April 11-14, 2007
San Francisco, California

Transcending The Boundaries Of The Museum! Managing Organisational Change In The Museum And On The Web

Jenny Berthling, National Historical Museums, and Anna Engquist, The Museum of National Antiquities, Sweden



The aim behind the museum’s new Web site is for all visitors to be able to approach the content in a way which attracts their interest. We want to inspire our users to find out more and develop an interest in the subject. We want them to be able to understand what they read and form their own opinions about history, archaeology and how history is written and created. The museum’s Web site is there for all its visitors.

The primary objective of the Web project has been to increase traffic even more and encourage visitors to stay longer. A secondary objective has been to raise the status of the Web within the organisation and make the Web site a priority for the whole museum. With this aim in mind, the Web project has helped to improve the coordination of basic operational issues and acted as a catalyst for discussions of common values in the organisation. Below is a description of how the Web project was carried out and the conclusions we drew while it was in progress – a case study.

Keywords: improving work internally, organisational development, new work models, user-focused, information structure, redesign

Fig 1: The Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm.

Fig 1: The Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm. Photo: Christer Åhlin/The Museum of National Antiquities


The Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm is one of Sweden’s largest museums and a national museum with responsibility for the whole country. The museum forms part of a central museums agency called the National Historical Museums (SHMM). This also includes the Royal Coin Cabinet and Tumba Papermill Museum. The agency employs a total of approximately 80 people. The Museum of National Antiquities’ collections comprise archaeological artefacts from Sweden and Swedish ecclesiastical art. The collections contain more than 20 million individual objects catalogued under around 34,000 inventory numbers. Great efforts are underway in the museum to digitise the collections. The collections database is an internal tool which can also be accessed by the public on the Web. The Museum of National Antiquities’ exhibitions display thousands of years of history from ancient prehistory to the Viking period and the Middle Ages. The Museum of National Antiquities identified the Internet as an important tool for achieving its obligations towards the public early on, and was one of Sweden’s first museums to have a Web presence (1995). Recruiting new professional staff from outside the museum sector has revitalised old structures. The strategic importance of the Web site in terms of reaching out across the whole country has constantly grown, as has its importance in terms of marketing and for teaching purposes. Today the Web site also reaches outside Sweden’s borders, with 30 percent of traffic coming from abroad. In 2004 work began to update the Web site to make the museum’s Web-based communications more efficient and integrate the whole museum in the Web project. Extensive user tests, workshops, interviews and a preliminary study launched the project throughout the organisation. In autumn 2006 a Web site editorial team comprising eight people – plus a general IT manager – was producing material for the Web site. 2006 saw the start of the major Web project with the overall aim of creating a Web site for the public with high accessibility and a long lifetime. The method chosen is to delegate publication responsibility and content management to staff in different departments of the museum. The reasoning behind this is that with today’s simplified technology, it was considered that it was now possible to move away from centralised publication. Developing and creating support for a new work model is an important part of the Web project. The Web site will become a powerful instrument in implementing structural organisational changes, work which will have a positive impact on the museum’s organisational development. Staff with expertise in different spheres and from different departments are now working together more openly and with respect for each others’ professional roles. Questions concerning our approach to history and the way it is told affect and are discussed by everyone at the museum. A greater commonality of approach at the museum is achieved through training initiatives, departments working together and documented guidelines. The new Web site went public on 26 January 2007. The museum now has a powerful platform for the future and a Web organisation with the full support of everyone at the museum. The museum’s work on user-focused Web services will continue.


User Tests

In 2004 the museum carried out a large number of user tests of the museum’s Web site. It was tested by target groups of teachers, visitors to the museum, tourists, pupils, new Swedes and senior citizens. The results demonstrated a major need for improvements. Visitors to the Web site were not seen as the focus of the information. Instead the information was provided from the point of view of the museum organisation. The Web site contained a great many pages; many were out of date, and users found the site hard to navigate. Nor was the Web site capable of complying with the accessibility requirements (WCAG 1.0) laid down for Swedish agencies. The museum took the results on board and continued with an in-depth preliminary study of the Web site’s content.

