Misconceptions Held by Museum Professionals – #throwbackthursday

As part of a general clean out of my doctoral readings I came across some gems that were too good to throw out (i.e. recycle!) so I thought I’d start my own #throwbackthursday thread summarising some of my favourites and reflecting on what they mean for today’s museums.

The one I’m starting with is by the classic (and highly influential) audience researcher, Molly Hood, who’s work especially around leisure and why people choose to visit museums influenced a whole lot of museum evaluators. This paper, Misconceptions Held by Museum Professionals was published in Visitor Behaviour, 1991, Volume VI, No. 1, pp 4-5. Enjoy!

1. People who come to the museum will be seduced into returning: Hundreds of people have come once and never again because of a range of reasons!
2. If we get schoolchildren into the museum early in life, they will be devoted visitors for the rest of their lives: Hood’s research found as many are turned off as turned on – it comes down to the types of experiences they have, as is the case with other visitors too.
3. People come primarily to the museum to learn: Hood argues that most come for a good time however they define that. My doctoral research actually found that learning and entertainment are key visit motivators, and that entertainment as a concept, works well with learning and education in the minds of visitors.
4. If a museum that doesn’t charge admission, devoted visitors will be so loyal they will want to become members: If they are getting what they want and don’t value membership then they won’t join. However, my research has found that people do become members to “support the museum”, closely followed by free admission (for those museums that charge).
5. This museum is unique: No, it isn’t! Museums are more alike than not, therefore Hood concludes that research findings can apply across the whole sector (including zoos, aquaria and science centres).
6. Families are the backbone of museum audiences: actual counts show that older adults are primary visitors – I’d need to see more data to prove this or not. Our Older Audiences study found that this audience groups was a key one to target as they’re most likely to come.
7. The same approach serves everyone: No, it doesn’t! Museums need a variety of approaches to suit a variety of learning styles and needs across all delivery platforms including digital.
8. Folk who come for one type of program will automatically spill over into other programs or into becoming regular viewers of the exhibits: We have certainly found that here as people come to see the vessels and don’t necessarily then see the permanent galleries – something we are looking into further.
9. People come primarily for the what – what’s offered, what the museum is featuring: Hood states that the bulk of visitors come for the how – how the presentation is offered and experienced, how they share the event with other people (even more so now in the age of social media and mobility), how the event relates to their everyday lives.
10. Visitors equals visitation: we need to account for repeat visitors when reporting visitor figures and make the distinction. Now we also need to account for digital visitors which makes our lives even more complicated!
11. Survey research is simple/easy to do – just hand out a few questionnaires, tally the responses, and you have direction for the next project: Hood states, rightly, that survey research is sophisticated and should be undertaken as such. Making meaningful decisions must be based on robust data and conclusions.
12. All research methods are equal and therefore, interchangeable: You need a well thought-out plan for methods that will best provide answers to the problems you are trying to solve.
13. Museums should be delighted with a 20-30% response rate on a survey: As we know 75% for a mail survey is a good result, however with online tools such as Survey Monkey, it is easier to get the required numbers of respondents rather than relying on snail mail.
14. Focus groups are as good as a detailed survey and cheaper: I never knew focus groups were cheap! Again, method should fit the purpose.
15. Qualitative research gets at the affective domain and quantitative at the cognitive, and never the twain shall meet: Carefully constructed quant surveys can probe attitudes, values, etc.
16. Demographics will tell you all you need to know about your audience: Demographics won’t tell you why people visit your museum. The move in many museums across the world towards audience segmentation is a good one (more on visitor categories in a future post).
17. If the museum says it’s giving visitors twice as much to see/do as in the past, it can charge twice as much as in the past: The fee must be related to perceived value from the visitor’s perspective, not the museum’s!

This (and a whole heap of other papers) are available on the Visitor Studies Association website – go to the Archive and search on Hood and this paper (plus others) is available to download as a pdf. There is also a 1995 interview with Molly availableon informalscience.org at this link.

Happy #throwbackthursday!


6 thoughts on “Misconceptions Held by Museum Professionals – #throwbackthursday

  1. Amelia says:

    Great post Lynda, I was surprised to see how relevant the research is over 20 years later (and post WWW)! Looking forward to the next installment.

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