Carol Scott

Value is at the heart of museums

Our missions embody core values- our purpose, our reason for being.  We use our resources to create value for the communities we serve. We connect with audiences through understanding their personal values and the values they share as citizens.  We measure our value to demonstrate the essential public benefits we provide.

This blog is dedicated to the subject of ‘Museums and Value’.  Its aim is to provide a forum for discussion and debate on the many dimensions of value and its place in the work of museums today.


Getting to grips with measuring social impact

Carol Scott - Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Providing evidence that museums create social value is essential for making the case to governments for continued public investment. Now, recent research for the Heritage Lottery Fund finds that social investors are also calling for the cultural heritage sector to ‘get to grips with measuring social impact’ according to Dan Corry, who presented at the recent Heritage Exchange Forum (14-15 July 2014, London).

With public investment in decline, engaging non-public, social investors is becoming imperative. But whether the funding comes from the public or non-public spheres, investors want to know what difference their contribution has made and whether it has achieved what it set out to do. Enter- the concept of ‘impact’ and how to measure it- subjects of long and vigorous discussions in the cultural heritage sector. 

As Korn argues in Museums and Public Value: creating sustainable futures (Scott 2013, 31-43), institutions can more easily measure impact when they plan for the difference they want to make, identify the results they are seeking to achieve and link measures to defined interventions. Individually, museums are starting to think about planning for social change with this intentional aspect in mind.

But what about other social impacts that are not the results of specific institutional planning? Do museums in general create value that accrues to the public realm? If so, where is the evidence and how do we capture it?

Getting to grips with social impact can start with existing data sets and the methods they use to capture evidence. The Taking Part survey, for example, has been collecting data on cultural and sport participation in England since 2005. Managed by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in partnership with English Heritage, Arts Council England and Sport England, it surveys nationally representative samples of adults and children at regular intervals each year. The data is longitudinal, allowing changes to be tracked over time and comparisons to be made between users and non-users.

For nearly a decade, it has collected baseline data on cultural participation using Subjective Wellbeing (SWB) methods that allow individuals to assign a numeric value to cultural experiences and to self- perceptions of well-being, trust, belonging and influence. Correlations can then be made between cultural participation and its impact on both individual well-being and the presence of other indicators of social capital needed to build healthy communities.

In 2010, Jones (2010, 13) used Taking Part data to test the assumption that the ‘... more individuals participate, the greater the benefit of overall participation to society’. Of particular interest was whether cultural participation has an impact on social capital in communities, specifically on the presence of ‘trust’. The study found that people who engage in cultural activities are 15% more likely to ‘trust’ others than those who do not (Jones 2010, 52). Evidence that participating in cultural activities can have positive impacts which accrue to the public realm is the sort of evidence that public funders and social investors are looking for when we make the case for the importance of cultural heritage.  

Taking Part and the Culture and Sport Evidence programme (CASE) are existing resources that merit our close attention. Our sector can ‘get to grips’ with social impact by mining this data more extensively to find out what other evidence it yields.

 Taking Part:

CASE programme:

The Museums and Value blog is back!

Carol Scott - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

There has been something of a hiatus as I have travelled (US, Canada and Ireland) and finished some major projects. All of it has relevance to the theme of museums and value and I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts and experiences with you.

               It began with an invitation from FARO, an organisation located in Brussels which works as an intermediary between the Flemish government and the cultural heritage sector. With elections approaching, FARO recognised the opportunity to get the public value of museums onto the political agenda. I was privileged to be invited as keynote speaker at their forum with representatives from the 5 political parties on the 29th April. Following my presentation, a moderated conversation took up the theme of the public value of museums with each of the politicians arguing the case from the standpoint of their parties.

               A second project has been guest editor of the most recent publication of the journal, Cultural Trends. When I was asked to be a guest editor 18 months ago, I did not hesitate to nominate, 'national approaches to measuring cultural value' as the theme of a dedicated edition. The volume has just been published with four articles, each outlining a different approach to the challenge that measuring cultural value entails at a national level.  Canada has adopted a Cultural Satellite Account while, in the UK, an Arts and Humanities Research Council grant is funding a major research project on cultural value and its measurement. New Zealand has a longer track record than most with two waves of data already available for analysis and Australia's Vital Signs project has started with the question of what policy makers need to know about the returns on public investment in culture.

