Towards Collective Intelligence at the Museum: New Governance and Innovations for the Future

by Ms. Micaela Mikhy Neveu

HeritageForAll Heritage Intern (Call 2018) from Paris, France

Fig. 1. Jérôme Bruyère.

The museum of tomorrow will be a “hybrid”, a cultural “third place”, where the visitor will become the actor, not only of his own visit, but also an essential collaborator, an experimenter or an active sponsor capable of interacting with all the professionals who constitute it. The “unipolar”, “unilateral”, “decision-maker” museum, structured in a pyramidal fashion, will give way to participative communities able to organize their own events, to choose the works they want to acquire and the artists they wish to represent in this new and open space that will be the museum under the influence of collective intelligence.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, because the complexity and specificities related to the issues of globalization has called for a profound change in managerial practices at the heart of museum institutions due to the diversification of its missions as well as the need for scientific and professional expertise. Secondly, because of the economic contexts that has separated the French State from its participation in funding public museums.

The current museum is going through an important crisis that begins with its state, its condition and its role in society: what is a museum today and what is it for when it is observed that the institution departs from its original principle? It should be recalled that the 2007 ICOM definition defines it as “a permanent non-profit institution serving society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, preserves, studies, exhibits and transmits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of study, education and enjoyment … “[1]. The notion of “development” remains general, but it is obvious that it passes through economic concepts, sometimes incompatible with societal interests such as the environment, research, education or the protection of cultural diversities. The museum, often seen as a “machine of thought”, “manufacturer of reality” or “soft-power”, imposes itself as a dominant universalist cultural form. In addition, the decline in public support has led to the need for multiple negotiations in conjunction with the search for systematic financing of “all types”. The triumph of “the merchant order” imposes an omnipresent international ambition dethroning the major role of the museum, incompatible with its essence.

Today, a museum director must put all the skills at his disposal in use in order to increase the attendance of the public to make a profit. Transformed into a place of entertainment, museums have become common companies – to the detriment of scientific knowledge, research and education – that use advertising language and negotiation in order to draw ever larger crowds. Can objective museums survive in a competitive landscape and how?

The Fall of an old model

Museums are witnessing a real upheaval, especially in the context of its events, such as its exhibitions. In the coming years, more than 9000 international type museums will be created in the world. What will be their standard model? The strong influence of philanthropists and patrons helped to change what was once the business of religious sponsors and princes. Modern protagonists are the wealthy private collectors who have helped put the museum institution at the heart of the art markets. Art represents a strategic form of financial investment that knows no borders in terms of exchanges and stock and real estate investments.

The museum must thus confront the cultural globalization and adopt a new managerial and commercial approach, better able to answer the multiple stakes that it generates. Also, the management of the museum must make the art attractive to its various publics, to retain them and to conquer new market shares unceasingly. Architectures and spectacular exhibitions, exploitation of forgotten collection funds, universalist will of the museum, museum and territory development, de-compartmentalization of the museum field, cultural patronage, broadening of social and cultural dimensions are all factors of action that contribute to standardize museum practices today in the framework of the management of the institution.

More than 80 million foreign tourists visit France each year, making it one of the most attractive destinations in the world. The challenges of the territory are therefore strategic keys to make heritage attractive to visitors taking into account that the museum must also participate actively to social transformation. Thus, the place of the museum must serve multiple uses and address the most diverse audiences in a context where economic development inevitably blends with the social and the cultural.

How to balance these commercial and managerial practices with a museum serving the ethical and the authentic? How to turn the unipolar museum into collective intelligence for the benefit and good of all? Collective intelligence is at the heart of the fields of management, information sciences and communication as well as psycho-sociology. Although still fuzzy, it is gradually being disseminated and practiced in large companies.

The strategy of the business museum

In France, since the 2000s, museums have undergone changes in the management of collections, which in turn follows profound changes in the identity of heritage. The main objective of the museums being mainly focused on the use of impact on the museographic projects which include brands and commercial spaces in contradiction with the choices of exhibitions. The decline in public funding forces museums to diversify their resources. The circulation of works of art, patronage, is now encouraged through the creation of endowments from businesses and individuals. This observation encourages the museum to find a form of balance between the traditional values ​​of the institution and the “financial order”. Museums have the profitability of their accounts as imperatives via operations of commercial activities. The major museums in France have turned into strong cultural landmarks that focus mainly on large temporary exhibitions and so called blockbuster exhibitions to attract a large audience.

