So what's going on here?
First, in this question, the respondent is asked to consider the museum that requested they take the survey. That is, my partner museums that sent out the survey to their various contact lists. Thus, if someone is responding to a survey request from the Small Town Children's Museum, then they are considering if the Small Town Children's Museum contributes to that town's quality of life. Same thing about the Big City Art Museum, and so on.
Respondents thinking of their local children's museums and science centers are significantly less likely to feel their museum contributes to their community's quality of life than respondents from art or history museums.
Why? I think it all goes back to attitudes around visiting. As I shared recently about parents with young children, the majority of those museum-goers are visiting for extrinsic reasons, and thus have the lowest visitor satisfaction rates. That mindset, visiting for their children's benefit, a task they must complete as a good parent, likely narrows their perception of the museum … and makes them less likely to view it as positively contributing to quality of life.
In contrast, art and history museum visitors are much more intrinsically motivated, and thus more likely to see those museums more positively. This includes parents of young children responding to these types of museums.
Does this mean children's museums and science centers actually contribute less to quality of life than art and history museums? I doubt it. I suspect their contributions are actually about the same (though of different natures). Instead, I think the attitudes of the respondents around visiting color their perceptions, yielding these different results.
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 this survey 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.