ranked highly for having a great number of collections that attract visitors globally. The collections represent both ancient and modern cultures that make the audience learn a lot from the exhibitions. The museum has an extensive floor area which accommodates large groups of visitors at the same time. Audiences from diverse backgrounds are therefore accommodated into the museum at a go. (Sabiescu and Charatzopoulou 2018, pp.342). The organization is resource endowed which enables it carry out research regarding curatorship and the history behind various collections. The historical contents are preserved to maintain a record of cultural representations. The visitors to the museum are able to understand their common inheritance and beliefs (Robinson 2017, p.869). The museum offers a platform where the audience can understand their cultural connection and the aspects that link the UK to the world.

The collections available in the museum are aged up to two million years which makes the museum own the most diverse set of artefacts and pieces of art in London (Reeve 2016, p. 71).Through incorporating collections from all parts of the world, the museum has been able to brand itself as the “museum of the world”. Audiences are thus able to observe the various cultures of the world in British Museum. The diversity of historical collections increases its preference by the visitors over other museums (Komarac2014 p. 36).

Diversity is one of the core values of BM. BM practices equality in employment and unbiased treatment of the visitors. The museum employs experienced curators and archaeologists to analyse the collections and design factual presentations. The museum also works with more than 1000 community-based members who aid in the presentation of various cultures. The museum does training for its staff to enhance effective presentation and exhibitions. The trained staffs are often prepared to handle complex enquiries from the visitors and offer appropriate assistance (Robinson 2017, pp.873).

BM ensures that their services are accessible to all the types audiences. Increasing the satisfaction of the audience is considered a key factor in strategic planning and change. There are portable loops installed in various locations to facilitate the hearingprocess for some visitors who may have hearing impairments. There are multisensory exhibitions offered including the sign language to increase audience engagement (Reeve 2016, pp.65).

2.6 Weaknesses of the Museum

The facilities in the museum have not been upgraded for several years (Hume and Mills 2011, pp. 290). Inadequate upgrades to the facilities pose a threat to the preservation of the historical artefacts. Parts of the institution fall below the required standards for effective preservation of the items (James 2016, p.69). The historical collections can therefore decompose as a result of poor storage facilities due to failure in upgrading. The buildings are old and are neither operational nor financially efficient. There is a need to upgrade the structure to enhance preservation of the items and increase job satisfaction for the employees. Space is limited due to the high number of visitors (Brown 2015, p.109). The out-dated structural design makes the museum prone to congestion due to the high number of visitors. There is need to develop a strategy to address the overcrowding problem. The general infrastructure needs to be improved to accommodate the growing number of visitors to increase the efficiency of presentations and exhibitions.

2.7 Table 1: SWOT analysis of British Museum


Availability of the financial resources from government in form of grants and donations from benefactors.

Strong employee team from diverse cultures. Diversity helps to create a strong brand name.

The facilities and infrastructure in museum helps to generate income. For instance, the cafes and restaurants are cash generating.

Wide range of collections from various cultures. The vast range of collections acts as the centre for attraction of the visitors.

Strong brand name hence preferred by visitors. The museum has a strong brand name due to the positive word of mouth from the visitors. Customer satisfaction is achieved through the availability of a vast collection of artefacts for exhibition.


Minimum space due to high number of visitors. The facility is overcrowded due to high number of visitors at the same time.

Highly dependent on external sources of financing. The government and donations are the main sources of financing.

Inadequate storage of artefacts. There is need to upgrade the preservation facility of the artefacts.


The museum is able to generate income from potential sources. Benefactors and trustees are willing to support the organisation.

Strong working relationship with partners and trustees. The team work leads to effective operations.

The potential to expand and improve in audience engagement due to availability of finances.


Technological developments that threatens the existence of some events and change the visitor demands. Virtual and online museums are preferred by the audience hence a threat to the traditional museums.

High competition in the industry. Stiff competition leads to sharing of the market.

Weak security system. There is need to upgrade security systems to guarantee the safety of the visitors.

2.8 Performance from the Financial Perspective

British Museum is a public facility that offers services to the citizens of UK hence the government is responsible for its financing. The facility relies on donor funds and the government for financial support. There is need to maintain a high level of transparency and accountability to attract donors. The benefactors and the generous partners offer to fund the strategic plans of BM. The income is distributed in a manner that the urgent programs are given more priority. One of the major objectives of the museum is to increase the audience engagement by the provision of better services. Donations and legacies account for high income in the institutions. The publication funds, maintenance and the payment of the employees come from the gifts given by the benefactors (James 2016, p.87).