The concept of “blockbuster” is a commercial concept originating from the world of the pharmaceutical industry to promote a new drug. It is also used in the film industry, when a movie is highly popular and financially successful.

Fig. 2. Queue interminable devant la pyramide du musée du Louvre Paris.

In the world of museums, the offer to the public must increase its attractiveness. Often, blockbusters construct legends around art or archaeology, or even participate in the construction of the sensational, in order to touch the emotion of the viewer, to the detriment of the scientific truths that should be the priority of museums according to their traditional definition. The museum uses the tools of marketing, advertising campaigns, public relations, refinement of the product, studies of prices and transforming the cultural event into a phenomenon of trade and merchandise[2]. Let’s remember the exhibition “The Inca and the Conquistador” at Quai Branly Museum in Paris in 2015, for example, or “Impressionism and Fashion” at the Museum d’Orsay in 2016. Attendance at this type of event exposure is increasing. The exhibition “Monet” in 2010 at the Grand Palais attracted 920,000 visitors in the first three days, while the same artist had attracted 500,000 people in the 1980s. The phenomenon is multiplying in all the major capitals in the world who boasts of attracting huge crowds, even though it’s against the well-being of its visitors, showing contempt of the latter: endless waiting in lines in front of the museum, discomfort of the visit, density of groups in front of the flagship works, poorly managed flows, etc.

Fig. 3. Queue devant le Quai Branly pour l’exposition « L’inca et le conquistador », Paris.

This is not without consequences, so the National Gallery had to limit its number of visitors for the exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci to 180 instead of 230 per hour so as not to repeat the same error made for the exhibition ” Gauguin “at the Tate Modern in 2010, where public reception had been totally neglected by an influx of unmaintained audiences[3].

Statistics show that museums, thanks to these commercial methods, do not seem to recognize the crisis; their numbers, their activities and their public continues to grow steadily. Attendance at the 1212 museums in France, labeled and controlled by the French State, was estimated at 55 million visitors in 2009, an increase of 24% in 5 years, plus the George Pompidou Center, the Cité des Sciences, and the 1,223,000 admissions to the exhibitions of the National Galleries of le Grand Palais according to the figures of the Ministry of Culture and Communication.

But when museums fail to acquire the same financial potential as the large foundations with which they compete, the Louvre Museum, for example, which has a budget of 1 to 2 million euros per exhibition, they operate with the loaning and exchanging of artworks between themselves. It is the richness of the collection that constitutes a major asset for this methodology. There is often talk of co-production between museums, as for the “Gauguin” exhibition that brought together the Orsay Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. The marketing that involves a spectacular promotion guarantees a successful operation, also aimed at attracting the big collectors of the art market. The museum is transformed into a large shopping mall where the collectors come to identify their “next purchase”[4].

In addition, the management of collections has a twofold objective, both scientific and managerial, which implies that the director of the museum can surround himself with professionals who are very competent at the scientific level (study, classify, preserve, maintain, enhance and promote the heritage), as well as in terms of managerial knowledge and communication. Because of this, the national museums in France are led today by managers, managers who are appointed to positions that used to be intended for conservation professionals. Their skills now rhyme with marketing, human resources, communication to develop business strategies, pricing and evaluation considerations.

Fig.4. Exposition Monet au Grand Palais à Paris en 2011,

But, the new “business model of museums” is mainly to bring the museum closer to its visitors and to cycle through as many exhibitions as possible, coupled with mission amplification strategies, outdoor locations, improved hospitality and museum marketing with the use of public and private partners. The museum receives a French and international public by promoting an intimate meeting with the exhibited works. The scenography of the exhibitions has played a very important role in the changes in the managerial practices of the museums, notably by introducing theatre directors and stage designers from the world of theatre and opera in order to create immersive and interactive spaces through the use of theatrical resources such as scenery, light, textures, sounds, texts and in general theatricality, essential to the emergence of bringing visitors closer to the works of art[5].

