Full report available at https://www.blackradley.com/assets/Insight-Final-Report-2015-11-11.pdf
These are troubled times for the cultural sector. In the wake of the ongoing reductions to public funding, museums and other cultural organisations are increasingly looking for alternative sources of income.
The drive to become more commercially astute is something that has gained momentum in recent years. Growing numbers of organisations are placing a greater emphasis on generating income through commercial activity; in particular, maximising visitor spend.
Museums are unique; unlike a shop or a restaurant, where numerous studies have been undertaken to understand what stimulates spend in those environments and indeed a discourse of best practice has evolved to respond to the marketplace, very little information exists on what drives commercial growth in the museum environment.
Many have a shop and a café, some charge for admission and some run special events. This consistency means that it might be possible to compare the commercial performance of museums together as a group, and discover exactly what factors are important in determining visitor spend and therefore commercial success.
In 2014 Black Radley formed a project partnership with Bath Spa University and The Ryan O’Neill Partnership to attempt to discover what factors drive visitor spend in the museum environment. This project came to be known as ‘Insight’.
Major advances in accessibility and applicability of machine learning technology meant it was now possible to determine which factors most affect museum performance and to use those factors to determine what the “ideal” expected performance might be for an individual museum.
In order to do this, the project partners needed to understand:
After a process of rigorous research and in consultation with a steering committee of museum sector representatives, an online platform was designed and built enabling individual museums to:
Despite high initial interest from the sector, eventual participation rates were low. During the life of the project significant resource had to be redirected to increasing the levels and quality of data submitted. Eventually only 64 out of 200 participating sites were able to provide a full 12 months’ worth of data.
It was decided that the focus of the research had to change direction in order to account for this unexpected outcome. The reason for this was that the process of encouraging museums to take part revealed that in many cases the degree of challenge museums experience to take part in such projects had been underestimated; these challenges have direct implications on the sector’s ability to successfully respond to future funding reductions.
The new direction of study resulted in four common ‘barrier to entry’ themes being identified:
Despite low participation rates, the project was able to ascertain a statistically significant relationship between a variety of factors relating to commercial income, including:
Overwhelmingly the response has been that further research is required to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that play a role in determining commercial performance. This is of course dependent on successfully resolving the challenges faced by museums that prevented participation in this study. Future opportunities for this study include:
However, it is the belief of the project partners that the clear priority is to set about addressing the underlying difficulties the sector faces which prevented participation. These difficulties not only had implications for the Insight project, but will likely hamper the sector’s ability to successfully meet the financial challenges ahead.
The project partners are actively collaborating on the pursuit of future projects which aim to address these challenges.