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IMPACT EVALUATION OF MUSEUMS, ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES: AVAILABLE EVIDENCE PROJECT

Key Message

"The most compelling evidence of impact of museums, archives and libraries was found to be in the areas of personal development, such as:
• Acquisition of skills;
• Trying new experiences;
• Increased confidence and self-esteem;
• Changed or challenged attitudes;
• Developing creativity, cultural awareness, communication and memory;
• Providing support for educational courses.”

Source

Wavell, C., Baxter, G., Johnson, I., & Williams, D. (2002). Impact Evaluation of Museums, Archives and Libraries: Available Evidence Project. Aberdeen, Scotland: The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries.

Purpose

This report provides a critical overview of impact evaluation in the museums, archives and libraries sector. The study, funded by Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries, consisted largely of a review of the literature published during a five year retrospective period, with a particular emphasis on impact evaluations conducted within the UK. An advisory group, representing all three domains, was also established.

The methodologies used in, and the evidence obtained from, these evaluation studies are discussed critically within the broad context of social, learning and economic impact. While there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence and descriptions of best practice in the sector, extensive hard evidence of impact, gathered systematically, is often lacking.

OBJECTIVES
The objectives of the review are to:
• Identify what evidence already exists on impact evaluation for museums, archives and libraries.
• Synthesise the available evidence at a general level in order to provide a coherent picture of the impact that museums, archives and libraries have had.
• Identify and describe critically the different evaluation methodologies that have been used to date in the sector.
• Identify gaps and provide recommendations for next steps.

The methodology used for this study was a desk based critical review of literature of impact evaluation in all types of museum, gallery, archive and library over a retrospective period of five years and concentrating on evidence from the UK. An advisory group was set up to ensure all domains and policy areas were represented.

Evidence

The most compelling evidence from the review indicates that the sector has an impact on personal development. There is also a current emphasis on the impact evaluation of special projects and initiatives; a shift in emphasis towards the evaluation of core services will require a corresponding shift in professional thinking.

Issues relating to physical, emotional and intellectual access to the sector by individuals or groups deemed to be in danger of exclusion are also discussed. While the profession is beginning to recognise access as a priority, there is a need to increase access throughout the sector in order to enable impact. The report concludes with a series of detailed recommendations for follow-on work, including: further consultation on impact evaluation, both within and without the sector; further research into economic impact, long-term impact, the impact of the archives domain, and the establishment of causal relationships between sector use and social, learning and economic impact; further development of, and access to, appropriate evaluation techniques and tools; increased support for evidence-based practice; and the development and adoption of a strategic plan for the sector.

Key points:
The most compelling evidence from this review indicates the sector has an impact on personal development.
• A shift in emphasis towards the evaluation of core services, as opposed to special initiatives, requires a corresponding shift in professional thinking, including wider and more effective use of evidence-based practice.
• The profession is beginning to recognise access as a priority but there is a need to increase physical, emotional and intellectual access throughout the sector in order to enable impact.

Evidence of social impact -  Museums and galleries
A number of potential areas of social impact were explored in the following major studies: The GLLAM Report (Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, 2000); MORI polls (1999, 2001); Including Museums (Dodd & Sandell, 2001); social impact of the Open Museum in Glasgow (Dodd et al., 2002).

The most compelling evidence of impact was found to be in the areas of personal development, such as:
• Acquisition of skills;
• Trying new experiences;
• Increased confidence and self-esteem;
• Changed or challenged attitudes;
• Developing creativity, cultural awareness, communication and memory;
• Providing support for educational courses.

These outcomes are comparable to the evidence for impact on learning. Although actual evidence was not substantiated by this review, museum users and non-users, staff and project workers in varying degrees perceived there to be an impact in wider social areas with specific examples given in:
• Community empowerment, cohesion and capacity building;
• Influencing disadvantaged and socially excluded groups;
• Promoting healthier communities;
• Tackling unemployment;
• Tackling crime.

Archives
The archive domain used similar themes of potential impact in two large-scale surveys of visitors to UK archives (Public Services Quality Group for Archives and Local Studies, 1999 & 2001) and again the actual evidence for positive impact is expressed in terms of personal development:
• Useful and enjoyable learning experience;
• Important source of leisure enjoyment and personal satisfaction;
• Stimulating or broadening understanding of history and culture;
• Increasing abilities, skills and confidence; and, to a limited extent,
• Helping job seeking or workplace skills.

In addition, respondents expressed the view that archives had a positive impact on wider social issues:
• Preservation of culture;
• Strengthening family and community identity;
• Learning opportunities;
• Supporting administrative and business activity.

The archive domain has used an audit of social inclusion work in designated Places of Deposit for Public Records in England and Wales (National Council on Archives, 2001) to establish that there is potential for wider impact in the following areas:
• Personal identity and development;
• Community identity and development;
• Representing communities;
• Democracy and citizenship;
• Tackling crime;
• Promoting healthier communities;
• Promoting lifelong learning, educational attainment, employability.

Libraries
More studies examining social impact have been conducted in the public library domain than in museums and archives, including major national reviews and studies taking a more qualitative approach. Although some of these studies are outwith the timescale of this review, they have been included because their exploratory nature provides evidence of potential impact. In the case of the Proctor, Usherwood and Sobczyk (1996) study, it has been included because it provides evidence of the impact of the temporary closure of the library service in Sheffield.

-  Evidence from Building Better Library Services (Audit Commission, 2002); Matarasso (1998b); Linley and Usherwood (1998); Bryson, Usherwood and Streatfield (2002); Black and Crann (2000) and the two closure studies (Proctor, Usherwood and Sobczyk, 1996 and Proctor, Lee and Reilly, 1998) indicates positive impact in supporting:
• Personal development - including formal education, lifelong learning and training; after-school activities; literacy, leisure, social, and cultural objectives through book borrowing; skills development, availability of public information;
• Social cohesion - by providing a meeting place and centre of community development; raising the profile and confidence of marginalised groups;
• Community empowerment - by supporting community groups and developing a sense of equity and access;
• Local culture and identity - by providing community identity and information;
• Health and well-being - by contributing to the quality of life and how well people feel, as well as providing health information services;
• Local economy - by providing business information and supporting skills development.

Additional Information

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Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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