Institutional Code of Ethics
Museums are required to have a formally approved, separate, and distinct institutional code of ethics. An institutional code of ethics expresses the institution’s policies, consistent with the public service it affirms in its mission statement. A code puts the interests of the public ahead of the interests of the institution or of any individual and encourages conduct that merits public confidence. A code of ethics acknowledges applicable laws and appropriate discipline-specific professional practices in order to help museums meet or exceed them.
An institutional code of ethics is important to ensure accountability. The effectiveness of a nonprofit institution is directly related to the public’s perception of its integrity. A formally stated institutional code of ethics is evidence of a critical internal process, as writing an institutional code of ethics requires an institution to discuss the issues it faces and determine what ethical principles are needed to guide its operations and protect its integrity.
A code of ethics also ensures informed decision-making. Developing and implementing an institutional code of ethics leads to informed oversight, creates internal agreement about which actions are consistent with the institution’s mission, and serves as a self-made reference point for institutional choices. A code of ethics also is a practical and effective tool in risk management, protecting a museum’s assets and its reputation.
An Institutional Code of Ethics is a Core Document and supports the Public Trust and Accountability Core Standards.
These are the minimum elements required to meet standards.
- Aligns with the Alliance’s Code of Ethics for Museums and any other code of ethics appropriate to the museum’s governance structure and discipline
- States that the general ethical principles apply to the governing authority, staff, and volunteers and addresses issues specific to each group
- Addresses both the institution’s basic ethical responsibilities as a public trust and the conduct of individuals associated with the institution
- Is a single document tailored to, and developed specifically for, the museum (i.e., is not just a copy of the Alliance’s Code of Ethics for Museums, a copy of a parent organization’s code, or a list of references to other documents)
- Bears date approved by the governing authority
If a collecting institution:
- Follows policies consistent with the established standards of the museum’s discipline
- Addresses collections-related ethical issues
- Includes a statement on the use of funds from deaccessioning, limiting use to new acquisitions and/or the direct care of collections (language must be identical to that in the Collections Management Policy)
- National Standards and Best Practices for U.S. Museums (free PDF copy for all museum members)
- Standards Regarding an Institutional Code of Ethics
- Other Codes of Ethics for the Museum Field
- Mastering Your Museum’s Core Documents Toolkit (available for purchase)
- Institutional Code of Ethics Activity Guide
- Required Elements of a Museum Code of Ethics (recorded webinar)