The Research Agenda 2008-2012 includes five research programmes focussing on collection-management. Their binding factor is ‘valuation’.
Development of methods and techniques to objectify the value and appreciation of cultural heritage.
Under 'valuation' in relation to heritage we mean making substantiated and verifiable statements about the value of an object or a collection, based on a question falling under an appropriate frame of reference and concerning certain stakeholders. Predetermined and predefined criteria are applied.
This explicit defining of an assigned value is necessary to steer preservation, development and utilisation and to enable a societal basis for heritage to emerge. After all, who determines the value of the collection now that the 'expert' no longer counts as the sole authority? How do you valuate an object or collection if there is no objective measurable value? How do you provide sufficient societal support for heritage at a time when the cultural sector is under pressure?
The Value and Valuation programme aimed to make the various players in the heritage field (owners, managers, policy makers and funders) aware of the importance of the intrinsic (non-financial) value and valuation of cultural heritage, and to develop methods and techniques to attribute value to objects and collections. As valuation benefits from a broad interdisciplinary approach, the emphasis lay on dialogue and collaboration with external partners. A new system was developed in close consultation with the museum world to facilitate the process of value attribution. This has resulted in the publication of On the museum scales: collection valuation in six steps.
This practical guide takes the user through the valuation process step-by-step and results in a description of object/collection significance, a valuation ranking or grouping, or an investment plan. With well-founded arguments it is possible to explain to others the value of an object or collection and the reasons for the value. This facilitates decision-making on interventions, making conflicting interests negotiable and making stories behind the collection accessible.
Research into the effectiveness of methods and means to make heritage and related knowledge accessible online.
New media forms a tempting alternative to traditional analogue guides for the public as staff and resources in museums are generally scarce. But do they function as well or better than gallery texts, guided or audio tours?
Are some applications more effective than others? Are there any applications that actually generate more visitors, and if so, which?
The Accessibility programme focused on the effectiveness of virtual resources to make heritage visible and to interest new types of public. Possibilities include apps, 3D and AR techniques, and also social media like Facebook and YouTube. But what to choose from the overwhelming number of new techniques?
The RCE carried out an inventory to provide collection managers with an understanding of the developments and possibilities of new media (and the institutions that can assist in developing applications). This also aimed to chart the applications most effective for specific objectives for both content and generating visitors. The projects on which these questions were tested were diverse in nature:
Enrichment of the object in its context on the basis of technical art history and research, for the benefit of its conservation and restoration.
Objects that have been handed down to us from the past can tell a story of their history of creation and how they have changed over time.
The Object in Context programme makes such stories accessible through research on the material object and its contextual clues (historical evidence). In addition, the program focuses on questions concerning the restoration and conservation of a range of objects, from classical antiquity to contemporary art, from paintings and textiles to metal and plastics.
Under Object in Context, analytical chemistry researchers and forensic specialists delve into cause and effect. Besides a keen eye for detail, they employ a research laboratory and technological methods that enable the visualization of evidence visible only at a molecular level. Although analytical research often forms the basis for research, collaboration with other disciplines, such as art and cultural history, is always sought as well.
A connecting link between the many projects under Object in Context is the extent to which ageing is regarded as acceptable. That limit of acceptance is subjective and cannot be considered purely from the material-technical perspective. Thus the theme of 'perception of the surface' is key in several projects. This involves coupling the scientific 'looking' through apparatus with subjective, human visual perception.
Download here the comprehensive introduction to the Object in Context program, including an introduction to the projects in PDF.
Quantitative research on composition, use and policies concerning museum collections.
In the museum sector, procedures and processes of collection management are analysed using figures and indicators to only a limited extent. As a result, decisions are often based on impressions or tradition.
Ad hoc quantitative analyses have been performed in recent years. Again and again it has proved difficult to generate reliable figures.
When comparing museums it was also revealed that the number of variables arising form an almost insurmountable barrier for benchmarking. The RCE therefore opted for a structural, long-term program with the focus on a statistical approach to research questions concerning collection management.
Under the Museometry programme, quantitative research is conducted on the composition, use and exploitation of museum collections. Trends and developments are distilled from the collected facts and figures on museum collections (museometry). The resulting figures and analyses are made available for the museum professionals and managers responsible for museum collections. In turn, they use this quantitative data for the formulation of various policies concerning these collections. In this way museometry contributes to evidence-based management (EBM) in the museum sector.
Projects under this program include:
A website that visualises loan movements between national and international museums using a map.
Insight into the nature and magnitude of the acquisition of modern and contemporary art by museums in the period 1999-2009.
Netherlands Museum Digital Collection: a platform for the digital access of museum collections.
During the Museum Congress museum professionals were surveyed on loan traffic (2010) and research (2011).
The inventory of specific quantitative data from museum annual reports as a source for museometry research.
Publication of the Index of Dutch visual artists, craftsmen and photographers, 1870-2009.
Outlining the interface between two fields of expertise of the RCE: monument conservation and museum support.
An online monitor with quantitative information on the activities of museums and their communities on Facebook and Twitter.
A user-friendly method for heritage managers to assess and manage risks themselves.
The Collection risk management (CRM) program is aimed at minimizing the loss of value at the interface between preservation and use. The existing CRM methodology has been tested in different situations, developed and simplified in order to bring it within reach of smaller institutions with limited time and resources.
To this end, new instruments were developed and information necessary to quantify the various risks was generated and made available in the convenient form of a digital manual. The program concluded with an international meeting on risk management.
Risk management examines all the threats to which collections are exposed and combines preventive conservation, security and facility management. This forms the next step in the professionalization of collection preservation and management. In applying this strategy, the risks for a collection are identified, analysed and evaluated. These risks can then be compared on the basis of the expected value loss over a given period (risk assessment) and ranged to set priorities for measures to reduce this loss of value. This aids the collection manager in making informed and substantiated choices in the deployment of the often limited resources available to collection management.
Under the CRM program, the methodology was tested in case studies, courses and workshops, then further developed and simplified so that smaller institutions with limited time, resources and knowledge can also gain insight into their own situation. To this end knowledge must be generated to qualify or quantify the various risks and ultimately made available in a usable form. This process was carried out in a number of projects under the program. Knowledge development and deployment of the indemnity scheme also fell under this program. The field of security risks and calamities was covered in collaboration with the Safe Heritage programme.
The before-mentioned knowledge and instruments are for the most part collated in the Digital Collection Risk Management Manual. This describes the methodology step-by-step, provides instruments for conducting a risk analysis and sets out the available information on the ten most important damage factors. In this way, the user is able to carry out a risk analysis with their team. The Manual helps in formulating the right questions for external experts.
Two projects under the program were intended to generate data to aid in assessing risk scenarios and to determine extent of risk. On the one hand quantitative information was collected for events that could lead to loss of value (damage factors of fire, theft and vandalism, mechanical forces and water), and on the other, degradation processes (damage factors of climate, light, mechanical forces vibration and air pollution/dust). In addition, a model was developed under the Cost Effectiveness project for determining the cost-effectiveness of conservation measures.
Finally the Metamorfoze project (National Programme for the Conservation of Paper Heritage) sought solutions for the preservation and treatment of original paper documents. The research focused on inherent deterioration such as ink corrosion, the usefulness (or uselessness) of air purification in depots and the development of a portable instrument for the on-the-spot determination of light sensitivity of objects.
The CRM programme concluded in 2012 with the meeting Reducing Risks to Heritage in collaboration with ICCROM and CCI.