Carol Scott

The Public Value Of Museums - Does Size Matter?

Carol Scott - Sunday, February 16, 2014

In Museums and Public Value: creating sustainable futures, Lisa Conolly’s chapter on ‘Measuring Public Value’ raises the question ‘does size matter’? In this blog, Lisa shares some personal reflections and provocations on whether ‘size’ is a meaningful measure of public value. She questions ‘size’ in relation to museum buildings, collections and web statistics and finds that ‘size’ is a slippery measure.

The Museum Cathedral

Most museums provide a physical space to be visited. Over the last four decades, huge sums have been invested to establish and refurbish museums throughout the world. Are the size of these investments in monetary terms and the size of the resulting buildings an indication of how much we value museums?  If increased capacity means that a museum is capable of welcoming more visitors, does the size of our attendances mean that a big museum is valued more than a small one?

Grand Collections

In a statistical survey, size matters because the wider your coverage and the bigger your samples the more sure you are about your understanding of the population and the validity of your results. For a museum, does a large, representative collection equate to greater validity, more authority and, therefore, more public value?

If a “collection” has a defined scope and coverage and a representative sample of relevant content, what measures do we apply to assess the significance of smaller, specialized collections where it is not the size but the uniqueness or the special selectivity (representing, for example, a particular historical period) that matters.

Virtually Everything Matters

We are all busy counting hits and downloads. Internet interactions can generate big numbers. But what does it mean? Thousands of hits and downloads may be generated by machine to machine communication. People can hit websites inadvertently while looking for something else. Are numbers of hits a valid measure of value?

Thousands of hits may represent thousands of website users but how do we assess the value to the public of these engagements? As a self confessed museum lover, I confess that my searches on museum web sites usually disappoint me. Virtual tours give a small – too small – sample of artworks or objects. I may be a ‘unique user’ but I often come away dissatisfied- I am seeking greater value than I am getting.This is a case where I believe size matters in a different way. Personally, as these exhibitions and collections are a public resource, I would like to see a much bigger virtual presence of our public museum content. If entire museum collections were online, counting the searches and downloads might give us meaningful indications of the public value of these collections.

Size does matter. But is it always a meaningful measure? What do you think?

Museums and Public Value: creating sustainable futures


Why Public Value Matters to US Museums

Carol Scott - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The contributors to the book, ‘Museums and Public Value: creating sustainable futurescome from a variety of countries. This week, Marsha Semmel from the US discusseswhy public value matters for US museums


Thank you, Carol, for the opportunity to participate in this blog.

I first learned of Mark Moore in January 2003, when I began work at the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a U.S. federal culture agency. My boss, IMLS Director Robert Martin,gave me a copy of Moore’s Creating Public Value: Strategic Management in Government and urged me to read it. Later, I heard Mark present at the annual meeting of the Urban Libraries Council.  I got a deeper immersion in his work when I participated in a multi-year public value project Mark did with 13 U.S. state arts agencies under the auspices of The Wallace Collection (Creating Public Value Through State Arts Agencies, 2005).  

For me, the power of Moore’s strategic triangle model was—and remains--its recognition that every institution functions in a dynamic environment, with the continued challenge of maintaining effective equilibrium in response to this fluid context.  The model acknowledges the necessity of attending simultaneously to external and internal forces, with “public value” playing an essential role in an organization’s success and survival.

The public value debate is alive and well in the United States today, with passionate and divergent views on causes and remedies for such issues as income inequality, the appropriate role of government at all levels, employment and job skills, health and well-being, the quality of education, access and privacy, and the impact of technology. Underlying many of these debates are different –and passionate--perspectives on community, values, and the future.

How can museums navigate –and add value to – their publics on these and other issues? I believe that museums can ‘make a difference,’ for individuals and for communities, in support of our missions, but not without intention, adaptation, and collaboration. Many U.S. museums are already addressing such pressing challenges as early learning, digital literacy, civic engagement, environmental awareness, nutrition, creativity, and personal “meaning making” and fulfilment. They are customizing programs to individual interests and preferences, leveraging the learning power of mobile devices and tablets, co-creating programs and projects with their publics (and thereby enriching their own knowledge and content), and joining in community-wide collaborations to systematically achieve and document “collective impact” in meeting a specific educational or community development goals.

