In Search of Museum Audience Outcome Measures

This multi-institution, international research study builds on previous work by both the ongoing Museum Futures project and work of the ILI. The goal of this project is to, over the next 2 years, and in collaboration with 44 diverse museums from around the world, conduct research that will inform the development of a set of short-term audience outcome metrics that can be used as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs); KPIs that validly and reliably predict a museum’s long-term audience impact.

The vast majority of museums, i.e., somewhere in excess of 90%, do not currently utilize any kind of KPIs, and in fact, most have no process in place for assessing the impact they have on their users. Of the small percentage of museums that do collect KPI-type of data, most use indicators of audience impact that are short-term and almost exclusively output-focused, e.g., numbers of on-site and online visitors, visitor demographics, membership renewal rates, and % of return visitors. Even when museums do attempt to assess outcomes, most utilize indices that do not measure outcomes in an in-depth, valid manner, instead employing superficial measures of consumer satisfaction, visit dwell times, or critics’ reviews. There are a handful of institutions that have attempted to introduce serious outcome measures; measures purported to connect to a museum’s long-term impact goals for the public. However, even amongst these few, forward-thinking institutions, the measures in use typically lack rigor, and arguably validity. None of the measures currently in use, at least none that we are aware of, have been directly tested to determine whether the short-term measures used directly and significantly correlate with the long-term outcomes they purport to measure. This project is predicated on the belief that we can and need to do better.

To move toward this vision, towards a set of valid and reliable outcome KPIs, we need to begin by appreciating some first principles:

In summary, then, the key challenge that this research will attempt to achieve is to develop a set of easily collectible, short-term outcome measures, e.g., KPIs, that both accurately capture the full array of user-perceived well-being-related benefits museums support and validly and reliably predicts the longer term well-being-related benefits museums aspire to achieve.

Project Team: John H. Falk Ph.D., Lynn Dierking, Ph.D.