The money collected is spent in the refurbishment of the exhibition stands, software, building fabric, maintenance of equipment and the facilities within BM. Audience engagement can be enhanced through support services and security maintenance practices. Money is invested to enhance employee training and research on the various artefacts acquired by the museum.BM has the potential of collecting money through multiple platforms. The sustainable and enhanced operations are achieved as they are able to generate income for the activities. The financial stability enhances the service delivery and hence increases the audience engagement. The proposed strategies to increase audience engagement can be achieved due to the availability of the financial resources in the institutions. Research is also enhanced to find the solutions concerning various challenges within the museum (Harris 2015, p.147). Community-based research helps to identify the collections from different cultures and get to know facts about the items. The availability of the financial support makes the activities run seamlessly in the organisation. The audit department oversees how the finances are used and gives the report to the government and other stakeholders.

The trustees manage the funds of BM using a three method portfolio to identify the prioritisation of the projects. The general portfolio requires the museum to uphold the low-risk investment projects in the endeavours. The museum is therefore able to analyse the viability and feasibility of the projects before investment (Matthews and Wallis 2015, pp.11). The general portfolio ensures that the resources are used in the right manner and minimize the chances of making losses. The restricted portfolio is the second way of managing the finances and ensures that the funds deliver specific purposes. The capital value is preserved by the maximisation of the returns. Endowment portfolio ensures that the outcomes are successful and hence conducts monitoring of the projects. The investment monitoring is done on a quarterly basis and the relevant benchmarks are assessed to ensure the success of investments. The liquidity levels are also reviewed quarterly to ensure that the funds are used in the prioritised projects (Brown 2015, p.89). BM sets a clear risk tolerance strategy as part of the policy. The risk tolerance identifies the potentials financial risks and how they can be overcome using various strategies.

3.0 Assessment of the Current Situation

The museum often experiences long queues which keeps the visitors waiting for too long before they are able to access the exhibitions. The facility space is limited based on the number of visitors at the same time. There is need to increase the capacity of the facilities to reduce the long queues. The visitors are not charged when they visit hence a large number of people are expected to tour the museum (Matthews and Wallis 2015, p.9). The congestion and lack of an organised way of navigating through the museum is a barrier to achieving the audience engagement.

Overcrowding is also a challenge to the BM that hinders audience engagement. There is a problem navigating to the different sections of the museum due to insufficient signage. There is need to improve the visitor flow as the number is expected to rise due to the increasing popularity and the preference of the museum. Navigation needs to be improved in order to improve audience engagement. The museum has rails which act as the psychological barriers to entry in the different sections of the museum. The museum is working on increasing the efficiency of accessing the collections to improve the visitor flow. The present conditions hinder audience engagement hence the objectives are not met. There is need to improve the accessibility because the museum is open to the public and a high number of visitors are expected.

The visitors find their way in and through the facility without being screened by the security personnel. The condition poses a threat to the museum because it may be attacked by terrorists who target crowded public spaces. The security of the visitors is compromised hence affecting the audience engagement. The high number of visitors getting access to the facility means that stringent security measures are required (Harris 2015, p.139). Assuring the safety of the visitors increases the comfort and hence an improved audience engagement. The increased terrorist threat calls for innovative features to be established in the museum as a way of assuring the visitors of their security. Establishment of the security features needs extra financial resources which may be a burden to the museum but beneficial in the long-term (Vermeeren, et al. 2018, pp.14).

The cafes within the museum overprice their meals hence lock out some potential customers. The cafe rooms are limited in space due to the high number of visitors to the museum. The meals prepared do not give the customers enough choices on their preferences. The cafes should prepare multiple cuisines to cater for those on diet and the different cultural preferences because of the diversity of the visitors. The museum is an international appeal and attracts the visitors from the diverse communities of the UK and the world at large. Some visitors are forced to purchase meals in the food outlets outside the museum which hinders the museum from generating additional income. The museum will lose more money if the trend continues since the cafes and the restaurants are strategic places for generating money for the museum. There is need to expand the cafe and restaurant spaces, diversify in meals and offer affordable prices.

