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The Council of the National Museum of Australia (the accountable authority) is pleased to present the 2020–21 Corporate Plan. The plan covers the reporting periods 2020–21 to 2023–24, as required under paragraph 35 (1) (b) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth).

The Corporate Plan is the primary planning document for the Museum and outlines the activities the Museum will undertake over the course of the financial year and forward estimates period to achieve its purposes. The Museum delayed publication of its 2020–21 Corporate Plan due to the complexities of determining the ongoing social and economic impact of COVID-19 on its operations, and the need to develop accurate performance measures which reflect the environment in which the Museum is expected to operate in future financial years.

As the Museum approaches the 20th anniversary of its public opening, it is timely to reflect on how far we have come. The Museum is committed to continuing to serve its audiences and its stakeholders by sharing important Australian stories across the country and around the world.

We look forward to presenting performance results for the year in the annual performance statements contained in the 2020–21 Annual Report.

Mr David Jones
Chair of Council
December 2020

Our purpose

The National Museum of Australia was established to develop and maintain the National Historical Collection for the benefit of the nation, and to bring to life the rich and diverse stories of Australia. Central to our role as a national institution is our focus on meaningful engagement with all Australians in the telling of their stories, and our commitment to the history and cultures of the First Australians. We achieve this by caring for and strengthening the collection, and by sharing the stories of Australia’s people and places, and its social and natural environment, with national and international audiences.

Our functions are set out in the Museum’s enabling legislation, the National Museum of Australia Act 1980.

Strategic commitments


We will invest our energy, resources and experience into shaping our presence in the life of the nation.


We will challenge ourselves and our audiences to see the world through different lenses.


We will strengthen connections with our audiences, partners and supporters.


We will explore our place in the world.

Five key streams

  • collections for the 21st century
  • program directions
  • digital futures
  • growing our business
  • brand recognition

Our operating environment

    This financial year is seeing immense change as we navigate the ongoing impacts of COVID-19. The health, social and economic effects of the pandemic are yet to be fully understood, with many uncertainties still ahead. Communities across the country are being affected in different ways.

    We see ourselves as having an important role in supporting and connecting Australians during these challenging times.

    The Museum is cognisant of the changing environment that COVID-19 brings and the need to plan for emerging risks and opportunities, and enable our staff to be responsive to changing priorities in a flexible and dynamic way. This is particularly important given the economic headwind the Museum faces and the need to deliver services in a financially sustainable way.

    Our operating environment has changed significantly due to COVID-19. The experience of closing our doors to the public for the first time ever, from late March to early June 2020, created an opportunity for the Museum to rethink the way we deliver on our mission and our responsibilities to all Australians. The Museum rapidly overhauled the way its public offerings were delivered, to provide quality digital programming and material at a time when visitors were unable to travel to Canberra.

    These learnings have informed our approach in 2020–21, as the impacts of COVID-19 continue to be felt. Our operating environment is being substantially affected in the following key areas:

    Visitation and revenue

    COVID-19 is having a major impact on the museum sector and arts community. Like other national collecting institutions, we have seen a downturn in onsite corporate functions and general visitation (including school excursions) as a result of restrictions on travel and large gatherings. General visitation is expected to be significantly lower in 2020–21 as a result of state and international border controls and travel restrictions.

    The Museum is closely assessing the impact of COVID-19 on visitors to museums and galleries and how their needs and behaviours may alter in both the short and long term. While early sector research shows optimism for the future, we expect that it will be some time before a return to ‘business as usual’, especially for onsite visitation.

    Strong onsite visitation is a key component of our ability to generate revenue through commercial activities, including paid public programs and tours, entry to special exhibitions, events and purchases from the Cafe and Shop. The overall effect of reduced visitation has been a reduction of 50% in the forecast revenue that the Museum would normally receive from these activities in 2020–21. While own-source revenue will continue to be sought through donations, sponsorships and grants, there remains uncertainty about how the philanthropic sector will respond in the current economic climate.

    Touring program

    Temporary closures of host venues in Australia and overseas required substantial rescheduling. The recommencement of the touring program has been achieved with some key differences, the most notable being new installation processes to allow for host venues to install exhibitions under the virtual supervision of Museum staff where travel restrictions have prevented Museum staff from attending in person.


    COVID-19 forced us to quickly consider how we could continue to deliver outcomes in a flexible, remote or hybrid work setting. We accept the workplace environment requires a modified and fluid approach that embeds risk, flexibility and innovation. This requires investment in technological capability as well as ongoing cultural change and capability development to balance the delivery of virtual and physical programs concurrently. Working arrangements for staff throughout 2020–21 will be regularly reviewed, informed by staff consultation and monitored in line with guidance from the Australian Public Service Commission.

    COVID-19 has demonstrated the need to be adaptable to rapidly changing environments and restrictions that may come into effect. As part of its response to COVID-19, the Museum has developed a program that enables us to deliver programs both onsite and digitally, allowing audiences to connect with us wherever they are.

