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22nd April 2019 Bea Udeh

Creating a Culture of Evaluation #Digilab

If we could see the end of a project, examine it through a 360 perspective and then bring all of that learning into the next project, organisational growth occurs.  Based on her experiences at the Brooklyn Museum, Digital Lab Mentor, Sara Devine blogs about the importance of project evaluation processes.

The concept of using data to drive decision-making is definitely taking hold in the arts and cultural sector. And let me say, hallelujah to that! However, it can be a tricky thing to execute. To really do it well, you need a culture of evaluation in your institution. This means setting aside the necessary time during the planning stages of projects to define measurements of success, setting up ways to take those measurements, monitoring them, and gathering results. Then to really bring it home, you have to do something with the results. That’s the point, after all, of gathering the data. To make decisions.

The concept of using data to drive decision-making is definitely taking hold in the arts and cultural sector. And let me say, hallelujah to that!

It can be a bit of an uphill battle trying to institute this. People (leadership, for example) might realise we need data to make decisions, but not have a full picture of what it takes to get that data. It takes time and resources. Rob Stein’s chapter in the Manual of Digital Museum Planning (Rowman & Littlefield 2017), ‘Making It Personal: Putting Data at the Heart of of Your Museum,’  offers guidance on just how to go about accomplishing this goal. I encourage you to check it out if you’re struggling in this arena. He gives helpful advice on how to set and measure KPIs (key performance indicators) and even references the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loop, a decision-making approach born of aerial combat, as a useful tool.

In my own work, I find that starting in my proverbial backyard is a good approach. I regularly have to make decisions or provide insight to inform others’ decisions, and have become a broken record about either needing data or using data to make decisions. We struggle a bit at the Brooklyn Museum because we lack a CRM (customer relationship management database) and rely on multiple systems to do our work. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gather data. In fact, we’ve recently partnered with Frontier7 to build a baseline visitor study I hope to run once a year. We’ll also work with them on market research for specific exhibitions and ongoing evaluation of outreach efforts. I recently sat down with our Director of Technology and Senior Marketing Manager to map out our ongoing evaluation needs and begin to put a timeline in place for executing these studies.

We used giant sticky sheets to map our evaluation plans for the next year, including what questions we want for a baseline visitor study and for an exhibition-specific version.

We constantly find ourselves wishing we had more information. So we’re going to get it. I don’t mean to be flippant here — it’s going to take work to ensure these studies take place regularly, to gather the info, analyse the data, and report on it. But, honestly, there’s only one way to build a culture of evaluation and that’s to get started evaluating. I’m trying to help create that culture by practicing what I preach. I’m confident as my colleagues see the usefulness, they’ll get on board with helping create that culture building-wide.

Image courtesy of Sara Devine.

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