Impact. We all hope that museums have impact. We think they do. After all, they did for us.
But what about everyone else? How do we measure our impact? How do we do so in ways that make sense? Stand up to scrutiny? Especially since we don't know who has visited what museum, visitation can be sporadic, and so on.
As a field, I feel like we have been wringing our hands, and talking in circles, about this forever.
So I asked. In the 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, I simply asked respondents to reflect upon the role of museums in their lives, and share if those visits had any impact on them … or not.
And they shared. My goodness, did they share. The responses were amazing … and anything but simple.
But before we dig into them, I do have to share a major caveat: these are regular museum-goers. Of course they are going to be more likely to articulate, and share, positive thoughts on impact than a casual museum-goer, or a non-visitor. These findings should not be taken as universal perceptions, but instead initial themes that we should then figure out ways to test more broadly (and strive to make more common).
Additionally, as you'll see in my next research release, being a regular museum-goer doesn't mean one actually has a meaningful relationship with museums … or a relationship that couldn't be easily replaced by something else. Indeed, one's motivation to learn, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, seems to matter. A lot.
Let's look at the overall results first, however. Responses fell into three broad categories (which add up to more than 100%, since 22% of responses fell into both of the first two categories; 10% of responses fell into none of these categories):
But this is just the superficial analysis (though I shudder to say that, because hand-coding thousands of these comments was hard, painstaking, work taking a great deal of discernment). Turns out, how different segments of museum-goers responded mattered quite a bit. Things get interesting, and complicated, when we look at the data through different lenses.
In my next research release, I'll explore differences in responses based on intrinsic or extrinsic motivations around learning. You'll also see me come back to these responses in the coming weeks, when I examine three different segments of museum-goers in more detail (and how their responses differ).
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.
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.