    Our move to making programs available online early in the pandemic was critical to our success in engaging our audience. A digital outreach initiative brought together key staff from across the organisation to deliver new projects including a Facebook group, Bridging the Distance — Sharing our COVID-19 Pandemic Experiences, which gave Australians an opportunity to connect with others during times of heightened anxiety and uncertainty.

    Having established strong foundations for digital delivery, the Museum will continue to invest and operate in the digital sphere, directing resources to provide as many online programs as possible while balancing onsite offerings. An activity that will build on this work is Australia’s Defining Moments Digital Classroom, an innovative digital initiative created in partnership with Gandel Philanthropy that will take Australian history into classrooms across the country. Offering rich resources for teachers and students of Australian history, geography, and civics and citizenship, this initiative brings history alive through interactive online games, quizzes, animations and videos.

    The Museum is also seeking to launch a new website in 2021 that will collect stories from Australians documenting their experiences of recent bushfires and the pandemic. For all new programs and activities, consideration of how they can be delivered remotely or online will be a key factor in the planning process.

Priorities and performance

In light of the difficult year experienced by the nation in 2019–20, and considering the ongoing operating environment including risks related to COVID-19, the Museum is actively pursuing new ways to fulfil our mission. Over the next four years we will endeavour to:

Priority 1

Maximise opportunities for new forms of engagement, in particular digital engagement, responding to changing audience behaviours and embracing technological change across all aspects of our business.

Priority 2

Provide Australians with a greater understanding of our shared history by collecting and sharing the unique and remarkable stories of the current time, particularly those that demonstrate the ways in which Australians respond and adapt to crises and profound change.

Priority 3

Develop and digitise the National Historical Collection for all Australians to access, explore and treasure, and maintain the collection in appropriate environmental conditions.

Priority 4

Increase brand recognition, with the Museum seen to be at the forefront of cultural life in the country and recognised as a world-class institution renowned for telling the remarkable story of our nation.


Workforce planning

Workforce planning is embedded into all aspects of our business planning, enabling us to develop workforce capabilities and capacity to deliver strategies, priorities and key outcomes. To this end, the Museum has developed strategic workforce planning priorities for the period 2019–24 that support business operations. We will align capability development with broader APS guidelines in support of building a workforce that is professional, mobile, and responsive to the needs of the Australian community. To achieve the Museum’s strategic priorities, the following capabilities are required:

  • leadership — to set a new benchmark of excellence
  • collaboration — to deliver a shared vision
  • innovation — to be bold, decisive and embrace challenges and opportunities
  • agility — to embrace the APS values of commitment, accountability, ethical behaviour and impartiality.

With the recent digital transformation at the forefront of our experience, the Museum, along with all APS agencies, is focused on building digital leadership, people management and data capabilities. Understanding the external environment, staff demographics and culture, and designing workforce strategies that support an inclusive working environment will contribute to us being an Employer of Choice.

The Museum will also align capability development in ICT, digital and other disciplines with the broader APS Workforce Strategy and related plans that are currently in development. This includes a Learning and Development Strategy, Mental Health Capability framework and linking into the rollout of professional streams (HR, Digital and Data).

ICT capability

The rapid move to enable staff to work from home provided the opportunity for the Museum to refocus its delivery model. This included establishing ICT systems that enabled the Museum to continue to deliver services to the public effectively and efficiently, while ensuring a safe cyber environment and allowing Museum staff to be as productive as possible.

In 2020–21 we are looking to better support hybrid working arrangements by improving security and operability within the existing infrastructure for staff working remotely. This will include changes to better manage how staff use personal devices to access Museum information and systems, and provide improved access to information both on and offsite while maintaining security and information management integrity.

There has been an increase in cyber threat activity over the last decade as government and business embrace new technologies, digital service delivery and engagement. Worldwide, the cyber security community has reported a steady increase in the number and range of cyber threats, requiring ongoing investment in resources, defence tools, and user education to mitigate risks.

With the onset of COVID-19, the cyber threat environment saw further increases in attacks designed to compromise people and systems exposed through remote work. The Museum has implemented and continues to monitor the key security controls (Essential 8) and regularly reviews the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s Strategies to Mitigate Cyber Security Incidents to identify additional controls that can be implemented in the Museum environment, within our resource capacity.

In 2020–21, the Museum will focus on building resilience in our systems and exploring how to best support hybrid working arrangements, in order to ensure that the core technologies underpinning the Museum’s activities continue to meet our needs now and into the future.

Risk oversight and management

In addition to the broader challenges affecting the Museum and cultural sector, we identify and manage risks at strategic and operational levels.

The Museum has an established risk management framework, comprising:

  • a risk management policy, which outlines the agency’s overall approach and direction in relation to risk management
  • a risk appetite statement, which specifies the amount of risk we are willing to seek or accept in the pursuit of our purposes
  • a risk assessment methodology, which provides guidance to staff on how to conduct risk assessments
  • a risk committee drawn from key areas of the Museum which contributes to policy development
  • strategic and operational risk registers.

Risk plans are developed at business unit level, focusing on both program-wide and project-specific risks. Strategic and operational risks are reported to our Executive regularly. All strategic and operational risks outside of risk appetite are reported to the Audit, Finance and Risk Committee and Council at each quarterly meeting.

The main areas of risk and specific risks relating to our forward program of activities identified in the risk registers, include:

Financial risk

This risk relates to potential adverse impacts of financial policies and an economic downturn, as well as our ability to perform our functions within existing financial constraints. COVID-19 has exacerbated this risk, triggering an economic downturn and directly affecting our own-source revenue. These two factors have a compounding and significant downward effect on available financial resources and pose increased risk to ongoing sustainability. We have undertaken strategic outlook and scenario planning on how to deliver functions, activities, programs and events. From the review, program output and the workforce have been rationalised to align with reduced funding.

Health and safety

The Museum is ensuring its compliance with changes to health advice and travel restrictions as we return to more normal operations. Our focus remains on ensuring the safety of visitors and staff with increased cleaning and hygiene procedures, in line with government recommendations and best practice.

Reputational risk

The Museum is cognisant of the risks a reduced program of activity has on its reputation and brand awareness. We continue to engage with stakeholders to demonstrate the value and importance of history and are increasing our efforts to tell the Australian story online and through our social media presence.

Loss of, or damage to the National Historical Collection

The current sub-optimal storage facilities which house the National Historical Collection (NHC) remain a high risk, despite having been identified as inadequate by the Australian National Audit Office in 2005, the Joint Standing Committee inquiry into Canberra’s national institutions in 2019, and elsewhere. The risk is unable to be mitigated without investment in a purpose-built, publicly accessible storage facility that meets international museum standards and allows us to fulfil our legislated mandate to care for the NHC in perpetuity. We will continue to work towards the construction of such a facility, which may also be a combined facility shared with other major national collecting institutions.

Our touring program also brings some risk to the collection. Objects from the collection are travelling long distances and across different climactic conditions, with an increased risk of loss or damage. There are also risks associated with objects being handled by non-Museum staff, where our staff are unable to install exhibitions due to travel restrictions. This risk will be mitigated by ensuring Museum staff in Canberra remotely supervise installations.


The Museum has always sought to establish collaborative foundations with like-minded organisations, whether they be state-based or international museums and galleries, Australian Government agencies, research bodies, Indigenous organisations, private sector bodies, think tanks or not-for-profit organisations.

By coming together for a common purpose and working actively as partners on identified projects, the Museum can maximize value and enhance the benefit to the public. Cooperative ventures can also develop staff capabilities and extend institutional capacity to increase activity levels at a time of resource constraint. Overall, these cooperative programs and activities serve to enhance the broader cultural life of the nation.

There are several examples of collaborative partnerships that are vital to us delivering fully on our mission and purpose. These include:

Intra-governmental cooperation

The Museum cooperates with a range of government organisations at the federal, state/territory and international level. The overall ambition of improving collaboration in the cultural sector to protect cultural heritage is reflected in the Director’s role as co-Chair of the Singapore/Australia Arts Group and Chair of the Government’s Holden Collection Advisory Committee.

Cooperation with other cultural bodies

Our focus on collaboration within the cultural sector has led to signing long-term MOUs with several state-based museums and galleries, such as the Western Australian Museum and South Australian Museum, and international museums in the UK, Italy and China. The Director also leads engagement across the sector through his work as Chair of the International Council of Museums Australia and membership of the Australian Academy of Humanities’ A New Approach Reference Group. Relationships have also been forged to support the cultural sector during COVID-19, an example being a proposed collaborative digital project with Arts Centre Melbourne.

Cooperation with research bodies

As part of our commitment to research historical collections relating to Australian history, we have entered into research collaborations with the Australian National University and the Australian Research Council (ARC). We participate in several collaborative ARC projects with a range of organisations including universities, Indigenous communities and other cultural institutions.

Travelling exhibition program

We could not deliver our touring exhibition program without host venues as partners. We work collaboratively with them to bring our programs to regional and international audiences. Our touring exhibitions are often developed in conjunction with Indigenous communities, arts organisations or other museums. By sharing our expertise, knowledge and collections and pooling our funds, exhibitions have been developed that are often beyond the resourcing capacity of individual organisations.

Cultural and Corporate Shared Services Centre (CCSSC)

The Museum delivers payroll, IT, finance and records services to small corporate and non- corporate Commonwealth agencies. Originally conceived as a partnership rather than service delivery model, the CCSSC’s Governance Board has representatives from agencies receiving CCSSC services, with partners being closely involved in decision-making and oversight.

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