Museums and Public Value

Museums and Public ValueThis week we welcome our guest blogger Carol Ann Scott, editor of Museums and Public Value: Creating Sustainable Futures!

Randi Korn & Associates invited me to guest blog on a subject that has important links to intentionality. My passion is the value of museums- how we articulate that value, measure it and create it. So today, I am blogging about the third aspect- the value we create. With that in mind, I want to look at what Mark Moore’s theory of Public Value has to offer museums when we purposefully set out to create value.

Moore’s Creating Public Value: Strategic Management in Government (1995) may be familiar to many of you. In Moore’s view, publically funded organisations are charged with directing their assets to creating value with a strong focus on social change and improvement. This type of value is about more than visitor satisfaction. It is directed towards adding benefit to the public sphere and producing outcomes that are in the general public interest.

Public Value does not occur of its own accord. It is purposeful, intentional, and requires planning to achieve a particular end result.  It confirms a museum’s ‘agency’- its capacity to direct its resources to make a positive difference. When Public Value is embedded in the organisation as a whole, museums move from creating one-off projects to investing in longer term impact.

I am fascinated that there is a strong relationship between the essence of Public Value and a persistent idea in museums—co-production.  Public Value is fundamentally about co-production. If we are planning to make a difference that will affect the lives of others, then the ‘others’ need to be involved. Moore recognises the public as co-producers in the value that, together, we create.

So, what do Public Value programs in museums look like?

Here are some examples: (a) an exhibition co-curated by a museum and members of the local Afro -Caribbean community to explore the history of the TransAtlantic slave trade and interrogate its living legacy in modern Britain;  (b) a youth program aimed at ensuring that a new generation takes forward the lessons of moral responsibility learned from the Holocaust and adopts a commitment to pursue democratic civic engagement, and (c) a museum education program that is playing its part in Hawaiian language revival

Why should museums adopt a Public Value approach in their planning and programs? Well, perhaps most importantly, we are accountable to the public, policy makers, and funders. All of these groups invest in museums whether through their taxes, their time, or funding provision. An investment seeks a return, and in the not- for- profit sector that return is the value we create. Increasingly, a museum’s value is measured by the contributions we make to benefit the public sphere—a major criterion for measuring museums’ worth as a sector.

The late Stephen Weil challenged museums to look searchingly at their ‘claims to worthiness’. Embedding Public Value into our thinking and planning can result in enhancing the life of citizens-  and that is worthy.

Carol Scott is the editor of Museums and Public Value: creating sustainable futures published by Ashgate in May 2013. More on the three examples cited in this blog can be found in these chapters of the book:

  1. The Public as Co-producers: making the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery, Museum of London Docklands (David Spence, Tom Wareham, Caroline Bressey, June Bam-Hutchison, Annette Day)
  2. Evaluating Public Value: Strategy and Practice (Mary Ellen Munley)
  3. Creating Public Value through Museum Education (Ben Garcia)
2 Responses
  1. […] Earlier this week our Founding Director Randi Korn was featured as a guest blogger on Carol Ann Scott’s blog Museums and Value.  You can check out Randi’s guest blog post on the importance of intentional planning HERE.  To learn more about Carol’s new book Museums and Public Value: Creating Sustainable Futures, take a look at her guest post our own Intentional Museum blog HERE. […]

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