Preliminary Study

A preliminary study of restructuring the content of the Web site was carried out in 2005. The entire Web site with its then compact 3,000 pages was examined. Internet statistics and the user tests were analysed in depth. The observations made during the preliminary study indicated that the way the information was structured was not clear. Attention was also drawn to the prevailing method of working with the Web site. This depended on the expertise and input of a few people for updates and publication (one full-time Web editor and from time to time a part-time e-learning officer). Providing information for the Web site was a low priority at the museum, and the Web site was often the last stage of the production chain. Active work to develop the Web site was not possible under these conditions.

The preliminary study culminated in a proposal for a new information structure for the Web site content and a recommendation that the content of the static Web site be transferred to a Content Management System.


As its Content Management System the museum chose EPiServer, the market leader in the Nordic Countries, which is used in the public and private sectors. Several factors contributed towards this decision. One crucial factor was that the National Historical Museums shares its IT environment with a number of other agencies. Together with these agencies, a joint analysis and procurement project for a suitable Web platform was carried out. The museum was able to benefit from the development work carried out by the other agencies before it started out on its own. A great deal of money was saved on Web site development costs in this respect and the museum was able to learn from the other agencies’ mistakes.

The choice of platform marked the start of the museum’s own Web project. In retrospect, we could have started the Web project far earlier. To a certain extent the organisation had inaccurate expectations of what an IT solution could achieve.


Earlier interviews with staff in the museum showed that there was a need among employees to discuss basic questions such as the museum’s goal and vision, since these influence work with the collections and exhibitions as well as work on the Web site. The museum realised that the Web project would not be simply about developing and implementing a new Web site. Achieving a living and dynamic Web site demanded a different kind of organisation and different ways of working. The technical platform in itself fulfils a supporting function but requires a suitable work model if it is to be used optimally.

With this in mind, workshops were planned on the museum’s new Web site, its content, and its design. About ten members of staff from the museum’s different departments were invited to take part in three workshops headed by the IT consultants who would then develop and program the Web site.

The introductory workshop discussed the museum’s goal and vision for the Web site in the future. Goals regarding accessibility and usefulness were laid down. This meant that all participants had a common foundation for their ongoing work together.

The next workshop was about examining existing ways of working and workflows and producing a more efficient model based on the new technical platform. Delegating the editing and publication work was the obvious solution. Making this choice means that subject experts produce the content for the Web site’s various editors in the museum (departmental editors) who adapt it for the Web site and publish the content in pictures and text. One overall Web site manager is responsible for continuous quality assurance.

The final workshop was about looking at good examples of Web sites chosen by the participants themselves from the world of museums and the world of business. The discussions led to a lot of wishes for functions and services in the new Web site. These were brought together in a wishlist of functions which the project participants were charged with prioritising.

It was important to the Web project that staff from all the museum’s departments take part in these workshops. The workshops proved to be a successful way of gaining support for the Web project throughout the organisation.

Project Design

Specification of Requirements

The Web project had a limited budget, making it important to prioritise the items on the wishlist. Priorities were determined in conjunction with the specification of requirements. It turned out that the budget would run to a durable Web platform for the future and a Web site with fundamental and excellent solutions for searches, a calendar, accessibility, film, and integration with the museum’s collections database. Budgetary restrictions meant that some functionality had to be postponed to a second phase in the future. The total number of items on the wishlist which the specification of requirements had to consider came partly from user tests of the old Web site and partly from interdepartmental workshops with the museum’s staff.

Throughout the Web project the specification of requirements was actively and constantly used as basic underlying documentation by the members of the project team. The specification of requirements is exhaustive and describes the information structure and the structure of the pages with skeleton outlines, functions, page types and examples of main design features.

Staffing the Project

The Swedish Government charged the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs with making a major investment in employment measures in the cultural sector in 2006 and 2007. The project, which was given the name Access, has the aim of improving the work of preserving collections and other archives and making them more accessible throughout the cultural sector. The Access project means that agencies and cultural institutions receive financial assistance enabling them to employ highly trained and qualified staff. This employment measure came at an ideal time for the major restructuring of the museum’s Web site. Thanks to Access the museum was able to recruit additional expertise for the major Web project: an e-learning officer, three Web editors, a media producer, and a language consultant.

