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Career Tree - Curricula Guidelines - About the Guidelines - Development Process - Resources

The Development Process

In 1996, in response to fundamental changes in the nature and structure of museums worldwide, the International Committee for the Training of Museum Personnel of the International Council of Museums (ICTOP/ ICOM)* established a working party** to analyze the implications of the paradigm shift relative to the training and professional development needs of the field, and to recommend revisions to the "ICOM Basic Syllabus for Professional Museum Training." Additionally, the group was asked to identify instructional resource materials and model practices.

Published in 1971 and revised in 1979, the Basic Syllabus provided a guide to the desirable contents of university programs and similar professional training courses in museology or museum studies at the graduate course level. Further recommendations regarding professional development opportunities were appended to the document at the ICTOP Symposium in Bergen, Norway, in 1981.

The working party began by formulating a series of questions. In particular, the group sought to understand:
the way work in museums is currently organized and how is it expected to change in the future
the current issues facing museology training and professional development today
the museum training curricula resources that currently exist
the assumptions that should underlie the development of museum training for the next decade
the knowledge, skills and abilities that museum workers will need to be effective in the new environment and the best ways of acquiring them
the aspects of the 1979 syllabus that should be retained and the aspects that should be revised.(To view a copy of the syllabus, see

Technology enabled the working party to query the profession worldwide. Each member gathered information from his or her region and reported the findings to the group through electronic mail or fax. Key informant interviews and professional literature reviews were the primary sources of evidence. In addition to data collection by members of the working party, the entire ICOM membership was invited to contribute. Announcements of the initiative and requests for responses to the questions were posted on the ICTOP Web site, in professional journals, and on Museum-L. All ICOM international committees were contacted by letter or e-mail for their views on the questions.

For six months, reports from the working party and other respondents were posted on a dedicated electronic list serve as they were received enabling viewers to comment on an ongoing basis. From the deliberations and discussions, agreement emerged on several important points, among which are:

Museums are operating in a radically different external environment now than when the Syllabus was created in 1979
The new environment is forcing a rethinking of the kind of work museums do and of the way museum work is conducted. As a consequence, employment patterns and career paths are significantly altered
The amount and formats of training and the volume of materials available to the field has increased exponentially since the development of the Basic Syllabus
New educational perspectives have emerged in the intervening years since the development of the Basic Syllabus: No longer is professional training seen as a one-time event occurring at the beginning of a career. Similarly, educators no longer hold that a single document prescribing knowledge from a single point of view will serve the ongoing needs of today's workers and diverse societies

Given the findings, the working party concluded that museum staff today need new competencies to perform their tasks. Moreover, the disparity between current museum needs and the information presented in the Basic Syllabus was so great that simply revising the document again was not feasible. Major shifts in the content, format, and approach of the instructional tool were called for.

With that decision, the group embarked on a process of crafting a document that would serve a wide array of training and development needs. The transformation in approach—from a document that outlines a course of study for graduate level university training to one that offers an entry point for designing training and professional development opportunities responsive to identified needs throughout a career—is reflected by the change in the title from "syllabus" to "curricula." Although the words curricula and syllabus are often used interchangeably, the document differentiates them according to definitions in The Random House Dictionary of English Language: Curricula refers to an aggregate of courses of study. Syllabus is an outline or brief statement of the main points or subjects of a specific course.

In January 1998, a draft ICOM Curricula Guidelines for Museum Professional Development, including the Selected Resources for Developing Museology Curricula, was posted on the ICTOP/ICOM Web site for comment and critique by the field. Revisions and additions suggested by viewers were incorporated into the draft periodically during the course of a nine-month vetting period. In June 2000, the ICOM Curricula Guidelines for Museum Professional Training was formally adopted by the ICOM Executive Council.

* ICTOP is organized to encourage and promote relevant professional or technical education and training, to appropriate standards, for all people working in museums and related areas, including students. Since its inception in 1969, ICTOP has provided the museum community with assistance in human resource development and institutional capacity building. For further information about ICTOP, see:

** The working party, appointed by then-ICTOP chair, Martin Segger, was composed of Nancy Fuller (USA) chair, and committee members Emmanuel N. Arinze (Nigeria), Amar Galla (Australia), Lois Irvine (Canada), Ivo Maroevic (Croatia), Jan Rosvall (Sweden), Angelika Ruge (Germany), Theresa Scheiner (Brazil), and Stephen L. Williams (USA).

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Career Tree - Curricula Guidelines - About the Guidelines - Development Process - Resources

Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies

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          Updated 28 August 2009