Imagine you are moving to a new community. You want that community to be affordable, near work, safe, and perhaps the quality of schools is a concern.
But assuming those key needs are in place, what's important to you? What are the things you want in your community? That make it the right place for you and your family? That are necessary for your needs, not just nice?
It is a question I pondered myself this fall as I prepared my family to move to Seattle. I was thus curious what the broader public might say, especially about museums. So in a sample of the broader population, I asked about three physical attributes and two population ones. The results were fascinating.
It didn't surprise me that parks and nature was the top choice. We all need our "Vitamin Green." And foodie-ism has certainly surged, especially among young adults. For both responses, about one in three respondents said they were important.
When I dug deeper on the population responses, however, I found the results were more complicated than simply more people want neighbors like them than want a diverse population (though that's true). Turns out, when you factor in political persuasion, it is that more conservatives want neighbors like them, while liberals are more likely to seek out diverse neighborhoods (or at least say they do; it may also be somewhat aspirational).
Indeed, liberals were four times more likely to want a diverse population in their community than conservatives. No other factor in my survey (including age and educational attainment) resulted in such a disparity on this community attribute than political persuasion. It was stunning. Digging deeper, I found that age had only a small effect, while educational attainment really had no effect on conservatives' thoughts on this response. In fact, liberals without a college degree were still 3.6 times more likely to want a diverse population than conservatives with a college degree.
And then there is that group of people who said "none of these." At least a third of the population. As I'll share in a future post, they are a group that don't seem to care about their communities at all.
Finally, that museum piece. Only one in six respondents said museums and libraries were important to them. A part of me is horrified that access to information is so unimportant to so many. But as an analyst that vacuums up information and data (from a variety of trusted sources), I'm not that surprised.
Yet I am still hopeful about museums and libraries. Why? My last post. The segment of the population that cares about museums and libraries most is young adults under 35. In my sample, they were 50% more likely to value museums and libraries than older segments. I'll come back to further points about museums, libraries, and learning in upcoming posts.
But the fundamental question remains: what can museums do to be more relevant, and valued, to more people? How do we measure and demonstrate impact, and provide greater impact in more meaningful ways? How do we do this when sources of information (and even facts) are now publicly disparaged? Because if we don't figure this out, and fast, with the political headwinds our field is facing we are in deep trouble.
Methodology note: broader population sampling that is truly representative of the broader population is practically impossible. My sampling skews somewhat towards those with more education than the overall population, and those with more education are more likely to care about parks, food, and museums. I've adjusted the numbers a bit to balance on this criteria, but if anything, these numbers are too high for the entire population (meaning fewer people than these numbers indicate actually care about these things). Similarly, the percentage of people who said "none of these" is likely too low.
The questions for this survey have been inspired by ongoing conversations within the museum field (who goes to museums, why they 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.