Museum Definition

ICOM is currently calling on the knowledge and experience of all members for two important processes: the revision of the Code of Ethics and the drafting of a new Museum Definition.

Towards a new Museum Definition

The existing Museum Definition dates back to 2007 and reads:

'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.'

This definition is in need of revision. How do we define the museum of the future? No consensus was reached regarding the new museum definition presented at the General Conference in Kyoto in 2019. The decision was therefore postponed in order to switch to a more bottom-up method, with more influence for the National Committees and individual members.

More background information: factsheet museum definition

ICOM Define

Internationally, the Standing Committee ICOM Define leads the discussion. In December 2020, this working group presented a roadmap consisting of eleven steps. This roadmap has a provisional duration of 18 months and should eventually lead to a shortlist of two or three final proposals. These will then be put to the vote during the General Conference in Prague (22-28 August 2022).


All Committees can make their voices heard in the build-up to Prague 2022. ICOM Netherlands also involves its members by organising various meetings and providing practical advice to ICOM Define.

Spring 2022: five proposals to choose from

In the Spring of 2022 we called on you again to engage with us. This time to choose between the five definition proposals that have been drawn up, based on the input of the members worldwide. Here are the five definitions:

  1. A museum is an accessible, inclusive, not-for-profit institution. It inspires discovery, emotion, reflection, and critical thinking around tangible and intangible heritage. In the service of society, and in active partnership with diverse communities, museums research, collect, conserve, exhibit, educate and communicate. They operate professionally and ethically, promoting sustainability and equity.
  2. A museum is a permanent, not-for-profit institution, accessible to the public and of service to society. It collects, conserves, interprets and exhibits, tangible, intangible, cultural and natural heritage in a professional, ethical, and sustainable manner for research, education, reflection and enjoyment. It communicates in an inclusive, diversified, and participatory way with communities and the public.
  3. A museum is a not-for-profit, permanent institution in the service of society that researches, collects, conserves, exhibits, and communicates tangible and intangible heritage. Open to the public, it is accessible, inclusive, and fosters diversity and sustainability. The museum operates professionally, ethically and with the participation of communities, offering varied audience experiences for the purposes of education, enjoyment and the expansion of knowledge.
  4. A museum is an inclusive, not-for-profit institution, open to the public, which researches, collects, preserves, exhibits, and communicates tangible and intangible heritage, facilitating critical reflections on memory and identity. Museums are in the service of society, providing educational and knowledge sharing experiences. Driven by communities or shaped together with their audiences, museums can take a wide range of formats, fostering equal access, sustainability, and diversity. 
  5. A museum is an open and accessible not-for-profit institution that collects, researches, preserves, exhibits and communicates the tangible and intangible heritage of people and the environment for the benefit of society. Museums are committed to ethical and sustainable practices and are operated in an inclusive and professional manner to create enjoyable and educational experiences that foster curiosity and discovery.

And then? 

ICOM Define will work with the top ranked proposals which will be presented on 5-6 May at the preliminary Advisory Council meeting, after which we will reach a final selection to be submitted to the Executive Board. At the Extraordinary General Assambly, in Prague (22-28 Augus 2022), a final vote for the new ICOM museum definition will take place.

Want to know more about ICOM Define? 

Full roadmap

All information on the museum definition is accessible via ICOM Member Space, under the section ‘Take part in the New Definition of the Museum’. All materials from ICOM Define can be found here, plus those from International and National Committees.

ICOM Member Space


Already held:

  • Erfgoedarena ‘Game Changers’: 29. January 2020, 20:00 at the Reinwardt Academy
  • Work session and networking gathering for ICOM Netherlands members: 6. February 2020 at Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht
  • Open Zoom sessions on 23 and 25 March 2021
  • Open Zoom sessions on 27 and 31 August 2021
  • Open Zoom sessions on 22 and 30 March 2022


  • 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