Trust. It seems trust in institutions is in short supply nowadays. At least, that's the conventional wisdom. But is it true?
The Pew Research Center regularly shares data on how much Americans trust various institutions, and the real picture is murky. In spring 2016, they found high levels of trust for the military and scientists, but not for the news media, business leaders, or elected officials. Additionally, only half of Americans trust most or all of their neighbors (my review of The Vanishing Neighbor may shed some light on this).
But what about museums?
This winter, AASLH asked me to find out by updating the trust findings from The Presence of the Past. Since I was sampling for trust in history museums, I decided a contextual knowledge against peers would be helpful; I also sampled trust in "museums" and in "science museums and centers." The results were heartening.
But trust is a fragile thing. Indeed, that 2016 data from Pew feels rather like the distant past, as politically and socially so much has changed since then. Content presented by museums can be contentious (think climate change, Confederate monuments that "belong in a museum," long-term overt and systemic racism, cultural appropriation, and more). Should we take a position on critical issues of our day, especially when presenting "just the facts" neutrally is also a position that may not be tenable? What about multiple viewpoints? All of them? Even the abhorrent ones? Or do we choose? What does that mean for trust?
These questions are increasingly on my mind, and I don't have answers. But benchmarking museum audiences, and the broader American public, is crucial so that we know what to expect from visitors and the public when we make individual interpretive decisions. This is work for which there is a crying need, so that museums can continue to maintain high levels of trust going forward.
More to come.
All good research yields even more questions.
And so it was with my 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers and broader population sampling. So many questions.
How do museums, and lifelong learning, fit into busy schedules? Why are individuals and families so siloed today? How can museums help? What else can we learn about The Parent Bubble? And what impacts do people (museum-goers but also the broader population) attribute to museums? (For more on what led me to these questions, check out the 2017 essays on The Data Museum or my PDF Research Releases and Data Stories.)
To begin to answer these questions (and yield more, of course), 14 museums partnered with me to field the 2018 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, as well as a broader population comparison sample. (You have already seen me share a key tidbit on curiosity.)
In particular, the surveys focused on the following themes:
As in 2017, I'll be releasing research findings in short essays on The Data Museum, and then pulling essays together by theme for release as PDFs for those who prefer that format. I'm deep in data right now (early April), but expect the essays to begin posting regularly within a few weeks.
And now, two additional notes:
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