These museums seek to understand their communities and work with others (individuals and organizations) to strengthen their roles as responsive community anchor organizations.  Their leaders and boards are recognized throughout their communities for their authentic engagement in –and commitment to--raising the bar for all community members. They understand and transform their core mission and strategic plans in order to expand public access to their offerings and become more essential to communities.

They make the necessary internal structural, budgetary, operational, and staff changes (including recruitment and training) that respond to their community’s (audience’s) public value needs and changing authorizing environment.They recognize the importance of imagination, experimentation and innovation, and they understand that this is a long-term commitment--a marathon rather than a sprint.

So where are our concerns?

These museums exist, principally, as isolated examples.

Too many other museums remain mired in old models, fearful of or reluctant to change, unable, as emcArts CEO Richard Evans notes, to “leave the shore” of the familiar for today’s new terrain.  In order to move forward, it will be necessary for museums to (1) adapt and embrace the current environment of learning, networked collaboration, and evolving public interests; (2) document and articulate their impacts to current and potential authorizers, publics, and partners; (3)  undertake the necessary leadership, governance, and operational changes that will be required to thrive in today’s global knowledge society.

Setting Goals to Achieve Public Value

Carol Scott - Saturday, December 14, 2013

Creating social impact is a 'hot topic' in museum conversations these days. When we plan for social impact, we are making an intentional decision to create something beneficial and 'of value' that will be experienced in the public domain. This week, I've invited Mary Ellen Munely to share her thoughts on what goals might direct a museum seeking to maximise its public value and create positive social impact.


I appreciate Carol’s invitation to contribute to this conversation about public value. As Stephen Weil warned nearly a decade ago, ‘[i]f museums are not being operated with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of people's lives, on what basis might we possibly ask for public support?’ As was so often the case with Steve Weil, his question leads us to the crux of the matter.


The logic is simple: if museums wish to garner public support, then they are obligated to demonstrate that they provide public value. Public value lives at the intersection of the museum and larger, shared public interests and goals. A public value perspective has us look at the work and accomplishments of a museum from the perspective of citizens and the collective greater good. The quality of a collection and benefits for visitors and patrons tell one story about the effectiveness and importance of a museum. I don’t believe that those who question the public value of museums take issue with the concept of museums or the ways that some people find museums to be very important; they take issue with the fact that many museums do not seem to be sufficiently accessible and responsive.


Those who ask challenging questions about the public value of our museums look for the broad community impact of the museum’s work, the manner in which the museum operates, and who it serves. Museums that meet a public value standard are: 1) efficient and effective in contributing to goals shared by the community at large, 2) known to be just and fair in the way in which they operate, and 3) known to work toward just and fair conditions in the society at large. So how does a museum maximize its public value? It starts with a set of public-minded goals. A starter list of those goals might include:

  • Expand participation, by increasing the number and/or diversity of people who typically participate. Public value perspectives and evaluations are concerned with equity of access and if the museum operates in ways that reach and serve all prospective audiences.
  • Increase participants’ sense of individual and collective efficacy for development and action. Public value perspectives focus on ways for people to explore personal connections and meaning; they are not chiefly focused on delivering the museum’s messages.
  • Increase tolerance and respect among people who hold different beliefs or values. The public value approach embraces multiple perspectives and the development of knowledge, skills and ways of behaving that respect differences and continual conversation and dialogue.
  • Assist people in gaining knowledge that results in new perceptions and understanding of the world.
  • Increase visibility for, or awareness of, an issue. Public value perspectives lead a museum to be an active player within its community and to bring its resources and reputation into the hard work of the community at large, not on all issues, but on at least some.
  • Enhance capacity for creative expression.
  • Contribute to building social capital and linking individuals to one another to provide new connections and social support.
  • One challenge in articulating a public value perspective is that many see an outward-looking standard of success as adopting only an instrumental definition of a museum’s value. An instrumental perspective says, for instance, that museums are of public value when they contribute to increases in standardized test scores or reductions in teen pregnancy. But must a public value perspective be synonymous with instrumental outcomes? How might we look at the list of public value goals I’ve offered here as linked to the essential work and value of museums?

