In sync with the rest of the world, the museum field has exploded and imploded. Crushed by the weight of ongoing, unresolved systemic racism and paralyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic, parts of the field have collapsed or dissipated, other parts are in a state of hibernation or homeostasis, and still others are beginning to re-emerge and re-vision. How these fragmented pieces will come together over the next few months and years is uncertain. One thing is, however, definite—evaluators are essential to the rebuild. As those responsible for the collection, analysis, and reporting of data specific to audience and community voices and experiences, their role is more invaluable in this period than ever.
Committed to supporting a platform for evaluators to assume a robust role in the rebuild, AAM’s Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation (CARE) is creating a space for evaluators and their peers to reflect, question, and debate social and industry issues; as well as share our ideas, failures, and triumphs as they impact evaluation during this historic moment in the museum field. We believe that evaluators should, and will, play an essential role in museum planning and operation, especially as preparations for opening doors are underway. We also believe that evaluators must be at the decision-making table for re-envisioning what museums will look like in the aftermath of COVID-19 and the social disruption that has gripped our society. Furthermore, we believe evaluation must happen at every level and department across the museum; these discussions are relevant to all museum professionals—not just those with “evaluation” in their title.
In the coming months, we will host a biweekly series on this blog, Essential Evaluators, to tackle critical issues that impact evaluators and evaluation in cultural organizations. How can we shape the evaluator’s role to fit the most pressing needs of cultural organizations? What is our role in elevating voices? Who are we leaving out with these decisions? What impact will proposed post-COVID-19 technological changes (e.g., touchless pay and touchless interactions) pose for audiences? How do we ensure that we are pushing our practice so that evaluation is centered in equity and inclusion?
As we begin to open our doors, we will need to understand our visitors and communities in new ways. Many will bring internalized grief, trauma, and anger with them—from COVID-19, structural and systemic racism, uncertainties around employment and finances, and their sense of safety. How will this change what they want to see and do? What might they take away from our exhibits with this lens in mind? How will mask-wearing and physical distancing (or the lack thereof) affect their experience, their learning, their connection to one another and our institutions? How will ethics evolve as we move further into the digital world? And, how has the integrity of data collection been transformed? These are some of the essential questions we will begin to explore in Essential Evaluators, and this is just the tip of the iceberg!Skip over related stories to continue reading article
The Essential Evaluators series is curated by Dr. Rose Jones, an applied anthropologist and science museum evaluator and researcher recently terminated during a COVID-19 restructure; Laureen Trainer, an external evaluator working in the museum and informal education space with Trainer Evaluation; and Andréa Giron Mathern, Director of Community Research and Engagement Strategies at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. In the spirit of truth and transparency and under the heavy weight of long-term social and industry injustice, we want to humbly acknowledge the “elephant in the blog”—two of us are white women and one is Latinx. We know that we do not represent the diverse, complex voices, experiences, or perspectives of BIPOC communities. However, in full support of the social movement currently underway, we are committed to no longer standing silently on the sidelines, passively witnessing continued gender, racial, ethnic, linguistic, age, and sexual biases and discrimination in museum spaces. We plan to leverage this platform to elevate voices that have been ignored and silenced and to promote critical thinking and dialogue about our field and industry.
We hope you will join us in a call to action for museum evaluation. This is a critical time for evaluation and evaluators. It is imperative that we join forces to assure that we are at the table where key decisions are being made and long-term strategies are being planned. We welcome your voices and ideas. And, please keep your eyes on the blog and the CARE website to find more resources and our upcoming CARE-apy sessions.