April 15-18, 2009
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Organisational Change for the On-line World – Steering the Good Ship Museum Victoria

David Methven, Head, ICT, and Timothy Hart, Director, Information Multimedia and Technology, Museum Victoria, Australia


Museum Victoria is Australia's largest public museums organisation and, as the State Museum for Victoria, it is responsible for the care of the State's collections, conducting research, and providing public access and community engagement for all Victorians. The Museum has a proud 150 year history of scientific and cultural research and collection development. In a relatively large museum organisation like Museum Victoria, you need to ensure you have a common internal sense of purpose before you can entice the world to your on-line experiences. In order to succeed we realised, after some false starts, that we had to lead an extensive consultation process across many levels of the organisation. Outcomes included structural changes, where we consolidated the on-line team , created an on-line steering committee, and created on-line strategic documents endorsed by the Executive Management Team and the Board. This paper will present the challenges we faced in managing the creation of a common on-line strategy and framework at Museum Victoria. We will share the struggles we faced and the compromises we made to create institutional change in a major museum.

Keywords: change, strategy, challenges, framework, organzational change

Implementing an On-line Framework

The problem

Museum Victoria consists of three museums, Melbourne Museum (which includes the Melbourne IMAX), Scienceworks, and the Immigration Museum. A recent full rebranding of the museums also established the importance of the Museum Victoria brand which is really only meaningful on the Web. Visitation to the Museums totals over one and a half million each year, and on-line visitation is approximately five million.

Museum Victoria is a highly successful organisation with excellent attendance numbers and high quality exhibitions which are regularly reviewed and refreshed. We are particularly proud of our achievements in the education sphere where we have over a quarter of a million annual education visitors. Behind the scenes of all this success, we have extremely reliable and stable ICT and Multimedia infrastructure which maintains effective operation 99.9% of the time.

Unfortunately, these days, this isn’t enough. A public organisation like ours which is trying to actively engage with the public simply cannot succeed unless it has a significant on-line presence. More than that – we need to have a “comprehensive, engaging and innovative” on-line presence which is both consistently reliable and also able to provide valuable services – internal and external. While, for many years, we have had an effective Web site with up-to-date visitor information and valuable well-constructed content, this is only the first step to an effective and engaging on-line presence.

This paper presents the challenges we faced in managing the creation of a common on-line strategy and framework at Museum Victoria. We will share the struggles we faced, the various compromises and the numerous mistakes we made in our journey to create institutional change in a major museum.

Starting to find a solution

First, a little background. The structure of our organisation of 500 effective full-time employees (FTE) includes four divisions – Collections Research and Exhibitions, Museum Operations, Information Multimedia, and Technology and Corporate Services. We recently reviewed our strategic plan and have consequently aligned around six strategic planning priorities which support our vision: Exploring Victoria; Discovering the World.

  • Great Places and Spaces
  • Research and Collections : Knowledge and Connections
  • Inspiring Experiences: Engagement and Learning
  • Innovative People, Creative Museum
  • Visibility and Reputation
  • Environmental Responsibility

We have also adopted a network approach (Greene, 2005) in our organisation: this has resulted in less reliance on the standard hierarchy and greater emphasis on collaboration and consultation between departments as an essential component of all decision making.

Increasingly throughout 2006/7 it became clear that to achieve an integrated and successful on-line presence required active engagement across Museum Victoria. The rebranding exercise conducted by our own staff with some external assistance identified the Web as a key area to develop and standardise. We had also begun to develop a Web site strategy around the same time. However, we didn’t feel we had a blueprint to follow. We had significant experience in creating strategies – particularly ICT Strategies – but this was something quite different. With ICT Strategies, the main challenge is to achieve deep engagement with a small group of key internal stakeholders; with the on-line strategy, it was something else. While many internal stakeholders have a view about the service levels, perhaps the cool gadgets, or, say, the reports they’d like – most people thought it was ICT’s job to create the strategy.

We needed to develop an On-line Strategy, quite different from other strategies. The On-line Strategy needed to cut across everything significant we were doing and get us to a position where we could take advantage of the opportunities presented by the on-line world. The On-line Strategy needed to be aspirational, providing a sense of destination, while at the same time quite prescriptive to outline exactly what changes were required to achieve our objectives as an organisation. A key outcome of the On-line Strategy was to make museum staff conscious of the opportunities afforded by a more effective On-line presence for the museum.