But remember that the museum’s missions go beyond the “business model” and must take the essential missions of conservation, dissemination, research and education into account while integrating the skills of team management, communication, administration and financial management. In new initiatives this methodology borrows, strangely, from the medical sector. The museum researcher, for example, has to turn into an active participant in his own investigation: review of press kits, comparison of data, participation at various scientific conferences and professional conferences organized by the museums. The museum institution must also take into account other activities such as flow management, communication, publishing, animation, mediation and resource hunting which leads to a mixture of styles; new professions requiring a balance between management and scientific values. The museum, as a managerial institution, has transformed because of the intense diversification of its missions whose action has repercussions on the cultural public service. New concepts are thus experienced, in particular with the priority given to the active participation of the visitor.

The concept of collective intelligence: depolarizing management

Fig. 5. Collective intelligence

The concept of “collective intelligence” is studied within the framework of the functioning of organizations. It emerges with the many difficulties encountered in the face of new problems and the limitations of the splitting of the factors of a situation. It is defined as a system or process that is more than the sum of the individual intelligence of the members of a team and the relationships between them[6]. In Management Sciences, definitions concerning collective intelligence have been the subject of much debate. Thus, collective intelligence does not have a single definition yet it can be defined in different ways. It is a system specific to limited collective work, a process that transforms and evolves through different stages; it is related to the work context; it is an indicator of the effectiveness of a work team. According to Olfa Zaïbet Greselle, collective intelligence is defined as “the capacities of understanding, reflecting, decision-making and action-taking of a restricted collective, resulting from the interaction between its members and implemented to face a given complex situation, present or future”.

Again, the concept of collective intelligence can be understood as what promotes the construction of intelligent collectives in a post-media context. According to this idea, collective intelligence is “an intelligence distributed everywhere, constantly valued, coordinated in real time, which leads to an effective mobilization of skills[7].” It includes six fundamental characteristics: “decentralization of knowledge and powers, autonomy of valued individuals as creators of meaning, expansion of intersubjective space freed from economic constraints, constant interactivity between individuals and their environment whose changes are perceived and controlled in real time, disappearance of molar / massive structures for the benefit of small autonomous entities and finally; the emergence of a new conviviality, civility and ethics”.

According to Pierre Lévy, collective intelligence is not the fusion of individual intelligences in a structure, but the valorization and mutual revival of singularities. Here, competence becomes a resource: “everyone knows something, but nobody knows everything”, “knowledge is imminent to human collectives”; “The value of a skill depends on the context”, “knowledge cards must be workforce-based”. Competence is a common language, it is also an instrument to fight exclusion because no “prerequisite is mandatory”, all types of skills are recognized including non-academic knowledge. Concretely, a group, a collective, a company or a museum is thus able to optimize its performance by resorting to management using collective intelligence. Management is less about “giving orders”, but “guiding employees” by relying on their creativity to solve a given problem.

An attempt at definition gives this: “Collective intelligence represents the intellectual capacity of a community of individuals that arises from the interactions between its members, making it possible to perform complex tasks thanks to the synergies achieved. Collective intelligence supposes, for the community, the sharing of information, the respect of common rules, many social relations, and a benefit to collaborate for each of the members “. It uses tools such as: internet, intranet, extranet, corporate social networks, old-fashioned software and bundled software for discussion or document writing.

Some examples for the world of culture

In the cultural context, initiatives already show the use of collective intelligence allowing the development of museums.

According to the results of the consultation “Imagine together the Museums of tomorrow”, which lasted nearly 6 weeks during which the public was invited to vote on the proposals made, explicitly by the “Museums of the 21st century” mission and present their proposals where the following elements are highlighted[8]:

  • “Multiply exhibitions and activities outside the walls.
  • Materialize the idea that the museum is a place for sharing culture, a common house.
  • Better identify the museum as a building space for citizenship.
  • Develop welcome and subscription -packages for everyone.
  • Open cultural data.
  • 3D reproduction of museum works in order to boost their circulation and facilitate their reuse.
  • To teach the history of art at school, to a higher degree and with better quality.
  • Free public museums”.