    I look forward to hearing from readers about what you see as public value goals and why those goals are directly related to the work and role of museums in our society. In other words, what are public value goals that are not tangential to the work of the museum, but absolutely tied to our understanding of what the role of museums is in our society – and in our times?

    The Public Value Cycle

    Carol Scott - Sunday, December 01, 2013

    This week, we welcome our guest bloggers, Mark Weinberg and Kate Leeman.

    Thank you, Carol, for the opportunity to add a few words about the public value cycle. Both the strategic triangle and the public value cycle offer a visual representation of strategic leadership. However, whereas the strategic triangle provides a platform for mapping out strategic relationships, the public value cycle describes strategic process, the on-going activities of thinking, acting and learning necessary to ensure that the organization effectively responds to changes in the internal and external environment.  I was pleased to see that Randi Korn offered a similar depiction of this process in her discussion of the cycle of intentional practice in Chapter 3 of Museums and Public Value.

    Whatever one calls it, this focus on strategic responsiveness is critical because no organization operates in a static environment, and therefore strategic leadership is always dynamic and iterative. In 1995, Mark Moore encouraged public managers to think of themselves as “explorers commissioned by society to search for public value” and to do so with “initiative and imagination.”[1]  The need for this explorer mindset has seemed to further escalate in recent years, as Public Management Professor Jean Hartley now describes the context for public leadership as “one of profound, systemic, political, economic, social and technological change.”[2]  In the private sector, Columbia University’s Rita Gunther McGrath and others go so far as to argue that the era of sustained competitive advantage is over and that businesses must now focus on constant innovation to stay ahead.[3]

    However, innovation is inherently risky.  Some projects fail, and even those that eventually succeed often require several rounds of experimentation and alteration to work through kinks or manage unintended consequences. Further, whereas the private sector at least agrees upon profitability as the primary measure of success, this is not the case in the public sector, where the value to be created and methods of evaluation are often political issues and subject to debate.  Several prominent museums have made the news in recent years for financial crises brought on by a combination of recession and failed innovation. 

    So public sector managers must walk a fine line – being responsive to change while managing the inherent risks of innovation.  How is this best achieved? An examination of the public value cycle suggests the key is to:

    Think: Become comfortable with the innovation tools that can help you think through your strategy such as the strategic triangle, public value cycle and the cycle of intentional practice as well as private sector innovation tools such as Lean Sigma and Lean Launch.

    Act:  Provide leadership by developing a compelling value proposition, attracting talented professionals and inspiring them to achieve this vision.

    Learn:  Collect and analyze the data you need to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what to do next.

    [1]Moore, M. H. ((1995). Creating Public Value: Strategic Management in Government. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 299.

    [2] Hartley, J. (2011). “Public Value Through Innovation and Improvement” in Public Value: Theory and Practice edited by Benington, J. and Moore, M. H. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 171.

    [3] McGrath, R. G. (2013). The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business. Cambridge: Harvard Business Review Press, p. 5.

    Intentional planning to achieve public value

    Carol Scott - Sunday, November 17, 2013
    This week, I have invited Randi Korn to be a guest blogger on the Museums and Value site. If we want to create public value and use ‘the assets of museums to make a positive difference in the lives of individuals and communities’ (Moore and Moore 2005), we need to recognize that this involves a purposeful choice. There is no-one better to discuss what is involved in making this choice and the positive benefits that it brings for an institution than Randi Korn.

    Thank you, Carol, for inviting me to share my viewpoints about the relationship between intentionality and creating public value—a topic near and dear to me.  Intentionality is a powerful philosophical concept with Latin roots to the verb intendrere, which means “being directed toward some goal or thing.”[1]  The importance of intentionality or of being intentional in one’s work has become, for me, an essential approach to my work with museums.  I would argue that any museum interested in creating public value must be intentional in all aspects of its work because creating public value requires unrelenting focus on the goal.  I believe that to achieve intended results all staff in a museum must be collectively “directed toward” the same goal or thing, and if the intended result is creating public value—all minds must be working towards that end.

