The rap on research for the arts, museums, and informal sciences
One of President Obama’s early changes at the White House was turning the institutionally-flavored Office of Public Liaison into the Office of Public Engagement. I’ll nominate that as word of the year.
According to a White House press release, the mission of the renamed office will be to “serve as the front door to the White House through which ordinary Americans can participate and inform the work of the President.”
So the Obama team, famous during the 2008 campaign for its ability to read and respond to the national sentiment, has intuited the relationship people now want to have with the institutions in their lives: more active than passive, more participatory than receptive.
For cultural nonprofits and educational institutions, “engagement” is the new watchword. Leaders use it almost religiously. And I’ll bet that the changes it connotes – esepecially the idea that institutions need to work at being...well, engaging, and that it’s about two-way relationships rather than one-way communication – won’t be just a passing trend. Engagement is here to stay.
But what does it really mean for a college, a ballet company, or a science museum? How can we tell whether it’s happening, and for whom? How do we quantify it and track its growth?
In our research so far, we’ve defined engagement differently for different organizations. We’ve learned that (no surprise) more engaged audiences are more loyal and also more likely to move casual transaction to a supportive relationship. For some clients we’ve developed models that show what contributes to making people engaged, which can help predict which constituents are likely to become more engaged over time.
Here’s a challenge for you as we begin 2010: Brainstorm three key, big-picture measures of engagement for your institution’s audiences. An easy way to start is to fill in the blanks of sentences like, “I know someone is really engaged if see them ___________” or “At the end of the day, I wish we could get more people to ___________.”
Keep it tangible and active, so it can be measured one day. And don’t be fancy; you can just jot them on post-its and stick them on the wall.
Already have engagement measures? Share them here and let’s learn from each other.
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