A confession. My brain is weird.
Why? Well, this what happens when I approach a new data set.
1 - Blankness. Lots of numbers. Just … data.
2 - "There's nothing new here!" Or, the data doesn't tell me anything. Sigh.
3 - "Hmmmmm ….. Huh?"
4 - "OMG there is this huge 3D sculpture that just snapped into my brain of the data and it has all these amazing interconnections and how will I ever make sense of this there is so much here I am overwhelmed"
5 - Frantic running of new filters and reports based on said above 3D sculpture that now resides in the virtual space of my brain
6 - Wow, there is so much here! I'm so excited and I can't wait to share!
7 - I begin sharing.
Right now, I am around step 5 but seeing step 6 around the corner. That tendril of excitement is starting to grow.
So let me tell you the gist of the survey I ran this fall.
Psychologists and educational scholars talk a lot about the difference between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation in learning and human development. Generally, individuals with stronger intrinsic motivation tend to outperform those with stronger extrinsic motivation. The type of motivation matters.
I wanted to push this further and consider intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivations by overlaying them on behaviors around museums and values around community. How are they intertwined? Do people who are driven by stronger intrinsic motivation have different value systems about community than those with a stronger extrinsic motivation?
Then, are there ways that we can identify who is more likely to be intrinsically motivated to learn, formally or informally, and thus inherently value museums? Who are the people who are extrinsically motivated, and need to see more specific evidence about why museums matter? What evidence will they respond to?
To find out, this fall I fielded a general population sample of 1,687 American adults (1,289 completes, 398 partials). In particular, this is large enough for me to have stable samples of Americans with lower educational attainment...people that don't visit museums nearly as much as those with college degrees.
All questions were closed-ended, and only begin to sort out the values, philosophies, behaviors, and attitudes of the segments I am beginning to see. But it is a start, and provides a solid platform for deeper research going forward.
I'll begin sharing more in the next few weeks, as I move from step 5 to step 7.
9%. That is, according to a post of the Pew Research Center, the percentage of working scientists with Ph.D.'s who say they were inspired to pursue science based on "childhood experience of natural world, science museums." (See chart, below.)
I think that's low. Why? One big reason. Many of the scientists in the survey didn't actually answer the question.
Let me explain.
In the survey, scientists were asked to share one or two significant experiences that influenced their decision to become a scientists. Responses were open-ended, and responses coded into categories. No issue there.
The problem is that the top category coded for behaviors and attitudes. These are outcomes of experiences, not experiences themselves.
Now, I LOVE the top category (and would have coded for it myself). 32% of respondents said "intellectual challenge, lifelong curiosity, love of science and nature." Those are fantastic behaviors and attitudes, and they should be measured and tracked because they do matter ... a lot. But they are not experiences.
I suspect if we were to go back to those third of respondents to follow-up saying "that's great, now tell me about the experiences that made you that way," we'd get a whole lot more responses about childhood. We'd collect more stories of science mentors (family members, teachers, etc.) and experiences that reflect awe and wonder about our natural world.
And yes, we'd collect more fantastic stories of childhood science museum experiences as well!
I've been thinking a lot about community lately, in a very personal way.
My family is about to move cross-country. As we prepare to depart Quincy (just outside Boston), I've been thinking long and hard about what tied me to this community over the past ten years, and questioning how deep my roots actually are.
And as we searched for our new home, there were some things that I found myself deliberately seeking in a neighborhood, and other things that didn't matter to me. Will those things I sought help me to actively develop roots in my new community in Seattle? What makes me value those things in the first place?
I am the type of person who thinks about these questions rather deliberately. How do people's preferences for a community, and their engagement in a community, relate to who they are, what they do, and their values? Are there any patterns between their preferences and values and museum visitation? Why or why not?
As a field, we have talked about all of these things. Community. Lifelong learning. Museum visitation and audiences. They have been the themes of our conferences. Countless articles have been written. We've tied them together in theory, sought connections in our work practice, and aspired to effect change in our communities or with our audiences. My questions are not new. Putting them together into a national sample of the broader population, however, will give us an opportunity to better understand the context in which our questions lie. That's important.
I also believe that the findings of this initial phase of research should be shared with the field, and that the next phase should be developed with your input. So once the survey closes, and analysis begins, I'll be sharing findings here on The Data Museum as well as my Facebook page and Twitter feed. These findings are for you to discuss, question, and use. Share with me what issues they raise for you. What new ideas come out of them. Your feedback will help make the next round of research even stronger.
Oh, and one last thing. The survey also includes a ringer of a question. More soon!
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.