A newsletter on audience research and development for cultural leaders. One reader calls it, "sometimes funny"

Today is the last day to register for The Audience Progress Workshop.

Rather than talk more about the what’s and how’s and when’s of the workshop (you can read about all that over here) I thought I’d talk a little bit about the Why’s behind the workshop and where this is all headed because I think those ideas are valuable to readers whether you choose to attend or not.


The Audience Progress Workshop is the first in a series of Museums-as-Progress (MAP) Workshops.

I’ve written about this idea of Museums-as-Progress here, there, and there. Today, I’ll just outline three principals of this MAP model that informs these workshops:

  1. Progress is the goal — Not engagement. Engagement is a byproduct of progress.
  2. To help people make progress, organizations need to pursue foundational, problem-space research.
  3. Evaluation and market research will not help organizations achieve their diversity goals.

Let’s take a closer look at these principles.

1. Progress is the goal, not engagement — Engagement is a byproduct of progress.

This is idea is at the core of this first workshop that begins tomorrow. “Progress” refers to the idea that people engage with (or “hire”) organizations because they’re pursuing some progress in their lives.

People’s goals can be divided into three categories: Experience Goals, End Goals, and Life Goals.

If we ask if a visitor is “engaged,” we’re more likely, I believe, to focus on the visitors’ experience and end goals. When we focus on progress, we flip the script and find ourselves gravitating toward constituents’ life goals.

People may be engaged but not making much progress toward their life goals. But if someone is making progress, they are by definition engaged. So, progress is the goal.

2. To help people make progress, organizations need to pursue foundational, problem-space research.

Unlike evaluation, foundational research is focused on people’s fundamental goals and problems. (I used to categorize all foundational and generative research as “generative” before Indi Young convinced me I could be more specific.) It is focused on the problem-space, while evaluation is focused on the solution-space.

Organizations cannot uncover new opportunities by evaluating existing audiences’ responses to existing offerings.

If that seems as obvious to you as it does to me, then you might wonder why evaluation dominates museums’ research activities when they often aspire to reach new audiences or develop audiences so that their constituencies are more reflective of their communities.

3. Evaluation and market research will not help organizations achieve their diversity goals.

See above. (Maybe there should just be two principles for now… I’ll have to fire my editor.)

As for market research — I think it also undermines cultural organizations’ efforts to better support their constituents because it divides people into categories based on demographics, and people are not motivated by demographics. In some contexts, demographics may influence behavior, but people are rarely motivated by their skin color, age, gender, or income. People are motivated by goals.

These ideas aren’t really mine.

There are no new ideas. This workshop series — this whole idea of “museums as progress” — is informed by lots of other people’s thinking. I’ll be referring to their work regularly in these workshops, but here are a few that come mind right now:

  • Alan Klement
  • Indi Young
  • Alan Cooper
  • Kim Goodwin
  • Nina Simon

(Longtime readers will have seen these Parks & Rec images before and can expect to see them again because Leslie Knope is the woman I should have married. Sorry, Christie.)

I could be wrong.

If you found yourself disagreeing with some of these principles I outlined, let me know in a reply to this email or share your thoughts in a comment on the blog. A number of you have been instrumental in challenging these ideas — Thank you. A year from now, this will all probably look quite different, but that’s what learning in public is all about, I suppose.

I could also be a little bit right.

If you’d like to explore how you might apply these ideas to your organization, sign up for the workshop, and I’ll see you on the internet tomorrow.

Register Today

Thanks for reading,

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