Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Te Papa’s Geraint Martin views commitment

Te Papa is removing three collection manager roles, and adding an assistant curator, lead curator and technician.

Geraint Martin says Te Papa has the right structure for the times, Stuff, 5 March 2019

OPINION: Te Papa faces criticism from some for changes to its science team. These moves see the same number of science staff, with headcount unchanged at 15. Our commitment to research is also unchanged: it is enshrined in legislation, it is audited annually, and it will always be a paramount priority.

What is changing is the mix of roles in our natural history team. We are creating new roles in scientific research, and being more effective in how we deliver hands-on collection care. Three collection manager roles are removed, with new assistant curator, lead curator and technician roles added.

We have a deep commitment to scientific research. We are also committed to building New Zealand’s science workforce. Our new structure offers a clear career path, and brings new researchers into the taxonomic field, as recommended by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s 2015 Report on Taxonomic Collections. It identified an urgent need to create a pipeline of new talent for a narrow field where many are nearing retirement.

Assistant curator roles meet this need. They will be filled by top-calibre PhD graduates who are already high-performing researchers. They will work alongside collection managers, becoming steeped in their practice, while also undertaking research. They will then have a clear pathway to curator and lead curator positions.

Before they are even advertised, we are receiving national and international interest in these new research roles.

A modern museum researcher in New Zealand needs a fully rounded skill set. On top of formal qualifications and technical expertise, they need to work with digital imagery and DNA, to engage with tangata whenua, and to carry out high-calibre research that attracts external funding. We expect a much broader range of skills than 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

Te Papa is not alone in evolving to keep pace with a fast-changing landscape in biological sciences. In this process we consulted with scientists and those who manage natural history collections both in New Zealand and internationally. Our final structure reflects their input and our approach has the support of key people in the field.

We also consulted with and continue to work closely with Crown Research Institutions, universities, and government science agencies such as the Department of Conservation, Niwa, and the Ministry for Primary Industries. And we took advice from an international panel of museum experts.

The most important input to Te Papa’s change process came from our own expert staff and science leaders. They provided valuable insights that have shaped our final structure, and helped create new standards for collection care, which were lauded by international experts.

These processes aren’t easy. We have the utmost respect for the expertise of our people, and we understand the impact that decisions have. But organisations must take a holistic approach, and cannot shape their teams around the needs of any individual.

We do seek to retain strong ties with people when they leave, as demonstrated through a range of research fellowships and emeritus-type roles which we have in place with a number of former staff.

As New Zealand’s national museum, a bicultural museum, and the holder of 10 nationally significant science collections, Te Papa operates in unique circumstances. The structure we are putting in place best suits the needs of this museum, in this country, at this time.

We know the value that New Zealanders place on their national collections, and the passion that this debate evokes. It is our absolute commitment to care for the collections, and to support the high-calibre researchers who unlock their secrets. While we change with the times, that commitment remains the same.

See also: https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/383721/te-papa-defends-natural-history-team-restructure

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Mr Brian Oldman, South Australian Museum PO Box 234 Adelaide, South Australia 5001 Australia, © CAMD 2022
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