In our last post on CT Cultural Consumers, we shared some painful results regarding how many of our Core Visitors feel like the staff care and how much they feel the museum brings the community together. It received some interesting comments. Paul Orselli noted, “Frankly, though, the percentages you report are pathetic, especially the 'customer care' and 'community' figures. If these types of numbers came from a for-profit concern, the shareholders would kick the entire management team to the curb.” Similarly, Alison Buchbinder, our former research fellow who assisted with the science museum study, noted that “The percentages are shockingly low . . . patrons need care spelt out for them.”
Paul followed up in an e-mail to me, asking me to comment on the sample as he has heard from colleagues that feel that since the sample was not random, he should not get too worked up about these results.
To which we say au contraire! Paul is absolutely right to be worked up.
Let’s step back and put the results in context of all four field-wide studies we have done. First, let’s examine what percentage of respondents feel that the staff cares. In the four studies, this is what we found:
These are, indeed, stunningly low results, and their relative consistency at well below 20% of all respondents indicates this is a field-wide issue. Our Core Visitors do not feel that we care about them. And while 16% is hardly anything to brag about in the outdoor history study, we believe their higher result may reflect the increased number of staff-visitor interactions that tend to happen at those museums, as they are interpreter-heavy. In contrast, except for historic house museums, other types of museums are generally less reliant on live interpretation.
Now let’s take a look at the community stats. For this, respondents are indicating whether they feel that the museum helps bring community together. This is what we found:
- Children’s museums: 11%
- Outdoor history museums: 14%
- Science museums: 14%
- CT cultural consumers: 21%
Again, these low results are fairly consistent, running at or below one in five respondents, indicating a field-wide issue. And the higher response for CT? Driven primarily by small-town historical societies that are very locally-oriented, as well as by a few art museums.
So why do we think Paul and Alison are right in being distressed by these extremely low numbers? These respondents are our Core Visitors. The people who are engaged with the museum. They are our members, our repeat visitors. They participate in our programs, and they financially support the museum. They are the people closest to us. And they think museums are falling way short in caring for them and in bringing the community together. If this is how our closest friends feel, can you imagine what a truly random sample of the general public would say?
We are worked up by these numbers as well. So our next couple of posts on CT Cultural Consumers will look at the differences between those who do think staff cares, those who do think the museum brings the community together, and those who do not. Are there differences? And from those differences, can we catch a glimpse of what might happen if museums can move the meter on these metrics?
We would love to hear your thoughts and questions about these topics. To share or ask questions, simply click on “comments” below. (If you are reading this from your e-mail subscription to the blog, please go to our blog's website to add a comment.)
The Connecticut Cultural Consumers study was funded by the Connecticut Humanities Council.