In this post I present a couple of links that contain useful information and tools about defining and assessing social impact in cultural institutions. Both reflect the work undertaken in two very different institutions: Europeana and the Oakland Museum of California.
One of the most important ideas is that both virtual and physical museums are ultimately about “building a community” around (virtual) heritage. “Community” is defined by an internal and an external dimension: in the first case, we find aspects such as meaningful contributions, feeling of belonging, or strong connection between members; in the second case, there is awareness, understanding, or identity. Yet, with the help of the digital dimension, citizens do not need to be in the same location; instead the museum can have a role at a larger geographic scale.
Evaluating these dimensions can sometimes be done by simple means, such as asking people and paying attention to the vocabulary they use when they refer to themselves, the museum and heritage. Other, more complex tools for assessment are a suit of “lenses” or dimensions, which include utility, learning, legacy, existence and, of course, community.
In any case, it is paramount that (virtual) museums define their mission in a consensual way, through a series of physical and remote discussions involving the museum staff, stakeholders, citizens, etc. It is accepted that to be successful, (virtual) museums should frame their mission and activities somewhere between financial sustainability and social impact.
The definition of methods and tools for impact assessment is currently ongoing at both institutions. They will provide further releases of their work in the months to come.
These are the links: