Will We Ever Effectively Measure the Public Value of Museums?

Bob Beatty
Nov 15, 2017 · 2 min read
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Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

My friend and colleague Susie Wilkening provides and excellent resource in her Curated Bookshelf blog series. Her latest post is about the High Impact Giving Guide from the Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP).

What struck me is something Susie added in her Tweet about her blog post: “Goal: I want a museum in CHIP’s High Impact Giving Guide in 2019 or 2020.”

There are lots of reasons we’re not on this list. But a big one is because, as Susie notes, we don’t have any effective measurement for our value. Susie writes, “As a field…we need to develop our own sets of comprehensive measure that share how exposing more children and adults to art, history, science, nature, and pretty much everything the world holds makes a difference…and that our methods for engagement are more effective than alternatives.”

When I left full-time museum work in 2007 to begin my career at the American Association for State and Local History I was confident that the field was on the cusp of solving this dilemma: a measurement of our true public value. More than a decade later, I fear we are no closer to closure. As I Tweeted last week in response to a post on this very issue by AAM’s Laura Lott, “I’ll be disappointed if we don’t find a measurement for public value before my career is over.”

Susie’s post, about the absence of museums in this important study, reminded me of this quest. It’s time to revisit this fieldwide.

Our work matters, we know that. But if we cannot show others how (and how much) it matters, we are going to continue to spin our wheels with policymakers.

Please share with me the thoughts you have.

A twenty-year veteran of the nonprofit world, Bob Beatty is founder of The Lyndhurst Group, a history, museum, and nonprofit consulting firm providing community-focused engagement strategies for institutional planning, organizational assessments, and interpretive direction.

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