Museum Evaluation: Exploring its role as a placement student at Culture Syndicates.
Culture Syndicates’ service as a heritage and arts consultancy is one that is extensive and varied. Throughout my time as a placement student, I’ve been amazing at the array of diverse projects that Culture Syndicates is involved with. However, a common thread throughout its work, and indeed throughout the heritage sector as a whole, is the emphasis on evaluation. During my placement, I got to experience Culture Syndicate’s comprehensive museum evaluation service and reflect upon its purpose and role.
As a compulsory requirement for funded projects in the museum sector, it may be tempting to view evaluation as merely an unwanted symptom of uncertain times and tightening budgets. However, when done well, museum evaluation has the potential to be incredibly beneficial in navigating Heritage towards growth and relevance in what is a rapidly changing society. As culture becomes increasingly digital and socially-aware, it is no surprise that critical evaluation is sought after. In particular, we see museums seeking to further develop projects surrounding community engagement and education; evaluation is a great way to initiate this.
What makes for a good evaluation?
To start, a successful evaluation is grounded in accountability; it seeks to shed light on a project’s strengths and weaknesses and identify what factors lead to success. This information is particularly useful in updating the organisation on how they should direct their resources to improve overall efficiency. In turn, this data looks great to potential funders as it clearly demonstrates the impact of the organisation, thus allowing it to further expand.
Evaluation Project at Charnwood Museum
During my placement, Culture Syndicates began work on an evaluation project for Charnwood Museum, situated in Queen’s Park in Loughborough. The main aim for this project was to establish who Charnwood Museum’s audience was and how it could be expanded. To collect this data, we conducted surveys both inside the museum and in the centre of Loughborough itself. This was important as it ensured we had widespread data from both users of the museum and non-users.
Surveying itself, I discovered, is a unique experience which poses a variety of challenges. Firstly, it is vital that your survey is of a good quality – clear, concise and not too long. The location, weather and time of day can also hugely affect your success; a large data sample is dependent upon large footfall and this can be unpredictable. If heavy rain is in the forecast, don’t be surprised when people refuse to answer your survey! However, once you do manage to grab the attention of a member of the public, it is then that you have the opportunity to gather the information you need and promote your cause. I found this somewhat daunting at first, but ultimately it was a rewarding experience, especially engaging with such a broad range of people.
My Heritage Experience
Getting involved with a museum evaluation project was interesting, enjoyable and it exposed me to many aspects of the Heritage sector that I was unfamiliar with. As well as building upon my communication and research skills, I have been deeply inspired by the team at Culture Syndicates and my exploration into Heritage is now much more informed and emboldened.
By Megan Atwell, second year Music student at the University of Nottingham