The Web Site

As part of the preparations for the extensive work of redesigning the Museum of National Antiquities’ Web site, the Web project began by creating a completely new Web site for the agency the National Historical Museums (SHMM). The agency had not previously had its own Web site as information provided by it was embedded in the Museum of National Antiquities’ Web site. Creating a new Web site for the agency meant that the Museum of National Antiquities’ Web site could become a Web site designed for the public while SHMM’s responsibilities and obligations towards the ministry and the Government were better clarified by a separate Web site.

The agency’s Web site, unlike the museum’s Web site, is very limited in terms of its content and scope. The Web site could be produced in the space of a few months and contains information intended for other institutions and officers in the culture sector. It contains letters of appropriations, reports, annual reports, guidelines and research programmes, for example.

As the agency’s Web site concerns all three of the museums encompassed by the agency, those responsible for content from the different museums became the first editors in the new Web platform. They received training in Web publishing and were able, with the support of the project team, to update and publish the text for which they were responsible on the agency’s Web site.

Fig 2: The Home Page of the National Historical Museums (SHMM) (PDF)


Competition and Design

The museum’s new Web site needed a design which worked well with the information structure produced. A design competition was announced with three invited participants, each with a different profile. One was a consultant who had completed several commissions for Swedish museums, one was an international agency whose clients included several museums in the UK, and the third was a large agency which had carried out a wide range of marketing assignments in Sweden. The competition criteria laid down by the museum concerned usability, durability, design profile, layout and typography. The design was to be based on the key words “dynamic”, “airy”, “attractive”, and “news value”. In coming up with the Web site’s design it was particularly important to create a streamlined form which would highlight the museum’s strong photographic material and which was capable of standing the test of time. Great emphasis was also placed on typographical design, as much of the content of the Web site takes the form of articles. The competition entries were to include the main page and another page. The jury comprised the members of the Web project and selected key staff at the museum. After examining the entries individually and jointly, they invited the entrants to present their design outlines to the jury. The jury chose the proposal which demonstrated the greatest understanding and sense of the perspective of the users. The winner was the Swedish agency with great marketing expertise. The final design for the Web site was then produced in two months in an iterative process between the design agency and the Web project.

Fig 3: The Home Page of The Museum of National Antiquities, (PDF)

Visualise More

The user tests showed that visitors to the Web site greatly appreciate visual elements on the site: pictures, ideally detailed close-ups, slideshows and video films. The museum owns a great treasury of photographs, and there are no problems with copyright as they were taken by the museum’s photographers: the collections belong to the museum. The new Web site uses photographs all the time – both high quality photographs and simpler documentary images.

The museum also produces video films. Film is a way using the museum’s expertise in archaeology and history and attracting a large audience of different ages. For this reason a link called “film and audio” was created in the Web site’s main menu to make the films more visible and easily accessible from all the pages. These films are hosted by an external streaming provider and are linked to the Web site’s media player. They are superior in terms of both their content and their technically quality; many of them can be shown on a cinema screen with no reduction in image quality.


Information Structure

When working on the structure of the new Web, site we sought to place the user/visitor in the centre. The way the content is grouped based on the needs and perspective of the user. The structure of the old Web site reflected the museum’s organisation and was inward looking, despite the fact that much of the information was intended for the public.

The newly recruited staff on the Web project helped to sort the information. Gaining a new fresh eye was crucial to creating a logical and durable structure for the new Web site.

Analysing the content of the old Web site made it clear that the structure lacked important information. This was because the old Web site had been built up by several ‘project islands’ with separate financing and with no clear ownership. Web content had been produced at the museum over many years in different projects and pilot studies with no single administrator to link them with other material on the Web site. The Web site had in-depth content but very little basic material as an introduction. Taking an overall approach and producing new introductory material therefore became a major part of work on the structure of the new Web site.

The content of the Web site was grouped under seven main links: Home, Visit Us, Exhibitions, History, Film and Audio, Press, and Contact.

Creating History

Talking about an archaeological find or a historical period is how history is created. One of the main wishes of the museum was for the new Web site to approach historical narrative in line with the way this is done in the museum’s exhibitions, programmes and publications, so forming an unbroken circle. The Web project set aside time to clarify what this narrative should be like to help the Web site’s editors avoid pitfalls. Guidelines were documented in the Web manual.


