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.


Thinking about museums and controversy

Carol Scott - Sunday, November 01, 2015

In a world where positions are becoming more polarised, museums can expect to be on the receiving end of controversy at some time or other. I recently gave a paper at the ICOM Marketing and Public Relations conference held this year in Yerevan, Armenia from the 24th-28th October on the subject of Museums and Controversy and I would like to share the thoughts from that paper with you in a series of blog posts. This first one explores the potential sources of controversy in museums:

Collections: We find controversy in issues associated with our collections. One major source of contention is perceptions about the rightful ownership of objects with an increasing focus on repatriation. There are other areas. In these challenging economic times, some museums have considered ‘de-accessioning’ objects to manage escalating operating costs or to purchase new works- a move often accompanied by outcry and dismay from the public and other professionals. And the provenance of objects acquired by museums and galleries, often in good faith, has been the subject of more intense public scrutiny in recent years.

Inclusions and exclusions are a contested area. Who is included? Whose voice is heard? There has been controversy over the exclusions of women, migrant groups, indigenous cultures and different expressions of sexuality. Inclusion has not, in itself, eliminated controversy because conflict can then arise over representation of difference.

Standards, ethics and mores: Controversy is also played out through questions of what is admissible according to standards, ethics and mores. The exhibition of human remains is a contested area, sexuality in its myriad forms can provoke dispute- and art, with its capacity to bring with it ‘the shock of the new’, still contains the power to deeply divide public opinion.

Important collective narratives can be a source of discord. There are divergent views on how we represent war from lionising heroism and nationalism to deploring the inhumanity of war, the huge social cost to generations and the targeting of specific groups through holocausts and genocides. The contention around national narratives has witnessed overt intervention from at least one government that did not subscribe to the notion of plurality and diversity in interpreting the national story.   The origins of the world and its species are currently a highly polarised debate between creationists and scientists. 

Emerging or unresolved social issues which come accompanied by divergent views and value positions are often sources of controversy. Whether these are perceived as being linked in some way to larger geo-political conflicts, reflect deep divisions within a society or explore issues around which there are contested positions, museums can find themselves in the centre of a maelstrom.

Funding: As public investment decreases, museums are required to become more entrepreneurial and to seek greater input from sponsors, donors and foundations. What are the ethical issues involved in partnering with outside funders? Museum ethics policies are beginning to reflect the situation. The Canadian Museum Association’s ethics guidelines state clearly that any sponsorship or partnership with an external partner must not compromise the institutional mandate or the museum’s public trust responsibilities.  In the same spirit, the UK Museums Association’s draft code of ethics maintains that financial support from commercial organisations and other outside sources is acceptable provided that it does not compromise the integrity of the museum.

These six areas begin to ‘map’ the situations where controversy may occur. In the next blog, I discuss the subject of establishing guidelines to manage controversy.


Evidencing change: how do we measure social value?

Carol Scott - Monday, April 13, 2015

This is the title of the session that I am curating with Randi Korn (Founding Director, Randi Korn Associates) and Deborah Schwartz (President, Brooklyn Historical Society) at this year's American Alliance of Museums annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

The conference theme is the social value of museums. Creating positive social change is forging new directions for 21st century museums. But evidence to prove that change occurs remains elusive and approaches to measuring it are a work in progress.

At the heart of the issue is the question: 'do museums make a positive difference to society as a whole?' If we want the answer to be a resounding 'yes', how do we translate museum activity into measurable evidence of social value- and- what are the implications for planning and evaluation?

Our session is going to look at these questions through three lenses. Passion is needed to effect social change. Our museums need to resonate with and be relevant to our communities. Deborah Schwartz heads one such museum- where passion and commitment to the community are paramount. But passion needs to be directed. It needs to work in tandem with results-based planning and evaluation measures to achieve its social goals, a subject which is at the heart of Randi Korn's work. 

At a national level, the sector as a whole is challenged to find a narrative to demonstrates that museums create value that makes a difference in the public domain. Do museums contribute to the well-being of populations, their connectedness to one another and to communities, to an active, engaged citizenship? Where is the evidence to prove this and how do we capture it? This is the subject of my presentation.

Our session is on Monday afternoon, the 27th April from 1:45-3:00 p.m. in Room B405 at the Georgia World Congress Center. We look forward to meeting you in Atlanta.


The Cultural Value of Visiting Museums and Galleries

Carol Scott - Sunday, March 22, 2015

This week's blog post comes to you in a different format. 

As part of the AHRC's funded, Cultural Value Project (, myself, Jocelyn Dodd (Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, University of Leicester) and Richard Sandell (Professor of Museum Studies, University of Leicester) undertook a critical review of 20 years of literature to identify how users describe their museum and gallery experiences and to what extent these experiences make a difference to the public realm.

