Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

MA & Front of House in Museums #FoHMuseums

A Front-of-House Charter for Change, Museums Association, September 2021

The Museums Association is working with Front of House in Museums (FoHMuseums) to co-create a Charter for Change specifically for front-of-house workers (FoH).

The past year has shown how vital FoH are to the museum sector, but also exposed the challenges and vulnerability of those workers. Their experiences have varied across the sector and throughout the pandemic.

A need for change?

Research by FoHMuseums in 2019 revealed that 58% of FoH feel they are not valued by the sector, 63% felt they could not impact their museum’s practices and 52% could not see a future in the museum sector.

A Charter for Change

The creation of a Charter for Change will be an opportunity to build on this research, champion the values of FoH workers, an opportunity for conversation, an opportunity to build a vision. It will enable the sector to embed change in its relationship with FoH into the post-pandemic recovery.

The charter will seek to explore and disseminate best practice for FoH inclusion in the wider sector, raise the profile, empower and provide a voice for FoH as a career and specialism in its own right. The creation of this charter aims to improve the experience of working in FoH, highlight the value and contribution of FoH workers to the museum sector, and contribute to changing the sector for the better.

We envision that the content of the charter will be defined by those it is for: FoH workers who know and understand the value and importance of their work, and the expertise required for FoH roles.

Tamsin Russell, MA workforce development officer, says: “To be truly successful as a sector we need to understand and respect every discipline within it.

“FoH professionals are the first touchpoint for our visitors, they see first-hand their needs and wants. This insight is gold and just one example of why we need to include FoH staff in discussions about museums. We are committed to supporting inclusion and representation for all workers within the sector and I am looking forward to working with FoHMuseums.”

Questionnaire

Our live research phase is now closed. Thank you to everyone who completed the questionnaire – we had over 340 responses. The honesty and the richness of the experiences documented provides the project team with real insight into the challenges and issues faced by front-of-house workers.

#MuseumHour

We undertook a takeover of #MuseumHour on Monday 2 August, which was a great opportunity to engage in a wider dialogue about front-of-house workers. Check out the Twitter moment which has been created to capture the conversation.

Research findings

From the questionnaire over 40% of respondents felt that their treatment over the course of the pandemic had improved. This demonstrates that there are gains to be had and the mechanisms put in place as a function of the pandemic could continue to be adopted to improve the treatment and experience of front-of-house workers.

However, as one respondent highlighted, their treatment was “good while working from home, as we created digital engagement, but it’s slid back since reopening.”

When asked about the priorities for action the following were felt to be most important:

  • Contracts
  • Pay
  • Recognition
  • Professional development
  • Effective communication
  • Collaboration
  • Involvement in decision-making
  • Duty of care

But as one respondent tweeted, “is it too much to ask for all of them?”

87% of #MuseumHour respondents said that knowing an organisation is signing up to the Charter for Change would make them more likely to apply for a job with that museum. The ability to attract new recruits is key, where turnover is high and successful recruitment is currently challenging, committing to treating your front-of-house staff well may be a differentiator.

98% of #MuseumHour respondents stated their performance and commitment would improve if they were treated and valued as museum professionals. Where museums are being asked to be doing more with less, having a motivated and commitment workforce may make all the difference.

68% of #MuseumHour respondents intended to leave their organisation in the next 12 months as a function of their experience and ways they have been treated. Staff turnover in front-of-house roles, anecdotally, is higher than other departments. Turnover has a number of associated costs, from advertising, recruiting, induction and training, and loss of corporate memory.

If a museum can adopt some of the recommendations from this research this likelihood of intention to leave may be reduced.

Next steps

  • During August we will continue our analysis of the research data and begin to draft the Charter for Change.
  • As part of this development, we will be testing it with identified groups and individuals.

We plan to launch the Front-of-House Charter for Change in the autumn. Follow #FoHCharterforChange for updates.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
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