Archive for April, 2013

A few months ago, Geraldine Kendall presented preliminary findings of the British research project Evaluating Evaluation in her article “Critical Thinking Not Used.” The research explored the impact of summative evaluations on the workings of British museums, and preliminary findings highlight a few barriers to maximizing the impact of summative evaluations.  While we’re all aware of the challenges institutions encounter with summative evaluations, the article spurred me to think more about the broader hurdles institutions might face to using evaluation results.  So for this post, I’d like to share my experiences with a museum that has boldly challenged the barriers to maximizing the impact of its evaluation work.

RK&A is currently working on 13 October 2012, 20th Anniversary banners hang on the 14th street entrance to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museuma meta-analysis project with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, an institution that exemplifies dedication to the field of evaluation.  The Museum’s evaluation work started when the Museum was but an aspiration and it has since completed well over 50 studies of museum activities ranging from evaluations of programs and exhibitions in all phases of development to market research.  Like other museums, its evaluation work grew organically, dictated by the needs of individual staff members and departments.  The reports were useful to those who commissioned the studies, but often the findings did not make their way to a larger audience.  As the Museum’s wealth of studies continued to grow, so did its knowledge of visitors. The Museum recognized that one barrier it faced to taking full advantage of the knowledge it was generating was that there was no cross-organizational system for sharing information or accessing the reports.

Hand-in-hand with the problem of gathering, preserving, and sharing institutional knowledge is the challenge of identifying overarching trends that have emerged from the accumulated knowledge.  The Museum’s evaluations vary by study goals, audience, method, phase of program/exhibition development, quality of the evaluation etc.—as would any group of evaluation studies found at a museum.  So what greater meanings can an institution take away from more than 20 years of research and evaluation?  To address this question, we worked with the Museum to develop a framework through which to view each study.  Combing through reports, we created an abstract for each study using standardized categorical fields so we could group reports and identify trends in findings among different categories, (e.g., audiences).  This work and final deliverable (a searchable database that staff can use to explore past studies to see what might be relevant to their work today) will allow the Museum to think about and learn from its evaluation work.

Bringing together over twenty years of evaluation studies, creating a standardized abstract for each report, conducting a meta-analysis, and creating a searchable database are big steps that the Museum is taking to give legs to its evaluation work.  By tackling accessibility and providing a way to identify connections among evaluations, the Museum and other institutions can shape an organizational culture that maximizes the impact of evaluation on the work of museums.  As a person who greatly values the role of evaluation in any organization, I have the utmost respect for institutions like The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum that are dedicated to learning from their practice and committed to the stewardship of institutional knowledge garnered through evaluation.

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Mission ImpactIn my last post, I refrained from sharing examples of impact statements because I wanted readers to ponder the idea for themselves (always a very useful activity) but promised I would delve into what comprises an impact statement and provide examples in future posts.  I believe museums need impact statements because if they aren’t clear about what they want to achieve, how will they make decisions to get there?  Museums need impact statements to guide their planning and decision making, but more importantly, they need to clarify (to themselves and stakeholders) why their work has value—public value.

Simon Sinek states with enormous clarity the importance of understanding why an organization does what it does in this Ted Talk:  ( He makes the distinction between what organizations do and why they do their work.  He notes that people care about the why much more than they care about the what.  While all of his examples are from the business world, his point is clear, well articulated, and relevant to museums and other non profits. I see a clear connection between answering the why question and articulating intended impact, as impact describes how the museum will make a difference in the quality of people’s lives, and presumably, that quality is of tremendous public value.

There are three ingredients or building blocks to creating an impact statement:

  1. Passion: discovering the collective passions of staff—why you do what you do.  What about your work are you most passionate, and why that work is important (ask the why question three times to arrive at people’s deepest passions)?  As Sinek notes, talking about the why behind your work will help others know why they should care.
  2. Distinctiveness: identifying a museum’s distinctiveness—what does your museum do better than any other organization for the people in your community?  Distinctiveness is of vital importance because if you can describe what is distinct about your museum, you begin to suggest your museum’s value—its public value.
  3. Relevance: is about exploring the intersection among staff passions, the museum’s strengths and greatest assets—both of which suggest its distinctiveness, and what is relevant to the public. What the museum presents and how it presents it must be responsive to the museum, stakeholders, and the public.

In our last post Amanda was writing about the director at the Tate who believes “that art is a vital force for civic good . . .” ( The concept—for the civic good—comes close to what an impact statement might embody, although some unpacking may be required to fully understand what he means by those words.

Here are a few museum mission and impact statements—both statements work together to convey what the museum does and the result of what the museum does on audiences served:


The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture creates a better understanding of the world and our place in it. The Museum is responsible for Washington State collections of natural and cultural heritage and sharing the knowledge that makes them meaningful. The Burke welcomes a broad and diverse audience and provides a community gathering place that nurtures life-long learning and encourages respect, responsibility and reflection.

Vision (the Burke calls its impact statement its vision statement):

People value their connection with all life—and act accordingly


The Baltimore Museum of Art seeks innovation and excellence in an artistic program that focuses on art of the modern era, from the 19th century to the present.  The Museum is committed to creating an environment that inspires creativity, encourages learning, and fosters human understanding in a place where everyone feels welcome as a place for personal learning and civic engagement.


Visitors will expand their creative thinking, deepen their understanding of human experiences, and value the museum as a place for personal learning and civic engagement.


The mission of Mid-America Science Museum is to stimulate interest in science, to promote public understanding of the sciences, and to encourage life-long science education through interactive exhibits and programs. The Museum also serves as a premier tourism attraction in Arkansas.


Inspired by discovery, visitors are encouraged to investigate the world around them and realize science impacts everyone and everything.

As you and your staff explore their passions, the museum’s distinctiveness, and what is relevant to the public, you will begin conceptualizing an impact statement. With passion and focused attention on what you do best—in other words, playing to your strengths—and a deep understanding of your public, your value will be felt by all who experience your museum’s work.

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