Your museum wants you to deliver a project in a country you have never worked with before. You have heard reports of civil unrest there, or perhaps you have never even heard of the country. Either way, you might be asking:
Whether to travel?
Researching the location you plan to travel to is the first and vital stage of establishing, assessing, and mitigating the risk of sending teams to a country. The FCO website is a great starting place to get a general idea of how safe it is to travel. Use your existing network of contacts with experience of this country; this might include transport agents, local curators and venue contacts. Signing up to a crisis management assistance company, such as Red24.com, will give you access to greater detail on specific risks associated with a city or town. These are updated frequently and you can also sign up for text message alerts about changes in status. The British Council are also an incredibly useful source of information; they have a wide network of contacts and offices across the globe and a wealth of first-hand experience.
How to manage the risk?
Ensure that you share your assessment of the risks widely with those that you report to and your immediate team: more heads are better than one when it comes to assessing risk and identifying mitigation strategies. High level institutional support is helpful when travelling to areas of moderate or high risk. Provide a thorough briefing for your team before travelling. This should include: a detailed itinerary; a full set of local and UK contact details; a communication strategy and action plan in case of emergency; discussion of risks and mitigations; and a briefing of any cultural differences or practices to be observed.
Who to send?
Trips to risky environments are demanding in many ways; physically, emotionally, and professionally. The team that you send and the relationships that they have, or can build, will be one of your most valuable assets, both to deliver your project and to deal with the unexpected. Ensure that the team is enthusiastic about the trip, culturally sensitive, medically sound, and ready to embrace the challenges that they will face. Involving the team who will travel in the planning of the project from an early stage is helpful. Choose a team with the expertise and personalities to deal with the biggest risks; for some projects, technical skills might be more useful than curatorial skills. It is also important to be flexible and to work with existing working practices: it can be much more risky for all concerned to force unfamiliar lifting equipment on a team that has long experience in moving art crates by hand.
Finally, remember: people are more important than objects, so consider carefully whether you need to send a team out at all.
Rosie Wanek, Senior Exhibitions Manager, Victoria and Albert Museum