UNESCO.ORGThe OrganizationEducationNatural SciencesSocial & Human SciencesCultureCommunication & InformationSitemap
UNESCO - Legal Instruments
Home HOME Print Print Send Send

Recommendation concerning the protection and promotion of museums and collections, their diversity and their role in society

17 November 2015


The General Conference,

Considering that museums share some of the fundamental missions of the Organization, as stipulated in its Constitution, including its contribution to the wide diffusion of culture, and the education of humanity for justice, liberty and peace, the foundation of the intellectual and moral solidarity of humanity, full and equal opportunities for education for all, in the unrestricted pursuit of objective truth, and in the free exchange of ideas and knowledge,

Also considering that one of the functions of the Organization, as laid out in its Constitution, is to give fresh impulse to popular education and to the spread of culture: by collaborating with Members, at their request, in the development of educational activities; by instituting collaboration among countries to advance the ideal of equality of educational opportunity without regard to race, gender or any distinctions, economic or social; and to maintain, increase and diffuse knowledge,

Recognizing the importance of culture in its diverse forms in time and space, the benefit that peoples and societies draw from this diversity, and the need to strategically incorporate culture, in its diversity, into national and international development policies, in the interest of communities, peoples and countries,

Affirming that the preservation, study and transmission of cultural and natural, tangible and intangible heritage, in its movable and immovable conditions, are of great importance for all societies, for intercultural dialogue among peoples, for social cohesion, and for sustainable development,

Reaffirming that museums can effectively contribute towards accomplishing these tasks, as stated in the 1960 Recommendation concerning the Most Effective Means of Rendering Museums Accessible to Everyone, which was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO at its 11th session (Paris, 14 December 1960),

Further affirming that museums and collections contribute to the enhancement of human rights, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular its Article 27, and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in particular its Articles 13 and 15,

Considering museums’ intrinsic value as custodians of heritage, and that they also play an ever-increasing role in stimulating creativity, providing opportunities for creative and cultural industries, and for enjoyment, thus contributing to the material and spiritual well-being of citizens across the world,

Considering that it is the responsibility of every Member State to protect the cultural and natural heritage, tangible and intangible, movable and immovable, in the territory under its jurisdiction in all circumstances and to support the actions of museums and the role of collections to that end,

Noting that a body of international standard-setting instruments – adopted at UNESCO and elsewhere – including conventions, recommendations and declarations, exists on the subject of the role of museums and collections, all of which remain valid*,

Taking into account the magnitude of socio-economic and political changes that have affected the role and diversity of museums since the adoption of the 1960 Recommendation concerning the Most Effective Means of Rendering Museums Accessible to Everyone,

Desiring to reinforce the protection provided by the existing standards and principles referring to the role of museums and collections in favour of cultural and natural heritage, in its tangible and intangible forms, and to related roles and responsibilities,

Having considered proposals on the Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections, their Diversity and their Role in Society,

Recalling that a UNESCO recommendation is a non-binding instrument that provides principles and policy guidelines addressing different stakeholders,

Adopts this Recommendation on the seventeenth day of November 2015.
The General Conference recommends that Member States apply the following provisions by taking whatever legislative or other measures may be required to implement, within the respective territories under their jurisdiction, the principles and norms set forth in this Recommendation.


1. The protection and promotion of cultural and natural diversity are major challenges of the twenty-first century. In this respect, museums and collections constitute primary means by which tangible and intangible testimonies of nature and human cultures are safeguarded.

2. Museums as spaces for cultural transmission, intercultural dialogue, learning, discussion and training, also play an important role in education (formal, informal, and lifelong learning), social cohesion and sustainable development. Museums have great potential to raise public awareness of the value of cultural and natural heritage and of the responsibility of all citizens to contribute to their care and transmission. Museums also support economic development, notably through cultural and creative industries and tourism.

3. This Recommendation draws the attention of Member States to the importance of the protection and promotion of museums and collections, so that they are partners in sustainable development through the preservation and protection of heritage, the protection and promotion of cultural diversity, the transmission of scientific knowledge, the development of educational policy, lifelong learning and social cohesion, and the development of the creative industries and the tourism economy.


4. In this Recommendation, the term museum is defined as 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 purpose of education, study and enjoyment”** . As such, museums are institutions that seek to represent the natural and cultural diversity of humanity, playing an essential role in the protection, preservation and transmission of heritage.

5. In the present Recommendation, the term collection is defined as “an assemblage of natural and cultural properties, tangible and intangible, past and present”*** . Every Member State should define the scope of what it understands by collection in terms of its own legal framework, for the purpose of this Recommendation.

6. In the present Recommendation, the term heritage is defined**** as a set of tangible and intangible values, and expressions that people select and identify, independently of ownership, as a reflection and expression of their identities, beliefs, knowledge and traditions, and living environments, deserving of protection and enhancement by contemporary generations and transmission to future generations. The term heritage also refers to the definitions of cultural and natural heritage, tangible and intangible, cultural property and cultural objects as included in the UNESCO culture conventions.



