Reflection 19: Research-based Buzzwords

25th Anniversary ButterflyWorking in research and evaluation, you become very skeptical of words like “data-driven” and “research-based.” To evaluators, it is quite flattering that these words are so buzzworthy—yes, we want our research and evaluation work to be important, used, and even desired! However, even though these buzzwords grab attention, they can be misleading. For instance, when we talk about data and research at RK&A, we mean original, first-hand data and research, such as interviews, questionnaires, and surveys with museum visitors.

This was on my mind as I recently had the opportunity to help my CARE (Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation) colleague Liz Kunz Kollmann review session proposals for the 2015 AAM Annual Meeting. Liz, as CARE’s representative for the National Program Committee, was charged with reviewing sessions in the Education, Curation, & Evaluation track (all 141 sessions!) along with fellow National Program Committee members in education and curation. Given that audience research and evaluation can be part of many AAM tracks (marketing, development, exhibit design, etc.), Liz recruited some CARE members to help her review sessions in other tracks to see if there were any sessions outside of our designated track that CARE should advocate for.

I volunteered to review sessions in the tracks Development & Membership and Finance & Administration. I had expected to encounter a lot of buzzwords since the AAM session proposals include a description that must be appropriate for display on the AAM website, mobile app, and other published meeting materials. So, I wasn’t surprised but I was struck by the heavy use of terms like “data-driven” and “research-based” (e.g., data-driven strategies for membership recruitment and research-based programming) and was stymied in trying to determine whether these sessions were relevant to CARE—what data is driving the decisions and is it really of interest to CARE members?

Certainly I am not dismissive of research or data that isn’t “original.” There are many definitions of research and data that are applicable to certain scenarios and within certain fields. For instance, arts-based research is a completely valid field of research within art education when conducted well. However, I am biased to collecting original data from visitors first-hand, which is why terminology like “data-driven” and “research-based” makes my ears perk up—because these words prompt many questions for me about the type of data and research and its appropriateness to inform said decisions and practices. Through our work at RK&A, we truly want practitioners to make decisions that are data-driven; that is the greatest outcome of our work! However, we also want our clients to be skilled users and consumers of data and evaluation so much so that their ears perk up at the very mention of “data”—for hopefully, they, too, have become savvy digesters of the language as well as the meaning behind the data when talking about research and evaluation.

Check out our Buzzword Bingo below inspired by Dilbert: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2010-10-25/  Warning: this Bingo is informed by RK&A’s professional experience and is not based on original data.  Maybe with the help of our museum colleagues, we can make it “research-based.”  Please share your buzzwords!

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