               Another aspect of my work is related to the AHRC Cultural Value project mentioned above. I have been working with Richard Sandell and Jocelyn Dodd from the Museum Studies Department, University of Leicester, on a critical review of two decades of UK literature. The subject of the review focuses on what the literature reveals about user value of museums and galleries.  The results have been fascinating and there will be links to blogs on the study.

               So all in all, an extremely busy and productive few months with many dimensions about museums and value to start new conversations. Thank you for your patience. Looking forward to your feedback on the forthcoming blogs.


How Far Will We Go? Reconciling public values and museum values

Carol Scott - Monday, May 05, 2014
Last week, I gave a keynote presentation about Museums and Public Value for FARO, the Flemish Interface Institution of Cultural Heritage (Belgium) which operates as an intermediary between the Flemish cultural government and the broader cultural heritage sector.

As so often happens when preparing a presentation, one discovers new questions within familiar territory. This is what happened to me when I was thinking about the role of the public in Public Value and how far we will go to acknowledge the public as authorizers of value.


If organisations are to create public value in their practices and use evaluative standards to measure their performance, then those values and evaluative standards must be authorised by the public.


What happens, then, when the values of an organisation and those of the public are at variance? When Moore talks about addressing ‘unmet social needs’ in the public realm as a focus for public value creation, it resonates strongly with the museum sector’s focus on the social impact agenda of museums. So what do we do when the public indicates that the social impact agenda is not what they value most about museums?


Britain Thinks 2013 research for The Museums Association provided a very interesting example of this variance between the intentions of the organisation and the value of the public. The research found that public strongly values museums and is aware that the current economic situation places them under extreme pressures. Addressing the facts, the public suggests that the best use of funding at this time is to ensure core functions such as conservation, interpretation and education and learning. These are the essential things about museums which the public value and they are rightly concerned about how much we can undertake as a sector in these economically stringent times.

So what does this mean for the social impact agenda? How do we address variance when we encounter it? How much do we value the public’s value?   



Blaug R. Horner L. and Lekhi R. (2006). Public value, politics and public management: A literature review. London: The Work Foundation.

Britain Thinks. (2013). Public Perceptions- and attitudes to- the purposes of museums in society. London: Museums Association.

Kelly G. Mulgan G. And Muers, S. (2002). Creating public value: an analytical framework for public service reform. London:  Strategy Unit, Cabinet Office.

Scott C. A. (2010). Searching for the public in Public Value: arts and cultural heritage in Australia. Cultural Trends, 19, 4, 273- 289.

Scott C.A. (2013). Museums and Public Value: creating sustainable futures. London: Ashgate.


Can Public Value be Fun?

Carol Scott - Sunday, March 30, 2014

This week, Ben Garcia, author of the chapter ‘Creating Public Value through Museum Education’ In Museums and Public Value: creating sustainable futures, considers whether public value can be ‘fun’.


When I first read Mary Ellen Munley’s question in this blog about public value goals central to the work of the museum and Marsha Semmel’s proposition that museums of value work to become more essential to their communities, I did not think first of beer tastings. But I recently had the opportunity to visit a museum programme in a city that prides itself on its beer culture, and where a large sector of the community engages around music and beer and burgers. So, is this museum –capitalising on existing community interests and providing an enjoyable experience for visitors in the process- doing something of public value?


Part of the challenge when thinking about public value, is that most of the literature comes from an advocacy or research perspective—and these are not realms known for fun. The messages are often reflective and usually directed to a worthy social goal. I have been thinking lately about fun. And about how that term applies to public value.