7. The preservation of heritage comprises activities related to acquisition, collection management, including risk analysis and the development of preparedness capacities and emergency plans, in addition to security, preventive and remedial conservation, and the restoration of museum objects, ensuring the integrity of the collections when used and stored.

8. A key component of collection management in museums is the creation and maintenance of a professional inventory and regular control of collections. An inventory is an essential tool for protecting museums, preventing and fighting illicit trafficking, and helping museums fulfil their role in society. It also facilitates the sound management of collections mobility.


9. Research, including the study of collections, is another primary function of museums. Research can be carried out by museums in collaboration with others. It is only through the knowledge obtained from such research that the full potential of museums can be realized and offered to the public. Research is of utmost importance for museums to provide opportunities to reflect on history in a contemporary context, as well as for the interpretation, representation and presentation of collections.


10. Communication is another primary function of museums. Member States should encourage museums to actively interpret and disseminate knowledge on collections, monuments and sites within their specific areas of expertise and to organize exhibitions, as appropriate. Furthermore, museums should be encouraged to use all means of communication to play an active part in society by, for example, organizing public events, taking part in relevant cultural activities and other interactions with the public in both physical and digital forms.

11. Communication policies should take into account integration, access and social inclusion, and should be conducted in collaboration with the public, including groups that do not normally visit museums. Museum actions should also be strengthened by the actions of the public and communities in their favour.


12. Education is another primary function of museums. Museums engage in formal and non-formal education and lifelong learning, through the development and transmission of knowledge, educational and pedagogical programmes, in partnership with other educational institutions, notably schools. Educational programmes in museums primarily contribute to educating various audiences about the subject matters of their collections and about civic life, as well as helping to raise greater awareness of the importance of preserving heritage, and fostering creativity. Museums can also provide knowledge and experiences that contribute to the understanding of related societal topics.



13. Globalization has permitted greater mobility of collections, professionals, visitors and ideas which has impacted museums with both positive and negative effects that are reflected in increased accessibility and homogenization. Member States should promote the safeguarding of the diversity and identity that characterize museums and collections without diminishing the museums’ role in the globalized world.

Museum relations with the economy and quality of life

14. Member States should recognize that museums can be economic actors in society and contribute to income-generating activities. Moreover, they participate in the tourism economy and with productive projects contributing to the quality of life of the communities and regions in which they are located. More generally, they can also enhance the social inclusion of vulnerable populations.

15. In order to diversify their sources of revenue and increase self-sustainability, many museums have, by choice or necessity, increased their income-generating activities. Member States should not accord a high priority to revenue generation to the detriment of the primary functions of museums. Member States should recognize that those primary functions, while of utmost importance for society, cannot be expressed in purely financial terms.

Social role

16. Member States are encouraged to support the social role of museums that was highlighted by the 1972 Declaration of Santiago de Chile. Museums are increasingly viewed in all countries as playing a key role in society and as a factor in social integration and cohesion. In this sense, they can help communities to face profound changes in society, including those leading to a rise in inequality and the breakdown of social ties.

17. Museums are vital public spaces that should address all of society and can therefore play an important role in the development of social ties and cohesion, building citizenship, and reflecting on collective identities. Museums should be places that are open to all and committed to physical and cultural access to all, including disadvantaged groups. They can constitute spaces for reflection and debate on historical, social, cultural and scientific issues. Museums should also foster respect for human rights and gender equality. Member States should encourage museums to fulfil all of these roles.

18. In instances where the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples is represented in museum collections, Member States should take appropriate measures to encourage and facilitate dialogue and the building of constructive relationships between those museums and indigenous peoples concerning the management of those collections, and, where appropriate, return or restitution in accordance with applicable laws and policies.

Museums and information and communication technologies (ICTs)

19. The changes brought about by the rise of information and communication technologies (ICTs) offer opportunities for museums in terms of the preservation, study, creation and transmission of heritage and related knowledge. Member States should support museums to share and disseminate knowledge and ensure that museums have the means to have access to these technologies when they are judged necessary to improve their primary functions.


General policies

20. Existing international instruments relating to cultural and natural heritage recognize the importance and social role of museums in their protection and promotion, and in the overall accessibility of this heritage to the public. In this regard, Member States should take appropriate measures so that museums and collections in the territories under their jurisdiction or control benefit from the protective and promotional measures granted by these instruments. Member States should also take appropriate measures to strengthen museum capacities for their protection in all circumstances.

21. Member States should ensure that museums implement principles of applicable international instruments. Museums are committed to observe the principles of international instruments for the protection and promotion of cultural and natural heritage, both tangible and intangible. They also should adhere to the principles of the international instruments for the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property and should coordinate their efforts in this matter. Museums must also take into account the ethical and professional standards established by the professional museum community. Member States should ensure that the role of museums in society is exercised in accordance with legal and professional standards in the territories under their jurisdiction.

