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PhD research, Institute for Sustainable Heritage, UCL

Curating organisational knowledge 


cultural heritage management

Take part in the research

A PhD research for cultural heritage organisations and sector support

UCL campus image
Canals and Rivers Trust Toolkit
Petrus Spronk, Architectural Fragment, sculpture, 1992 City of Melbourne Art and Heritage

Curating organisational knowledge in cultural heritage management: Solving a paradox.

Have you ever experienced the difficulties of finding the most relevant and up-to-date information when you must perform a cultural heritage operation such as reviewing your policies or governance documents, setting up digital ticketing or 3d virtual reality tours, applying for grants or managing a project, evaluating economic impact, developing self-generating income streams, plan people’s professional development, updating quinquennial reports or the collections’ online system? How stressful has it been, how long have you wasted looking?

It seems the problem now is an information overload, especially when the operational needs, visitor expectations, working patterns, financing, historic and wider environment, and technology all change at such a rapid rate.

The common problem of readily finding, accessing, and using information is often noted in reports:

The sector is missing a ‘simple implementation toolkit providing accessible guidance on tools and models that are suitable for heritage organisations, including collating resources that are already available for free’ (BOP Consulting, 2012, p. 16). ‘...wasted effort to recreate the same thing individually without collaboration’ (Golant Media Ventures 2018, p15).

The sector can be seen as fragmented, requiring multiple memberships to access knowledge which often is not searchable by a common set of operations. And as the information is fragmented, one cannot know which is more recent or valid. The problem becomes more difficult as cultural heritage organisations need knowledge to deliver double the operations compared to commercial businesses: to grow organisational sustainability as a business, and provide a participatory curating service.

Cultural heritage organisations are professionally curating (creating, collecting, storing, conserving, and communicating) not only heritage assets and cultural values, but also knowledge about cultural heritage. Paradoxically though, whilst cultural heritage organisations curate knowledge for the public, thousands of them do not have the organisational knowledge they require to manage their rapidly changeable and demanding operations.

And the problem does not apply to one type of organisation only; a whole range of organisations face similar difficulties, shown in the image below:


16 common operations categories (rectangles in the image below) are observed across the full spectrum of the above cultural heritage organisations. These are placed within the four common objectives (in the circles) as found in cultural heritage governance documents and annual reports.


(To read a summary description for each operation look at


This provides a starting point to study what knowledge is present for each of the 16 operations, how it is created or sourced, and whether it is up-to-date. And, what is provided by sector support organisations, what isn’t, how it is accessed, and whether it is used and beneficial.

The pilot study finds only 3% of present and updated knowledge across the 16 operations in cultural heritage organisations. This mere 3% however is associated with a 10.2% higher performance across the four objectives. If we could find a design to grow that 3% of knowledge in cultural heritage organisations, to say 30%, or 60%, the improvement in performance would be extraordinary. And the reduction of stress and wasted time would also be significant.

Such a design requires understanding of the complicated nature of cultural heritage work by staff and volunteers. It also requires trust across teams, organisations, and the sector. Knowledge exists in often overly elaborate or boring manuals in printed and digital formats (explicit knowledge), and within people with extensive experience (tacit knowledge). Using Nonaka’s knowledge model and Cooperrider’s Appreciative theory, the design aims to bring together explicit and tacit knowledge and to appreciate what we do well; to make recorded knowledge present and accessible so we can learn and grow, and we then enrich the recorded knowledge with our experience in a continuous cycle so we can grow more. This is after all what cultural heritage is all about.

We might also find synergy opportunities, for example libraries might have documentation management processes that theatres do not have, but theatres might have more developed ticketing systems. And both can be beneficial to museums, which can share conservation and interpretation knowledge, for example. The result would be a more efficacious, less expensive, and less stressful way to improve performance across the sector. Furthermore, recorded knowledge is ineffective without networking, communication, and mentoring.

The research objective therefore is to develop an organisational knowledge design for cultural heritage; a synergic design (curating organisations and sector support working together) and methodical application (across the sector’s common operations) of manuals, toolkits, and associated software, that empower individuals and teams, and improve organisational performance (delivery of cultural, social, economic, and environmental objectives).

To help better inform the design, cultural heritage organisations (including sector support and commercial provider organisations) are invited to contribute to the study by completing the online questionnaire on


It takes about 15 minutes and is open until Friday 26th July 2024.

Ari Volanakis, PhD researcher

Institute for Sustainable Heritage, UCL,, 07387842011

Full details:

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