The agency’s language consultant has examined all the pages of the Web site to check that the language is correct and to set a standard for future editorial work on the Web site. The Web site is largely text-based, although it also contains many pictures and films. It uses simple, easily understood language and is adapted to its intended target groups. Great emphasis has been placed on questions concerning approach. Who are we talking to? What tone should we use? To sum up, the work of language consultants on the Web site is about moving from unnecessarily complicated language towards simple, modern and correct language use. In order to ensure that the quality of the language used remains consistent across the entire site, language guidelines were also drawn up in the Web manual.

Special guidelines were produced for the language used in the series of articles Object of the month, where the museum’s experts have an opportunity to talk about one particular object in the collection on the Web site. Here more linguistic freedom is allowed as the articles have a named author. The voice of the expert is heard more clearly in the articles, creating a positive dynamic with the otherwise standardised language on the Web site.

System Integration

At an early stage of the project on the museum’s new Web site it was made clear that the Web site was to be integrated with the museum’s collections database to avoid double storage of images and information about objects in the collections. The museum’s collections database is constantly being updated with new objects and pictures, and keeping it up to date is a huge task. It currently contains approximately 5% of the around 20 million objects in the collections.

Work to integrate the museum’s collections database with the Web site began with a preliminary study of the way the Web site manages images. One requirement was that image management on the new Web site should be simple and easy for the Web editors, as the Web site is based on rich, high quality picture content. The implemented solution means that all pictures of objects published on the Web site are requested via an image ID from the museum’s collections database. Decorative images and marketing images on the Web site are stored in the platform’s own systems and have no link to the collections database.

System integration between the Web site and the collections database helps to make the Web site an integral part of the museum and has raised the status of the new Web site in the organisation. System integration has also helped to create a coherent approach to pictures and the way they are managed in the museum. Integrating the systems made demands of both the systems involved, a  positive step, improving both the Web platform and the collections database.

Figure 4: Picture of St. Birgitta

Fig 4: Picture of St. Birgitta from an altarpiece in Törnevalla Church, Östergötland, Sweden. Medieval. Photo: Christer Åhlin/The Museum of National Antiquities


The migration work, reworking and transferring information from the old Web site to the new platform, took twelve weeks. Five people with specialist professional expertise in Web publishing worked full time on the migration, while several others were involved part time. The language of all the content was reworked in line with newly drawn up guidelines, and the content was fact checked and updated. A total of approximately 7,000 pages were created in the new Web platform, a quarter of the content entirely new material.

Before the migration, a course package was tailored to meet the training needs of the museum’s editors and the project’s newly recruited staff. They received four days of training in the Web platform. This included elements such as the editing interface, image management and file management. The same staff then attended a two-day workshop in writing for the Web. The workshop formed the basis of the guidelines which was then written for the Web site.

The migration team spent twelve weeks working together in the same room. This proved to be one of the factors behind their success. The team members were able to help and support each other quickly and easily. Common problems could be discussed and resolved quickly as everyone was there on the spot. The five new editors from the museum’s different departments also took part in the migration work. They each worked one day a week, together with the migration team, on migrating the content. This helped to prepare the editors for their task ahead. They became very familiar with the Web platform, the editing interface, image management and the guidelines produced for the new Web site.

Figure 5: the migration team

Fig 5: The migration team. Photo: Andreas Hamrin/The Museum of National Antiquities

Project Deliveries

Web Manual

During work on the content of the new Web site it became clear that there was a need for documented guidelines on use of language and the way history is told. Documented guidelines would help the new editors to keep the appearance and content of the Web pages consistent despite their being the work of many people.

A Web manual was produced with the help of specialist expertise at the museum. The museum’s language consultants drew up the language guidelines, the museum’s archaeologists wrote the policy section on writing history and the gender perspective, and the museum’s Web editor worked on the guidelines on image management and typography. The Web manual also contains the goal and purpose of the Web site and a description of the work model.