22. Member States should adopt policies and take appropriate measures to ensure the protection and promotion of museums located in the territories under their jurisdiction or control, by supporting and developing those institutions in accordance with their primary functions, and in this regard develop the necessary human, physical and financial resources needed for them to function properly.

23. The diversity of museums and the heritage of which they are custodians constitutes their greatest value. Member States are requested to protect and promote this diversity, while encouraging museums to draw on high-quality criteria defined and promoted by national and international museum communities.

Functional policies

24. Member States are invited to support active preservation, research, education and communication policies, adapted to local social and cultural contexts, to allow museums to protect and pass down heritage to future generations. In this perspective, collaborative and participative efforts between museums, communities, civil society and the public should be strongly encouraged.

25. Member States should take appropriate measures to ensure that the compilation of inventories based on international standards is a priority in the museums established in the territory under their jurisdiction. The digitization of museum collections is highly important in this regard, but should not be considered as a replacement for the conservation of collections.

26. Good practices for the functioning, protection and promotion of museums and their diversity and role in society have been recognized by national and international museum networks. These good practices are continually updated to reflect innovations in the field. In this respect, the Code of Ethics for Museums adopted by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) constitutes the most widely shared reference. Member States are encouraged to promote the adoption and dissemination of these and other codes of ethics and good practices and to use them to inform the development of standards, museum policies and national legislation.

27. Member States should take appropriate measures to facilitate the employment of qualified personnel by museums in the territories under their jurisdiction with the required expertise. Adequate opportunities for the continuing education and professional development of all museum personnel should be arranged to maintain an effective workforce.

28. The effective functioning of museums is directly influenced by public and private funding and appropriate partnerships. Member States should strive to ensure a clear vision, adequate planning and funding for museums, and a harmonious balance among the different funding mechanisms to enable them to carry out their mission to the benefit of society with full respect for their primary functions.

29. The functions of museums are also influenced by new technologies and their growing role in everyday life. These technologies have great potential for promoting museums throughout the world, but they also constitute potential barriers for people and museums that do not have access to them or the knowledge and skills to use them effectively. Member States should strive to provide access to these technologies for museums in the territories under their jurisdiction or control.

30. The social role of museums, along with the preservation of heritage, constitutes their fundamental purpose. The spirit of the 1960 Recommendation concerning the Most Effective Means of Rendering Museums Accessible to Everyone remains important in creating a lasting place for museums in society. Member States should strive to include these principles in the laws concerning the museums established in the territories under their jurisdiction.

31. Cooperation within the museum sectors and institutions responsible for culture, heritage and education is one of the most effective and sustainable ways of protecting and promoting museums, their diversity and their role in society. Member States should therefore encourage cooperation and partnerships among museums and cultural and scientific institutions at all levels, including their participation in professional networks and associations that foster such cooperation and international exhibitions, exchanges and the mobility of collections.

32. The collections defined in paragraph 5, when held in institutions that are not museums, should be protected and promoted in order to preserve the coherence and better represent the cultural diversity of those countries’ heritage. Member States are invited to cooperate in the protection, research and promotion of those collections, as well as in promoting access to them.

33. Member States should take appropriate legislative, technical, and financial measures, in order to design public planning and policies enabling the development and implementation of these recommendations in museums situated in the territories under their jurisdiction.

34. In order to contribute to the improvement of museum activities and services, Member States are encouraged to support the establishment of inclusive policies for audience development.

35. Member States should promote international cooperation in capacity building and professional training, through bilateral or multilateral mechanisms including through UNESCO, in order to better implement these recommendations and especially to benefit the museums and collections of developing countries.


* List of the international instruments directly and indirectly relating to museums and collections:
Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954), and its two Protocols (1954 and 1999)
Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970)
Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972)
Convention on Biological Diversity (1992);
UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (1995)
Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001)
Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003)
Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005)
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
Recommendation on International Principles Applicable to Archaeological Excavations (UNESCO, 1956)
Recommendation concerning the Most Effective Means of Rendering Museums Accessible to Everyone
(UNESCO, 1960)
Recommendation on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Export, Import and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (UNESCO, 1964)
Recommendation concerning the Protection, at National Level, of the Cultural and Natural Heritage (UNESCO, 1972)
Recommendation concerning the International Exchange of Cultural Property (UNESCO, 1976)
Recommendation for the Protection of Movable Cultural Property (UNESCO, 1978)
Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore (UNESCO, 1989)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
UNESCO Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Cooperation (1966)
UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001)
UNESCO Declaration concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage (2003)
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007)

** This definition is the one given by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), which brings together, at an international level, the museum phenomenon in all of its diversity and transformations through time and space. This definition describes a museum as a public or private non-profit agency or institution.

*** This definition reflects partially the one given by the International Council of Museums (ICOM).

**** This definition partially reflects the one given by Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society.

Monitoring :

- Recommendation for which monitoring the Executive Board is responsible (more information)

- Timetable of the 1st Consultation (2019):


Print Send  

Office of International Standards and Legal Affairs
  • Mission
  • Who´s who?

    Disclaimer - Privacy Policy - guest (Read) - ID: 49357