The outcomes of this project were presented at a research forum held at the University of Leicester on the 25th February 2015. The session is available on youtube and is divided into three sections:

- An introduction to the session

- My presentation on the research, concluding with three provocations

- The discussion that followed. 

The link is here. 

Cultural Value of Engaging with Museums and Galleries

Carol Scott - Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Last year I worked with Jocelyn Dodd and Richard Sandell from the Museum Studies Department at the University of Leicester. We conducted a critical review of two decades of literature to find out what it could tell us about users’ experience of museums and galleries and what difference those experiences make to individuals and to society. Last week, we met up again at the Leicester University’s Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at to present the findings of the critical review to a lively and diverse audience of museum practitioners.


We described how users’ descriptions often focus on the cognitive processes that they employ to actively engage with encounters in museums. Though positive feelings of well-being were also abundantly evident in the literature, we found that affirming, confirming and inspiring experiences occurred alongside encounters that challenged, confronted and shocked people. And there were myriad descriptions where the main experience was one of connectedness- with place, with difference, with other cultures, with the numinous, luminous and the divine, with cultural identify and with self.


But when we came to the second part of the study- ‘what difference do these experiences make to individuals and to society?’- we found less evidence. In one of my ‘provocations’ last week, I argued that, as a sector, we tend to proceed on the basis of an untested assumption that positive experiences in museum accrue by some process of osmosis to the public realm.


It may be true that the experience in museums does have impact in the public realm-producing well-being in citizens and greater trust in communities. But, as yet, we have little more than evidence from localised case studies. In the absence of longitudinal population studies with user and non-user control groups, it is difficult to argue the case that having museums does ‘make a difference’.


I argue that we need to begin by interrogating existing national data sets (Taking Part, National Household Survey, Measuring National Well-Being) to discover what evidence does exist and what other research we need to undertake to prove our deeply held belief that museums change lives and make a positive difference in the public realm.


If museums create feelings of personal well- being and social connectedness, if active engagement is what we seek to build in our citizens, then we need to bridge the evidence gap between what happens in the museum and what impact it has beyond the walls.

The full report can be found at


Museums and Well-Being

Carol Scott - Thursday, January 22, 2015

The contribution of arts and culture to well-being and good health has been in the news recently.

In an article in the Guardian[1], the Chair of Arts Council England, Sir Peter Bazalgette, argues that the arts have a powerful role to play in increasing health,  easing the pressures on the NHS[2] and potentially saving hundreds of millions of pounds in public health care costs. This theme is further elaborated in the Arts Council England’s January 2015 publication ‘Cultural Activities, artforms and wellbeing[3]’ co-authored by Daniel Fujiwarra and Michael McKerron.

Well-being is associated with life satisfaction, happiness and meaningfulness. But the New Economics Foundation (NEF 2009)[4] has developed a well-being hierarchy which provides greater definition. They distinguish between social and individual wellbeing. In this blog today, I want to focus on personal well-being, which NEF associates with positive feelings such as vitality, self esteem, competence, autonomy, engagement, meaning and purpose.

The good news is that users of museums and galleries (who constitute 52% of the English population)[5] describe their experience in ‘well-being’ terms. In a major critical review as part of the Cultural Value Project[6], Carol Scott of Carol Scott Associates[7] and Prof. Richard Sandell and Jocelyn Dodd from the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies, interrogated two decades of UK studies to discover how users described their experiences in museums.

We found that the users describe museums as a well-being experience, one that generates enjoyment, pleasure, stimulation and inspiration. It can be energising and uplifting as well as calming and healing.  In line with the NEF model, museum experiences can make people feel ‘alive’. An enhanced sense of self often results. People describe feelings of personal ‘dignity’, of pride, affirmation, confidence and confidence.  In their own words:


I have always liked art galleries because the atmosphere was calm compared with home.... It has shown me how to chill, I am much more relaxed and well happier! makes me feel alive when I look at art and things. Because I feel like I'm a working, functioning human being...


The first thing I saw, I felt, was- a refugee person can be something in this country -I felt proud of myself.


It’s changed my ideas about myself - I would actually feel capable now of going in and knowing I had something to offer a local group.


So investment in museums and galleries is paying dividends in terms of the quality of the experience and its positive outcomes for users. The next stage is to examine whether individuals’ positive museum experiences accrue to the public realm and result in positive health impacts.

 There are limited, but promising, indications that this is an evidential base worth exploring. In 2010, the Culture and Sport Evidence Programme (CASE) used Taking Part data to determine whether there were positive correlations between sport and cultural participation and subjective well-being. It found in the affirmative (2010, 36) suggesting that a similar analysis of museum and gallery participation could yield useful results towards proving that museums are contributing to the public health of the British population.








[2] National Health Service in the UK


[4] New Economics Foundation (NEF). 2009.