Patterns of accountability: an organizational approach to community engagement in museums.

Nuala Morse


This paper considers the divergent and often contradictory registers of ‘community engagement’ in contemporary UK museum practice.  The paper draws on an organizational study of a large local authority museum service and focuses on how community engagement is constructed across a range of museum professionals who use it for different purposes and outcomes. I argue that different departments make sense of community engagement through four patterns of accountability, each with complimentary and divergent logics reflecting a wider range of museum functions, demands and pressures.  The tensions that arise are discussed. In the final part, the notion of ‘relational accountability’ (Moncrieffe 2011) is introduced to re-settle these divergent logics in order to argue for community engagement work that is grounded in a relational practice. The paper contributes to further theoretical and practical engagement with the work of participation in museums by bringing forward an organizational view to highlight the ways in which museum practice is mediated within organizational frames.


community engagement, accountability, participation, organizational studies, local authority museum

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Copyright (c) 2018 Nuala Morse

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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