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Barriers to Organizational Change in Polish Public Museums

PI: Łukasz Gaweł


  • Anna Karpińska (SWPS Warszawa)
  • Alicja Krawczyńska (Politechnika Wrocławska)
  • dr Paweł Nowak (Uniwersytet Mikołaja Kopernika w Toruniu)
  • dr Anna Pluszyńska (Uniwersytet Jagielloński)
  • dr Weronika Pokojska (Uniwersytet w Heidelbergu)


In theoretical reflection, museums appear in very different roles: as institutions of cultural heritage, as centres of social change, as spaces for dialogue, as participatory institutions, as elements of formal and informal education, as tourist products, as businesses, as means of satisfying needs for self-fulfilment and building cultural identity.

Regardless of which of the above perspectives we adopt, a museum is also an organisation subject to the same rules and principles as other organisations; the fact that it belongs to the cultural sector does not change this. What is obvious to any scientist who studies organisations and how they function in a social environment is no longer obvious to many who work in museums. They often believe that museums are outside this order, that they are special institutions and that their status is unquestionable. This has critical implications for the way museums function in their social environment, for their organisational culture, for the inclusivity and participation widely postulated around the world, but also for their organisational effectiveness and readiness for change. Meanwhile, the need for systemic changes in the management of public museums in Poland is becoming urgent. Many of them fall short of the expectations that contemporary cultural consumers have of these institutions. Pilot research conducted by the project manager (five interviews with directors of large museum institutions) allowed for a preliminary diagnosis of the internal problems of this type of institution. These include: casteism, working within organisational silos, lack of clearly defined goals, ambiguous attitudes towards the social environment, lack of preparation for project work, reluctance to change focus from objects to recipients.

The aim of this research project is to carry out a comprehensive diagnosis and critical analysis of the functioning of the museum system in Poland, to create a reliable catalogue of organisational burdens and dysfunctions, and to point out alternative ways of organisational development. In addition to the analysis of existing data and quantitative information (collected in the surveyed organisations and from available sources), the key component of the project will be no less than 20 extensive, multi-faceted, in-depth structured interviews conducted with directors and board members of various types of museums (different in terms of number of employees, location, natural harvest, etc.). The research group is composed of individuals representing interdisciplinary approaches to the management of organisations, focusing on different aspects of this process. This will allow the construction of a holistic research scenario, covering areas that often escape reflection on museums - e.g. cooperation with informal organisations or the possibility of introducing new forms of management into the classical structure - e.g. turquoise management or the introduction of agile teams in implemented projects.

Risks and challenges

The main threat to the project is obtaining reliable and complete data from respondents. There may be two types of distortions in data collection: firstly, board members may be reluctant to give a negative image of their institution; secondly, there may be a reluctance to give interviews due to possible repercussions from the organiser (the Polish system of organising public museums makes the directors of these institutions completely dependent on the organiser, even during the period of the contract). For this reason, complete anonymity will be introduced, making it impossible to identify the museum in terms of the organiser, the location or even the gender of the person giving the interview. In order to counteract the threat described above, the interviews will have a varied structure and will begin with a request to describe/expand on the given terms in the context of the operation of the institution they run (e.g. caste, conflict, star vs. worker).

It should also be emphasised that the creation of an in-depth interview scenario will be facilitated by the fact that the project manager is also a management practitioner in the field of public museums. This will allow for a more complete diagnosis of the research field and coverage of areas and issues that have been ignored by other researchers. The advantage of the researcher-practitioner lies in what can be called the "door behind a curtain" phenomenon. Where a theorist can only see a curtain, a practitioner can see a door hidden behind it.


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Products: article in a foreign journal; multi-author publication in Polish

Duration of the project: 18 months