The toilets and the cloakrooms need to be improved in order to advance the visitor experience. Basing on a recent report, the visitors complain about the poor quality of some facilities within the museum including the toilets. The toilets need to be modernised and be many in number due to the high number of the visitors. The toilets are not enough and cleanliness needs to be maintained.

3.1 The Need for Improvement

The marketing strategy of the museum is inadequate. The websites are still not improved to offer the required information to the public. The museum does not have a visitor support platform where the complaints and comments can be analysed. There is need to improve a social media platform to enhance the visitor experience. The improved systems will increase the audience engagement by answering some of the questions concerning the museum. Brand image needs to be established by the social media platforms through advertising. There is an urgent need to develop strategies to enhance the popularity of the museum. Information about the collections offered in the museum increase the visitor experience as they know what to expect when they visit.

Low levels of innovation make the current strategies inadequate. Incorporating technology increases the efficiency of the museum in the terms of service delivery. Technology can be applied in the museum to enhance audience engagement. There is a need for the museum to come up with other innovative ways of conducting operations because the service delivery tends to decline with time as the current strategies may become obsolete in the long-term.

The new strategic mechanisms can be expensive to implement. There is need to adjust the budget to cater for the innovative means of operation and provision of the service to the visitors. The financial support in the museum comes from the donors and the government in form of grants. The adjustment of the budget is a challenge as the museum relies on the government and donors.

There is need to modify the current system of working if the audience engagement objective is to be met. The strategies need to take a detailed view of the current status and propose the better mechanisms of conducting activities. The challenges of the museum have been outlined above. The challenges act as the barriers to the objective achievement in the museum. Customer experience will be enhanced when the challenges are solved using the most innovative strategies. Financial availability will enhance the successful implementation of the proposed strategies (Knell 2017, p. 115).

The availability of the resources is the main factor that determines the successful implementation of the proposed strategies. The budgets need to be adjusted to accommodate the proposed changes in the museum. For instance, finding a solution to the cafes and the restaurants will automatically lead to more income being generated. The lowering of the price and increase in the space attracts the potential customers hence generating more income for the museum. Diversification in the meals also helps to generate more income for the museum. The collected money can be used to solve other challenges facing the museum. For instance, the money can be used to build more toilets and cloakrooms to accommodate the high number of expected visitors. By implementing such a strategy, the museum will improve the audience experience. The improved strategies should be made following the visitor’s comments and complaints. The museum should use a lean management technique that assumes ‘the customer is always right.’

4.0 Strategic Goals for British Museum

Raising the quality of visitor experience is a top priority with regard to strategic goals that British Museum is to adopt. The experience may be enhanced through improving the quality of the facilities as well as easing the accessibility of various spaces in the museum.

Reducing the level of security threats with respect to the current global terror threats that have faced public facilities. Improving security will help the visitors feel more comfortable while accessing the museum and will ensure the safety of the highly treasured national heritage.

Improving the brand image and raising the brand awareness among the current and potential users of the services offered by the organisation. This is achievable by putting in place coherent marketing efforts accommodating a wide range of traditional and modern marketing tools.

5.0 Strategic alternatives that British Museum should adopt

The evaluation and review process of the current position and situation of an organization helps the leadership of an organisation identify the key issues that could improve critical aspects of an institution. Furthermore, the feedback from the visitors is a significant source of evaluation of British Museum. The process of self-evaluation and analysis of the user feedback is a significant source of strategic decision making.

5.1 Increasing audience engagement using the SERVQUAL model

The SERQUAL framework is used as a self evaluation tool that brings out five dimensions that determine the perception of quality on the part of the audience. SERVQUAL is an acronym that stands for service quality. The five dimensions are presented in the figure below. British Museum may increase audience engagement by implementing the conditions described by each of the five factors. The five factors improve the perception of quality of service on the part of users. Through the application of the SERVQUAL model in practice, the gap between the expected and perceived service is narrowed (Forgas‐Coll, et al. 2017, p. 56).

