I have a love-hate relationship with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. You know, that psychological theory shaped like a pyramid.
It isn't that I think it is wrong, but more the suggestion that those at the top (self-actualization) could be construed as better than those at the bottom (physiological). The sheer placement suggests this … that it could be a character assessment.
I really hate this about Maslow. Especially since being lower on the hierarchy is often a matter of external forces, and not character at all.
So it is with mixed feelings that I suddenly deploy Maslow's hierarchy. A lot. I do so because it is well-understood by museum professionals, easy to remember, and it makes sense in what I have to share. And because every other graphic I came up with was either worse or misleading.
Please, however, don't take it as judgmental of any part of the population. Instead, it is largely an assessment of capacity, and the many external factors affecting that. If I feel the need to be judgmental, I'll be crystal clear about it.
That being said, what am I up to?
Over the past few months, I've shared a great deal of research about museum-goers and the broader population. This work has been rooted in a broader population study I fielded in the fall of 2016, the 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, and the work I did with AAM and their Museums and America 2017 sampling (forthcoming). My interpretation of all of this work was also influenced by research from the University of Notre Dame's Science of Generosity Initiative, which considered generosity and engagement through a lens of capacity, which I think is sensitive and highly appropriate (see my review of their book, American Generosity).
In my work, I've explored different segments of the population, and I've looked at the population through the lens of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations of learning. The correlations I see among those motivations, museum-going, civic engagement, political engagement and persuasion, and life outcomes are, overall, pretty clear. Compelling. And while I am loathe to call my work definitive (far from it), there is enough here for me to lay out these broad conclusions and seek to understand the why behind them. Because the more I look, the more complexity I see. By educational attainment. By age. By race and ethnicity. And within every category as well.
Inspired by the researchers at Notre Dame, I'm looking at all of this through a capacity lens. My hope is that it makes me more sensitive and realistic about my findings, and respectful of individuals, their mindsets, and their actions.
To illustrate my broad findings, I've developed four new versions of Maslow's hierarchy, each through a different lens of consideration.
What I do like about this method is that, by placing my new hierarchies side-by-side, it is also possible to get a general read on the US population. Most people who are at the apex of one of my hierarchies are likely to be at the apex of the others … but not always. Consider them new rules-of-thumb, but with many exceptions and far more testing and research to verify.
I'll be illustrating and discussing each new version over the next few weeks.
A note about fielding research. I hold dear the idea that research for the field, about the field, should be shared with the field. But that only works when museums work together to make it possible. Since individual museums are needed to field this work, the survey also benefits participating museums on an individual level by providing benchmark data on visitation rates, motivations, attitudes and preferences, and demographic questions … all of which can then be tracked over time in the future. Participating museums are also allowed to add 1 - 2 custom questions specific to their needs.
Which means if you value this research, want more of it in the coming years, and want to track your own museum's progress over time, please support this work by enrolling your museum in the 2018 Annual Survey of Museum Goers. The fee for 2018 is only $1,000 per museum.
The questions for these surveys have been inspired by ongoing conversations within the museum field (who does/does not go to museums, why they do/do not visit, and what that means for communities) and ongoing research in the fields of education and psychology around lifelong learning and intrinsic motivation.