ICT staff were not the only drivers of On-line change at the museum. Indeed, at some key points along our journey the prodding has most definitely come from outside of ICT. We like strategies at Museum Victoria - in addition to the overall Museum Victoria Strategic Plan, we have a Commercial Strategy, Research Strategy, Collections Strategy, Community Engagement Strategy, Knowledge Management Strategy, Information Strategy and a whole lot of others including, of course, an ICT Strategy. So there was significant internal pressure for us to create an On-line Strategy. The only trouble was we weren’t too sure how to go about creating something that so many people in the organisation were focused on, for which there was no clear precedent. Indeed, we did not fully appreciate the extent of the investment until we started to draft a document!

Sometimes we wonder if it is a little like the field of writing. All educated souls – especially if they have reached the giddy heights of management – think they are expert at writing. If you were foolish enough to get all the staff in a room to settle the best way to express something (and how it should be achieved), you would be in for much debate and chest beating. Writing is something we all do, and it’s not something that most of us are willing to outsource to the experts.

In many ways the on-line world has entered into this space. Increasingly, we all know what we like in the on-line world. Many of us believe that we know best what feels good and looks right in the on-line world, and we don’t want to outsource that judgement to others. Quite right too! It’s great that we increasingly all feel ownership of our on-line representation (neither of us would want it to be any other way), but the authors of this paper did not sufficiently take into account the impact this feeling of ownership would have on our internal stakeholders when it came to creating an on-line strategy. Everyone wanted a piece of it!

Following a particularly embarrassing series of exchanges at our annual leadership planning workshops at the end of 2006, the museum finally realised it must change in response to on-line demands. We were participating in a facilitated workshop and discussing upcoming key strategic impacts on the museum. Several leadership team members simultaneously identified the Web as an area that was underperforming. Individuals also expressed frustration with a lack of process around the development of Web site projects and assets. We were witnessing a fundamental shift in the organisation; people who only a year earlier would not have thought of the Web were now actively pushing for more and better access to the museum’s Web development resources. The leadership team members “responsible” for the Web site were isolated and subjected to a “Spanish Inquisition of sorts”. We were accused of basically failing the organisation with an inadequate Web presence, lack of planning, lack of responsiveness, and failure to deliver what were now seen as key Museum-wide outcomes. Fair cop at some level, although the underlying message was that we needed to change not just the Web developers’ role and their management but the entire museum. On reflection we could see a storm brewing but found we just couldn’t respond quickly enough on our own. The frustrations expressed by the organisation became the catalyst for organisational change.

Museum Victoria had been an early adopter on the Web – Australian Museums On-line had grown from a pilot project at Museum Victoria in the mid 90’s. We had a full-time Web team of three-four people and active programs – but the penny finally dropped and all those years of us dragging the museum on to the Web ended in those difficult workshops. No longer was it left up to the techies to do that Web stuff – the organisation was finally on board, something we had all worked towards for ten years. We weren’t ready or prepared for the demands the organisation wanted to make of us!

And we didn’t sufficiently recognise the need for shared ownership when we started to create our On-line Strategy. The process of writing the document was commenced following a session with only a handful of executive staff, including our CEO, Patrick Greene, three (out of four) of the divisional directors, and four senior managers. A methodology in favour with the Victorian Government in Australia called an Investment Logic Map was used to come to a consensus as to the key Drivers, Objectives, Benefits, Changes and Enablers in order to achieve our on-line aims. While the outcome of this Investment Logic Map session was valuable (see the output of this Investment Logic Map (ILM) session attached in Appendix One) and certainly achieved an increased understanding and consensus within the Museum Victoria executive, this was only a small step in achieving a consensus across the organisation. Key senior managers were not present at the Investment Logic Map session, and we found that their absence was one of our misjudgements: we needed to include a wide cross-section of Museum staff in the original consultation process.

On-line strategy

So we created an On-line Strategy based on the Investment Logic Map session and consequently articulated five key strategic directions:

  • Grow new, targeted on-line audiences
  • Implement innovative on-line initiatives
  • Establish a consistent on-line approach to knowledge capture
  • Provide and support on-line access to Museum Victoria’s collection and associated cultural assets
  • Integrate an on-line culture within Museum Victoria’s business practices

But that was still only the start of the beginning. While the On-line Strategy was a useful launching pad to success in the on-line space, we had a long way to go to achieve a consensus across the organisation or a shared commitment to what we wanted and needed to achieve.

We needed to change the structure, the processes, and people’s thinking.

Structural changes

First, we restructured the ICT/Technical group.

