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Transforming Data into Stories with the Annual Survey of Museum-Goers

Category: Data
A graphic that says "MUSEUMS" in large letters, with smaller phrases like "knowledge," "enrichment," and "sense of place" branching off from it.
For the Omaha Children's Museum, the strength of the Annual Survey of Museum-Goers has been putting visitor data into context, as opposed to working in a vacuum.

Who visits our museums? What are their motivations, and what do they expect from the experience? Alternatively, who is not visiting, and why not?

These are critical questions for the future of individual museums, and for the entire field. To gain rich insight into these questions, the Alliance is partnering with Wilkening Consulting on the 2020 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers. Participating in the survey provides data that can be used to take immediate action and make decisions that contribute to the sustainability and vibrancy of your museum. Today, Lindy Hoyer from the Omaha Children’s Museum explains how the Annual Survey helps her institution contextualize visitor data and turn it into action.


Data is great. But at a children’s museum, stories really matter. Stories that resonate, make meaning, and teach us something.

Participating in the Annual Survey of Museum-Goers combines these two critical things: data about our audiences and stories that help us do our work better.

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It may seem like these are two different things, but they are not. Indeed, for us, the real strength of the Annual Survey of Museum-Goers is that data is transformed into a story.

What do we mean by this?

First, let’s talk data. The Omaha Children’s Museum has been a participant in the Annual Survey of Museum-Goers for the past few years, and we deeply value receiving our spreadsheet of results, poring over the data points, and reading the written-in comments our audiences take time to share with us. Tracking our change over time while learning new insights is also of critical importance to us, and the Annual Survey makes this easy.

Prior to joining the Annual Survey, we had a practice for years of surveying our visitors, asking the same questions each year and filing away the results. After participating in the Annual Survey, however, we now can take our local data, compare it with those other participating museums, and weave a story to tell from our data. The data we receive from the Annual Survey provides a context for our work, which can feel isolated and flat without the national context of comparison.

One direct result of looking at our first year’s survey results was reexamining our hours of operation. We have extended our weekend hours of operation and created more member-hour perks as a result of understanding the data presented. No museum should plan its operations and strategically look to its future in the vacuum of its own data; having access and an interpretation of the data helps our team stretch themselves to be better at delivering to the needs of our audience.

But then there are the stories. We love the Data Stories that Wilkening Consulting creates from the Annual Survey results. By taking the national results and putting them into graphic form, Wilkening Consulting has made data far more accessible for all of our internal audiences: our staff, board of directors, donors, and community supporters.

Want to better understand why parents cycle into and out of museums, and what that means for your museum? The Data Stories on family audiences explains the how and the why.

A graphic titled "Museum-Going Parents: A 2019 Data Story Update (Part 1)"

Or why curiosity is so fundamental to how museums can have the most effective outcomes? The Data Stories on curiosity lays out how it affects personal life outcomes as well as societal challenges.

A graphic titled "The Impact of Museums: Curiosity"

These Data Stories contextualize our work into larger patterns that convey the fundamental value of museums to individuals, families, and communities…while also helping us make a stronger case about the value of play and curiosity among Omaha’s youngest residents.

And because the Data Stories come from research fielded through the Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, that makes this annual endeavor of utmost importance to the field. We all benefit from the work, but the work’s depth is dependent on many museums participating.

Thus, I strongly advocate for more museums to participate in this annual survey. The cost is reasonable, but the benefits received far outweigh the costs. Having participated in back-to-back years, the value of the investment has more than doubled for our team. Continuing to participate is now our default position, and we can’t wait for the depths we’ll learn from the 2020 Data Stories produced as a result of this year’s survey.


Interested in gleaning these kinds of insights? Sign up to participate in the 2020 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers today for a low-cost early rate!

There is nearly no effort required of your team; simply send an email and post a link on social media. Wilkening Consulting analyzes your audience and museum visitors across the U.S. so you can understand how your museum stacks up against the rest of the field. In addition to demographics, you’ll learn more about your audiences, including why they visit, what they believe you’re doing well, and how they wish to see you improve. On top of the questions included in the survey, you also have the opportunity to include two custom questions that address the nuances specific to your museum.

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