Museum Definition

During the ICOM General Conference in Prague (2022), the new international museum definition was adopted by the international museum community with an overwhelming majority (92%). ICOM Netherlands supports the definition; an important indicator of what a museum is and what it means to society.

The new definition reads:

“A museum is a not-for-profit, permanent institution in the service of society that researches, collects, conserves, interprets and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage. Open to the public, accessible and inclusive, museums foster diversity and sustainability. They operate and communicate ethically, professionally and with the participation of communities, offering varied experiences for education, enjoyment, reflection and knowledge sharing.”

After voting for the new Museumdefinition in Prague, 2022. Photo: ICOM

The previous definition, from 2007, was:

“A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”

The new definition does justice to the core tasks of a museum, but also provides space for the changing practice of museums worldwide. Caroline Breunesse, Chair of ICOM Netherlands: 

"It is a great step forward that the new definition has been adopted, as it now includes elements such as sustainability, inclusiveness and community cooperation in addition to the core tasks. This definition is widely supported by museum professionals worldwide."

Participation process 2019-2022

The new wording is the result of a careful participatory process in which all national committees had their say. In 12 steps, divided into four rounds, key words were collected and draft texts were assessed. This finally resulted in a single proposal.


The museum definition: what is it?

The museum definition provides a clear delineation of what museums are and what they are not. In the Netherlands, it is the basis for the Museum Register, a quality mark for museums. In addition, the museum definition provides guidance as to how museums view their own role. In many countries, the museum definition is also used as a basis for grant schemes and for government funding.

Next step: a Dutch translation

The next step for ICOM Netherlands is to work with the museums and over 6,500 members in an open process towards a Dutch translation of the English definition. The Museum Congress of the Dutch Museum Association on 6 and 7 October 2022 will be the kick-off for this.


  • In the spring of 2021, we asked you to think about which key terms and concepts we would like to see in the new definition. The same happened in other National Committees worldwide. Based on all the submissions, ICOM Define formulated this report (july 2021). 
  • Read the report and analysis of the working session on 6 Februari 2020.
  • ICOM Define Report (July 2021)

Contact working group museum definition ICOM Netherlands

Amanda Vollenweider