This hierarchy is the third in a series I developed out of my broader population work and my 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers. Please see my introductory post on why I hate Maslow's hierarchy, and why I am using his model with very strong reservations.
My third hierarchy steps back to look at the whole person, and what their life circumstances allows. In some ways, this hierarchy is the closest to Maslow. And this hierarchy is directly inspired by work from the Science of Generosity Initiative at the University of Notre Dame, which was released in the book American Generosity. I explored some of these ideas recently, and I strongly encourage you to see my review of that work on The Curated Bookshelf.
In American Generosity, the researchers discussed four levels of capacity to give:
I've flipped these levels upside-down, where they form a logical reflection of Maslow's hierarchy. After all, if you can't take care of yourself at a basic, fundamental level, how are you supposed to take care of others?
Please note that one's position on this hierarchy is related to capacity, and is not an assessment of individual worth or character. That implication is what I truly hate about Maslow's hierarchy, and one I want to be VERY clear I am not implying. I am using this graphic because it is the most accurate one I have been able to create.
In this case, however, I'm looking at engagement, which is broader than generosity. Indeed, I would argue that generosity is an outgrowth of engagement, because we are generous to those we are intellectually and/or emotionally engaged with. And, like in American Generosity, I'm looking through the lens of capacity. We all have different resources at our disposal, including resources of time, energy, and money. And thus, class is inextricably bound up in capacity. Therefore I want to be very, very careful here to not cast judgment on anyone. My default is that everyone is doing the best they can with the resources available to them, whether at the "self" level or the "broader world" level.
All of these levels are based in capacity. That doesn't mean that the affluent have a lock on the "broader world" level (they don't). Nor does it mean that someone at the self or family level is poor (I can think of at least one prominent family that seems to be stuck on the family level, despite having hundreds of millions at their disposal). Additionally, positions are not fixed. An individual who would normally be at the "broader world" level may suddenly find themselves at the "family" level if a family crisis arises. It all depends on capacity to pay attention, and capacity means some mix of financial, time, and energy resources.
Capacity can also, however, be rooted in mindset. If someone is raised in a household that engages with their local community, or the broader world, it is more likely that that individual will be an adult that looks up, pays attention, and engages … regardless of financial resources (that family may be devoting time and energy resources to make that happen; libraries and houses of worship seem to help a lot here). And museums seem to contribute to developing individuals with a broader world mindset, since museum-goers tell me that museums help them broaden perspectives, develop greater understanding of others and of other cultures, and develop empathy. Thus, museums may play a critical role in increasing the capacity of children to grow up into engaged, and contributing, adults. And that takes us to our fourth hierarchy, coming next.
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.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people. I thank them for the care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.