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Measuring social value

Information on resources available to help you measure your social value.

Overview

Museums make an incredible contribution to society. They help to tackle inequalities in education and wellbeing, and help people explore and express local identity. This is part of the 'social value' of your organisation - the contribution your museum makes to everyday life within your community.

While economic impact is relatively easy to quantify, the effect of museum programming on society is harder to measure. The evidence base for the social value of museums is still in an early stage of development: while some areas have been explored, much of the evidence around the value of museums is circumstantial, anecdotal, or hasn’t been quantified.

Research in a range of academic fields, including museology, psychology, education, and preventative health, has uncovered strong evidence for specific areas of demonstrable social value for museums. Using this information, we have developed an initial approach that will support you to gather and share information in these areas.

Articulating the social value of your organisation can help you to advocate with a range of stakeholders and potential supporters, including policy makers and funders. Many elements of museum programming tie directly into the Scottish Government's National Performance Framework.

How our approach works

We have identified three headline statements regarding the value of museums which are supported by robust research. These relate to work that we know that many of our museums are already doing, offering a way for museums to effectively communicate the direct value of their work to society.

  1. Reminiscence programming in museums has been shown to improve relationships between older people and their carers
  1. Object handling: Students who interact with museums objects as part of their learning, show improvements in their exam marks
  1. Older visitors: People over the age of 50 who visit museums regularly show a lower risk of dementia

By indicating how the work you do ties into these headline areas, you’ll be able to demonstrate clearly and effectively how your work contributes to aspects of society including education, preventative health, and well-being.

This approach:

-is less labour-intensive than case studies;

-can be used at a national, regional, and local levels; and

-generates short, effective statements usable within introductory advocacy material.

This approach can be used for individual museums, as well as to advocate for groups of museums, including local authority areas, geographic forums, or specialist/regional networks.

Below you can find more information on each of the social value statements, the background and evidence behind them, and how you can use them to show your social contribution.

Reminiscence projects

The measure

Reminiscence programming in museums has been shown to improve relationships between older people and their carers.

The research

Originally based on research conducted in the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, the findings presented by Rosenberg in Meet Me: Making Art Accessible to People with Dementia (2009) have been mirrored in smaller studies across North America and Europe.

Museums and dementia programming

Many of Scotland’s museums run programming for older people living with dementia, and while the benefits of this programming have been shown in a number of ways, the clearest evidence has been demonstrated in the improved wellness indicators of both those living with memory loss and those who care for them. This has been found to be true not only for those carers who attend sessions, but also for those who work with the dementia sufferers at other times, showing that the benefits of reminiscence sessions last well beyond the time period of the session itself, and go beyond the direct beneficiaries.

Collecting your evidence

We know that a range of museums offer programming that supports older people and those living with memory loss. To effectively demonstrate the social value of this programming, we encourage museums to share this high-level statement, based on Rosenberg’s study, and then to indicate how their own museum programming engages with this information. This could include numbers of sessions run for older visitors per year, or numbers of attendees at sessions including reminiscence, object handling, music, or dance components.

Museum example

Sporting Memories, a project run by the Scottish Football Museum in partnership with Sports Heritage Scotland, offers supported reminiscence and handling sessions centred around sporting photographs, collections, and personal memorabilia for older people and those living with memory loss or related conditions. Last year, they worked with more than 2500 older people through their drop-in sessions, thereby making an extraordinary impact on the lives of those older people and their carers.

Reference

Francesca Rosenberg, Meet Me: Making Art Accessible to People with Dementia (2009) 

What to do next

Please explore our advocacy materials to better understand how you can effectively use this information within your wider organisational advocacy approach.

Object handling

The measure

Students who interact with museums objects as part of their learning, show improvements in their exam marks.

The research

Research from the Glasgow Museums ‘Open Museum’ programme demonstrates that object handing programmes run for school groups, whether in a museum, or in a classroom through a handling box or outreach programme, has a positive impact on exam results. Dodd has written about the ‘concrete outcomes’ of object-based learning, indicating that the use of museum objects led not only to higher levels of interest and motivation, but also improved exam marks and better-quality written work. (Dodd et al 2002: 37)

Museums and object handling

Most of Scotland’s museums work with primary and secondary school groups, and object handling is an important part of programming both within museums, and in schools. Exams remain one of the ways in which student performance is monitored, both for individuals, and for schools as a whole; this research demonstrates the positive impact museums are making on the education of our young people.

Collecting your evidence

When sharing this information, we would encourage museums to indicate how their learning programming will have made this sort of tangible impact on young learners, including numbers of school visits involving handling sessions, or the numbers of pupils who work with handling boxes as part of outreach programming.

Reference

Jocelyn Dodd (et al), A Catalyst for Change: The Social Impact of the Open Museum (2002) 

What to do next

Please explore our advocacy materials to better understand how you can effectively use this information within your wider organisational advocacy approach.

Older visitors

The measure

People over the age of 50 who visit museums regularly show a lower risk of dementia.

The research

Recent psychology research has indicated that regular museum attendance (once every three months or more) is associated with a lower risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and illnesses that result in progressive loss of the power of the brain.

In Cultural engagement and cognitive reserve: museum attendance and dementia incidence over a 10-year period, Fancourt, et al, have used data from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging to show that for adults aged 50 and older visiting museums every few months or more was associated with a lower incidence rate of dementia over a 10-year follow-up period. The findings from the study were found to be valid across demographics, socioeconomic status, and health-related variables, and indicate that visiting museums offers support in the prevention of dementia.

Museums and older visitors

Scotland’s museums welcome both a high percentage of over-50s, and offer substantial volunteering opportunities for retired people, making a clear impact on the long-term mental health of our population.

Collecting your evidence

When sharing this statement, we would encourage our museums to communicate how their own museum makes a contribution. This could include the proportion of their visitors who are 50 or older, or providing information about the demographics of their volunteers. 

Reference

Daisy Fancourt, Andrew Steptoe and Dorina Cadar, Cultural engagement and cognitive reserve: museum attendance and dementia incidence over a 10-year period (2018)

 

What to do next

Please explore our advocacy materials to better understand how you can effectively use this information within your wider organisational advocacy approach.

Learn more

A number of organisations have published additional guidance that can help you to explore how you can demonstrate the social value of your organisation. The advice below can help you to measure different aspects of social value, or explore other ways of communicating your museum’s social value.

Museums Association (MA)

Measuring Socially Engaged Practice: A Toolkit for Museums

This document explores a range of approaches to measuring and articulating social value, and includes case studies of work from across the UK.

For more information visit the MA website

Association of Independent Museums (AIM)

Evidencing Social and Environmental Impact of Museums

This toolkit comprises an impact evaluation and assessment framework, which has been tested using evidence from a small number of AIM member museums. It is designed to help museums fill the gap between the activities generated by museums, and their contribution to social impacts.

For more information visit the AIM website

or contact aimadmin@aim-museums.co.uk

University College London (UCL)

UCL Museum Wellbeing Measures Toolkit

This resource offers a set of measurement scales used to assess levels of wellbeing arising from participation in museum and gallery activities that has been trialled across the UK. The Toolkit has been designed to help people involved in running in-house or outreach museum projects evaluate the impact of this work on the psychological well-being of their audiences.