Social history museums examine the past, help people understand the present and envision the future. They play an important role in the transmission of historical knowledge. They sometimes celebrate common events or explore tragedies and injustices. They need to ensure that they are balanced and representative of diverse voices. Museums are visited, and their products are used, by people of all ages, interests and backgrounds, often in family groups. They are major contributors to informal and family learning and are a vital part of what is now seen as a process of lifelong learning.
The aim of the Museum's exhibitions and programs is to help create awareness of Australia's rich history, stimulate thought and encourage informed discussion about the broader issues of historical significance. It is important that they employ the best educational and communication techniques and reflect the highest standards of historical accuracy and scholarship. At the same time, visitors come to the Museum to enjoy themselves, and its exhibitions and programs need to cater for different learning styles and visitor needs.
It is impossible to display every aspect of any history in permanent exhibitions which, out of necessity, must concentrate on key themes. Over time, other aspects of that history can be represented in temporary exhibitions or in other ways through public programs and through the targeted use of new technologies. The Museum's public programs are designed for people of all ages and interests, using talks, seminars, workshops, debates, concerts, theatrical performances, live radio and television programs, narrowcasting, websites and interactive online activities. Programs also make use of film, curriculum materials and publications in a variety of forms. It is through these mediums that the Museum provides different access opportunities and ways of addressing topics in a balanced way.