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Call for Chapters; “Applying Systems Thinking in Museum Management and Operations: Theory and Practice.”

Published February 17, 2016

Dr. Ann Rowson Love, along with Dr. Yuha Jung (University of Kentucky) are issuing a call for chapters. See below for more information.

Call for Chapters

Applying Systems Thinking in Museum Management and Operations: Theory and Practice

Yuha Jung, PhD, (University of Kentucky) and Ann Rowson Love, PhD (Florida State University) (Editors)

Rowman & Littlefield

Systems thinking sees the world as interconnected to and interdependent with all parts. When applied to museums, systems thinking views them as open systems where the whole is bigger than its individuals and departments, and the museum necessarily influences and is influenced by its larger community. Therefore, when museums are run based on this theory, it encourages an organic and team-­based network model to operate and manage museums as well as the sharing of ideas internally and externally with communities rather than focusing on compartmentalized systems. This leads to more inclusive, responsive, and relevant practices in museums. We’re seeking chapters that demonstrate the application of systems thinking in all kinds museums.


Systems thinking is a perspective that sees the world as interconnected and interdependent (Ackoff et al. 2010; Capra 1996; Gharajedaghi 2011; Meadows 2008; Senge 2006). Therefore, the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts (Capra 1996). In the same vein, according to Bateson (2000), individuals, societies, and living organisms are understood as being situated in a context, constantly interacting with other parts of the world. This view can also be applied to human­created organizations, such as museums (Bateson 2000). When systems thinking is applied to organizations, we can see them as very complex open systems in that everything in the system affects everything else and everything is part of a larger environment (Senge 2006).

Therefore, each organization or museum has to be understood as a whole within its specific context and as an entity that keeps evolving based on internal and external changes. In addition, hierarchies of people and departments, which are often rigid structures of dominance and control (Capra 1996), can be replaced with networks where all involved parties are equally valued and their input and perspectives are reflected in major decision making processes.


Systems thinking has been used and popularized in business administration and organizational theories in public and nonprofit sectors (Ackoff et al. 2010; Daft 2013; Gharajedaghi 2011; Seddon 2008; Senge 2006). However, its application in the museum setting is somewhat limited. While there are discussions of systems thinking in the museum field (Fopp 1997; Jung 2011), these are rather theoretical and its applicability in real life settings is missing.

Successful chapters (2000­3000 words) will provide real life examples and best practices of museums that apply systems thinking to day­to­day operations. We are looking for chapters that cover any one or a combination of museum functions including leadership, financial management, personnel, development, communication, education, exhibitions, and community engagement. Possible topics may include:

● Museum leadership that empowers full staff participation in establishing and implementing the museum mission, vision, goals, and outcomes

● Sustainable fundraising strategies that establish new relationships, adopt innovative formats, and nurture generational giving

● The museum’s organizational structure shifted from linear or top­-down to organic and collaborative

● Financial management that is a mission driven, transparent process and that seeks broad input, including marginalized voices, in order to achieve long ­term solvency

● Internal communication that establishes a safe environment to share new ideas, resolve conflict, and promote reflection

● Interdepartmental teams that create cohesive exhibitions and programs aligned with the mission and values of the museum

● Community engagement that involves genuine and continuous relationship development throughout the museum

● Visitor and non­-visitor perspectives that inform decision ­making

● Commitment and active effort to diversify museum staff, board, and community partners

● Physical environments planning that includes both public and staff spaces adhering to ADA and Universal Design standards and that promotes participation and collaboration

● Theoretical foundations of systems thinking applied in museums

Please send a one­ page, single­ spaced abstract of your proposed chapter to both and by Friday, April 15, 2016. Successful authors will be notified by Friday, May 6, with completed manuscripts due by Friday, August 5, 2016.


Ackoff, Russell L., Herbert J. Addison, and Andrew Carey. Systems Thinking for Curious Managers: With 40 New  Management F­Laws. Devon, United Kingdom: Triarchy Press, 2010.

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Capra, Fritjof. The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems. New York: Anchor Books, 1996.

Daft, Richard L. Organization Theory & Design. Mason, OH: South­Western, 2013.

Fopp, Michael A. Managing Museums and Galleries. London: Routledge, 1997.

Gharajedaghi, Jamshid. Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity: A Platform for Designing Business Architecture. Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann, 2011.

Jung, Yuha. “The Art Museum Ecosystem: A New Alternative Model.” Museum Management and Curatorship 26, no. 4 (2011): 321­338.

Meadows, Donella H. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

Seddon, John. Systems Thinking in the Public Sector: The Failure of the Reform Regime and a Manifesto for a Better Way. Axminster, United Kingdom: Triarchy Press, 2008.

Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York, NY: Doubleday, 2006.