    Intentional planning differs from other museum planning activities such as strategic planning. Strategic planning focuses on organizational performance and outputs (such as completing projects and initiatives), while intentional planning focuses on results in the public domain where the return is achieved through value and impact. 

    The first step in the intentional planning process is clarifying the unique kind of public value that a museum would like to create.  While one could argue that any public value that a museum creates will do, I believe that staff cannot be intentional in their daily and strategic work unless there is a clear direction of where they are headed.  Staff may not be able to make a decision about what to do (and not do) unless there is a specified result toward which they work. Intentional planning requires declaring the result in advance. The intended end result is the beacon on the hill that guides decision making and actions for all staff. 

    While intentional planning is focused on “some goal or thing,” it also includes other important elements as part of a museum’s ongoing pursuit of creating public value.  Alignment is vital. Do staff members’ actions, decisions, and expenditures support achieving public value as articulated?  Perhaps the most difficult part of intentional planning is letting go of activities that may not provide public value and introducing new activities that do make a difference in people’s lives. Thus, museums need to know what will achieve their public value goals and what does not.  Evaluation is, therefore, another important part of intentional planning.  In the context of striving to achieve public value, evaluation can provide evidence of the ways in which a museum is achieving its intended aims and for learning what parts of museum practice need improvement to reach the museum’s public value intentions.  Finally, intentional planning becomes a tool for organizational learning when museums engage in reflection and ask “What have we learned?  How can we improve?” 

    In the context of Carol’s book, Museums and Public Value, intentional planning presumes museums are focused on creating public value.  My belief is that museums have no choice but to focus on creating public value.  Adopting an intentional mindset is one way to begin that necessary pursuit. 


    Museums and Public Value

    Carol Scott - Sunday, November 03, 2013

    I decided to begin this blog by focusing on a project which has been my passion for the last two years. In May this year, I published a book titled ‘Museums and Public Value: creating sustainable futures’. Contributing authors from the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand worked with me, sharing their expertise and insights on a range of subjects related to public value.


    I wanted to do the book because it seemed to me that Mark Moore’s theory and model of Public Value speaks to our time and, particularly to the role of museums in creating positive social change. 

    Let’s start with some definitions.

    ‘Public Value’ is defined as activity undertaken in the general public interest and realised in the public sphere. For Moore, the creation of public value should focus on ‘unmet social needs’- conditions to be ameliorated, problems to be solved and rights to be vindicated (Moore 2007). This directs us towards compelling social issues of race, class, cultural identity, equality and our relationship with the natural world. 

    And who is the public? The defining characteristic is that it refers to people in their role as citizens with an interest in issues affecting our common good.


    Museums can create value that contributes to the common good. But value creation does not happen in a vacuum. Museums are part of a universe of relationships that have a stake in the value we create. Moore has developed a ‘strategic triangle’ (1995) that maps the relationship between three major players in the creation of public value.


    (a) The first is what he calls the authorizing environment, policy makers, funders and stakeholders who have the power to grant or refuse approvals and to provide or withhold funding for work that we want to do;

    (b) The second is the operational environment (in this case, the museum)- where the combined forces of mission, purpose, leadership, planning, human resources, collections and funding can be directed to create and deliver value and

    (c) The third is the public, those citizens who are the recipients of the value museum create but who can also be co-producers in the creation of value.  


    Moore’s model of Public Value is not only helpful in mapping this universe of relationships. It is based on a set of principles that merit our attention:

    • It appreciates that today’s public sector organisations work within a dynamic and changing environment; 

      It acknowledges that museums do not work in isolation- we are connected- to funders, stakeholders, policy makers and the public- and we each of them varying levels of accountability;

      It focuses on the goals that we hold in common as citizens;

      It recognises that the creation of public value is intentional and involves conscious decision-making;

      It views our leaders as proactive stewards of public assets, capable of directing those assets purposefully to make a difference in the lives of individuals and communities.

    • In the next few weeks, you will meet some of my Museums and Public Value co-authors. They will be guest bloggers on a range of subjects that address issues of public value creation from the museum point of view. Watch this space!