Previously, we had a Web team, a team who looked after our business applications, and a team within ICT who looked after our collection management system. These three teams were classic silos – they saw everything from the perspective of what was right from the point of view of the applications/systems they were responsible for. So, from the Web team’s perspective, everything revolved around the Content Management System – a service could only work and be supported if it was part of the CMS. From the business systems team, everything revolved around the particular requirements of each system they supported, and from the collection systems team, all that mattered was maintaining the collection. Despite extremely clever and dedicated individuals, it was very difficult to develop a strategic approach capable of producing innovative yet consistent on-line services which met needs recognised across the whole organisation.

Our new structure is pretty simple. We have a Service Desk, some infrastructure folk, and the rest are either in On-line Systems or On-line Development. So the On-line Development team develop content on-line and the On-line Systems team provide support. Another way to view our structure is to consider it as really one single On-line Team – one part with more emphasis on maintaining infrastructure and the other with more emphasis on developing new experiences.

A few words on the term On-line

We chose On-line Strategy rather than Web site Strategy to make it clear we are talking about more than the Web site: we are including public programming within the museums which use the Web, Business Systems/ internal and external, Exhibition programs, multimedia installations that are also on the Web, our social media programs, etc.

Gradually we realised that nearly everything important in ICT was “on-line”. While we have previously used the term “business applications” to define a series of applications that support specific systems of the business (including HR and Finance, ticketing, retail, events, membership, inventory and request management), what was, in fact, most interesting about these applications was the way we used them on-line.

So we thought it made a lot of sense to create an On-line Team which focused primarily on developing and supporting everything that is on-line: that is, content which is accessible from a browser.

And of course, our new approach to on-line achievement did not impact just the ICT folk. Increasingly, roles are being redefined to place more emphasis on “on-line work” becoming a central component of position descriptions. This change process is currently only incremental but will inevitably gain momentum and may well, require further significant organisational restructuring.

On-line planning group

The other crucial structural change was the establishment of the On-line Planning Group. This committee meets monthly, is made up of the key departmental managers, and has the following brief:

“... to provide guidance and governance to Museum Victoria for prioritisation of on-line initiatives and projects.”

This committee therefore provides a powerful forum for key internal stakeholders to influence Museum Victoria’s on-line presence and, of course, it also provides an official forum for debate – which is vital if we are to change people’s minds and steer the ship in a different direction.

We have realised that, in terms of developing processes to produce significant on-line content which has significant ownership across the organisation, there is a lot to learn from established procedures. At Museum Victoria, we have mature established processes around the development of exhibitions. We’ve been doing it a long time and put a lot of effort into ensuring that we can deliver quality exhibitions on time within defined budgets. It therefore seemed logical that we follow these established processes for on-line development. For instance, there is an Exhibition Planning Group, made up of key departmental managers, which oversees all exhibitions to make sure there are appropriate resources, management and prioritisation. The On-line Planning Group follows a very similar model, while also recognising that on-line experiences are more transitory and iterative in nature.

On-line framework

The final component of our approach to changing direction was to create a document called the On-line Framework. It defined the on-line work we needed to do and the processes we needed to put in place to be successful; it should be read in conjunction with the On-line Strategy. Indeed, in practical terms, the On-line Framework is a far more useful document. First, it was created by a truly representative body, the On-line Planning Group, which over a period of eight months, achieved a far greater shared understanding of what we wanted to achieve and how we could achieve it. The Manager Visitor Advocacy at Museum Victoria, Carolyn Meehan, provided invaluable inspiration and substance to the On-line Framework. It is an important lesson that someone from a non-technical background with great understanding of marketing as well as museum organisational values and processes was a key person in the creation of the central on-line strategic document.

In content, the On-line Framework outlines how Museum Victoria understands the on-line environment; works in the on-line environment; scopes and manages on-line projects; and measures the success of its on-line presence. (note: the On-line Framework is available on request.)

A key component of the On-line Framework is the conceptual model (Appendix Two) which we created as a way of categorising the on-line experiences we create while also providing direction to what we need to achieve. The conceptual model categorises on-line experiences into three areas: Information, Participation, and Relationship. Within each of these categories the on-line experience becomes more sophisticated.

  • In the Information category, an example is simple on-line text stating museum opening hours and giving directions. The same “information” can also be made available on-line with complicated multimedia with video and sound in MP3 format which can be downloaded on to a local iPod.
  • In the Participation category, the on-line user is encouraged to provide information, feedback, comments, ratings, etc. Again, this user-generated content might be simple text, in the form of comments, or clicks on rating stars, but it might be more complex media such as self-created video stories or visitor experiences.
  • Finally, in the Relationship category, the on-line data truly becomes “owned” by the general Internet community ,and the museum necessarily starts losing control of how that data may be used. Once more, this data can be in the form of text blogs, where the content is not necessarily owned or controlled by the museum institution, or it may be sound or video which appears on other Web sites as mash-ups with, for instance, scientific geographic data.

