In today's busy society, when and where do families have high-quality family time?
Think about that for a moment. As parents shuttle children to activities (especially once they hit school age), and devices have infiltrated the lives of children of all ages, family time has gotten lost.
It doesn't happen because the family isn't home together much.
It doesn't happen because car time, for many children, is device time.
It doesn't happen at restaurants because, again, devices.
And it doesn't even happen at home. At home, parents are getting things done around the house, dealing with work emails, kids are doing homework (if they are even home), and everyone can stream what they want onto whatever device they want.
Now, I am (admittedly) over-generalizing. And I am not indicting today's parents (honestly, parents today can't win because we are also accused of over-helicoptering).
Over the past couple of years, I have been observing an increasing sense among parents that there are few places that truly promote family time. Parents tell me how hard it is to have those moments of family time, and they often do indict the increase of devices in our lives.
Family time now has to be deliberately planned as out-of-the-home outings to places that promote real-life engagement and forced family time. And museums serve that role for many museum-going parents, because museums are about shared experiences and learning.
(That doesn't mean museums should be anti-phone, by the way. After all, parents do want to take pictures and document those shared family experiences. But the data is overwhelming that visitors want object-based and hands-on experiences in museums, not digital ones.)
The findings on family time in museums, however, also presents a bit of a conundrum. While half of parents explicitly say that one of the reasons they visit museums is for family time, only about a third say stronger connections with family is an outcome of museum visits. Additionally, among the broader population, only a quarter of parents think museums strengthen bonds among families.
So what we are presented with is an impact/articulation gap (just like we saw when we looked at the families and curiosity data). We have strong evidence of this significant motivation and impact among families, which is worded in strong terms in qualitative work as well. Now we need to help more museum-going families bridge that impact/articulation gap by clearly articulating ourselves that we promote strong family connections by allowing families to "hit a reset button to the frantic scurry of modern life," as one museum-going parent shared.
This creates a positive cycle of association and impact that can (and should) encourage broader audiences of families to visit museums either more often or in the first place. After all, this is now a primary differentiating factor of museums; few other places provide multi-generational experiences that nurture family connections.
It also significantly strengthens our case for support. While our most significant impacts are rooted in the content that we share, this doesn't mean that outcomes that are not content-based, but catalyzed by the experience itself, are not significant. They are, and powerfully so. It is our work, however, to measure that impact, share it, and help our visitors be more conscious of it and articulate it for themselves so that our impact can spread and deepen.
And if you are asking yourself about those other impacts, both content and experientially-based, that research is coming up next for release.
Do you value this research? Does it help you in your work at your museum? Do you want it to continue to help you and our field?
If so, consider how useful it would be to know how your museum's stakeholders feel about your museum, lifelong learning in museums, and more. By enrolling your museum in the 2019 Annual Survey of Museum Goers, you can easily benchmark the visitation rates, motivations, attitudes and preferences, and demographics of your stakeholders. Additionally, you can compare your results to your peers, begin to track them over time, and gain far more contextual information through your custom results and report. The fee for 2019 is only $1,000 per museum.
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.