We have launched a new website and are reviewing this page. Find out more
Open daily 10.00 to 17.45 Admission free Menu


Nick Umney
Head of Organics Group, Conservation Department

This issue of the Journal emphasises the value of collaboration and reminds us that the continuing success of the Museum depends on the co-ordinated efforts of many specialists from both inside and outside.

Examples in this issue include collaboration with Imperial College, the Royal College of Art, ICOM, the Theatre Museum, Brighton Pavilion, the Ulster Museum, two arts bodies in Australia and a German showcase manufacturer. The aims and objectives of all this collaboration are various but include education, training, research and development, conservation and staff development. It should result in improved standards of care and conservation, and in improved job satisfaction.

Collaboration is about co-operation. There has to be something in it for everyone and all the parties involved have to be satisfied (and consulted) to ensure a successful outcome.

Besides the quite specific example: of positive outcomes seen in the examples in this issue, there are also some more general benefits. Group decisions taken after consultation have long been known to be better statistically than individual decisions made without such consultation. Collaboration not only helps to ensure that all factors are considered, but also that the top priorities come first; that the values which are the 'why' of achievement are sufficiently shared; and that a wide range of alternatives, possibilities and choices are considered before decisions are made. Some readers will recognize here the Edward de Bono thinking tools. Interestingly they reflect quite well some of the main points of the Department's checklist for ethical decision nmaking which were arrived at (by collaboration) quite independently. The checklist emphasises the process of successful decision making rather than striving for particular 'correct' answers.

Effective collaboration is assisted by specific, measurable, shared goals, proper structures, good information and the right mix of people.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve a shared goal without a plan widely and plainly communicated that sets out a vision of what is to be accomplished that can be agreed and shared by everyone who has to accomplish it. A notable achievement this year has been the production of a Conservation Department Plan that clearly sets out our aims, goals and objectives. The new structure of the Department has made it easier to involve everyone in the planning process via their Head of Group and Group meetings. The final Plan, itself a huge collaborative effort, thus reflects both upward and downward communications in structural terms.

Having set out what we wish to achieve, we are now trying to measure it to see how we are doing against our own criteria for success. We are hampered in our efforts by the difficulty of sharing information and appropriate information structures across the Department and across the Museum. 'Despite the recent condition surveys that have been completed in the V&A conservation Department there is still no common approach'. (Victoria Oakley, this issue)

A good documentation system will be maintained in an accurate, complete, concise and up-to-date condition to provide the right information to the right people in a timely fashion. The system will conform to museum-wide data standards and allow monitoring and control of terminology, and validation of items such as dates and codes at the point of entry of data into the system. Paper systems prohibit calculations and statistical analysis and inhibit the process of sharing that is essential to ensure the required flow of data within and between organisations. Today's information systems are therefore developed with automation in mind. Automated systems are much more flexible in use, the integrity of data is more easily ensured, the conflicting requirements of different users can be met and many different logical views of the data are allowed. At the same time only one physical record is maintained, thereby improving consistency and economy. Much conservation information has an inherently regular structure and is particularly suited to automated procedures.

The establishment of such a system is perhaps our most pressing need.