New Work Model

The model for working on the Web site was begun at an early stage but finally took shape in the middle of the Web project. It is based on the premise that the whole museum is involved in making the information on the Web site as up-to-date as possible. Far from having a single Web editor responsible for the entire Web site, in the new model the museum has five extra editors recruited from different departments in the museum (curators, an exhibition producer, assistant and caretaker).

The departmental editors together with the Web manager form an editorial council which meets regularly. It was considered to be very important that the editorial council contain a wide range of expertise and have the firm support of the entire organisation. This creates a fast production line for new Web content on,for example, exhibitions, new research results and programmes. The new Web site also has a management team consisting of the museum’s director general and its four heads of departments. The management team meets a couple of times a year or when the need arises. The director of the museum is the responsible publisher.


The Web site went public on 26 January 2007. After the launch the Web project organised an internal seminar for all the museum’s staff, declaring the Web site open, so to speak. The seminar evaluated how well the interdepartmental project had worked and the impact it had had on the work of the line organisation. The purpose of the seminar was to learn for the future and ensure that all staff were familiar with the content of the Web site and the new work model.

Figure 6: The Web Project brought together a wide range of epertise at the museum.

Fig 6: The Web project brought together a wide range of expertise at the museum. Here we all are. Photo: Andreas Hamrin/The Museum of National Antiquities

Handover to Administrative Organisation

Keeping a Web site up to date takes more work than creating it. This means that a well-defined work model is required so that maintenance, checking and producing new content can take place creatively without major organisational problems. The Web project produced a new work model, as described above, and introduced it within the organisation.

The departmental editors were involved at an early stage of the Web project. Due to their ordinary workload, their input in the project was limited, but it was sufficient for them to feel commitment and understand the new work model.

The Web project can state that the new work model has had positive effects in the organisation, including greater respect for each other’s differing expertise and professions. It is very important to the administrative organisation that it be able to rely on documented guidelines. Formalised procedures mean that content, for example, can be produced by an expert and adapted for the Web in a consistent and effective manner.

The actual management of the Web site is working very well, and each department is represented by one or more editors who actively check and update the Web site’s content. The main task of the responsible Web editor is to check the quality of the content, support the departmental editors in their work, and ensure the development of the Web site.


The goal of the Web project was to create a new Web site, integrate it throughout the organization, and develop a new work model for work on the Web. Instead of  having a single Web editor responsible for the entire Web site, in the new work model the museum has delegated responsibility for publication, sharing this responsibility among  different departmental editors in the museum. One important starting point was the belief that delegating publication would improve the quality of the information and highlight the museum’s multifaceted retelling of history. To conclude, here we list the positive and negative lessons learned from the project, and offer few words about the future.



The Future

In the very near future, in phase 2 of the Web project, system integration will come even further and the Web site will have expanded service functions such as newsletters, an Internet shop, image library, and more learning resources.

In the future the museum will also investigate new arenas to market the Web site, e.g. in wikis, in discussion forums, and blogs, so reaching new target groups. Analyses of the traffic on the new Web site and evaluation and revision of the work model are also on the wish list but should only be carried out once the traffic demonstrates a certain amount of stability and the new working procedures have become established.


Barry A. (2006). “Creating A Virtuous Circle Between A Museum’s On-line And Physical Spaces”. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2006: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2006 at

Johansson B. A.(2006). Handlingsplan för hur museers resurser på Internet kan samordnas för att öka tillgängligheten för användarna. Statens historiska museer, 2006 at ( Action plan for how the resources of museums on the Internet can be coordinated to increase accessibility for users.)

Johansson B.A. and A. Engquist (2004). 24-timmarsmuseum. Förslag till handlingsplan för fortsatt arbete med lärande via Internet. Statens historiska museum, 2004 at (The 24 hour museum. Proposed action plan for continued work on learning via the Internet.)

Verva - Swedish Administrative Development Agency (2006). Vägledningen 24-timmarswebben: Effektivare och bättre service på webbplatser i offentlig sektor, 2006:5 at (Guidelines for public sector Web sites)

Cite as:

Berthling, J. and A., Engquist, Transcending The Boundaries Of The Museum! Managing Organisational Change In The Museum And On The Web , in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted

Editorial Note