The National Portrait Gallery will continue to collect data

Measurement shake-up could hit outreach work

Rebecca Atkinson, Issue 112/04, p9, 01.04.2012
Changes to performance indicators could lead to museums cutting back on outreach work
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has dropped six performance indicators (PIs) that relate to social inclusion, learning and outreach work.

The move means that from this month, DCMS-sponsored museums will no longer have to report data on the number of UK adult visitors from National Statistics socio-economic groups 5-8 or an ethnic minority; the number of adult visitors who consider themselves to have a limiting long-term illness, disability or infirmity; or the number of children and adults participating in outreach activities outside the museum.

The DCMS said that, following consultation, it had designated two PIs to be key performance indicators. These are fundraising and the number of actual visits to a museum or gallery.

Museums will also continue to supply data for other PIs, including the number of visits by under-16s, the number of overseas visitors and trading income.

A DCMS spokesman said it had removed six of the previous PIs that it considered, in consultation with museums, “too onerous to collect”.

He added: “Feedback from that consultation strongly suggested that museums would value a reduction in the overall number of indicators. This was due to a number of different reasons, including the fact that the process of collating data for the previous list of indicators was costly and time-consuming.” 

Suzie Tucker, head of strategy and delivery at the National Museum Directors’ Conference, said she expected many museums would continue to collect the data for their internal use and to benchmark against each other.

But one national museum director said they feared the changes would lead to some national museums cutting back on outreach work.

The director added: “Just measuring visitor numbers is not good enough, as attracting large numbers of tourists is very different from providing a service to people from low-income groups or with long-term illnesses.

“It is clear that these changes are the result of lobbying from influential national museums that are looking for an excuse to cut back on social inclusiveness and stop bothering with people who need museums but aren’t high spenders.”

Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said: “The National Portrait Gallery remains highly committed to its outreach and diversity work and we will continue to collect this data, as it provides a tool to inform planning and helps us understand the impact of our gallery programme on audience development.”   


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MA Member
04.04.2012, 22:19
In theory performance indicators are a wonderful way of holding organisations to account for their performance. the reality has always been mixed as so often what is counted tends to follow the whims of those in government with their hands on the purse strings. This change could be seen as the latest example of this. Added to this drawback is the fact that PIs tend to be those services that can be easily counted and for all the great progress on measuring outcomes qualitatively that has continued to be the case, with the inevitable skewing of resources as a consequence. Of course, there is nothing stopping museums from prioritising the groups mentioned in the article if they feel that is the right way forward.

The article does point to a more depressing belief among some commentators and bureaucrats that we can only trust our museums professionals to do the best for their many audiences if we set them performance indicators. Though that is not as bad as the national director who obviously sees your average visitor as an obstacle to his/her grand plans to rebuild society to his/her own ideals. Why do some people look on their core visitors with such scorn in a way that reminds me of Gerald Ratner and the people who bought his jewellery? Who do you think supplies the money that keeps you in your job and your museum open? If museum directors turn their backs on their core audiences and prefer to focus on projects that, however justifiable in their own right, can only deliver to a small number of people, then as their halos glow ever brighter, the visitor experience for their many visitors will probably grow dimmer and duller.