Another example is the Ateliers du Regard, founded by art historian Stéphane Coviaux in 2011. This format offers a collective approach to art. The art historian proposes another way to apprehend the works in an outline sketched at the Louvre museum where a small group of 4 people is led to analyze the paintings according to the meaning that everyone attributes to him, share his impressions and discuss the given objects. It is a transmission of experience in real time and not knowledge in a traditional way, which allows working on attention, empowerment and/or collective intelligence. Here, group dynamics are created, forming a bond, well-being and an authentic cohesive effect[9].

Thus, we have a system that proposes initiatives compatible with the transformation of the museum’s management, which consists of making the museum more alive and more collaborative:

  • Clear hierarchies and a unipolar museum.
  • Chat with a manager on social networks.
  • Employees could receive a bonus to encourage their human values.
  • Public servants, regardless of their role, can become their own leader.
  • Employees can set their own wages.
  • Employees, as well as visitors, can initiate new projects.
  • Organize “defeat parties” (a gathering with positive vibes after a defeat/loss) to encourage future work.
  • Sharing moods and opinions instead of pointing to work.
  • Active participation of visitors in events.
  • Choice of exhibited works or artists shown.
  • An “open-price” museum (where the visitor pays what they want/can for the visit).

It is about sharing creativity, thinking- and problem solving skills. The format allows a community type organization that is flexible in dealing with future situations. Thus, the hierarchical and inter-employee relationships must be reinvented to allow the emergence of dialogue, the exchange of ideas, listening without judgment of value or non-constructive criticism. The use of volunteering is part of the museum’s strategy with this museum spirit open to the city.

The future museum will irretrievably turn to the action of collectives using collective intelligence, a new paradigm of the report to the public thus influencing the mediation with the use of new technologies. The museum is more open to innovative actions through workshops, collaboration with cultural start-ups, mixing professionals and amateurs, making the museum a place of creativity for the construction of a living culture in sharing. A living museum moves in private homes, cafes, markets, within a company and becomes immaterial on the web where it no longer knows of borders. It implements interdisciplinarity, the dialogue between the works of art and it promotes the mobility of collections through a non-traditional communication. As the museum becomes a complex process with a variety of skills, leadership management and scientific expertise must coexist for innovative and fair governance. The teams of all sectors must be professionals, including administrative services and management, marketing, resource development and collaborating with different trades. These trends generally concern all the network of museums in France, however, they vary according to the context and the size of the institutions[10].

It is important to note that the major challenge of the current museum remains, above all, the visitor. However, the museum will have to value their audience above the price of a simple ticket, and regard as an essential singularity of the progress and the overall evolution of the museum towards a collective that is respectful of its public.

[1] Conseil international des musées, ICOM, Vienne, 2007.

[2] AUTISSIER D., BENSEBAA F., BOUDIER F., L’atlas du management : L’encyclopédie du management en 100 dossiers-clés, Paris, Eyrolles, 2012-13.

[3] « Succès universel de l’institution muséale et des grandes expositions blockbuster », Hermès, La Revue, 2011/3 (n° 61), p. 64-65. URL :

[4] « Comment fonctionne le business des grandes expos », Europe 1, octobre 2017, voir :

[5] Voir mon mémoire de Master 2 à Sorbonne Université : NEVEU Micaela, L’art sous influence ? La théâtralité à l’œuvre dans l’exposition muséale. Lumière sur les metteurs en scène et scénographes de théâtre et d’opéra de 1986 à 2015, sous la direction de Barthélémy Jobert.

[6] ZAÏBET GRESELLE, Olfa « Vers l’intelligence collective des équipes de travail : une étude de cas », Management & Avenir, 2007/4 (n° 14), p. 41-59. DOI : 10.3917/mav.014.0041. URL:

[7] LEVY Pierre, L’intelligence collective : pour une anthropologie du cyberspace, Paris, La Découverte, 1997, p. 29.

[8] PATTE Nicolas, « De l’art d’imaginer le musée de demains », Cap Collectif, 17 novembre 2016, voir le site :

[9] DUSSERT Margaux, « On a testé le team building au musée du Louvre (et on a déjà envie de recommencer) », L’ADN, septembre 2018, voir :

[10] BAUJARD Corinne, Musée et management : vers la mondialisation culturelle, vol. 6, Londres, ISTE Editions, 2018.


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