ACM Trends: Data-Driven Outcomes for Children’s Museums

A research-focused series has helped professionals identify and understand patterns in their field and plan for shifts that will influence their work.

by Kate FlinnerShaun FieldJohn FraserJohn VoiklisElizabeth Attaway
Nov 13, 2020

Nonprofits, including cultural organizations like museums, zoos, aquariums, and libraries, fulfill important roles in society. They provide opportunities for the public to engage in various informal learning activities. These organizations need access to actionable research that they can use to identify gaps, improve their operations and programming, support performance benchmarking, and enhance professional skills development for staff and volunteers. Knology partners with professional associations to provide the kinds of insights that non-profit organizations, leaders, and professionals need to plan for the future and better serve their communities.

In 2016, Knology partnered with the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) to launch an initiative that does just that. The ACM Trends series publishes research to help professionals in the children’s museums field to understand patterns and anticipate shifts that will influence their work. Each volume features a selection of reports focused on the unique needs of children’s museums as a sector. Drawing on data pooled from ACM member institutions coupled with external public datasets, these reports provide practical synthesis on a range of topics, and summaries of the direct implications for the management of children's museums. Each report draws attention to an emerging issue or opportunity for the field, and suggests ways that leaders of children’s museums can proactively use data to advance their work.

Since the publication of the first ACM Trends report in 2017, children’s museums have used the information to understand and shape their operations. Below, we provide a brief synopsis of each report that has been produced as part of the series so far, starting with the most recent. Each report analyzes a single trend. We have categorized the reports by volume, and within each volume, we have arranged the associated reports by chronological order. For more information, please contact the series editor, Kate Flinner, at KateF@knology.org.

The reports in this volume focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on ACM member institutions, and the implications for the sector as a whole.

4.1: Museums in a Pandemic: Snapshot of Impacts

Color photo of Snapshot of ImpactsThe first report in this volume provides an early overview of the initial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s museums. It highlights their efforts to find funding, plans for the immediate future, and the effects of the pandemic on staffing and memberships. The following reports delve more deeply into these topics.

4.2: Museums in a Pandemic: Financial Impacts by Mid-May 2020

Color photo of Financial Impacts by Mid May 2020This report focuses specifically on the field’s early efforts to navigate financial sustainability in the wake of the crises. The results can help museum leaders identify next steps, as well as guide their efforts to advocate for support from funders and policymakers.

4.3: Museums in a Pandemic: Workforce Impacts

Color photo of workforce impactsThis trends report focuses on the children’s museum workforce. Specifically, it looks at the effects of the pandemic on full- and part-time staff, as well as volunteers. Its findings offer opportunities for children’s museums to reflect on staffing decisions. The report also addresses children’s museums’ efforts to communicate with personnel throughout the pandemic.

4.4: Museums in a Pandemic: Impacts for Audiences & Partners

Color photo of Impacts for audiences & partnersThis Trends Report focuses on what children’s museums’ efforts to support their audiences as they prepare to reopen and restart public programming. It also explores how museums are trying to find support for their work by cultivating new or enhancing existing partnerships.

This volume of the Trends Reports focuses on philanthropic foundations engagement with and support for children’s museums. It also assesses some of the diversity measures that museums use.

3.1: How are Foundations Investing in Children’s Museums?

Color photo of How are Foundations investing in Children's MuseumsThis first report focuses on philanthropic investment in children’s museums. Using a representative sample of data on foundations’ involvement, this report looks at how philanthropic foundations have targeted different types of support for children’s museums, as well as the role that museum size plays.

3.2: Changing Priorities in Foundation Grants to Children’s Museums

Color photo of Changing Priorities in Foundation Grants to Childrens Museums How have foundation grants to children’s museums changed in recent years? This report explores fluctuations in the focus of foundation grants from 2007 to 2015. It offers insights to help children’s museums adjust their fundraising strategies to pursue avenues best suited to their needs and size.

3.3: Measuring Diversity in Children’s Museums & Their Communities

Color photo of Measuring Diversity in Childrens Museums and their communities How are children’s museums addressing questions of diversity and inclusion? This report considers the different types of diversity measures that are important to children’s museums.

This volume of the Trends Reports uses various measures to assess the economic impact of children’s museums.

2.1: The Economic Impact of Children’s Museums: The Ripple Effect of Spending

Color photo of The Ripple Effect of Spending This report explores the large-scale impacts of children’s museums’ economic activity. It covers different ways of talking about economic impact, and shows how children’s museums of different sizes can have a substantial impact on national economic activity.

2.2: The Economic Impact of Children’s Museums: Our Jobs, Their Jobs, All Jobs

Color photo of Our Jobs, Their Jobs, All Jobs This report explores how spending in children’s museums relates to job creation, and how their employment and spending practices contribute to job growth. It also explores how these institutions affect jobs in other sectors.

2.3: The Economic Impact of Children’s Museums: Region Matters

Color photo of Region Matters This report explores how children’s museums’ spending on operating costs and employee salaries helps to support the economies of regional communities. It explores the economic contributions of children’s museums in eight economic regions across the US.

This first volume of the Trends Reports analyzes specific characteristics of museums including their size, needs, audiences, community engagement, funding sources, and more. Each report highlights opportunities for children’s museums of all types to grow and expand their audience base.

1.1: Measuring Museum Size

Color photo of Measuring museum size Size plays an important role in how museums operate, what community resources they receive, and what audiences they serve. This report presents four proxies used to categorize museums: total operating expenses, number of paid staff, total interior space, and attendance by visitors of all ages. Results presented in subsequent reports in this volume are separated by museum size.

1.2: Small Museums: Priorities and Opportunities for Growth

Color photo of Small Museums Priorities and Opportunities for Growth Small museums deliver a lot of programs with few resources particularly for school-age children. To reach new audiences and grow, they can leverage their expertise in the early childhood development and learning to develop teacher training resources. Furthermore, increasing their investment in school-based outreach may also help these museums reach new audiences.

1.3: Medium Museums: Priorities and Opportunities for Growth

Color photo of Medium Museums Priorities and Opportunities for Growth Priorities for medium-sized museums include developing and implementing diverse programming for special groups. To keep growing, these museums should expand direct engagement with teachers through training workshops, developing curricular resources, and providing on-site childcare or preschool services. Furthermore, adding an on-premise eating facility may help these museums attract more visitors and create a new revenue stream.

1.4: Large Museums: Characteristics and Comparisons

Color photo of Large Museums Characteristics and Comparisons Large museums have access to greater resources, and as a result can offer more programming for diverse audiences. These museums are the most likely to run school outreach and offer recreational programs for children such as summer camps. They also have the highest ratings for community engagement, and almost all provide an on-site eating facility and gift shop. Their top needs include new funding opportunities, administrative reorganization, and general operating support.

1.5: Museum Accomplishments and Needs

Color photo of Museum Accomplishments and Needs An analysis of over 100 ACM member institutions revealed critical differences in accomplishments, needs, and plans across children’s museums of varying sizes. For example, in terms of accomplishments, small museums highlighted new funding opportunities or expansions and renovations. Large museums, in contrast, highlighted new exhibits that they were displaying. Lastly, museums of all sizes need additional financial support.

1.6: Reaching Nontraditional Families

Color photo of Reaching Nontraditional Families This report describes the specific challenges faced by nontraditional family units and offers recommendations for how children’s museums may best engage and support them. Many children’s museums consider it part of their mission to engage nontraditional families, who often face obstacles such as poverty, and reduced access to educational resources. They have the opportunity to use their expertise in child development to better support these families and their children.
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