December 13, 2021


Guest Blog: Building capacity for SDG16+ through museums, libraries and other public institutions

By Henry McGhie, Curating Tomorrow,

Curating tomorrow is a consultancy for museums, the heritage sector and anyone interested in creating a better future.  Combining curatorial skills (subject-specialist knowledge, selection, focus, creativity) with coaching skills, strategic thinking, planning, partnership working and delivery, the organization works to maximize the contribution that museums, the heritage sector and other organizations and sectors make to support a thriving society, economy and environment, with an overall vision to contribute to helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030.  

As a TAP Partner since 2018, Curating Tomorrow is an active participant in TAP engagement opportunities, providing their unique perspective about increasing awareness and education about SDG16+ and accountability for the 2030 Agenda through mainstream medias such as galleries, libraries and museums.  Read the following guest blog below from Curating Tomorrow, as a part of the Storytelling Initiative, making the case for the crucial link between achieving SDG16+ and its incorporation these public spaces around the world.  See more on Curating Tomorrow using the links at the end or on their TAP Partner Profile here.

I worked in and with museums for 25 years, and became more and more interested in their potential to help accelerate activity for sustainable development agendas, including the SDGs, climate action, biodiversity conservation, Disaster Risk Reduction and human rights. The trajectory of this work was creating opportunities for more people to have access to information on local and global challenges and commitments made by authorities (whether local or national government), and to empower museums and similar institutions to help people have opportunities to contribute to sustainable development agendas. Latterly I have been working more with the SDGs, and of the public-facing aspect of the Framework Convention on Climate Change and Paris Agreement, which is referred to as Action for Climate Empowerment and consists of education, training, public awareness, public access to information, public participation and international co-operation: all topics relating to SDG16+. The more I have worked with international agreements and agendas, the more I have seen the same challenges: the conventions and treaties include a mention to the importance of public education, information and action; institutions, including museums and other types of public institution have either been unaware or not so interested in the aims of the conventions and treaties; consequently, there have been insufficient opportunities for people to take part in these; and as a result, the goals of the conventions and treaties fail to be achieved. We can see this pattern many times over. Of course, it was partly or this reason that the goal-based approach of the Millenium Development Goals and Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals was developed. The goal-based approach helps people and different sectors to quickly find fellow travellers interested in addressing topics of common interest and concern, and to develop shared and collective plans of action that lever the potential of each partner, and added value through partnership.

Agenda 2030 and the SDGs are firmly rooted in achieving a world where more people can enjoy their human rights, but where will these lofty goals become a daily reality? I am very struck by a famous quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt (1958), one of the chief architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She asked a ‘great question:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home, so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he[/she] lives in; the school or college he[/she] attends; the factory, farm or office where he[/she] works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

We can only expect a world with universal respect for human rights if we have local respect for human rights, in communities and in the institutions that support them. Yet human rights play a small part in daily public discourse, or indeed in institutions, including museums. That means we need to find ways to empower institutions to understand their obligations, and be confident in understanding the big picture of conventions and sustainable development challenges. To take museums as an example, they are clearly identified with several of the rights from the Universal Declaration (right to own property, right to education, right to participate in cultural life), yet, as with rights more broadly, we cannot pick out one or a few rights: we have to acknowledge their interconnectedness and ensure that institutions, such as museums, fulfil all of their obligations, and not just the most obvious ones as ‘low-hanging fruit’.

My work aims to build awareness, ability and accountability for sustainable development in museums and other sectors by writing freely available guides exploring sustainable development agendas. One of these guides, Museums and the Sustainable Development Goals (2019) circulates in most countries and is on nearly 20,000 downloads. I wrote Museums and Human Rights: human rights as a basis for public service in 2019 to help museums better understand human rights and existing conventions, and how museums relate to human rights; and to have an understanding of human rights-based approaches. Museums and other public institutions often struggle to justify why they aim to make a particular difference. Human rights can help museums articulate their public value in terms of how they support particular, or all, rights. That is powerful as it helps museums avoid accusations that they only cater for elite interests or groups. Yet museums cannot stay the same – they are also enmeshed in the problems we see around us today, with inequality, poverty, intolerance and conflict. So how can they transform in ways that serve the public interest? Human rights-based approaches are an excellent blueprint for the transformation of public institutions to provide more transparent, effective and inclusive services for society. The approach helps narrow the gap between rights holders and duty bearers.

Using human rights and rights-based approaches as a basis for public service in public institutions helps build significant capacity for rights-based agendas, including SDG16+. Imagine if every community had effective ‘small places close to home’ – schools, libraries, museums and other public places – that protected and respected people’s rights, and fulfilled their potential to further support people to live in a world of local and universal respect for human rights. There are approximately 90,000 museums in the world, and 350,000 public libraries: unlocking their potential could be a powerful catalyst for the achievement of Agenda 2030 and the 17 SDGs.

Further information

McGhie, HA (2019). Museums and the Sustainable Development Goals. Curating Tomorrow, UK, available at

McGhie, HA (2020). Museums and Disaster Risk Reduction: building resilience in museums, communities and nature. Curating Tomorrow, UK,

McGhie, HA (2020). Museums and Human Rights: human rights as a basis for public service. Curating Tomorrow, UK,

McGhie, HA (2021). Mainstreaming the Sustainable Development Goals: a results framework for galleries, libraries, archives and museums. Curating Tomorrow, UK,

McGhie, HA (2021). Mobilising Museums for Climate Action: tools, frameworks and opportunities for climate action in and with museums. Museums for Climate Action, UK,

About TAP Storytelling: In 2021, TAP Network is launching the TAP Storytelling Initiative, which will aim to closely and frequently highlight the work of our Network through working directly with them to produce quality online content about their endeavors. Together in this initiative, we will aim to intimately spotlight the work of our Members and Partners and the challenges, successes, failures, processes and problem solving that comes with it, while also offering the chance for wide promotion through TAP’s outreach channels. We hope that these opportunities will not only offer heightened visibility of the work of our Network, but will also inspire and educate more commitments to SDG16 and transparency and accountability for the 2030 Agenda as a whole. If you are interested in spearheading this work with us, head to our TAP Membership Engagement Portal where you can find the Storytelling Form to submit your interest.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on the TAP Network Blog Platform are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the TAP Network. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion.

Photo by Curating Tomorrow

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