DCMS calls for more research into diversity and social impact of museums

Rebecca Atkinson, 30.05.2018
But commentators question why department isn't utilising existing research
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has said it wants to see more research carried out into the diversity of the museum workforce and the wider social impact of the sector in the next two to four years to help it develop and deliver policies.

The DCMS published its first Areas of Research Interest report earlier this month, which set out a number of research questions across its various policy areas, including culture and heritage.

The report aims to “encourage researchers and academics to explore those topics that could be of benefit to the DCMS and our sectors and act as a starting point for future collaboration”.

Areas cited by the DCMS to be of interest include “further analysis into the diversity of the museums sector (employees and volunteers), particularly at senior levels and visitors” and “further research into the drivers of cultural engagement and participation”.

The report later says there is a need for “research into the diversity of those working within the cultural sector and barriers to entry”.

It also calls for “greater evidence of the wider impacts of museums” on community cohesion, wellbeing and house prices.

Other topics identified by the DCMS as being of research interest include the impact of technological innovations, philanthropy and sustainable business models, and evaluation of the first world war centenary commemorations.

The report was welcomed by some on Twitter, including Karen Brookfield, the deputy director of strategy at the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), who tweeted that many of the areas chimed with the interests of HLF and heritage organisations. 

But others questioned why the DCMS wasn’t utilising existing research in these areas.

James Doeser, a freelance researcher, writer and consultant, and former senior researcher at Arts Council England, tweeted: “When I look at the DCMS Areas of Research Interest I see a list of things that the DCMS does not know (enough) about. This is not the same thing as a list of things about which there is no research.

“Some of these things have driven research commissions for years and years. Which have been addressed by millions and millions of pounds of public money, whether directed through universities or direct research commissions.

“Either they have not been asking the right questions or forgetting the answers they once had. It's what you get after eight years of cutbacks and relentless churn with no institutional memory."

Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association, told Museums Journal: “It’s great that the DCMS has identified key areas of research for the sector and evidence of the wider impact of museums would be very useful.

“We know from our research that more museums are working to the themes in Museums Change Lives: enhancing health and wellbeing, creating better places for us to live and work, and providing spaces for critical debate and reflection.

“It would be really useful if the DCMS could now provide the evidence of the positive social impact that museums can have working with their communities.”

Comments

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Tim Schadla-Hall
Reader in Public Archaeology, University College London
07.06.2018, 10:27
I agree with Jams Doeser on this one- it is another indictment of an inadequate department- which cannot even review the Treasure Act every 5 years ( and there is another scheme where the figures exist for social impact and diversity)