5.1.1 Conceptual framework of the SERVQUAL model

Empathy refers to the aspect of British Museum demonstrating individualised care to its audience through showing care and concern to their needs. For instance, British Museum may demonstrate empathy through taking into consideration the issues and complaints raised by the users in a prompt manner (Conway and Leighton 2012, pp.41). Such complaints are usually raised verbally or through social medial platforms. The organisation should have a way of documenting such complaints and incorporate them in decision making. The complaints about poor cleanliness in the washrooms should be addressed immediately. Tangibles describe the physical features that the users of the service interact with (Forgas‐Coll, et al. 2017, p. 57). The institution should strive to continuously improve their tangibles through regular upgrades of their exhibition areas and maintaining a high level of orderliness within the premises.

Responsiveness is another factor that influences the perception of service quality. It describes the degree in which the museum strives to listen to issues raised by the audience and respond to them promptly. The organisation should put in place a dedicated social media team charged with the responsibility of identifying such issues, promptly responding to the issues and escalating other complex issues to the management. Assurance refers to the ability of the institution to fulfil the needs of the audience through having a highly competent team that is able to assist the users meet their needs in the museum. Assurance is demonstrated through the ability to answer relevant questions concerning various collections and providing assistance with specific requirements of the audience. Reliability refers to the ability of the institution delivering on its promises to the audience (Forgas‐Coll, et al. 2017, p. 57). British Museum should always ensure that it has the capacity and resources to offer what it promises its visitors. For instance, the marketing communications should be devoid of exaggerations and falsehoods. This is meant to eliminate the frustrations of a visitor finding out that the marketing messages out across by the institution are misleading.

5.2 Improving the visitor experience

Another strategic priority for British Museum is to improve the visitor experience in order to create a proper and lasting impression for first-time visitors as well as traditional visitors (Jaffryand Apostolakis 2011, p. 57). The museum has previously identified such priority issues and a substantial part of its budget is dedicated to various upgrades and modifications that improve visitor experience. This strategic objective may be approached in two ways including structural modifications and renovations as well as improvement of support services.

5.2.1 Resolving overcrowding

Overcrowding is one major bottleneck that British Museum has been striving to shake off. It is a major factor that contributes to the dampening of the visitor experience. Strategic initiatives that could reduce overcrowding include allocating more staff with the role of directing visitors and providing suggestions to them to visit areas of the museum that are less busy. Visitors tend to overcrowd in some spaces since they lack someone to offer them some other alternatives that could lead to an even better experience. Another strategic solution to overcrowding includes changing the way in which large groups wishing to visit the museum book beforehand. The organization ought to introduce online bookings for large groups. Such a process will go a long way in helping the management of the organization anticipate the level of human traffic expected.

Another approach towards resolving overcrowding entails the use of technological tools. The biggest contributor to overcrowding is poor management of human traffic as a result of visitors being stranded not knowing which particular side of the museum a particular item they are interested in is located. A third of the visitors in the British Museum claim that the museum is confusing which highlights the importance of this aspect. This hiccup may be resolved by the use of technology through developing a navigation app. The navigation app should be easy to use and easily downloadable on the visitors’ devices. The app should be comprehensive and should carry a database of all the collections housed in the museum. Once downloaded on a visitor's smartphone or iPad, the navigation app will provide clear directions towards where every piece of work is located (Hume and Mills 2011, pp. 248). This will eliminate confusion and time spent looking for an item.

5.2.2 Easing accessibility and improving facilities

The museum should adopt modern and innovative ways of easing the accessibility. The museum should adopt technological measures such as redesigning its website to provide virtual tours and navigation. The museum should also use signage in strategic areas that guide the users towards specific areas. The museum should also invest towards developing an interactive map linked to the website and navigation map to help visitors in the process of tracing certain areas. Furthermore, the museum should invest in better methods of preservation of artefacts to reduce the levels of decay and spoilage (Komarac 2014, p. 79).

5.2.3 Improving accessibility and cleanliness of washrooms

Several visitors place a high regard on the accessibility of essential facilities such as toilets. Hygiene is also a critical factor that instils a lasting impression on a visitor. Visitors have in the past complained about the poor cleanliness, long queues, and difficulty in accessing the washrooms. The issue of cleanliness should be a quick fix that involves the management dedicating more staff towards the exercise. In the long-term, the leadership should work towards increasing the number of washrooms as well as increasing their accessibility especially for visitors with mobility challenges (Jaffry and Apostolakis 2011, p. 57)

January 19, 2024


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