The beer-tasting event at The Museum of Man in San Diego which I attended last week is indicative of that museum’s wider strategy towards populist exhibitions that incorporate unexpected connections to current social issues. The tasting was one of several held in conjunction with a beer exhibition that features vessels and tools used for the production and consumption of beer throughout history and around the world. The objects were accompanied by informative and humorous labels about cross-cultural beer-making traditions and the exhibit included a wonderful interactive component related to beer terminology around the world.

Walking about the great hall, surrounded by a buzz of museum patrons sampling local beers and eating a variety of foods from area restaurants, I was thinking about the value of programs like these. Museums are often conflicted when the events that garner the greatest public response are those that lie farthest away from traditional notions of museums’ social value.


And then I noticed that the museum had located an exhibition about cooperative businesses run by women in developing countries directly across from the beer exhibition. That space featured objects made by artisans and artists in cooperatives in South Africa, South America, India and elsewhere. The interpretation was an exploration of the socioeconomic factors that underpinned the scarce resources in these communities and a description of the efforts women had made on their own behalf to raise the community out of poverty. As I watched visitors move from the beer exhibition to the beer-tasting event to the exhibition about artist cooperatives I saw the Museum of Man model in action. And I saw fun and public value aligned.


We tend to be very serious when we talk about the role of museums in society.  I wonder if those of us who advocate for the public value of museums might do well to follow the example of museums like The Museum of Man and keep the “fun” in profundity.


Public Value and Public Policy in Britain

Carol Scott - Sunday, March 16, 2014

This week, I’ve invited David O’Brien, author of Measuring the Value of Culture (DCMS, 2010) Value and a contributor to the book, Museums and Public Value: creating sustainable futures, to discuss why the idea of public value has experienced an uneven reception in Britain.


Museums, like most cultural spaces, are contested sites. These contests manifest themselves in many ways, often over the content and purpose of museums.  The contests focus on the value of museums. The value of museums is now a crucial way of arguing for funding in an era where, in the global West at least, budgets are being reduced. One influential way of thinking about value in museums has used a theory from public management, the theory of public value.


In the UK public value was highly influential in the earlier part of the 2000s and was closely associated with the New Labour administration of that time. It was influential for several reasons, chief of which was that it seemed to offer an alternative to the narrow focus on efficiency and economy that had come to dominate public management during the 1980s and 1990s.


However its direct influence was rather short lived. This was for three reasons. These three reasons illustrate both why public value was important for museums in particular and the cultural sector more generally, but also why it did not manage to capture policy makers in a permanent way.


First public value was an important way to capture the intangible aspects of organisations practice. In particular it aimed to explore how organisations did more than just provided goods and services. Public value showed how organisations created bonds of trust with local and national populations, moving beyond merely contractual or economic relationships. However in showing these aspects of organisations’ importance, public value didn’t fully specify how to measure or account for trust or relationships. This meant that what public value sought to highlight didn’t fit when the prevailing language of UK central government changed in 2010.


The source of much of this government language, irrespective of which party is in power, is the UK’s Treasury. Public value never had the full backing of the Treasury and as such was never fully embedded in how Whitehall thought about public services beyond the economic calculations. Public value was important for public bodies outside Whitehall, was influential with think tanks and was crucial to Prime Ministerial strategy for central government. However it did not penetrate the walls of the Treasury during its most influential time and, therefore, never really embedded itself in the way government, in the UK, thinks.


Finally public value was not used in a consistent way by the public bodies that adopted it. For the BBC it was initially a way of justifying funding and doing economic analysis. For the Arts Council, the UK’s main distributor of cultural funding, it was a method of doing market research with its clients and a rather limited range of ‘the public’. For the Heritage Lottery Fund, a distributor of heritage funding based on the UK’s National Lottery game, it was a means of measuring performance. These three uses were not the same and give an illustration of the range, and therefore lack of coherence, of public value in the cultural sector.


Museums must, therefore, be cautious before fully committing to accounting for themselves in the language of public value. The UK experience suggests that public value’s roots in American management theory leave it with an uncertain position if its political champions lose power and influence. Whilst its lessons have been important, public value may best be seen as one moment in a much larger conversation about the role and purpose of museums in contemporary society. It is a conversation that will only become more pressing in the coming years.