In general, our museum wants on-line experiences ranging in sophistication across all three of the above categories. The most challenging is the Relationship category as this raises the threatening question of who owns the on-line content. However the creation of the On-line Framework at Museum Victoria provides us with a clear mandate and with organisational support to provide experiences which can truly develop an on-line community.

A particular example of where organisational change has impacted our approach to our on-line output is Museum Victoria’s journey towards making our collections available on-line. This is an area where there is, not surprisingly, a bit of an internal “clash of culture”. In today’s on-line world, there is an expectation that content be created relatively quickly – rather than a long internal project followed by a discrete release of the “final Web site”, there are iterative launches with evolutionary on-line improvements. However, this process clashes with much of the culture at a museum, where there is an expectation of a final, completed product at launch. These two alternative approaches have previously hindered progress in making our collections available on-line. The structure of the On-line Planning Group and the creation of the On-line Framework have been critical in helping us understand the different approaches across the museum and have led to effective cross-departmental project teams.

Using the conceptual model with the example of on-line collections is helpful in ensuring we provide the most engaging on-line experience across all three categories. We want Information about our collections to be accessible and accurate; but we also want on-line users to Participate, perhaps by posting a question or comment about a particular collection item or even rating our museum content; and, finally, we also want to try to build a Relationship with an on-line community so other institutions, organisations, groups of interest use our data to create more complex and richer on-line experiences (and vice versa).

Final Words

So that’s an outline of the journey we have commenced here at Museum Victoria.

The fundamental role of the On-line Strategy and the On-line Framework is to lead a change process across the Museum. The demands and opportunities for a large museum organisation of ‘Going On-line Collectively’ as a group rather than individually through a series of ‘maverick” actions has been a challenge. The first ten years of Web development and innovation happened through maverick action; the thought of actually having to engage the organisation head-on was daunting.

We can now say that two years into the process we have been surprised by the incredible changes that have occurred and the quite dramatic changes that individuals and work groups have made in their attitudes and work practices. New initiatives are now springing up all over the organisation, and we now have the processes and ability to take them on or not, depending on established criteria and solid discussion and decision making.

After some shuddering and even a couple of wrong turns, we have now made significant progress in steering a significant museum institution toward a common on-line destination. The structural changes of consolidating an on-line resource team, integrated it into ICT, as well as the creation of a steering group composed of key managers across the museum, were crucial in setting us on the right path. Also essential was the development of an On-line Strategy and an On-line Framework, both of which have been central to ensuring the right discussions and the achievement of a far greater sense of common purpose.

While we fully expect that different museum institutions will take quite different paths, we think there are valuable lessons in our particular adventure. We hope that this paper has provided some insight for other Web folk who are trying to grapple with a strategic path towards achieving great things in the on-line world.


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

Greene, Patrick (2005). Building a Networked Museum. A paper presented by Dr J Patrick Greene, Chief Executive Officer, Museum Victoria, at the Museums Australia National Conference 2005, in Sydney.

Museum Victoria. On-Line Framework, July 2008.

Museum Victoria. On-Line Strategy, December 2007.


Appendix One – Investment Logic Map

[Download PDF]

figure 1


Appendix Two – Conceptual Model of On-line Experiences

INFORMATION Experiences within category differ in use of new technologies, resources, innovation

One-dimensional experiences:  MV provides authoritative information which users take without engaging further with the staff, services or facilities.  Content is MV generated.

what’s on
MV Memoirs

information sheets
collection online

image banks


hand held assistive devices

eg audio tours, curator pod cast

PARTICIPATION Experiences within category differ in use of new technologies, resources, innovation

Two-dimensional experiences: user responds to information placed online by MV.  Content is MV generated and at times MV may or may not respond.

MV Jobs


MV Teachers

Feedback button

Member renewals

Are You Smart Enough

Marketing Campaign

Share A Story

DC Enquiries

Online retail

RELATIONSHIP Experiences within category differ in use of new technologies, resources, innovation

Multi-dimensional experiences:  MV provides stimulus that generate interactions with multiple users including staff, services or facilities.  Content is user generated and directed.

Curator’s Blog
Soap Box

Phar Lap’s Facebook

Giant squid dissection videos on Youtube



Cite as:

Methven, D., and T. Hart, Organisational Change for the On-line World – Steering the Good Ship Museum Victoria. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2009: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2009. Consulted methven/methven.html