    ‘Museums and Public Value: creating sustainable futures’



    Negotiating with the public

    Carol Scott - Sunday, October 20, 2013

    In August, I attended the International Council of Museums (ICOM) Triennial Conference in Rio de Janeiro.  The exciting theme of the conference, ‘Museums+ Creativity= Social Change’, reflects a focus on the social role of museums that is gaining momentum in many counties. 

    Contributing to social change, addressing social issues, creating social impact are subjects at the forefront of museum discussions these days.The UK’s Museums Association has taken this agenda onboard with their bold vision for role of museums in the next decade.  Museums Change Lives’[1], the title of their 2020 plan, focuses on the role that museum can play in fostering well-being, building communities, raising awareness of environmental issues and engaging in conversations around inspiring ideas. These initiatives are directed at building positive social value in the public sphere.

    But for whom is this agenda of social change directed? Who are the recipients of our bold vision? If we undertake actions that impact on people and change their lives, what role do they have in deciding the vision and the actions taken?

    Mark Moore, who wrote Creating public value: strategic management in government [2], believes that the public are the true authorisers of any value created by public institutions and that the public themselves have a role as co-producers of that value. He argues for ‘closer linking of users and producers in creative joint development of products and services...’ (Benington in Moore and Benington 2011, 45)[3].

    Co-production involves negotiating values. Sound simple?  In 2009, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation published ‘Whose cake is it anyway’?[4], a study exploring the way that British museums and galleries engage in co-production with the public. The study was highly critical, finding that...the actual experience of engagement and participation frequently revealed a level of control, risk aversion and ‘management’ by the organisations that served to undermine its impact and value.

    I don’t think that outcome is unique to British museums. 

    The lesson here is that co-production involves a level of risk and a willingness on the part of museums to be challenged by different voices and new views. Co-production requires museums to share authority with others.  The public need to be seen as ‘active agents’ rather than just ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘recipients’ of museum initiatives.

    Importantly, the Paul Hamlyn study defined co-production as ‘enabling individuals or groups to shape or modify an activity so that it becomes a different thing(Lynch, 2009, 16). In short, if we are going to embark on social change-and- if we are going to engage the public in co- creating that change, then museums must be prepared to admit ‘other’ values.

    [2] Moore, MH 1995, Creating public value: strategic management in government, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

    [3] Moore M. and Benington J. (eds) 2011. Public Value: Theory and Practice, Palgrave and Macmillan, London.

    [4] Lynch, B. 2009, Whose cake is it anyway? , Paul Hamlyn Foundation, London, UK. 

    Institutional value

    Carol Scott - Sunday, October 06, 2013

    Earlier this year I was invited to give a keynote address to the Leadership and Management Professional Practice Committee at the American Alliance of Museums meeting. My topic was the value of ‘value‘ for museum leadership.


    It is a subject about which I am passionate. As I work with museum leaders around the world, I find that those who are most effective have a keen understanding of their own institution’s value and know how to leverage it to serve a variety of purposes. But there is a process to clarifying institutional value and it works best when the museum leader is its champion.


    A leader has to create a space where the values of an organisation can be reviewed and discussed- examining missions and purpose, exploring what the museum currently stands for and envisaging what it wants to stand for in the future.

    This space opens up a conversation about uniqueness- what distinguishes this museum from other leisure competitors and what does it do best? This is often the point at which staff and management become excited about the difference the institution can make and the impact it can have.  And it is also the point at which we take a hard look at what is feasible, depending on resources and capacity. The dividends that flow from clarifying institutional value can be considerable and include:

     A shared vision and sense of purpose that provides a simple and comprehensible reason for what the organisation does and how it does it.

    • Corporate (a) consistency (b) clarity and (c) efficiency that give people a framework for making decisions in alignment with the direction of the organisation as a whole.
    • Intentional planning that is focused on making a difference.
    • A results- based approach to measuring whether that difference has been achieved.
    • The authority to be selective-to focus on what we can do- (crucially important in the current economic climate where we are often trying to prove ourselves by doing more with less).
    • Authentic branding that is promotes our values as well as our programmes; and 
    • A connection with those sectors of the population who share those values.

    Clarity about our institutional value gives us confidence to negotiate with the public, policy makers, funders and stakeholders. It is the bedrock of museums, the platform from which they operate.  Institutional value begins by looking inward- the better to look outward.